How To Put Your Kids to Bed in Whateverthef*ck Amount of Steps!!

Hello! I’ll be your child sleep guru. Leave your exhaustion and frustrations at the door because I’m here to help!

First a little about me. I’m a once proud man who has given himself over fully to parenthood. I’m a tad too heavy (actually it ranges from a tad to ‘grossly’, but that’s just a medical term) and happier for learning how to cry and doing it 5-7 nights a week. But don’t fret, these are tears of exhaustion and we all know there are different kinds of crying. I have very little sorrow these days and a great deal of joy (and exhaustion. Did I mention exhaustion?)

Like most parents we struggled with getting our children on a sleep schedule. There were tired, sleep deprived days and restless, exhausting nights. We struggled. But eventually we found ourselves in a routine of sorts. I don’t really know how, but there were a few months, I think, a couple winters back, maybe, when we were done and the house was cleaned up (a relative status during these early years) by say, 9 o’clock. These were the glory days. But then we did what any smart parents would do and changed who put who to bed. I mean, I wanted some time with the little one and she was missing the big one, so we switched it up. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but they disagreed. Both of them. So, there we were pulling our hair out. Trying over and over to get them to accept going to bed alone. Together. Apart. Whatever. Nope.

Then we figured it out. Here it is. The fail proof plan for getting your kids to sleep.

  • First things first. Have a healthy late afternoon snack. I find this is a good time to reward positive behavior with sugar. It’s not that I don’t get the dangers, it’s just they love it so much and surely they’ve sat still or played together or at the very least spent a portion of time not hitting anyone or throwing anything. That kind of self control deserves a reward. Besides, bedtime is far enough off for them to really be able to burn off anything you might give them. Salty processed snacks work as well.
  • Ease into dinner with some screen time Nothing big, but mine are 5 and 3. Perhaps they can do it on the deck. Get some fresh air.
  • Get the table ready for a good old fashioned family dinner At least that way they will have a sense that there is another way, not plopped on couches in front of the TV. Occasionally me and the Mrs. even sit at the table al0ne and catch up. It’s nice. Plus nothing goes with nuggets quite like Octonauts and Lego Batman programs.
  • After dinner let’s all go to our separate corners After you’ve devolved into trading m&m’s for bites of string beans there’s a natural tension that needs to be released. We tend to hide in the kitchen gorging on the m&m’s they didn’t earn while they go slightly banana’s in the living room and backyard.
  • Now that we’ve all calmed down let’s bribe them into a bath This works about 50% of the time. Frankly they’ve developed enough methods to get all the rewards they could want and by now they usually are tired of candy.
  • Sure. It’s 8:30. Let’s get one more show in.
  • Okay. I blew that one. I should have been putting on PJ’s and brushing teeth… But on the bright side I’m all caught up on Facebook. One more show. A quiet one.
  • Okay, NOW I’m all caught up on Facebook. Final show, Sarah and Duck, it’s the right thing for bedtime. I will skip over the professional wrestling moves often incorporated in subduing a 3 year old to brush his teeth. He’s stronger than you can imagine.
  • Hit the sheets. And of course by that I mean we bunker down, literally lying in bed with them. Some will say this is not the right way. Many actually. That’s all.
  • Bathroom. Can’t say no and we don’t want them wetting the bed Also, we have one who has made it his strategy to power down as many liquids as possible at about eight. It’s just good policy to let him go when he asks.
  • Lie in bed with them as they wear themselves out with a thousand stuffed animals that they only play with in bed. As I read this I’m starting to wonder why we even keep them. At the very least we shouldn’t keep them in their room. I’m pretty sure I have this thought every night.
  • Snap. Yell. Bark at your three year old that you’ve had enough. GO TO SLEEP. The predictable tears are the worst because it was your own lack of self control that brought them. Now you are both emotional wrecks. Kids recover quicker. This becomes the guilt and shame that weighs your shoulders down and gives you cravings for ice cream
  • Apologize. Make boundaries. One big stuffed dog and one more animal. And that’s it.
  • Buckle under and allow them all the stuffed animals they want.
  • Cry in the dark. As long as you control your own breathing they shouldn’t notice.
  • Fall asleep while they play in the bed. Let’s face it, you’re exhausted anyway.
  • Finally, now that you are unconscious and non responsive, somehow, they fall asleep.
  • Wake up, eyes puffy from crying yourself to sleep.
  • Look over and see your sleeping three year old. My goodness. He’s an angel.
  • Take pride in his development. Technically he fell asleep on his own!
  • Go back downstairs and cry the tearless sobs of a parent starting to clean a disaster area just before midnight. Cleaning, though annoying, will ease just enough tension to allow you to relax into a slouch on the couch in a half cleaned living room with a thing of Ben & Jerry’s or some Pringles.
  • Wash it all down with a giant plastic tumbler of boxed wine.

The best designs are simple. Elegant. Give up. Give in. Eat Ice Cream. Drink wine.

The best we do so much of the time is to keep them alive and get out of the way. I’m good at the first part, still working on getting out of the way..

 

Grabbing Life, Holding On

img_2962With every age and stage there comes certain signs. Signs that my little boys are running out of time to be ‘little boys’. It’s not such a bad thing. In fact, for them it’s the most exciting thing you could imagine. The walls are starting to come down. Well, perhaps not, but they are certainly moving further and further out and for my sweet rambunctious boys this is very, very exciting. From time to time they will pretend they are babies. Not in any real way, but they will say, ‘I’m a baby…’ in a silly voice, smile, giggle and laugh at the absurdity. They are decidedly little boys and we are accepting as best we can that we’ll never have our babies again.

img_2921Like so many parents before us, we know they will always be our babies. It’ll be a metaphor to them, but it won’t be to us. They will be our two and only babies and we will hold them, if only in our hearts, as closely and tenderly as if they were newly wrapped and leaving the hospital for the first time for the rest of our lives.

