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Posts in behavior Category


Lemonade Wars: Free Market Goodness or Capitalism Gone Mad?

Posted by Jen on September 14, 2010 at 7:00 AM in behavior
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Here's the scene: Three little boys on one side of the street (aka the Lemonade Boys) spend an entire afternoon setting up a lemonade stand. When sales are slow, these savvy salesmen take matters into their own hands. One boy runs up and down the street, knocking on doors, with offers of a lemonade delivery service, while the other two refine the made up recipe to accommodate the rush of new orders. Their $2 till is suddenly overflowing and the Lemonade Boys are in business. Their net profit at market close? Well over fifty dollars.

Fast-forward to the next day: Two lovely little girls on the other side of the street (aka the Lemonade Girls) set up a beautiful lemonade stand bright and early. They have been planning this for months and see nothing but success in their future. Meanwhile, the Lemonade Boys have plans to take their business to the next level, but there are some labor issues. They have suddenly acquired a manager in one super-bossy older sister. It takes two hours to settle their dispute, end the picketing and get back on track, only to realize they have competition across the street.

This was not in the plan.

Negotiations ensue.
A merger is discussed, but the Lemonade Girls will have none of it. They spy coercion, unfair distribution of profits and a whole lot more hassle on the production line. No deal. Discussions come to a abrupt halt.

The Lemonade Boys and their now demoted sister/manager have no mercy. They will crush the competition! They will slash prices! Add a new product line (Betty Crocker brownies)! Form a street team for guerrilla advertising!

The Lemonade Girls are clever, however. They have already instituted an aggressive marketing campaign an hour earlier. The boy with the bike privileges is already making the rounds, spreading word of their one time lemonade sale far and wide. The Lemonade Boys don't have the budget for that, so warlike tactics ensue. The Mother Regulator has to step in and abolish the advertised recording which is being broadcast at high volume from a battery operated speaker in the driveway.

No worries, the Lemonade Girls are outpacing the Lemonade Boys 3 to 1. Careful product development, marketing and an excellent customer service experience prevails. The girls are ahead of the game and showing no signs of remorse over the proposed merger. Sales are off the charts!

The only fallout is the neighbors who feel dazed and confused by the onslaught of messaging coming at them from every available channel.

"It's like a war out there," the lady with the poodle reported. "Yesterday it was fifty cents for a large, now it's a dollar for a large? I don't know who to buy from or what to do."

In the end, the Lemonade Girls netted $64 while the Lemonade Boys happily split their $28 profit four ways. The Mother Regulator thought this was a free market success but there was some dissent from Commissioners on both sides of the street.

"Um, was it really necessary for there to be TWO lemonade stands today?"
"Why couldn't the Lemonade Boys have waited til another day, so as not to rain on the Lemonade Girls parade?"
"Don't you think it would have been better to emphasize friendship over competition?"

Needless to say, the Mother Regulator faced a rigorous peer review and may or may not retain her right to oversee fair practices in the lemonade market next season.

What say you, Grownups from the Real World? Are we in danger of creating fantastic business people who have lost the art of living peacefully with their neighbors? Or is all well that ends well in love and war? What would you do? Nix the stand, wait for another day, or let the free market reign? Your unfettered opinions solicited in the comments below.


Easing Worries for School-Aged Children

Posted by Jen on September 1, 2010 at 8:01 AM in behavior
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alice in wonderland

When my kids were preschoolers, we got through their anxieties with a very hands on approach. We made worry boxes, we crafted bird nests out of blankets and sheets, we sang songs sweetly in the night. Now that they are older, I'm finding their anxious feelings come out in more subtle ways and my old-fashioned methods just won't do. No one is that quick to discuss what's going on, and the differences in personality now are great. One kid will obsess; the other will hibernate. One blows up to blow off steam; the other shuts down or can't stop joking.

I've had to go back to the drawing board. Here's my new back-to-school list of mom-can-do when my kids are showing signs of coming apart at the seams:

Stay Positive. Madeleine repeatedly tells me that my warnings deepen her anxiety. She already can feel the consequences of making the misstep, she does not need me to remind her how much worse things will get if she doesn't get with the program. When I can honestly give her a picture of how good it will be because I know she can course correct, she is much more positive. If I can focus on the strengths she already possesses to address the problem, even better.

