Archive for the ‘Practical Parent’ Category


Our first Halloween with The Littlest E was easy breezy. He was 15 months old and didn’t really know or care about pumpkins, costumes, going trick-or-treating, or eating candy.  We stayed home that year and answered the door whenever the bell rang.

For the past few years some friends of ours whose son is The Littlest E’s age, have held a Halloween potluck.  To read the full post, please click on the Mothering In The Middle link below:

Mothering In The Middle

Next up : The License Plate Game

©2014 Melanie Elliott


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I may be in the minority here, but I’d actually like to serve on a jury some day.  I received a Jury Summons back in July and was supposed to call in the weekend before Monday, August 5th.  On that day, I was driving with my son to downtown Los Angeles for a family lunch with my husband Tom.  As I was driving, I realized I forgot to call in to see if I needed to report for jury duty and proceeded to panic.  I wasn’t sure if I was breaking the law or not, or if there’d be a warrant out for my arrest (it sounds funny now, but I was quite serious then).

Jury Duty

Once we arrived at my husband’s office, we rushed up to his floor to meet him and I called the court to find out what I needed to do to make the situation right.  The woman on the other end told me there was nothing to worry about (Phew) and she rescheduled my date for the day after Labor Day.  I was relieved I wasn’t in trouble for accidentally missing my jury duty date, which made for a more relaxing lunch with my family.

Orcas Island

The week before Labor Day we vacationed on Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands, in Washington State.  I remembered to call in this time and learned I had to report for jury duty that coming Tuesday.  I figured I’d be called in given my earlier mishap.  Not sure if this rule applies in any other state, but in California, there’s a one trial one day policy, meaning if you’re called in for jury duty and do not get selected by the end of the day, your service is over for the next 12 months.  If you do get selected for a trial, and the trial ends, your service is over for the next 12 months.

I thought about what would happen if I got selected and how that would affect our family schedule.  Even though The Littlest E is in preschool 4 days a week, I’m still his primary care giver.  I drop him off daily and pick him up, take him to lessons and the courts are usually open from 9:00 to 5:00, sometimes earlier.  How would we manage getting him to school when Tom needs to be at work by 7:00 a.m.?  And, what if it were a long trial?  Would Tom have to take off those hours to make sure he could pick up our son?  Would we need to make arrangements to have him stay later at school and pay for the extra time?  Could he stay with friends until one of us picked him up?  Would we need to hire a babysitter for those hours?  If I got selected, it would pose a pretty big problem for us.  We don’t have a nanny or regular babysitter to fill in.  We’d make it work, but how much would it cost us to do that?  I’m sure many other parents have pondered these same questions when tackling the prospect of jury duty.

Tuesday rolled around and needed to report to the Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles at 7:45 a.m.  Tom had to take time off work to drive our son to school.  The Littlest E was really looking forward to that and to the possibility of his dad picking him up after school.

Los Ángeles_0782

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I would love to serve on a jury.  I think it’s important that everyone who is eligible serves.  I’d learn about the inner workings of how our justice system works.  Listening to both sides present their arguments, sticking to the facts of the case, and working with 11 other people to reach a verdict fascinates me.  There are a lot of movies in which jurors play key roles (“12 Angry Men“, “Runaway Jury,” “The Juror“).  I’m pretty sure most trials and juries are not like what we see in the movies.

I thought about ways to get out of serving.  A lawyer friend recommended I say that I think anyone who is on trial is guilty, because no lawyer would want me to serve on his/her jury if I declared that.  Or, during another time on jury duty I heard someone say to a judge “there’s only one judge and it’s God and you’re not him,” but I couldn’t say that either.  The bottom line was I didn’t want to lie.  I’d tell the court the truth; I wouldn’t be able to provide the care for my son should I be called to serve and hope that would be a sufficient reason to be excused.

Jury Duty Waiting

After going through security and hopping on an elevator, I arrived at my destination.  Already, there were a lot of people waiting for the orientation.  Around 7:45, we went into the waiting room.  The clerk gave his spiel and showed us a short video about the benefits of jury service, all to psych us into wanting to be there.  It seemed like most people in the room didn’t pay much attention, but at the end of the video when the clerk began talking about ways to be excused from serving, everyone’s ears perked up.