But that will be it. The rest of our lives. The seemingly inexhaustible but ever diminishing time we have left with them, here amongst them, able to hug and be hugged is also being put into stark relief with each barrier breached and each new independence learned and granted. As they go through life reveling in the ever greater autonomy of being a ‘big boy’ another tiny tick passes and we are closer to the end. Not noticeably so, not always, but the big ones can pierce the bubble we’ve so happily stayed in during these early years. Can make us aware if not of our own ticking clocks then those of their time left in the bubble we’ve created and cared for and patched up and loved. As they grab life that is out there waiting for them we are hard pressed to let go of another tiny piece of it that we’d give anything to keep in our grasp til the end of time.

img_2930It’s joyous. I don’t want you to misunderstand. It’s a faint feeling of time passing and is easily overwhelmed by the joys we share as they start there journey’s. But it is a real feeling. A real sense of life’s passing. We are older parents and we aren’t so quick to let feelings slide passed as we once were. I suppose that’s true for all parents, regardless of age. But with the years we bring to the task comes a thought that this second act that will happen when they no longer need the minute to minute, the meal to meal, the day to day or week to week attention they once did may be more on the down slope of our time here, our time with them. It’s jarring to think, but comforting as well. As long as we can make it long enough to know they are safe, to know they are loved and to know that they know how wonderful this all is, than knowing this is the thing, being a parent and doing our best to make foster this family, we’re pretty happy having that be the thing we go out on. The last and best of what we did while we were so lucky to be here.img_2978

The Golden Age of Pre-Facebook Parenthood on The Good Men Project

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Don’t get me wrong. I love all the connections I’ve maintained via Facebook. Not to mention those that were born there. Still, I can’t help but think that something has been lost…

The Golden Age of Pre-Facebook Parenthood is on The Good Men Project. Please head over and give it a look and let me know what you think!

 

 

Our Boy’s Day

img_2836I didn’t really appreciate a clean house until I had kids. Before they came around I kept things pretty well in order. The rotting vegetables in the fridge were rare and spotted early. The floors and surfaces were always clear, though I will admit, corners were, well, utilized I guess would be the right word.

After we had kids all that took a back seat. We are catching up and have a house you could walk into without causing us great embarrassment about 4 or 5 nights a week. We both work full time and don’t have the spare cash to pay for people to clean. So when my wife asked if I’d like to take the guys out for a few hours this past Saturday so she could do a ‘full clean’ I jumped on the opportunity.

It was a super hot and steamy morning and I lured them out to the car with a promise of driving to the playground. Now a playground offer has a 90% plus hit rate with my boys. They love a playground. But when it’s a playground we have to drive to there is no stopping them as they hurtle out the door and hustle into their seats. Today was no exception. There was a brief moment of curious concern when I started the car and mommy wasn’t in it. ‘Where’s mommy?’ Teddy asked. ‘She’s staying home to clean. We’re having a boys day!’

We tend to travel as a pack on weekends. It’s a cool stage of life, right now. For all it’s inefficiency the fact that we do everything together is cool. I’m still able to get some quiet time at night and we get as much cleaning done day to day as our energy will allow us after we’ve gotten them to sleep for the night. This boys day was a departure from the norm. A notable one.

The park was fun and dangerous and exciting. Evidence of the differing nature of ‘boys day’ came early.

‘Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.’ Charlie said.

I scanned the perimeter. No bathrooms in sight. There was a treeline, though. Hm…

‘Okay, buddy. We’re going to the woods. Teddy!’

So off we trekked to learn a key skill of boyhood, how to effectively and respectively relieve oneself in nature. I would never have guessed this, but it felt fatherly to be in the woods with the boys, making sure they were out of sight from the other kids and parents. Making sure that they were off the trail sufficiently and coaching them on how to position themselves so they had the best cover. Also, walking back it felt like we were the cool kids. The rebels.

It really was the biggest of big playgrounds and there was plenty of fun and exploring to do. But the day had to move on and we had to run an errand. We were heading to the mall to get a replacement line for the weed-eater because there was supposedly a good deal at Sears. Not the type of thing we’d make a special trip for typically, but we were giving mom all the time she needed to clean and it was the mall with the indoor playground so it was enticing all on it’s own.

There is no greater place to entertain to little boys then in the section of Sears where we looked for and failed to find the weed-eater line replacement. It was heaven. They were climbing on and pretend driving the ride on mowers, hiding in and around the sheds for sale. Teddy actually stopped at the push mower, the kind with no motor, and gasped, ‘So cool!’ Mind you, he had no idea the utility of the thing. He just knew he wanted to play with it. It was actually harder to get them out of there than it was to get them off the playground.

Thankfully, the ‘indoor playground’ has taken up a spot in there imagination over the years that has magnified it’s scale way out of proportion. I get it. I remember the excitement of coming across a McDonald’s with a playground on vacations when I was young. It’s so much fun to get caught up in these small extravagances with these guys. Excitement may be fleeting but it has yet to become something they control. When something, anything, hits them as exciting they burst and beam and giggle.

img_2842It’s a great thing this indoor play station. A chance to sit and let them roam free. Increasingly the generation so many lament who spend all day looking at their phones and seeming disengaged are the ones having kids and this little respite in their day, a chance to scroll and to check in with the world they miss is as exciting for them (us!) is pretty exciting for them to.

Before too long we were off. Turned out that no one could assure us that there wasn’t soy or sesame or peanuts or tree nuts in any of the mall food so our attempts to grab lunch failed. So we went where the ‘food’ was safe for my guys. While the disappointment of not being able to get a doughnut (soy) was real, it being replaced by a trip to the candy shop was more than enough to compensate. That’s how we ended up with two bags of cotton candy. The little one doesn’t even like cotton candy. No bother, he just wanted to have the chance to hold the same big bag his brother had.

So the day was over and we were headed back to our clean home and some fun times with mommy. The clouds had appeared and we weren’t upset to spend the afternoon watching movies.

Boys days won’t last forever and they don’t honestly come around enough. But the truth is that I can’t get enough of them. Won’t get enough of them. Ever.

How I Understand Privilege

‘I wish I was black.’

I was probably 12 years old or so when I said this and I was 100% sincere. In that moment, looking out the window as the rural landscape of western New York flew past, barely undulating and never ending I couldn’t have been more sincere.