Be in it Together. Anxiety deepens when kids feel like they have to do everything on their own. It helps when I say to Carter, "Don't worry, I'll stick with you until I know you can do this on your own." This is especially calming when kids are overwhelmed by the size of the task or the scope of a new responsibility they are trying to master. You can give your kids the full weight of their responsibility without disconnecting from them emotionally. "WE" words really help.

Set Judgment Aside. Do you remember that anxious feeling you used to get as a kid when you knew you had done something wrong, and it was just a matter of time before someone found out? We increase our kids' anxiety when we pile on judgment or make it personal when we can be dispassionate about it and stick to the facts about what happened and how. They already know there's a problem; they don't need to feel like who they are is a problem as well.

Switch it up. I'm learning to break up anxious moments by changing gears and suggesting a new activity we can do together. Right now I've been asking Madeleine to go for an evening walk so we can go to the store and get her favorite Japanese crackers for the next day's lunch. Just being together, joking around is helping her relax and be less intense about her adjustment to middle school. I do the same thing after we've had a big discussion about something where tensions were high. We all need reminders that it's not the end of the world if there are challenges, and we can still enjoy each other's company in the midst of our worries.

How do you light up worry at your house? What's on your list of things you can do when your kids are clearly anxious or stressed?


Hitting the Reset Button When Kids Fight

Posted by Jen on July 21, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Siblingsbehavior
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m and c on swing  151

For the longest time, while my kids didn't always get along, we really didn't have too much trouble with fighting. Every once in a while we'd experience a breakdown of one kind or another, but for the most part, the mood between the kids was fairly peaceful.

This summer, however, the tides seemed to have turned. Tensions are running high and the smallest infraction sets off a series of explosions that leave both kids falling apart. To make things worse, digging into one thing that's not working seems to trigger memories of old grievances that never fully resolved. It's been a real mess.

While I'm all for talking it out, I can't stand it when the focus is on what the other person did with no willingness at all to make things better by being personally responsible. I know this is a lot to ask of kids, but I want my kids to learn that they have the power to improve their relationships, simply by paying attention to what works as well as what they want.

The other day, determined to break the cycle of blame and shame, I gave both kids a piece of paper, a pen and set them up in separate parts of the house. Each kid's task was to write down five personal boundaries--things they just could not bear to have violated. Things that they just knew needed to be honored in order for peace to reign. Both kids spent time on their lists and it had a surprising effect. By having to think about what was personally important to them, it helped shift the focus off the other person. They were reflecting on what they needed instead of everything wrong. And the cloud slowly lifted.

Once they were finished we compiled the list into one generic list of boundaries that they both could honor, and I was surprised at how nicely they fit together. One kid didn't want unwanted hugs or physical affection; the other didn't want hitting, so it was easy to write "No physical contact" as a shared boundary. Both kids agreed that knowing they were guaranteed their own physical space was a great relief and worth the sweeping mandate.

Once we had our list together, I decided on the consequence for disregarding the boundaries. If either kid crossed the line, both kids would lose an individual preference that left them feeling a small loss. For Madeleine, that meant no cell phone. For Carter, that meant no screen time. To keep it from feeling too punitive, both kids would also immediately be moved to a different activity. Madeleine would get her turn on the computer, and Carter would be sent to play with the boys next door. That way, each kid would have a chance to recharge before coming back together to try again.

By linking the consequence to both kids, they both became invested in not punching the other person's buttons. They had a new incentive to work together, not only to honor the other kid but to preserve their own best interests. Best yet, I no longer needed to get my hands dirty trying to sort out who did what or who started it which is always a fruitless endeavor. There was no longer one person to blame or somebody else to hold responsible for making things worse. The only thing worth noting was that the system had broken down and needed to be reset by time apart in a way that both kids agreed was fair and reasonable. By tying the list to the potential loss of something important, they were willing to fully engage in a way that honored the importance of coming together.

