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Parenting is like perfection

Perfection, the board game

Easeful parenting...

I was thinking last night that easeful parenting involves quickly and effortlessly matching up the right solution to your baby's needs. For example: a wet diaper is uncomfortable and leads to fussing. Put on a dry diaper and the fussing stops. When a baby has a rumbly tummy and you take too much time to feed them, you have a howling baby. When you do fill their tummy, the howling stops.

Parenting really is a lot like Perfection, the game.

Each child has at least 25 little keyholes that need to be filled. In real life, those keyholes are things like love, security, comfort, connection, protection, humor, service, satiation, attention, justice, relaxation, contentment, and energy. Your job as the parent is to fill those keyholes with the matching piece in 60 seconds or less......If you don't.... "POP!!!!" Your baby starts inconsolable crying.

Enough rounds of Perfection in a day and you start feeling frustrated and incompetent.

It is nearly impossible to fill those keyholes each and every round. Luckily, babies don't expect you to be perfect. They are happy if you try and keep trying. Your job as a parent is to become aware of your baby's needs and find ways to fulfill them. With each growth spurt, the number of needs increases. Some keyholes may change with time. When you fill keyholes consistently and often, your baby learns how to fill them himself.

When you respond to your baby's needs, you are not spoiling, you are teaching. You are not being manipulated, you are learning more about your baby.

While it can feel like Perfection, the game, it is impossible to be a perfect parent.

Every person has their own preferences and ways they like to be treated. You will make mistakes and inadvertently hurt your child. You will be so frustrated at times that you may purposefully hurt your child with unkind words, a spank on the bottom or ignoring their demands.

What happens if you ignore the need?

And, you will. You will be tired or miss your baby's cue. In addition, every parent has some part of their baby that they just can't understand.

Your baby will keep asking, non-verbally of course, for a while and if you keep ignoring the need, they will start to compensate for the unfilled need with an alternate behavior. Common behaviors we see in babies is over or under-sleeping, crying that goes from 0-60 in a second, refusing to breastfeed or biting your breast to get your attention. When you experience repetitive behaviors that you don't like, it is a sign that a need that isn't being met.

You might use a little creative thinking and try to imagine what it is your baby might be needing. Some of these needs are real mysteries that take years to figure out, so don't think of this as a one time thing. Some will remain mysteries for your child to learn in their lifetime. Some you will just outright be unable to fulfill.

Consistency breeds consistency

On the other hand, children have pretty consistent personalities. When you get 'it' right, all you have to do is keeping doing 'that' again and again. A baby who is a "huggy bear" will always be a "huggy bear". When you hold a huggy bear, hug and gently stroke them. Watch them melt into bliss. You will find that doing this consistently shortens their periods of upset.

A baby who likes to be around people will always be the life of the party. Make sure they get lots of social time. Sing songs and play interactive games like peek-a-boo. Plan at least one errand every day so they get the stimulation they crave and then bring them home for some down time.

Some babies are introspective and need peace and quiet. They break eye contact and refuse to look at you when they are tired or overwhelmed. They may prefer to be laid down and left alone to sleep. Make sure you spend quiet time together every day.

"If only I had instructions!"

Many parents lament that babies don't come with an instruction manual. I think that this shows a loss in how to use our inner knowing. When we pay attention to our inner knowing and our feelings, we learn to read our babies and trust our judgement. Books, videos and articles are helpful when you use the information to confirm what you are feeling and also to broaden your perspective on what your baby needs. When we try to make our baby conform to a mold that is unlike them, it only makes everyone unhappy.

Keep filling your baby's or child's needs. If you would some assistance, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule a free "Needs assessment" session to help decipher why your baby or child is acting the way they are.

Understanding Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are a cry for help.

A child is totally overwhelmed and needs support. Unfortunately, few parents received support for their strong feelings as children or learned basic skills for working through a tantrum. The opportunity during a tantrum is to develop an understanding of what the child is experiencing.  Children have their own perspective on any event. A parent’s job is to help them cope with the crushing frustration and disappointment inherent in life.

The life cycle of a tantrum:

The child is trying to say, hear, receive, give, or do a certain thing.  If he is unable to complete the action he may get frustrated and start to show signs of distress. When a parent is  in tune with their  child they will pick up these early cues and help the child complete the action. If the parent misses these early cues, the child will amplify the frustration into crying, yelling, hitting or other obvious demonstrations in an attempt to get help.