One way to be excused is for medical reasons (such as, you have major back problems where you can’t sit down for long periods of time).  The person asking for the excuse would need to send the court a letter from a doctor indicating why.  The second reason is if you’re the primary care giver of a child under 5 years of age.  Bingo!  There are other reasons, too: serving in the military, if you have a felony on your record, if you’re not a U.S. citizen, or financial hardship which is very difficult to prove.  The Littlest E is only 4 so my out (for this time) was that I’m the primary care giver.  Those seeking to be excused had to go to another building to meet with an examiner to decide if our reasons were valid.


In the other building, we were given a number and had to wait our turn.  While I was waiting, a nicely dressed woman close to my age sat down next to me.  We started talking and she was there for the same reason as me.  She had 2 children and was their primary care giver.  Her clerk had given her the hardest time when she asked to be excused.  She told me the woman said a couple of times, “So you’re refusing to serve.”  The mom told me she replied, “No, I want to serve, but these are the hours I am available and I’ll need to bring my kids with me.”  She seemed really worried and on the brink of tears that she wouldn’t be excused.  If it had been me, I would have felt the same way.  She, too, thought about the ramifications of how serving on a jury would affect her family structure.  I told her I related, wondered those same things, and how sorry I was that her clerk was unkind.

They called my number and someone guided me to an examiner’s desk.  I sat down across from a kind looking African American woman and told her my reason for wanting to be excused.  She said, “You know you could have written this down on your Summons and mailed it in, or you could have filled this information in online?”  I replied ignorantly, “No, I didn’t know that.  I guess I should have read the fine print.”  She laughed and gave me a signed piece of paper excusing me from service.  I thanked her and said goodbye.  What a relief.  Now there would be no juggling of schedules, no trying to figure everything out.  We were safe for another year.  On my way out, I told the other mom I got excused and wished her luck.  She smiled and thanked me.

Gandini Juggling

I don’t know what happened with her, but I hope she was excused.  The questions are still looming though.  How do you make it work when you’re called for jury duty and you have kids?  Obviously, for some there is financial hardship, but what if you have enough money to work it out, yet you’re spending more hiring babysitters, etc. than what you get from the court for jury compensation?  Is that fair?  How does it work when it’s truly an inconvenience or is this all part of being a citizen, and that’s what people mean when they say civic duty?  I don’t have the answers for these questions and fortunately this year I don’t need them.  I hadn’t been called for jury duty since the last Harry Potter book was published.  Maybe it’ll be years before I’m called again, and maybe by that time, it won’t be so complicated.

If you’re interested in knowing what your state’s jury rules are, the information is easy to find on the Internet.  Just use any search engine and plug in the words – Jury Service Rules (your state) or Jury Duty Rules (your state).

Images: zzpza, Melanie Elliott, Omar Bárcena, Steve BottClyde Robinson, Pauline Gesta

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If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve run across this, getting your child to listen to you and respond the first time around.  When The Littlest E was 2 years old, we had our challenges, but they really weren’t as terrible as most parents say.  He’ll be turning 4 in July so we’re nearing the end of 3, yet 3 hasn’t been that horrible either.  Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard other parents say, “You thought 2 was bad, wait until 3.”

3 has been a bit more challenging though.  The Littlest E has more opinions and believes what he believes and sticks to it even if he’s wrong.  He knows what he wants to wear and not wear.  He knows what he likes to eat and not eat.  He knows what he wants to watch and not watch.  And he is steadfast in his convictions.  The list could go on.  One of the issues my husband and I have is how to get him to listen to us the first time, without having the promise of something being taken away from him, or being given a consequence.  In other words, how do I get my child to do what I ask?  As I write this, I’m smiling because sometimes I still think my parents think I don’t listen to them.  Yes, it’s the age-old problem of listening.