How do you navigate fighting at your house? Do you have a special way to hit the reset button when things start falling apart? We'd love to hear your sibling strategies in the comments below.


When (Not) Helping Sends the Wrong Message

Posted by Jen on May 26, 2010 at 7:07 AM in behavior
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me and madeleine

It's 9:20 in the morning on a Tuesday, and the texts start rolling in.

Madeleine: mom.

Me: (unaware of my cell phone which I have turned to silent while I'm on another call)

Madeleine: MOM. do u know where my safety patrol belt is?

Me: (still not getting the message)

Madeleine: MOM!!! can u find it and bring it to me right now???????? i have a meeting at 10 and i have to have it. PLEASE!!!

I finally got this strange feeling--was it all the "yelling" in capital letters?--and got up and checked my cell phone. And to be totally honest, reading through those highly punctuated texts, I had mixed feelings.

My normal response to this kind of I-forgot-something hysteria is to reply with something reasonable, executed without excessive emotion (most of the time): I'm sorry, but that sounds like a personal problem. If you want to keep track of your safety patrol belt, I'm happy to help you come up with a system when you get home.

I know, no awards for sensitivity, but it covers the you-have-to-be-responsible-for-your-own-stuff bases nicely, don't you think?

Lately, however, I've been second guessing this hold-the-line approach, mostly because I'm watching Madeleine execute this same style of boundary heavy behavior on Carter and her friends when they are struggling to compensate for their own forgetfulness or normal kid mistakes. I'm watching her deliver these perfectly reasonable speeches about what she's willing to be responsible for (or not) and something inside me starts to cringe.

It's not that I don't want her to master personal responsibility--believe me, I do. I'm just wondering if I'd do her a better service by trying to develop another side of her character in situations like this. What if I dove in more and offered a heavier dose of compassion in addition to a helping hand? Which lesson would be more valuable in the long run? Knowing it's your own fault when you mess up and being willing to absorb all the difficulties that go with that? Or being more aware that when you make a mistake, you can always reach out because someone you love will be there to help you?

I know the answer is somewhere in the happy middle, but recently I've been experimenting with a sharp course correction in the other direction: zero judgment, more assistance and lots of compassion. I'm hoping that this might generate a little bit more connection, the next time someone smaller around here (or bigger!) needs some mercy over not being able to get it together.


Yesterday I decided to give finding the belt an honest effort and when it was nowhere to be found twenty minutes later, I texted back.

Me: Sorry, babe. Not seeing it anywhere. We can look together when you get home.

She was fine with that, and when she got home after school, that's exactly what we did.

I think I'll always be the get-it-together, do-not-complain-to-me-because-you-lost-it kind of hard liner with my kids simply because I do not want to be raising kids who are helpless or irresponsible, but maybe it's okay to also send the message that I'm here to pick up the pieces--especially during those times when our kids are already dealing with the disappointment or shame of not doing well in the first place.

What do you think? Do you run your kids lunches to school when they forget them? Do you drop off the missing gym clothes? Or do you hold the line? I'd like to know.


Surviving Toddlerdom: When Your Baby Gets a Personality

Posted by Kristen on May 24, 2010 at 7:00 AM in behavior
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We gushed on and on about how The Baby was such a good listener. If we had been horrible parents, we may have even said that he listens better than his brothers ever did. You tell him "no," he stops about 75% of the time. That's excellent for a toddler and near perfection for a male toddler.

He would help me find his shoes. He sat pretty quietly when I put his clothes on. There was minimal trouble getting him into his car seat. And then two days ago, all of that changed. Baby Mason woke up with a personality and it was not necessarily a good one. When I don't respond the way he would like me to respond to things, he pinches me or hits me. In fact, he even gets a cranky face so I know to throw up the armor.

He is fourteen months old. He is starting to really talk but our comprehension of what he is saying is not meeting his needs. I can visibly see his frustration at not having his needs met and not understanding what he wants. I'm frustrated because he's lashing out. Here are some ways that we have handled the onset of toddlerdom in the past and tips for surviving it.