In an infant, this might be a fussy baby.  The mother notices her baby squirming and fussing and starts to nurse the baby.  The tantrum is averted.  For a toddler, there might be a staircase that is attracting his attention.  The toddler can’t quite negotiate the stairs and starts to get frustrated. His dad stands behind him and directs his feet until his son is climbing safely. In a school age child, an older brother teases his younger sister, who can’t keep up with his verbal gymnastics.  She starts to yell, their mother steps in between them and affirms that the sister is furious because she is being teased. She holds a safe space and waits until everyone is calm. Then, she deals with the brother’s inappropriate behavior.

When the pre-tantrum cues are missed

The parent can still handle a tantrum with love and support. It can be a challenge to negotiate the strong feelings that come out in a tantrum. Tantrums can trigger the parent’s un-met childhood needs and can result in parents acting like children. When a parent is aware of this phenomenon, she can step back, center herself and resume the appropriate adult role. 

Step by step, here are some things parents can try: 

Stay calm, detached, and nearby--offering support as needed. (as well as protection from sharp edges, siblings, traffic, etc.) the parent may have to physically restrain or remove the child to prevent him from hurting himself and others. If the parent finds herself getting upset, it is better to make sure the child is safe, leave the room and calm down. If this is not possible, she should stop talking and breathe deeply. If this is not possible, she should try again next tantrum. She will handle tantrums better with each attempt.

The parent can reassure the child that she really wants to understand what is wrong. Help him to calm down. Only when he is reasonably calm should the parent continue. If he gets upset again, return to calming techniques.

Ask him what happened, and listen.

Listen for the facts (the situation) and listen for the feeling (the emotion.)

If he can't verbalize it, make suggestions and watch his body language for cues that you are on the right track. It may help for the parent to imagine herself in the child’s place.  Once the parent has identified the trigger, she can help the child to understand it. Common triggers are the inability to do a task or loss of a favorite toy. Other triggers are fears, punishment and separation from the parent. Aggravating factors can be exhaustion, hunger, and loud public places.

Once it seems like the parent has figured out what caused the tantrum, she can help her child to say, hear, receive, give or do what he was unable to pre-tantrum or help him work through his disappointment at not being able to say, hear, give, receive, or do it.

Babies and children have the same feelings as adults.

They want things they can't have and suffer disappointment. They are put in situations where they are scared and can't leave. Life is not perfect; some things in life are necessary and painful. It is the parent’s job to put that suffering into a context the child can understand. Parents can help their children share a negative feeling before it turns into negative behavior. 

It is important for children to learn that all feelings are appropriate and negative behaviors are not. Hitting and scratching are never acceptable and the limit must be set firmly by the parent. While some kids take a lot longer to learn how to do this, they learn because the adults in their life remind them and model this behavior. 

When a parent models great behavior, it is her opportunity to shine as a human being. Her child will learn how to behave like a better human being. Children watch their parents like hawks, mimicking their every action. A conscientious parent will attend first to her own actions and words when she witnesses her child doing something inappropriate. Her calmness will automatically help her child to behave appropriately without punishment or bad feelings.

Originally published in “Blender” La Leche League of New York-East

You're OK - Be a Better Mom Without Doing Anything!

mindfullness new baby new paltz

One year old Maya was taking her first steps when she abruptly face-planted, startling herself and bumping her head. Her daddy scooped her up and snuggled her in.

"You're OK! You're OK. You didn't hurt yourself. You are fine. You did it! You walked!"

To his surprise, she just cried harder. He started to bounce her and chant, "What's wrong? You aren't hurt. It's just a little bump. You are OK. All Better! See? Just a little bump. Nothing to cry about."

Her response was to scream and thrash her legs wiggling out of his arms. She slid down his leg onto the floor and continued sobbing.

Her daddy stopped. He looked at her. While a goose egg was forming on her forehead, big tears ran down her face. She was sobbing deep sobs and had refused his comfort. It seemed way out of proportion to the fall she had taken.

And it was. The bump hurt, but not badly. The suddenness of the fall frightened her and that hurt more, so she cried in fear.