Listen Up

I took a parenting class with my son last year at Burbank Adult School.  One of the things teacher Karen taught the moms of toddler boys is that they get so engrossed in what they’re doing, it’s better to have gentle contact with them if you want them to listen.  There have been several times when I asked The Littlest E to do something with no response.  I would ask a couple of times before getting a little annoyed.  Then, I’d remember what teacher Karen said and I’d go into his room and see that he was playing intently with something.  With a gentle touch on his shoulder I would ask again.  That broke the spell.  He stopped what he was doing and listened.  Thank you teacher Karen!

Another thing my husband and I did which doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but helps is we created a Good First Listening Chart.  When our son listens to what we are asking and responds the first time, he gets a sticker that he puts on the chart.  We do this for things like, “Please clean up your toys,” “Please put your clothes in the hamper,” “Please fold your napkin,” etc., otherwise we’d be at the chart all day long putting up stickers for everything.

Good First Listening

Once the chart is full, he receives a present.  One might call this bribery.  I’d like to call it incentive.  We did something similar when potty training and it seemed to work okay.  Since he’s only 3, he’s not going to listen and respond the first time every time.  The chart is not the be all end all, but it works sometimes.  Plus, he feels so good about himself after some good first time listening and when the chart is full, he’s proud of his accomplishment.  For his first present, he had the choice of 3 DVDs, “Cars,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “The Incredibles.”  With great excitement, he chose “Monsters, Inc.

Monsters Inc.

I’ve also started reading a wonderful parenting book called “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  Even though it was written in 1980, what they write is still relevant to today’s parents.  There are chapters on alternatives to punishment, encouraging autonomy, praise, complete with helpful exercises, cartoons, and so much more.  I’ve only just begun and can’t wait to continue reading it.

One of the things I read in the book and heard about in my parenting class is offering your child choices.  It builds autonomy, gets them involved in the process, and gives them ownership of something.  This morning I gave The Littlest E choices about what to wear for school.  He had 2 choices for shirts, pants, socks and undies, and he picked what he wanted.  It’s our little game we play in the morning.  While we’re playing, he’s engaged and listening.

This whole listening thing takes practice for us.  I’m learning ways to communicate so he’ll listen better and he’s learning ways to listen better.  It’s a life long process, but aren’t most things when it comes to parenting?  If you find yourself having listening issues with your child, try a Good First Listening Chart  or check out the book and see how it goes.  If you have other suggestions, please post them in the comment section of the blog.  Would love to know your ideas.  Until the next blog, happy parenting!

Images: woodleywonderworks, Melanie Elliott, HarshLight

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It’s summertime here in Los Angeles, which means lots of sun and lots of heat.  It’s a time for spending days at the beach playing in the sand and waves, playdates in shaded parks or in air-conditioned, indoor play spaces, early morning hikes, trips to Hansen Dam (if you live in the San Fernando Valley), and pool parties.  The Littlest E is in preschool during the summer, but we make the most of summertime fun after school and on the weekends.  Summer is also the time when “two-thirds of drowning deaths occur” according to Safe Kids USA.

I’m part of a private moms group on Facebook and one of my friends is an emergency room nurse.  She posted something the other day that wrecked me, something like: It happened again. 18-month old baby drowned. Please take care of your kids when they’re near the water.  She posted a couple of these last year, too, same thing, toddler/baby drowned.

You can’t help but get upset when reading this.  It’s one of the most tragic things that can happen to a parent.  You think maybe those parents were neglectful or irresponsible, but they weren’t.  My friend told me that they were people just like you and me, people who cared about their child, who love their child deeply.  It can happen in an instant.  One second you’re watching your child, the next they’re gone and before you know it, it’s too late.  It can also happen when one parent thinks the other is watching the child in the pool, miscommunication.

And drowning doesn’t happen like it does in the movies with big splashes and screams of “Help! Help!”  The son of one of my best friends almost drowned when he was 5.  They were at a pool and her son was swimming.  Suddenly and quietly he said, “I’m going down” and just slipped under the water.  Had no one been watching him, he would have drowned.  Fortunately, someone saw this happen, jumped in and got him out of the water.