Praise is a big motivator. There is a lot of appreciation and positive reinforcement in very loud sing, songy voices in our house. It's annoying to everyone but Mason seems to like it. Sure there are still moments when he runs away with the clicker and hides it or tries to flush rolls of toilet paper down the lav but I have seen an improvement in his overall feisty behavior.

Remember it is age-appropriate behavior. I have a friend who is panicking about her child biting everyone right now. Well, her child is eighteen months old and is still at that stage where she is trying to talk but not everyone is understanding her yet. Her frustration mounts and she bites. My friend has gotten very good at seeing the warning signs and cutting her off at the pass but the 24/7 stress of keeping everyone safe from the biter is wearing her down. I just keep reminding her that in a few months, her baby will be able to communicate better and will be less likely to bite in frustration.

Enlist help
. My children love nothing better than to be in each other's business. I have recently used those tendencies to get a little back up from the older boys. I sat Ethan down the other day and explained to him how Mason was getting bigger and that he watches everything his brothers do all the time. I may have mentioned that if Mason is copying Ethan or Nathan's bad behavior, everyone will get in trouble. Now Ethan is on task to lead Mason in the way of righteousness. He makes sure that everyone is following the rules and he has designated himself as Chief Translator for the Baby (even if he can't understand anything Mason is saying either).

Know your child's limits. Mason gets cranked up when he is tired or hungry or hot. As my friend does with her biter, I try to make sure that I stay ahead of all the basic needs so that everything doesn't come to a head in the worst possible way. It amazes me how much a late lunch can throw all of my children into a tizzy. I'm getting better and so are my kids.

Do you have some tips or tricks to taming the wild bear? Please share.


Celebrating (and Surviving!) Graduation

Posted by Jen on May 19, 2010 at 7:00 AM in behavior
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carter is proud.jpg

We recently celebrated a graduation in our family as Madeleine and Carter watched their dad receive a masters degree in software engineering. This was a huge event in our family and attending the ceremony easily could have been a real disaster as any parent who's ever had to wait with a fidgety child knows.

Here's how the kids survived (and actually enjoyed) one of the most exciting events in recent Lemen history. We hope you find it helpful for you and your kids this graduation season!

Set the tone. Every kid no matter what you might imagine wants his or her parent to know that they are loved and important. I introduced the event to the kids by explaining that this was a really important day that we'd been waiting for as a family for five years and that their presence was the number one gift that could make their dad happy. Though sobered at the prospect of such a long day, they both quickly got on board.

kids are on board.jpg

Prepare your celebrants. There's no child in an America who will cheer when you tell them they'll be sitting in a stadium for four to six hours in the finest dress, but I've found from experience in other waiting situations (airports, long lines) that it's better to be upfront about the challenge than to spring it on them the day of. When we arrived, both kids settled into introvert chill out mode while a lot of the kids around us started to freak out that this would take longer than they thought.

Come prepared. Both kids are avid readers, so we loaded up both Kindles and brought a respectable stack of comic books and some Greek mythology. Don't forget the discreet ziploc full of honey wheat pretzels and the somewhat healthy bar of dark chocolate for myself. I brought wipes for any emergencies and also pads of paper and pens for doodling. We needed every single thing in my bag.

carter with book.jpg
Bend the rules.
There's nothing more annoying to me than a tweenager who is always plugged in to an iPod, but for this big day, I made an exception. No earbuds during the ceremony, but for the two hour wait before, no problem. I also gave Carter unlimited sips from my giant size soda (thankfully snacks were permitted at our event) when normally I would insist on something more nutritious. If I had had little children, you bet I would have uploaded the latest greatest toddler show on my iPhone to keep them occupied during the more challenging moments.

kids with ipod.jpg

Document the experience. I'm a professional photographer, but the lenses in my bag (designed to shoot in dimly lit handmade houses in cramped close quarters) were useless in this situation. I turned my lens on the kids instead, so Dave could see their reactions to what was happening and enjoy after the fact how excited they were to see him achieve this important goal.

carter with smile.jpg

Explain the significance. Dave really wanted the kids to see that there is indeed a rewarding finish to a long academic challenge. He made the day meaningful to them by giving them stoles of appreciation which he presented with heart and soul. Seeing their dad so happy and proud because of an academic achievement is something sure to stay with them for years to come. No doubt they'll reference this accomplishment when embarking on their own.

dave outside.jpg

One final note: While complaining is normal in situations like this, I asked my kids to direct any grievances to me, not to their dad, on the big day. I explained that sometimes when you are the center of attention and asking people you love to do something that could be considered long or boring that you can start to feel ashamed or vulnerable about being the cause of all the fuss. I told them that it's actually difficult for the person of honor to sometimes really let the love in when they know someone else is being put out.