But what hurt most was her daddy's dismissal of her fright. In her mind, her protector had failed to protect her and was now dismissing her fears as unimportant. In other words, he was dismissing one of her basic needs.

We can't always protect our baby or child from harm. Things happen that we have no control over. Toddlers trip and topple over. We have car accidents and children get sick.

On some level your child understands this but still has a basic need for you to protect them from bad things. When that need isn't met, because we can't possibly catch every fall and prevent every bruise, something else has to take it's place.

That something else is empathy and compassion.

Compassion is when you understand that a person has their own reasons for behaving in a curious way. Compassion forgives their inexplicable behavior and lets you be kind to them. We offer reassurance. We have patience with babies and children as we do when someone is handicapped. We don't expect a person with a broken leg to run. We don't expect a baby or toddler to be smiling all the time.

Empathy is relating with someone from their perspective. We all know or have heard of a baby who was terrified of Santa. We don't understand it from our perspective. Why would any child be scared of Santa Claus? But if we look at it from a toddler's perspective, things look really different. A toddler might think:

"This person is a stranger! I've never seen such a big beard. He acts like he knows me but I don't know him. He's loud and too close. If I could take my time and meet him, I might want to know him more, but I don't know what he'll do to me. Better to be safe and stay with Mama. She will protect me."
 
When you are empathetic and compassionate, you look and listen to your child and try to figure out what is wrong from their point of view. You listen and make an educated guess based on their age and development. You acknowledge their feelings, instead of shushing them, which helps them calm themselves.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do. A baby who is colicky and crying causes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in us and there isn't much you can do. When your baby cries like that, you would do anything to make them stop. But telling them that they are OK, that there's nothing wrong and telling them that they are fine isn't true. What is true is that you don't know what is wrong and you can't do anything more than hold them until they feel better.

If you have ever been upset, you can understand this. It's a universal experience to have a family member tell us to be quiet, that there's nothing wrong with us and certainly nothing to be upset about! But inside, we know there is something wrong. Others don't have to fix anything or hurry us through our problem. All they need to do is witness our unhappiness so we don't have to face it alone. When someone takes time to sit with us in our pain, that action, in itself, eases the pain.

Why is this important? We are human beings with emotions. When we are encouraged to feel all our emotions, and that all of our feelings, good and bad, are OK, we can feel normal! We learn to have a healthy respect for ourselves and our powers of perception. We can trust that if we hurt, there's something wrong and we can ask for help!  If our baby's emotional needs are not allowed to be expressed and develop, they can not be empathetic to others. They may fail to form family relationships and friendships that nourish them. When you are empathetic and compassionate to your baby and toddler, you model ideal human behavior that they can use with their siblings and friends.

By contrast, when the all-powerful, all-knowing parent tells a baby that “You are crying over nothing.” “You should be ashamed of yourself for not being a big girl.” “Suck it up! Be a man.” “Don't be a cry baby!” The child mistrusts what they are experiencing. They may find themselves in a situation wondering if something bad is really good because they have lost touch with that inner guidance that was in place when they were babies.

Each developmental stage has its own developmental needs which requires parents to respond differently as their baby grows. What is universal is the need  for babies and children to be listened to and receive empathy and compassion.

If you would like to learn to be more compassionate and empathetic as a parent, please read more about my Parenting Repatterning.

 

An Infinite World of Possibility!

Hello Mamas!

In previous writing I have spoken about the unadulterated innocence of small children and how truly inspiring it can be. Young children live in a world where the realm of possibilities is infinite; the world truly is their oyster!

Recently, I have found myself completely enamored with my 2 ½ year old daughter’s perspective! Her imagination has grown in leaps and bounds over the last six months and it never ceases to amaze me.

“Someday when I’m a kitty I will do that too!” Little Rita Cassidy profoundly exclaimed this to me after I explained to her how our cat cleans himself by licking. This line of thinking was very amusing to me. In her world there exists a someday in which she will be a cat!

We often hear phrases like “Kids say the darndest things”, (in fact there was a whole TV series with this title in the 90’s!) But, it seems these are mostly laughed off without any further thought into what this can tell us about child psychology. I am by no means an expert in child psychology; nevertheless the minds of small children fascinate me.