My life was basketball and I was a Piston’s fan, Isaiah Thomas was my all time favorite player. Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ was my first record. And I mean vinyl. Might have been my last as well. Tapes were on their way. All the guys I watched on the playgrounds and at the college, whose games I emulated and whose styles I mimicked were all black guys. I was into early rap through my older brothers. We had cardboard taped to the floor in the basement and we spent hours a day working on all the moves we could remember from ‘Breakin’. I’m not sure I could ever windmill but I could do everything else. I was a badass little pop and locker. I remember someone getting a hold of a tape of Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ and hearing it and thinking I’d just heard the coolest and damn near funniest thing ever. ‘Gooney goo goo’ had me rolling, and for the life of me now I can’t remember what the joke was to that punchline. Whatever, his stories were so clearly real and it felt like a sneak peak into a life that I was fascinated by. A life I could only imagine. A life I couldn’t stop imagining.

The appeal was made only stronger by the sense that they were fighting a battle I couldn’t really fight. My team, the one I was on not by choice, was the opposition. The ‘man’ and I didn’t want to be ‘the man.’ I wanted to be cool. Black people, to me at 12, were cool. I can’t remember which comedian I heard more recently who said, and I’m most certainly paraphrasing here, ‘God knew that black people would have to endure countless and endless suffering and to make up for it he gave us a lifetime supply of ‘cool.’ It’s kind of a joke and kind of a sad statement of the reality of what a lot of people have to face and how a certain number choose to counter the reality that won’t seem to change for the better without changing doubly for the worse at times. But at 12, for me, it wasn’t so nuanced.

Beyond that I had a couple of role models in the house, older brothers who were the guys I looked up to most. I had two other brothers, actual brothers of mine, born of the same parents and all, and I looked up to them like crazy, but for some reason, perhaps my aforementioned affinities, I was drawn to my brothers who were ‘brothers.’

Eventually after processing what I’d said my father replied to my non sequitir calmly and wisely.

‘You probably shouldn’t tell anyone that. It’s okay for you to feel that, for now, but you should probably keep that to yourself.’

‘Why?’ I asked.

To my mind it could only be taken as an honor, right? I mean I was saying I envied blackness. How could that be wrong?

A thousand ways. Trust me, it didn’t take long for me to see that after enunciating my most sincere wish.

‘Well…’ My dad thought. How do you tell your 12 year old that they are being so ignorant of life’s realities in a moment when they are trying, sincerely, to understand people different from them.

‘I don’t think you are thinking about this, but it could come off to some people like you are not really appreciating all that you have been given. Might seem a little unaware of all that black people have had to go through.’ My dad said.

My dad’s not a ‘race’ guy. The issues confronting his own ‘kids’ would be dealt with when they would come up, but it was largely not a thing he thought about. He’s often surprised by how much I will think about race and the unfairness I’ve seen as I’ve grown up and watched. I’ll remind him, it would be hard for him to have my perspective, he didn’t really grow up in an environment like the one I did. He didn’t grow up in an integrated home within a largely homogenously white community. He didn’t see all the dads who’d go out of there way to drop the ‘n-word’ in front of me, just to, I don’t know, check if I was cool with it? Remind me that they thought my brothers less for it? Just to shock me? Maybe they were like that all the time, I don’t know, but from my house growing up it was the single most hateful sounding word ever. When I was a kid it was just barely starting to be reappropreated by black culture and these grown men weren’t aware of that. It was the ugliest of usages of the ugliest word.

That day my dad stopped me cold. For him he was just responding to a sensitive issue, trying to steer me clear of saying something so wrong, but what he did was get me thinking. I knew instantly what he meant and it started me on a train of thought that has been a thread through my life. It didn’t change my heart in that moment, but it changed my head. Eventually my heart caught up and I came to understand how truly wrong my wish was.

I’m still learning to understand my great good fortune. I’m so thankful I said that to my dad. So thankful that he answered the way he did. Through the years and phases of my life I’ve seen how it’s made me see things, things that are now so obvious to me that are so hidden from so many white men. About how much is taken for granted.

When I was in high school and we were all sitting in suburban living rooms drinking forties of O.E. with our shoes off and watching Boys in the Hood and playing out fantasies that were others nightmares I knew the privilege. When we aped the style and patois of emerging disaffected young men who society rejected before they even arrived we were drowning in entitlement and dismissing and glorifying that which was exotic to us young men who would never have to face it. I recognized it, many of us did, for what it was not long after.

When I was in college and heard truly vile hate speech being bandied about by the future executives of the world I was disgusted. The truth was there weren’t too many of them that did it, it was the tolerating of it all and the occasional sick deep indulgence of it all. I remember my mother, sitting at our kitchen table on a summer evening when I was home from school after my sophomore year telling me to love the people I loved for their good qualities and stick around to try to influence them positively when it came to the ugly parts. I don’t know. I didn’t really do that all that well there. Made some friends but I still have a lot of bitterness too.

What I know is that ‘wishing I was black’ while sincere, was a privilege. It was a child’s understanding and I hope it came from a place of empathy and a desire to connect with and understand other people and their experiences. But it was definitely a privilege. The reality is that if a 12 or 15 or 28 or 45 year old black person were to ‘wish they were white’ it likely wouldn’t be from the same place of privilege as my wish came from. It likely wouldn’t be naive. In fact I suspect it would come from a place of far deeper understanding than I may ever know.

Deliberate Diversity: A Family Story

My mother’s birthday was last week. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I’ve been remembering a story she once told me. I’m fuzzy on the details but I’ll do my best. 

She was a young girl of about 17 when one of the nuns scheduled a meeting with her in her office. This was at my mother’s school, Notre Dame Academy. It was a new world and there were new conversations that needed having. I’m sure for my mother, young and brave and unafraid, it was no big deal. I’m not sure how prepared these nuns were to advise these young women, however, about entering a world that was evidently and obviously changing while they were largely committed to persevering in their calling.

Regardless, it was the good sister’s job to have a counseling session with the young ladies in her charge to discuss each girls future plans. It was right around the landing of the Beatles at Idlewild and performing on Ed Sullivan and what changes were coming could hardly be predicted. What was evident however was that young women had options. So the meetings were designed as an opportunity to ask these girls what it was they intended to do upon graduating. They were discussions that perhaps were designed to elicit answers of no real variation from the choices that were laid out for young women prior to this time, asked by folks who expected girls to hew to the norm, to lean in to ‘safe’ and to impose on themselves the restrictive, narrow set of options that had been thrust upon their moms and grandmothers. Surely they assumed this exercise would teach these girls that any ideas of rebellion were silly and not to be bothered with. Well, as is often the case when asking what one thinks to people who haven’t been solicited before, surprise abounds.