The Littlest E takes swim lessons.  He’s 3 and thinks he’s invincible in the water.  We know differently and under no circumstances do we take any risks with his life.  At one point we used water wings, but stopped because we didn’t want to give him or us a false sense of security.  Water wings are great, but they’re not the answer to proper supervision or a legitimate life jacket.  When we’re at pool parties, one of us is always with him when he’s in the water and we don’t turn our backs for a second.  I couldn’t stand the thought of losing my son.

There are a number of websites that offer great information on drowning statistics and tips for drowning prevention.  Here are two:  International Life Saving Federation, http://ilsf.org/drowning/facts and National Drowning Prevention Alliance, http://ndpa.org/home/.  If you have questions about where your child can take swim lessons, check with other parent friends, the nearest YMCA, your child’s pediatrician, and your child’s preschool.  If you want to learn CPR, there are many places that offer courses, including your local Red Cross.  Please take care of yourself and your kids this summer.  Hold your little ones close, keep them safe and when they’re in the water, please make sure someone is watching them or in touching contact with them at all times.  Hope you have a wonderful summer.

Images: Jennifer Genschkkinjo, Eden, Janine and Jim

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This past Presidents’ Day weekend, my husband and I spent the entire weekend potty training our 2½-year old son, The Littlest E.  It’s a rite of passage for every child and parent.  For a while our son had showed signs he was interested in going potty in his little potty and it had become part of his post bath routine.  My husband and I talked about it and figured we’d give it an official try.  Some parents we knew had used a 3-day method, so we were going with that.  Since it was more of an experiment, neither of us had any major expectations as to how the weekend would go.  If you’re a parent who’s already been through this, I’m sure you have your own stories to tell.  If you’re a parent about to go on this adventure with your child, it is doable, just be open to anything that comes your way.

We spent time preparing our son, our house, and ourselves for the Big Weekend.  I purchased excessive amounts of big boy underpants, extra waterproof mattress covers and sheets, M&Ms (for rewarding The Littlest E (and maybe Mommy, too)), lots of juice and other beverages, and enough food to last the weekend since we knew we weren’t leaving the house.  We got our son excited enough by showing him his big boy underpants in his favorite Thomas The Tank Engine and Cars motifs, and the M&Ms, plus, I created a potty chart where he could affix stickers every time he made a successful trip to the toilet.  My husband and I knew it was going to be a long weekend, especially since we were supposed to sleep in his room to monitor him during the night (we don’t have a video monitor) to watch for signs he needed to go potty.  It was my shift that first night.

Day of, when The Littlest E awoke, we took him out of his crib, put big boy underpants on him and a shirt, and made a big deal of saying goodbye to his diapers (though we kept pull-ups against the suggestion of the book).  At least for that day, my husband and I vowed to give the 3-day method a fair shake.  As per the book, he was to tell us when he had to go potty rather than us asking him.  That way, he felt like he was the one in control.

Without going into all of the details, lets just say it was a LONG day.  Before nap, there were lots of stickers on the chart and lots of accidents, all part of the training.  I must have said, “Tell us when you have to go potty” well over 50 times.  Even though it was tense for everyone, every time there was an accident, we gave our son love and encouragement and kept saying gently to tell us when he needed to go potty.  The day required endless love, affection and, most of all, patience.  A highlight – our son glowed with pride every time he was successful and he LOVED eating all those M&Ms!

As loving as we were, The Littlest E was still stressed out.  Wouldn’t you be too?  I mean imagine being a toddler, and never having to worry about going potty or listening to your body, you just take care of business in your diaper and Mommy and Daddy clean you up when they change you.  Then all of a sudden Mommy and Daddy are asking you to tell them when you have to go.  I’m sure that’s not quite what The Littlest E was thinking, but perhaps something similar in his toddler way.

Nap and bedtime were the most difficult that first day.  Changes of sheets and many trips to the bathroom at The Littlest E’s request all led to little sleep for him and for me, since I was the one monitoring him that night.  My husband faired a bit better, but by morning we were all exhausted.  The second day making it to the potty seemed to go a lot more smoothly, though mentally my husband and I felt like we were in lockdown in an insane asylum.  It was hard on all of us, especially The Littlest E, who was such a trouper!  He was doing such a great job, but by the late afternoon, it became clear to us that our son needed a different path.