I cannot help but think that these imaginative statements are more than just children being silly. They represent the mind set that small children carry; a world without borders, improbability, and universal laws such as gravity, chemistry and physics!

Imagine a world in which no real rules apply, (except of course to be nice to thy neighbor and such) this is the world typically left to authors of fiction and artists. When we allow ourselves to partake in this world and go on a journey of imagination with our children, we are able to break our old rusty cage of possibility and become unencumbered by risks and odds.

Instead, we begin to live in a world of chance, a world in which the universe is always on our side just waiting to help our dreams take flight! Even if we only allow our imaginations to run free a couple times each month while we indulge our children there is an exhilaration and simple joy that can be found while letting go of traditional states of being and the laws of the universe.

This may be the spark which gets that fire burning in us again to follow a dream or path we have been putting off with skepticism, inspiring in us a child-like eagerness to achieve that which may seem impossible!

I have always felt strongly that children have just as much to teach us as we do them. Perhaps, some of the greatest lessons they have to teach us involve forgetting the notions that have begun to weigh us down as adults. From our children we can learn to break down borders; to see the forest for far more than just the trees!

For a moment imagine a world where global peace is possible, where parents can let their children run and play freely without fear of exposure to harsh chemicals and environmental contaminants, a world where woman help woman and men are not defined by traditional roles of manhood.

This world is achievable, a place most of us would be happy for our children to live out their days in. Let us work together to make today’s dreams tomorrow’s realities; our children can show us the perfect place to begin our journey, at heart’s center where nothing is impossible!

 “Do not be satisfied with the stories that come before you, unfold your own myth”
- Rumi, A poet, theologian & mystic

Till next time, Be well and Dream on!

Jasmine

Toddler Time: Staying Happy, Staying Sane

toddler cup fling water blond new baby new paltz

Once upon a summer afternoon, it was the month of June in the happening town of New Paltz, New York…


 
What to our wondering eyes did appear…?
 
Naked babies of all colors, shapes and sizes playing happily together in a cool pool of shallow water. Is there a more simple pleasure than cooling oneself off on a hot day in a local swimming hole, lake or river?

I think not! Small children seem to get it right off the bat! They gravitate toward water: even the nearest puddle will suffice for a wet romp! These days my daughter’s favorite toy is a spray bottle and I couldn’t be happier!
 
As our daughter grows older and simultaneously bolder, it is better to plan activities that will please her, rather than me and her dad. We love to take her everywhere with us, but these days some engagements and activities match her activity level and energy much better than others. We spend our days working to keep the balance between what we the parents enjoy doing and what our toddler enjoys doing!

The happy medium is activities that keep us all happy, engaged (and sane!). I have so many ideas that could occupy my time, I must often remind myself that my daughter is only a baby once and she is well on her way to three years old in August!
 
I do a mental time check and realize that in two years we will be sending her off to school. I have a small panic attack, take a deep breath, look over at her right by my side and smile.

If it means that most days I spend my morning reading her the same favorite books, instead of in the garden and my afternoons singing her to sleep instead of furthering my career, so be it! I will make the best of every moment we share together and remind myself how lucky I am to spend my days with this unbelievable little person.
 
From my home to yours, enjoy the sunshine! Your body craves it, as does your child's little body! Enjoy all the special activities the summer season has to offer babies and small children here in New Paltz: sun-ripened berries picked fresh from the bush, plentiful woodland swim holes, hiking trails, and friendly community story times, parks and pools, just to name a few!
 
Pop hats on your head, fill a bottle of water, put your baby in a carrier or wagon and go out exploring! Who knows where your baby will lead you today!

How come you're nursing? You're not a tiny baby!

Do you ever wonder how children’s perceptions of breastfeeding evolve as they get older? I do! I am interested in how children’s perceptions change specifically in the period surrounding their wean time, as well as the next couple of years after weaning. It seems obvious to me that a child’s relationship to breastfeeding evolves from the time they are a newborn until the time they wean.
 
What happens then? Breastfeeding which was always a personal experience for the child becomes something of a spectator sport, something which they no longer participate in, yet they still see other children doing. Recently, my 2 ½ year old daughter and I were at the library socializing with other children her age. A nursing toddler, a little girl, Rita’s size, caught her eye. She hurried over and asked “Are you nursing?” The mother replied “Yes” politely, while the nursing toddler continued breastfeeding.
 