So few would answer in ways that the nuns expected. I can’t imagine what they thought when the plans included anything beyond teaching of small children, secretary school, nursing or looking to marry and have children. Surely many would still want some of these things, but many didn’t. My mom was somewhere in between.

‘Barbara. It’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ve known you for years now and I know who you are and whatever you are thinking will surely be less alarming to me than you can possibly imagine. Allow me to assure you, your answer will not be the most shocking one I’ve received. Now please, tell me what you imagine your life will be. What do you intend to do after leaving school?’, asked the good sister.

My mother, a decidedly ‘good’ kid, wasn’t afraid at all that she would shock her interviewer. She might surprise her, sure. Her concern was that she would tell her it was impossible. She would tell her she was silly for having such a dream, such a vision for a life.

‘I’m sure I’ll go to secretary school. The one in the city.’ She replied, avoiding eye contact.

‘Yes, Barbara, you’ve said. What do you intend to do with your life. You can’t be a secretary forever.’

To be fair to my mom, these questions weren’t really answerable. She was seventeen(ish) and her plans for what she’d do ten steps down the road were as unknowable as they were unlikely to turn out true. Still, she had an answer and at this point it was a power struggle. After fighting her way through the interviews with the girls who dreamed of marrying floppy haired British musicians and others that thought they could run entire companies or fly airplanes or do whatever it was they had gotten into their heads, well, Sister was not going to let Barbie Monohan skate by without engaging.

‘Tell me, Barbara. What is their to be afraid of.’ She asked.

‘You’ll think me silly.’

‘I will not.’

‘You will. And you’ll tell me it’s a fantasy and not a plan.’

‘We’ll see if you are right only when you tell me.’

So my mother, having developed a touch of the courage, answered the good sister.

‘I’m going to have a family. A huge family, with 12 children. They will be of every color and from all over the world. I want to be a mother to a rainbow of god’s children.’ She said.

Well. She was right, thought the good sister. That is silly.

‘Barbara, I don’t think you understood the question. Are you even dating someone?’

‘I did understand your question and no, I’m not dating anyone. You want to know what I intend to do. My answer is that I plan to have a big family filled with children of all colors, I want to be a mother to a rainbow of God’s children.’

After some serious scowling, a few more attempts to knock her back on course, the sister dismissed my determined mother. From the room and from her head. She dismissed her as a silly girl who didn’t know anything and still imagined fairy tales were real. She dismissed her as someone who had a lot to learn.

She dismissed her wrongly.

My mother ended up with a big, diverse, multicultural, multiracial house full of children. She stayed open to her hope coming true and woke years later exhausted, exuberant and with the life she could see that no one around her could have fathomed.

We were an odd lot in the pew. Six tall kids with complexions that reflected our (very) Northern European heritage, two black boys (if it was summer and D was up) and a teenage girl from Vietnam. We rolled nine deep, with at least 4 differnt heritages and at minimum 4, if not more, color’s on the rainbow of god’s children. Perhaps it wasn’t an honest to goodness Roy G. Biv rainbow, but it was a pretty damned great approximation of a youthful dream.

I don’t know what’s happening in our world. I’ve been writing a lot about race relations for the past year or two. Sadly a great many reasons have kept it at the top of my mind. The most recent tragedies come in the midst of a public conversation that no longer seems to adhere to the rules of decency that at least kept the truly ugly stuff behind closed doors. I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand allowing the truly awful, secret hatred to be spewed out allows us to have the conversation. Compels us to acknowledge realities many of us have been able to ignore for far too long and in the end perhaps these conversations being had in the light of day instead of behind millions of closed doors will ultimately help us evolve and truly change. On the other hand hate has never had such cache in our communal discourse and it’s getting to where you can hardly avoid it. How can this be good. How can we ever hope to change when the truly ignorant are empowered by the truly powerful indulging in hateful, small minded, shameless racism and brazen sexism.

My children live in a diverse world, to some degree. There are kids at their daycare of many shades and backgrounds. That said, it’s not as diverse as my house was growing up. We have family over for birthday parties, uniformly white family. The kids on our block are largely white as are the kids we saw at the kindergarten orientation that Charlie went to a few months back. I worry about how we got here. The schools were literally ranked first in the state when we found the house and that’s the main point of conversation we had around whether the town was a good place to grow up. Diversity didn’t come up in any real way. It wasn’t a part of the calculus.

I don’t know how my mom did it. I should note clearly at this point that she did not do it alone. My dad was of course steering the ship as well, but to some degree, just based on how everyone arrived at our house, it was a function of my mom. She’s a much more social being than either my father or I. Or really most people you’ll come across. It was her relationships as far as I can tell that diversified our world. Many of her friends were different looking than her. If their was an organizing principle it was faith, but even that was diverse. 

My mother wanted to see a different kind of church and in doing so met a mentor and friend, Algerene. Algerene was a foster mother to dozens over the years, a committed and hard working, and an incredibly gifted servant of her faith, not to mention a gourmet Chef.  My mother met her when she had the opportunity to cross lines and go to the church where she stuck out as the ‘other’.

On a very sad day, the day we buried Algerene’s son, my brother, John, another brother, D, was at the house as we celebrated his life after a service where so many tears were shed. Well, John had an older brother, I believe he lived in Chicago and he wasn’t a huge part of John’s adult or even teen life, but he was of course there for this. Well, when D introduced himself he did so by saying, ‘Yeah, you ever get pictures from John. Yeah, well, I’m the other ink spot in the milk bowl.’ Funny and true. Well, in the church where she met Algerene my mother would have been the milk spot in the ink bowl. She did that. She was curious so she went. Didn’t think twice about it. Didn’t think it particularly notable. She was curious so she went. In the end she made a dear, life long friend. For a number of reasons that friend had a son that moved in with us and stayed.