The last thing either of us wanted to do was to cause our son to be afraid of going potty.  He seemed ready when we started, but it was clear we needed to change course.  We decided to give him pull-ups for bedtime and naps.  Oh, what a difference a little change makes!  Now there may be some of you who stuck to the 3-day method and it worked. Awesome!  I’m not here to say it does or doesn’t work; I just know our son and we needed to switch gears.  Making that little change completely shifted how the rest of the weekend went, more sleep for everyone, no accidents while sleeping and, most importantly, a much happier son, and isn’t that what truly matters.

My husband and I are pleased with how the weekend turned out.  Life is in a new normal and it’s great to be here.  The Littlest E communicates with us his potty needs and we are attuned to his body language in a new way, like I mentioned, it’s our new normal.  It’s been over a week and there have been no accidents at preschool, with only a few minor accidents at home.  All in all he’s adjusting nicely to his new routine though we did have to make four potty stops on our way to preschool the first day after the “official” training was over.  As The Littlest E gets older, we’ll modify things to fit his development.  At some point, pull-ups will be obsolete.

If you’re a parent about to embark on this rite of passage, you may want to find the method you think your child will respond to and make adjustments if necessary.  The bottom line is your child will be potty trained eventually.  I wish you all the best!

Image: Just Taken Pics (Ste Elmore)

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In the summer of 2009, my father was vacationing in Reno, Nevada and had a heart attack.  He’d had one twenty years before and this time the doctor told him he needed quadruple bypass surgery.  Prior to his surgery (which had something like a 98% success rate), he was asked to fill out a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions which would state his wishes if things went south during surgery.

My dad’s heart surgeon assured us that it was a very common surgery, one he’d done many, many times.  My family, friends, my dad’s girlfriend and I were all quite relieved when my dad came through the surgery okay.   It took him some time to heal, and change his lifestyle, including eating habits.  It was a good thing we had the Durable Power of Attorney just in case, though we didn’t need it.

Unfortunately, a “just in case” situation happened a few months after that surgery when my dad went into cardiac arrest at a Cal football game in Berkeley, California.  He basically died for several minutes, but his heart started beating after CPR.  At the hospital, he was put into a medically induced coma to stabilize his body.  However, during the night, they discovered he was bleeding internally and the doctors needed to bring him out of the coma to see if he had any brain activity, and for possible surgery.

My sister was local and was at the hospital with other family members and close friends.  I flew in from Los Angeles, and my brother was on his way in from Dallas, where he was visiting his in-laws.  When I arrived at the hospital, my dad was still coming out of the coma, he was still bleeding internally, he was unresponsive, and the doctors didn’t see any brain activity.  It was a tense situation.  His nurse urged us to give it a bit of time, that my dad’s body was warming up.  I spoke with his surgeon who told my sister and me that he only had a 10% chance of surviving the surgery.  They thought he had an aortic aneurysm and anticipated he’d bleed out on the operating table.

Again, it was a very tense situation.  What should my sister and I do?  If my dad had no brain activity, why do the surgery?  Yet, there was a glimmer of hope with the 10%.    We knew from his Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions that my dad didn’t want any heroic measures.  Was surgery heroic?  Do we let him die?  How do you make a life or death decision like that?  For a brief moment, we contemplated not doing the surgery.   But, my sister and I wanted to wait for my brother because he was the primary on my dad’s Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions and this was a decision that needed to be made by the three of us.

As luck or fate or whatever would have it, my dad eventually responded, so we knew he wasn’t brain dead!  There was something going on inside him, even though he was still unconscious.  The nurse had been right in asking us to wait.  This miraculous response occurred just as my brother arrived at the hospital.  The three of us made a decision.  We honored my dad’s Durable Power of Attorney and decided that a 10% chance was not a heroic measure; it was a chance at life.  Thank God we took that chance because my dad is alive and healthy today.  He made it through the surgery (lacerated liver) and was in the hospital for nearly a month, but he made it!