Then, Rita asked “How come you're nursing? You're not a tiny baby!” I started to cringe, wondering where this conversation would lead. The mother smiled but paused for a moment and responded “Because she still likes to.” (A great answer in my book!) Rita seemed content with it too and an awkward 'extended breastfeeding' explanation crisis was averted. What strikes me as comical about this situation and others similar to it is that Rita breastfed long beyond being a “tiny baby”. In fact when she weaned, she was quite the big girl, weighing in at over 30 lbs and past 2 years old! Yet, for some reason, at this point Rita only associates nursing with tiny babies.
 
Perhaps, I am the culprit to Rita’s association of breastfeeding with tiny babies. After Rita weaned, she would try to breastfeed from time to time.  I would respond to her nursing attempts by saying, “What are you doing trying to nurse? You're not a tiny baby anymore, you finished up all mama’s milk.” At this, she would laugh and forget about her request.
 
Did I oversimplify the breastfeeding relationship to my daughter throughout the weaning process? Granted she is only two, so many of our explanations to her are simple. But, after our interaction at the library, I felt like I may have fallen short. My daughter and I breastfed for an extended time, yet she didn’t understand our relationship when she saw another toddler-mother pair modeling it! I think I need to educate her on the evolving role that breastfeeding can play in a child’s life and emphasizing that it is unique to each child.
 
Growing up I was not exposed to breastfeeding. I have one memory from my youth of breastfeeding! It was Christmas and the whole family was together. I drifted from the group and wandered into the seemingly empty living room, there was my Aunt Nancy with my newborn cousin, silently nursing. I felt like I had interrupted and didn’t belong, I snuck out just as quietly as I had entered. That’s it, my only memory of breastfeeding comes from my Aunt isolating herself from the rest of my family to go nurse.
 
I will never forget the first time I saw a group of mothers breastfeeding together. At that point I was a breastfeeding mom myself, and it blew my mind! It was as if it kindled an ancient memory in me, as if, deep down my cells, I remembered a time when women gathered and tended their children together. I don’t want my daughter to grow up with the minimal exposure to breastfeeding that I had. I want her to understand it as a natural part of our lives, something that does not need to be secretive or concealed.
 
I want her to know how it filled me with pride to breastfeed her!  It fills me with joy to think about her experiencing this same relationship someday! As she grows and her memories of being at the breast grow foggier, I will continue educating her about the normalcy of breastfeeding (at any size or age). I’m not trying to turn my two year old into a lactivist by any means; it is simply my hope that as she gets older she remains comfortable with the breastfeeding relationship when she observes it! As with most situations in life, a bit of compassion and understanding go along way!

Mother and Daughter: Friends Forever

Hello Mamas! Today I experienced my first writer's block in a long time. Looking for inspiration, I asked my daughter, “What should mama write about today?” She replied “Write a note about what daddy does at work all day.” That made me laugh! Although I find my husband's career path quite captivating, I will spare you all the details of a day in the life of a Community Outreach Director!
 
Instead, I want to chat about the evolution of mother-daughter relationships! Of course, all of my feelings apply to a mother-son relationship as well, but I chose to highlight mother-daugher for two reasons 1) because I have a daughter (Thanks, Captain Obvious : ) ) But, also because so much time and resources have been dedicated to the precious often tumultuous mother-daughter duo.
 
“I’m always gonna be your friend, always!” Rita exclaimed in her sing-song toddler speak. With those few simple words my heart melted. Lately, Rita and I have had our fair share of battles. Mini battles which stem from day-to-day tantrum prompters like brushing her curly locks, getting shoes and a coat on, or, our latest episode: who gets her out of her crib in the morning, mom or dad. If mom arrives surely she will cry out for Daddy, and vise versa! Very annoying first thing in the morning. After the third morning of her rejecting my open arms and calling for dad, the tears came! Mama’s feelings were hurt!
 
Surely I put my mother’s tender heart through the blender more than a few times! Lately, I constantly have to remind myself not to take Rita’s little mood swings and off color comments personally. Most of all I remind myself: She is only 2 years old and does not understand that some words truly can cut like a knife! In the midst of our mini battles (much worse when Dad is not around to mediate) I have to take a step back and say “Hey, you are the adult here, don’t start throwing your own fit!” I have noticed that for the first time since Rita is born I have given her some “attitude”. Meaning, she hits that last nerve of mine and I get sassy and change my tone with her, almost like sisters! I do not like this; it makes me feel very childish! But, apparently there is still a part of me who feels rejected and disheartened when I feel unappreciated and mistreated by my loved ones. Naturally, right?
 