D is another story. Without going into all the details, from what I know D came up for the summers through a program that paired city kids with non-city families. We were that non-city family. The program ran for years. Maybe 5 or six. We’d always schedule our vacations around when he was gonna be there. Turns out the first couple years he was nervous around my mom. When she finally asked him why he said it was because every time he showed up the baby had a black eye. I was that baby and I liked to fall on things at a very early age apparently. The story is good for a laugh now that it’s long ago as my mother is gentler than anyone you’ve ever known. In the end My parents kept bringing D up for Summer’s on their own accord after the program expired. When D was looking to finish his studies he came back to live with us.  He’s been up there ever since.

Our vacations were always in the camper. My dad drove the wagon and we all loaded into it and drove and drove until we got to where we were going. We went to campgrounds, amusement parks, Baseballs Hall of Fame… We got everywhere with that thing in those early years. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that one of those trips when we had the adventure of staying in the trailer it was because those folks we were visiting weren’t comfortable with the make up of our family. My mom and dad could have chosen to take vacation at a different time. We could have been more ‘acceptable’. They didn’t do that. We stayed in the driveway and had our wonderful visit and some ideas might even have gotten changed in the time we were there. No big deal was made about it. Only figured it out as an adult.

My sister, who is Vietnamese, let’s call her May, came to live with us when I was five and not ready to have another person to compete for attention with. I’m afraid I may not have been that nice to her when I was very little. But all that was behind us when I was 16. That was when we all loaded up in the minivan and made our way to King of Prussia in Pa. That was where May was marrying a young Vietnamese man she met at school.

May is amongst the strongest people I can imagine. Her story is hers and I would never relay it, but it speaks to a person who had to be stronger than I ever imagine I’ll ever have to be. When we were asked to be in her wedding, well, snot nose that I was, I said no. I feel terrible about that. I said I didn’t want to wear a tux. I don’t know what that was about. Thankfully my brothers are loving and kind and caring and were happy to be ushers. The plan was for my dad to walk May down the aisle and give her away. It was going to be beautiful. Well, as it turns out, May’s family of origin, who she hadn’t seen on over a decade, were granted visa’s and were going to make it to the States in time for the wedding.

I remember it being a late afternoon wedding and my parents taking us all, dressed up, to a McDonald’s on the way. It was going to be a while until dinner and it was going to be all Vietnamese food and we were a family of at least 6 at that time, 6 kids that is. They had to do something to ensure we didn’t starve. Then we went to the wedding. I felt terrible for my silly stance and wished I was there next to my big brother helping guests to their seats. I might have even asked if I could, but I probably didn’t.

What happened in that wedding was beautiful to me and still is to this day. My dad, May’s American dad, walked her down the aisle, stopped at the front pew, and released her where her dad who hadn’t seen her grow up from a young girl to the young woman she was now, but who moved heaven and earth to get back to her, took her the rest of the way to ‘give her away’.  Like watching the movie Glory, or speaking in public about acts of selflessness or my family, whenever I tell this part of the story it makes me well up and brings me close to crying.

I don’t think my parents would ever say they were intentional about being inclusive. They would never think to. If you asked them they might say yes, but it wouldn’t cross their minds to think about it.  But they were. They were intentional. Right from the time my mother told that Nun that she wished it, there was intent to be inclusive. To integrate their lives.

I want to give my kids the same experience. A life soaked in differing perspectives unified by the common thread of shared experience. I want them to know that differences are to be celebrated. That seeing someone that may appear slightly differently, who might speak another language or have different traditions is nothing to be threatened by, but rather is something to feel excited about.

I can’t say that I’m without bias. I can fully say that I want to be. I can say that if I’m ever to catch myself I immediately, consciously work to alleviate bias. I fear that the events that have transpired are the result of segregation. I worry that we as Americans, as white Americans have come too easily to accept that this separation of large parts of us is due to organically occurring circumstances and that we shouldn’t think about it. That if people wanted to move in next door and go to the same schools as our kids and live in the same town as us all they’d have to do is choose to do so. We have well maintained roads, good schools, ample security and we assume it is the same for those in areas we choose not to live in. 

It’s not true. No less than Newt Gingrich, scion of the Republican revolution said as much. He said that after long conversations, ones where he acknowledged he was not informed and in which he had, for a long time denied the reality that he now was sharing. That white Americans, many of us, can’t possibly know what it’s like to be black in America.

It’s hard to see what you aren’t exposed to. It would be nice if the default that we all fell to was empathy. It would be nice if we all reverted to a position of identifying with the despair of others. We’ve all felt despair. But it’s starting to be made clear that is not where we default to. Not all of us. When confronted with these humans, these people who have different pigmentation, some of us see first with minds that are fueled by fear. Fear of the different. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the other.

I don’t want this for my children. I don’t want this for their friends. I don’t want this for children and freinds having a different experience than ours. I want so badly to be intentional about diversity. But I am failing. 

Of all people, I should know better. 

What’s In a Name?

  I’m in writer’s groups. Private groups that more than anything else have really made me feel like I’m a real writer. Really writing actually has very little to do with feeling like a ‘real writer’ in my experience. Being allowed, if not always invited, into these private groups on the other hand is validating.

In the past week or so a couple of these groups have had discussions about the names we’ve chosen for our blogs. After sharing my story, after telling all these cool writers why I chose ‘Developing Dad’, it occurred to me it’s a topic I’ve never fully addressed here. 

Developing Dad. It’s become a part of my identity. A part that feels so natural now that I’ve already gone through the phase of hating the name and have come all the way back around to thinking it’s pretty perfect. It’s me. Rather, it’s very very imperfect, just like me. 

So, anyway…

Let’s just start with the obvious. Alliteration. Alliterative titles sell. This piece of marketing wisdom, completely fabricated by me, is the full extent of my knowledge in the field. So there’s that. 

I started writing about what I was experiencing as I prepared to greet our firstborn. When my wife was about 3 or 4 months pregnant with Charlie I decided that I’d write about what the experience was like. I’ve always been a ‘writer’, but I’d never been so publicly. So that first venture, well, it was a dipping my toes experience. I created a ‘blog’ that literally no one, no one at all, read. I mean not a single time. Except for that terrifying time I sent it to someone who is a writer that I knew from work. She nearly immediately moved across country. I don’t think it was because I shared (ugh) some incoherent, self involved, unedited mouth vomit with her, but I wouldn’t blame her at all if it hastened her desire to return to whence she came. Sincerely, I’m sorry Rebecca. I thank you for protecting my dignity.