When I explained that sometimes complaining to the person of honor was one of the number one things that triggers this kind of nervousness, their eyes widened. I told them they could complain to each other or me all day long, but today was the day to spare Dad the moaning and groaning. They really got it. And you know what? They really did not complain after that at all. They rose to the occasion, told me what they needed when they needed it and made the day magic for everyone--including me!

I bet your kids would, too.

kids are sweet.jpg

Do you have any tips about graduation success with kids? Feel free to share in the comments below.


The Hidden Benefit of Building Competency

Posted by Jen on April 7, 2010 at 8:22 AM in behavior
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little bit nervous

When Madeleine was in first grade, she had a really rough bout of anxiety that appeared to be related to her current school situation. Like all typical American mothers I obsessed, read books and concluded there must be something terribly wrong. Off to the pediatrician, my knight in shining armor for all such occasions, and asked for his take on what was going on.

He, of course, would have nothing of my theories before checking in with Madeleine first. Together they discussed the possible reasons for her worries and agreed it wouldn't hurt anyone if she checked in with Dr. Dianne, the resident developmental psychologist on staff.

Madeleine, in the same way that squeaky sound always stops when you take your car to the mechanic, was a picture of mental health when interviewed by Dr. Dianne. While she did think a different kind of school would be ideal for Madeleine, Dr. Dianne had another, more immediate solution to Madeleine's worries.

Chores. And a healthy dose of self-directed self-care.

Do you make your bed? she asked.
Neither one of us had the heart to tell her that no one in our entire family ever made their bed under any circumstances.

Can you get your own breakfast? she quizzed.
At this stage of my mothering career, I was all into the shake and pour pancake scene. It had not occurred to me that Madeleine could be responsible for much of anything, let alone her breakfast.

A six year old girl can do a lot of things for herself, Dr. Dianne said. You'd be surprised how great that feels.

We ended up changing schools for the new year, and it absolutely helped. But what helped more was Dr. Dianne's nudge to help Madeleine overcome her anxiety by gaining mastery over simple tasks--like pouring her own juice and grabbing her breakfast bar of choice. I took a step back after that and while we still aren't big on bed-making, there are a lot more signs of competency around here.

As an eleven year old, Mad knows how to make some key contributions that matter. I know now when she's antsy or anxious that enlisting her support is the first line of defense. She can get Carter and company out the door when I am powering out a deadline, and she knows how to snack and water the gaggle of neighborhood kids when she gets home.

I'm still not going to win any awards when it comes to enforcing chores, but I know how to ask for greater participation in the ebb and flow of family life.

How do you encourage your kids to take care of themselves? On the continuum of hovering parent and boot camp supervisor, where do you fall? Is your house a tightly run ship or a kid-nation free-for-all? Tell us how you build competency and self-confidence in the comments below.


The One Year Old Crazy

Posted by Patience on January 14, 2010 at 8:55 PM in Babiesbehavior
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As dreamy as this child is, she has been making me a little crazy lately. The push and pull of toddlerhood has me watching the clock starting mid-afternoon waiting for Jorge to stroll through the door so I can hand her off.

The crazy parts:

She wants me to hold her 90% of the day, but then she wants to be down, she's not sure which.
She has spent a serious amount of time perfecting her dumping skills. Especially when I'm cleaning up.
Some days I feel like I a spending my days with a foreign national as she talks all day so intently, sure I should know what she is saying.
She wants to nurse when she's bored, and twiddle, which sends me totally overboard, the twiddling, not the nursing.
She's got a tiny violent streak, the hitting thing is new for me as a parent.
She shares almost all her food with the dog and is obsessed with placing his food in his water bowl.
She climbs on every table known to man.
She is just old enough to give Lucy a run for her money and start the occasional girl fight.