In a time of crisis, extreme duress and stress, my brother, sister and I, using our dad’s Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions as a guide, were able to act as one in deciding our dad’s fate.  It was an exceedingly emotional and tough decision to make, whether you are one person or three.  It’s not something I’d wish for anyone to have to go through, yet incidents like this happen everyday.

Durable powers of attorney for health care decisions and advance healthcare directives are important documents because they express the wishes of the patient.  Having that piece of paper in place helped us.  There were no fights or disagreements on how to proceed.  We acted as a unit, as a family at a most important time.

This past November, my husband and I worked with my old law firm and drew up our wills, signed powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives, and created a living trust.  End of life planning.  Just writing that makes me squirm a bit.  I know I’m going to die someday, but executing those documents really brought it home.  It’s important to tackle this subject while we are still youngish, have our wits about us, and are not in crisis.

All of these documents are there to assist our family, mainly our son, should it become necessary.  Whenever and however we die, everything will be in place for an easy transition of our estate.  Should our Advance Healthcare Directives ever need to be used, I know my husband’s wishes and he knows mine.  As a parent, I feel like I owe it to my son to have these documents ready.  When we do finally die, that’ll be hard enough on him.  We’ll share this information with him when he’s at an age where he can handle the conversation (he’s only 2½ now).

I can’t help but wonder, if we didn’t have my dad’s Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions to act as our guide post, would the decision making process have run as smoothly as it did with my siblings?  Probably.  I’m grateful we didn’t have to find out.

Image: bossco (Raymong Shobe)

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As parents, we all know to watch what we say around our children, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.  The Littlest E is almost 2½ and is quite the sponge and mimic.  It’s so cute when he sits at the dinner table trying to emulate the way his Daddy sits.  He notices everything.  Most of the time, it’s wonderful that he’s so observant.  It’s not so wonderful when either my husband or I forget who’s watching us.

Awhile back, The Littlest E was doing something, possibly throwing his toys and wouldn’t stop even after several redirects.  Finally, with great impatience I yelled, “Stop it!”  As the words shot out of my mouth, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake.  For weeks after the “Stop it” incident, my articulate son would mirror back to me those exact words, matching my inflection perfectly.

That phrase has tapered off as of late.  Lesson learned.  I need to be diligent about what I say and how I express myself around my son.  In fact, this is great to practice in everyday living and not just around the little ones.  I have slipped up on occasion and said “shoot” and “crap.”  Lucky for me, those words did not catch on with The Littlest E.

Over the holiday, it was my husband’s turn to get caught by our never-miss-a-thing son.  Tom, my husband, was putting together one of our son’s toys and things weren’t fitting right.  In frustration he said, “Doggone it.”  No sooner had he said those words, than our son repeated them replacing the “d” with a “b.”  Now, when something frustrates him, or when he feels like it, he’ll say “Boggone it” just like his Daddy.  It is funny when he says it, though we try not to laugh in front of him.  He says it quite often and I actually think he enjoys how it sounds exiting his mouth.  When The Littlest E went back to preschool after the holidays, I mentioned his new words to his teacher.  She didn’t seem to think it was a big deal and said it could have been a lot worse.

I’m grateful neither my husband nor I have dropped the F bomb in front of our son.  “Doggone it” and “crap” have been our worst, which is pretty minimal considering the breadth of expletives out there.  We’ve both been good about watching what we say.  Over the last weekend when I was jumping up and down cheering on the 49ers as they scored the winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints with less than 1:37 left to go in the game, I screamed “Oh my gosh!” and “Oh my goodness!” not my usual pre-child cheers (use your imagination).  I was well aware that both husband and son watched every move I made and heard every word out of my mouth.  Excitedly, The Littlest E jumped up and down echoing, “Oh my goodness!” not even knowing why.

“Boggone it” seems to be sticking around.  For how long, only time will tell.  I keep trying to get him to say “Peter Bogdanovich” instead, but he won’t go for it.  “Boggone it” is a chapter he’ll eventually finish.  Down the road, inevitably there will be another word, a worse word coming from either from me or my husband, or maybe a friend.  That will be chapter 2.

Image: Bright Meadows

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