After we had the kid I went into a bubble and got lost. I fell in love, lost my mind, grew old and weary and eventually was so broken down that I needed to write to regain a sense of self. This all occurred in about two to three months. These writings, which grew in many cases out of my aforementioned mouth vomit, became passable, mildly succinct stories. Sincerely, Rebecca, I am so sorry I didn’t wait. I got much better. I must have sent you 10,000 words. I still lose sleep over it. 

One day I heard a story on NPR. It was about a site that was amazingly beautiful for readers called medium. It sounded great and it was free, so I culled through some stories and found one that summed up how I felt about becoming a dad and I put it on medium and I thought, what the hell, I got kids now, I have to pursue, even if meekly, my dreams. How else will I ever be able to tell them to do so. So I shared it on Facebook. Well, my friends really liked it. So many nice things to say. It was a buzzing charge to my brain and I started writing like crazy. Before long I looked around and knew I had to have a blog. A place to contain it all. 

I didn’t think of it for more than a day. I was thisclose to naming it ‘Daddy’s Issues’, but thankfully I laughed that one off and went with Developing Dad. 

One way to look at it, the way I see it on the surface it that I was about 2-3 years into this whole daddy thing and what had become evident to me was that every time I felt competent, every time I thought, man, I got this, well, my kids reminded me… nope. Being a dad is not something you become and then you are that. It is, but it’s also so much more than that. It turns out that dadding is something of a constant evolution. I’m in fact always, endlessly in the act of becoming a dad. I’m always developing as a dad.

Another way to look at it, the way I’ve looked at it for the most part, is entirely different. I’m an old dad. I am 42 at the moment and my kids are 5 and 3. I have a good long time left and I’m going to make the most of that time. But being this age I’ve realized some things I hadn’t realized when I was 22 or even 32. One of those things is that I want to know everything about my parents. I want to know how they met, what they were like before they met, how they made it through having young kids and no money, what life was like when they were young, what their parents were like, why they chose to do what they did, what made them laugh, what their favorite movies were, how they dealt with losing their parents, how much they loved me, how they did so even when I was awful to them. I want to know everything.  My kids questions might not be exactly the same as mine, but I suspect they will want to know more than they will ever ask. Will wonder what we were like when we had them, will look at our old bodies and wonder why we look at each other the way we do. It’s a cruel trick life plays, to put us with these people for the entirety of the time when we are solely interested in ourselves only to take them away before we’ve had time to fully know them. 

Well, I hope this collection of stories, about everything I am, my memories and my thoughts and my opinions and my love and my humor, I hope it’s something they can come to when they want to know more. I hope that it’s something they can read and hear my voice when they can no longer hear it anywhere but here, and in their memories. I hope that if they ever question what they are worth they’ll be able to come here and know that they are the entire world to me and their mom. When the memories are all that is left and they wish they had the chance to know me more I hope they can take some comfort knowing that I left as much of myself as I could right here, for them, to bring the picture they might have in their head, a picture they will think is not fully developed, into better focus. 

When I’m gone and all that’s left of me is this I hope it’s a tool they can use to more clearly see who I was and how much they meant to me. 

That’s what’s in a name. 

Lucky as Anyone Ever Was

 I was home this past weekend. I had the rare opportunity to spend the weekend with my family. The one I grew up in. 

We’re not as young as we once were. Rather, each of us isn’t. It’s still the same stars in the constellation, only now we are the big and bright ones, filled with fire and burning bright in the midst of our vibrant though fading glory while our own kids are now the twinklers we once were, streaking through the days unaware of the forces that bind them feeling every days possibilities, every moments magic all the way to it’s core. The anchor stars that once were with us have been replaced by stars we’ll never see in any kind of context as they’ve been the ones to light our path forever and will do so long after they have faded.

The older I get the more I realize how lucky I am to be from this family. This big family. This hysterically funny and smart and loving and biting family of huggers and competitors. This family of artists and dreamers and doers and thinkers. 

It’s not hard to see how lucky we are. Everyone who ever finds their way into our family finds out immediately how lucky we are. We’re told this pretty regularly. One of us, one of a more recent vintage, said it again this weekend. In that old familiar way I’ve come to love. She looked across the table we middle stars were arranged around, in the waning hours of the long night we simply were refusing to leave behind, all of us giddy with laughter and debate and reminiscence and debate and one upsmanship, and she said, ‘You guys are so lucky to be from your family.’ 

We know we are. We didn’t all always know that, but we know it.

‘I know.’ I said.

‘No. Seriously. You really are lucky.’ She restated.

I looked her in the eye, trying to measure my tone so she knew I was being real. ‘I really know.’

People don’t believe us. We don’t wear it on our sleeves. I think it’s because we were never made to think we were any different than anyone else. I mean, we were all unique, but no more or no less, in general. We struggled like everyone. We took our time becoming happy and we all have overcome challenges and we all will face more. We have differing views and can be made furious by one another. We all make each other laugh. 

But there are some weekends, some parties that leave you buzzing. This was one of them. 

We were there for my mothers _0th Birthday (I’m no dummy. She was an age divisible by ten, that’s all you’re getting.) It was a surprise party. She knew some of us would be there, she had no idea how many. She entered with joy and a face that registered surprise, then shock, then she screeched so loud as she scanned the room and all the faces that we worried the cops might have been called. 

The weather was perfect. Not too hot in mid July, a rarity and an appreciated one as heat truly makes her unable to be comfortable. But this day she could sit outside and visit with family of all kinds. Some from her earliest days, some from her marriage and life as a mom and grandma and some from the unbreakable bonds of friendship. Four longtime friends, actually. And some were missing. I don’t know how she does that. I have a best friend. I haven’t seen him in years. Meanwhile here she is at an age I would never reveal, but suffice it to say, older than me, with 4 amazingly close friends ready to come out for her birthday without hesitation, here to celebrate her. My sister got a photographer to come out and it was totally worth it. My mom gathered her friends, all Franciscan sisters and as they posed one made a comment that I won’t repeat here, but was a tad bawdy. And hysterical. 