Just when I'm almost exasperated...

She leans over and gives me a giant open mouth kiss, or hurls her entire body on top of me to hug me.
She starts to dance like nobody's business, this kid has some serious moves.
She brings a book to me and forces herself into my lap.
She leans in to let the dog lick her.
She finds a new game to play with one of her siblings and has a special laugh reserved for this level of fun.
She entices me to chase her and loves to be surprised.
She claps her hands wildly and cheers when Jorge walks through the door.
She "talks" to me all day long, like her best girlfriend.
She loves to get her coat on and always cooperates.
She looks right into my camera and shows me all of herself with the greatest confidence.

I realize after four kids, I am still learning. They continue to teach me over and over again that you can be all the things. Tired, happy, exasperated, proud, angry, loving, sometimes all at the same time. Just when I think I'm the only parent going crazy, I head back to read up on child development to discover, once again, that all of these things are completely normal. For some reason I forget every time, or maybe it is because each child is so different and I need a reminder.

So now when it's 4:00pm and she has cleared every single last book from the bookshelf, I smile and sigh.

Is there an age or stage that drives you a little crazy? Feel free to confess or give words of wisdom in the comments.


Positively Not Nice

Posted by Jen on January 6, 2010 at 11:53 AM in behavior
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robot kid

My children know what a sucker I am for personality tests, organizational training or any other such management mumbo-jumbo. I can't help it. I love trying to figure out how people work best and how our natural inclinations feed (or foil) our best intentions. So I couldn't resist when I discovered the Positive Impact Test. No one even batted an eye at my house when I suggested we take the test on if it was meant for corporate execs and not necessarily mothers and children.

The Positive Impact Test is based on Tom Rath's book How Full is Your Bucket. The test (designed for adults) measures your recent positive interactions as well as how often you engage in habits that naturally contribute to the lives of people around you. The premise is that all day long we engage in activities, attitudes or postures that either increase other people's sense of well-being or we take away and that people enjoy life most when their "bucket" of positivity is full to overflowing.

We took turns taking the test half-serious but also a little curious. Was there anyone in this house with a penchant for creating positivity? No one was too sure, but everyone wanted to find out.

I won't reveal who scored what but I will say our struggles/triumphs with making a positive contribution were well-distributed across the continuum. We nodded in solemn agreement when one person in our family, notorious for almost never making eye-contact, had to answer "strongly disagree" to the statement about smiling at people you meet. We moaned in protest when another person, famous in our house for issuing blistering critiques tried to score "strongly agree" on the statement about freely extending recognition of others. And we each gave ourselves high marks for the declaration about enjoying being around positive people. At least we're all on the same page there!

Sitting with our scores and sparing with another about our varying results, I wondered if a simple online quiz would get these kids thinking about their interactions. At eight and eleven, it's a veritable miracle that they don't fight twenty-four hours a day, though the negativity between them seems to be increasing as the developmental gap widens between them with age. "Is this just a ploy to get people to be nicer?" the older, more savvy customer asked. "Aren't I nice enough already?" said the younger who took his test with his customary breeziness and honesty.

And herein lies the rub.

Kids are asked all the time to be nice which often looks more like being inauthentic, faking it or going through the motions. And being nice doesn't require that you be honest--in fact, the opposite is most often true. Being nice can absolutely be an exercise in sparing people from the truth, especially if exposing the truth adds a layer of complication to your relationship that you'd rather not deal with.

Knowing how to be positive and how to recognize the positive things unfolding around you is a skill that anyone can develop--and it doesn't require you to cover anything over or pretend that difficulties or complications do not exist. It's about taking on a perspective that helps you stay hopeful. It's about recognizing how your take on things can help (or hurt) other people in their attempt to stay hopeful, too.

"I don't think it's about being nice," I told them both. "It's more about understanding that having a positive outlook on what's happening can help you and that talking that way helps other people, too."

What do you think? Are you teaching your kids to be nice or to be positive? Do you think you can find a way for them to be authentic and honest (especially about elephants in the room) in the process?

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