It seems to me as mothers we often put aside our inner emotions for the sake of others, and it sucks! Sometimes, it is so important to express these emotions to our family members so they understand where we are coming from and we walk away feeling like our emotions are rational and justified. Letting it out every once in a while is way better than blowing your top at any given moment given the proper stimulus. Nobody likes to watch a toddler meltdown, but nobody, I mean nobody wants to watch a mother publicly meltdown!
 
Even though we have all been there, we look upon that mom losing it with her kid in the grocery store and think, "Man, what kinda mother...?” From now on, I am going to make it a point to give a little smile or reassuring “I’ve been there, Sister” because for me, nothing is worse than feeling like you are going through the tribulations of motherhood in isolation!
 
So, can mother and child be friends forever? I absolutely think so! I feel it is our responsibility to help foster that friendly, fun-filled relationship with our children. Not that we should dismiss role of disciplinarian and life guide, but rather that we can have our cake and eat it too. We can raise children who respect us but also think of us as a friend, how revolutionary!
 
Till Next Time, Be Well! To Flourishing Friendships!

Jasmine

A gift to my daughter

NBNP081012I want to give my toddler, Ember, this beautiful gift: to accept her for exactly who she is. It’s a gift I want to give myself too.

I realized that too often I waste precious thought-time comparing myself to other moms and then comparing Ember to other babies.

It isn’t fair to either of us. The temptation is hard to resist, especially after Ember has a hard night with many wakings or when she wants me to hold her most of the day and I think of all the things I want to do but can’t manage to complete.

When I compare Ember to herself, I see how much she has grown, and it helps me to see her more for the beautiful child she is - I see that she sleeps much better than she used to! She is happier more often! She plays on her own sometimes now! Also, I accomplish more than I did when she was a newborn. I can write this newsletter! I read a novel last month!  Ember and I spend a lot of quality time together cuddling and playing!

She shines and sparkles just the way she is. I love her more than I ever imagined I could love. I always have, but I am now committed to loving her for exactly who she is – restless nights and all! And on that note, to loving myself for who I am too!

Do you compare yourself or your baby to others? If so, what are your thoughts on it? If not, how do you keep yourself from doing it???

Teething

It’s 4 PM and I still have my jammies on. The dishes are piled high, the trash needs to be taken out, toys are strewn across the living room floor. The compost bucket hasn’t been emptied and has attracted the entire fruit fly population of New York . . .

What is going on?

Teething!!! To think at one time we all cut teeth! It just looks like it hurts so very badly!

I hadn’t been feeling in top shape myself, so when teething struck, we were down for the count. Baby Ember began refusing all solid food and solely getting her nourishment from me. At night she would have been happiest if she could sleep with my nipple in her mouth, but as that arrangement was not satisfactory for me, we ended up having all-night-wake, cry, nurse, wake, cry, nurse-time. Not ideal, but at least I had a way I could soothe her pain.

I began to feel less like a person and more like a receptacle for milk delivery, as well as a tool to divert her attention from the pain – meaning besides spending most of my day nursing and eating, I engaged in ridiculous antics with teddy bears and dolls, read board books in loud silly voices, sang and danced around the living room, tempted her with juicy bits of frozen peaches and blueberries, and yes, loaded up some ol’ Sesame Street when I felt too exhausted to do more.

At times like these, I am able to be more caring towards Ember when I also treat myself with extra care. I know I need extra nourishment to keep up with all the nursing, extra night waking and intensive caretaking, so I put my effort into caring for the baby and feeding myself. It can get discouraging when I look around at my messy environment, but I try to let it go and focus on what I’m doing well – caring for this little being who depends on me for her health and comfort.  

To those of you who have more than one, I wonder how you manage when there is a spell like this? It makes me worried about how I would handle two children! Do you hire a babysitter? Figure out clever methods of diversion to occupy the healthy child? Call on relatives or friends? Trudge through like a soldier?

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