Food was plentiful. Kids were active. Chairs were sat in for hours in the front lawn under full and shading trees while the adults visited and caught up. It was a delight. Before the time even began to be asked after 5, 6, 7 hours passed. The sun faded and those that remained sat gossiping on the front porch. Laughing and catching up on the goings on throughout our familial Galaxy. Slowly this group faded as plans were made for those of us who could continue later. After the kids were in bed. 

Later we got slightly dressed down, then bundled back up, drinking beers, telling stories, having the time of our lives under the stars of the big sky that hangs over the plains in the middle of America. We were an eclectic and diverse bunch. There was good reason to look at us and think us lucky. We are. As lucky as anyone ever was, actually. 

My Father Gave Me Love and Art

Several, though NOT all of us...
Several, though NOT all of us…

The home I grew up in, the one I’ll only see in pictures and inhabit only behind my closed eyes ever again, was one that had life oozing, sometimes tumbling, out of every corner and on every wall. Hell, the walls themselves can never fully mean to someone else what they meant to us. You see, my father is an artist and he designed our home. He’ll hasten to point out that he’s a designer, and he’d of course be right. But art is in the eye of the beholder. In fact I’d use a version of his own argument against him if he ever were to push back too hard. Not that he would, I suspect. He’s always been a dad that’s happy to allow us to be wrong and to learn in our own time. As we’ve gotten older and wiser the times that time has proven us right have increased and on this one I’m right. Just like he was when someone would say that Norman Rockwell was not an artist, but rather an illustrator. Besides, my dad’s art, much of it from his ‘art school’ days, some from the days when they were a young couple trying to decorate a home, hung all over those walls he designed.
Now ‘illustrator’, at least as far as I can tell, holds no innately pejorative meaning. It’s not an insult to call someone who illustrate’s an illustrator. But in the particular case of an artist of Mr. Rockwell’s talent and the way in which his work was received by so many contemporaries and more recently by so many subsequently, there is no mistaking the pejorative if not downright disdainful way the term ‘Illustrator’ is spit out in regard to this man’s considerable work. Now I paraphrase here, and my dad is not one given to high emotion, but I’m quite certain that my father would find this assessment to be straight up baloney. Or Bologna, if you prefer. It rankled him. His art was no less artful for being purchased. Was in fact far more technically impressive, emotive and often breathtaking than the celebrated works of his contemporaries who looked to shock or amuse rather than paint and convey. I believe these things. I did even at my most harshly judgmental, Brooklyn bohemian, cravenly desirous of the approval of the cool people that I ever was. Because my dad was right.

We went out of the way for a day on a family vacation when we were kids to spend a night in Stockbridge so we could visit the Rockwell museum and the work is extraordinary. I assume we stayed near Stockbridge. Even then it was ridiculously expensive and we were a family of 6-9 kids, depending on when you caught us. I mean, I have 2 and we’re challenged to make a day at the beach. But my dad, he was going to see the Rockwell Museum, and we were going to as well.

image
imageThe art that hung on our walls, it was and is beautiful. It was original and creative and something I’ll have a sense memory of until the day I die.There were pieces made of crepe paper and lacquer, some evoking scenes from nature others crinkled and crumpled and exploding from the the frame out to you. As a kid, even now I’m sure, I’d be hard pressed to resist feeling them, running my hands over the points and crevices, riding the ridges of the bright orange that has never seemed to fade with time. Or the hard wood drawn on with varying sized nails hammered in that should seem hard and unforgiving but convey soft fluidity as the lines denote structure and movement from top to bottom. The figure could be wind, it could be human, it could be a spirit. I could look forever and for me it would never fully be decided. Or the dark stained blocks, differnt shapes and sizes, but all right angles, creating a skyline if laid flat, and a sense of looking down on a city as they hung in their frame on the wall.

Art wasn’t just something he did. He breathed art. There was something of it in the very life he’d crafted. He is 6’3″ and as a young man, for at least the first 15 or 16 years of my life he had a big, bushy black beard. He looked, as EVERYONE noted, like a living, breathing Abraham Lincoln. He and his beautiful, loving wife had 6 kids. They didn’t always have enough to make it all work, but somehow they did. Didn’t matter, even if they couldn’t, there was always room for one more at the table. Anyone who knew us, even just a little, they always knew that about them. Many would ascribe it to my mother, a truly charitable and loving soul, but they were a team. The decisions they made were based on what served the greater good, what completed their vision of what a beautiful life looked like. For my father that picture was one that couldn’t avoid including art and curiosity, and daydreaming and all that it had given his life. He was a designer, true, but he was an artist not only of multiple media’s when that term meant something altogether different.

Art was a living and breathing thing in our home. I don’t know that this part is true, but I even think that my dad’s parents met somehow through community theater. This may be a fanciful fiction, but it’s got some truth in it, even if it isn’t fully ‘correct.’ Music, books, theater, these were all an integral part of life growing up in the Medler home. I wasn’t quite brave enough to try to participate in the creation of said art like my older brothers were when I was a kid, but I sure am happy I was exposed to it. I became a big reader and lover of novels. It was what spoke to me. They were performers. I envied them. I’m glad I’ve found and stuck to writing. I’m glad to be a part of this part of the family legacy in some small way, even if it doesn’t exactly mesh with the rest.

My father also communicated with me through art. When I was not much older than ten, maybe twelve, we found ourselves home alone for an evening. Honestly, I’m the third child in a family of six, or sixth of nine if you choose to define our family in the most inclusive way, as we all do, and this might be the only time when we found ourselves in this predicament. My younger sisters were at friends houses, my youngest brother may have been traveling with my mom, or maybe he was not even born yet, I’m not sure. In any case, I distinctly remember my father mentioning that he’d heard an interview earlier in the day and that Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie were playing at Finger Lakes that night. He really wished he could have gone.

‘Why don’t we go?’ I said. I knew Arlo Guthrie was the guy who did the Alice’s Restaurant song. I liked that.

‘Yeah?’ He asked.

‘Yeah.’ I said. I was really excited. Things like this had yet to start happening for me.

That night we just drove out there and stayed for the whole thing. It was great. My first concert. Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie with my dad. A night to remember indeed. He even played Alice’s Restaurant and his shtick was pretty amusing. I had no idea how much of an inspiration Pete Seeger would become as I grew up. He seemed super old then and I don’t think he’d even STARTED cleaning the Hudson yet, though I’m certain I’m way off. I didn’t know he had, anyway.

Another time he rented Breaking Away from Wegman’s on a Friday night and said, you should watch this. It’s important. He would later rent Brazil and say I should check it out. Wasn’t of any use though as neither of us could make any sense of it.

In our home, filled with art, there was a piece of furniture that no longer seems to hold the place of importance it once did as a family focal point. Our Stereo. It was six feet long, two and a half feet tall and big. Speakers covered in earth tone fabric occupied either end in full and in the middle was a door that rolled open. Behind it were the records that were important enough to keep out, to listen to. Eventually we’d overrun his truly beautiful collection with Disco Duck and K-Tel Collections, but early on, it was magical. All the first editions of the Beatles. Beach Boys. Ray Charles. My father’s favorite band, The Lovin’ Spoonful. I remember dancing in underoos to Summer in the City. Loving the Beatles before knowing it was a band anyone other than us knew. I remember my seventh birthday and my cool cousin buying me ‘Off the Wall’ after seeing how much I loved every time ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’ came on and having something that could stay in the Stereo. It felt so SO grown up. I had taste, I had arrived, I had something adult enough to have to stay in the stereo when the doors rolled closed. Now my music, my history in songs largely stays in my pocket, on my phone. I’m sure it will seep out and as they get older more and more music will return to the air. But it’ll never hold the mystique and the mystery and the excitement that the stereo in the shape of an upright freezer in the dining room held.

The artist and the writer's... Plus some pretty cool art on the walls..
The artist and the writer’s… Plus some pretty cool art on the walls..

My father has given me more than I could ever possibly recall. He gave me life, after all. As a father now I realize that even more than that, he gave us, all of us, his life. Freely and fully and happily. I’m endlessly thankful for it. But beyond that, beyond the sacrifice and the work and the love he also gave me art, and I can’t thank him enough for that.

Hello. Everythingisokay.

  I don’t think there’s a lot that could make me feel anything short of insanely lucky. My life is great. I have nothing to complain about and as a result I tend not to complain. But to say that life is an unending bowl of cherries, filled with joy and devoid of pain, lapping up happiness and shutting out fear and anxiety would also be untrue. 

My default position is of gratitude. I am thankful for all that’s been granted me.

I’m getting older. I’m not getting old, don’t mistake me. I’m just, you know, getting older. You are too. We all are and have always been. As I get older perspective evolves and I see things I never noticed before. My responses aren’t as quick as they once were, but they’re considerably better informed. I usually benefit from this. You could say I’m in a sweet spot where the benefits of maturing are still outrunning the detriment of decaying. I’m 42.

I’m incredibly thankful to have my young kids at this fairly advanced age for such an endeavour. The challenges are largely physical, if you discount the emotional and financial. My five year old, delightfully, falls asleep in our bed each night. It’s warm and wonderful and something we all love. I am starting to think, however, that he is becoming strategic in his placement atop our king sized bed in hopes of defeating me, getting me to throw up my hands in a moment of surrender and allow him to stay. I’m 6’2″ and 225 and strong and still I dread trying to lift his dead weight, sound asleep, 4 foot even, 56 pound body off the middle of that massive bed. But I do it, because I know the 3 year old is right behind him ready to awake to take up the one free space in our bed come sometime after midnight. 

These are things you don’t necesarrily see coming. There are a ton of others. But rarely are we warned of them and even if we are, we’re not really going to understand until we’re going through it. I solemnly swear, right here, out loud and in public, I will NEVER tell a parent of a newborn that it’s just as hard now. It’s not. Newborns, especially the first one, the one that teaches you everything in a nonstop round the clock barrage of ‘teachable moments’ what it means to be a parent, are life blower uppers. I fully believe that teenagers are as well. As for the rest, don’t believe those bitter, forgetful, wretched souls who try to convince you that they are as hard as 5 year olds. They aren’t. Not by a thousand miles. 

There are other things you learn along the way, about what life becomes. Again, I’m 42 and maybe some people have told me this before and I just wasn’t in a place to understand them. Maybe it’s too scary a thought to process, so you don’t. Maybe you’ve processed this long before I’ve had to as not everyone has the great good fortune that I so thankfully have had. 

I spend portions of everyday fearing that the phone will ring and the world will dissolve around me as I’m told that one or the other or both of my parents have died. My mom knows I suspect as we’ve had a couple of scares and, while nothing’s ever been said, perhaps she hears a fear I’m trying to hide in the way I say ‘hello’, that makes her hasten to say ‘hello,thisismomeverythingisokay.’ 

‘Hello. This is mom. Everything is okay.’ I have a family now and I understand, at least intellectually, how this all fits and works together, this whole circle of life thing. Until recently, last five and change years, to be exact, I’ve come off the stance of thinking to myself, I’d trade everything, including my own life, the own rest of my days, to make sure that is the last thing I hear before leaving this world. On speakerphone, knowing my dad is there listening and waiting to hear the latest stories of the boys successes, excited to tell me about an article he saw with awesome things my friends are doing in the community or them waiting to tell me about an author they think I’ll like or about the party they had the other night with some of the kids to say farewell to their grandson as he headed off for his Jack Kerouac/On The Road adventures. 

I don’t know that others feel this when the phone rings and they see it is their parents. Surely some are understanding of the whole thing and appreciative of hearing from mom and/or dad, as I most certainly am as well. Surely others in a similar situation are merely avoiding, imagining the whole thing impossible, choosing rather to continue to see their parents as the undefeatable, indefatigable pillars they’ve always known them to be, the way they still are, pushing off all thought of the matter until it is upon them. Sounds like a better way to me. Unfortunately I have a temperament that doesn’t allow for such ease of thinking. I can’t stop imagining. It’s a wonderful quality in so many circumstances, truly. But in this stage of life, for me, it’s impossible to put it fully out of mind. 

For me it’s like knowing the earth is going to stop turning on it’s axis and all life will cease to have meaning at some time in my future, in my lifetime, but I can’t know when. It’s just there. Waiting to catch me and remove the ground from beneath my feet. It’s going to hit my chest, hard. Iknow it will. I saw it happen to them. I saw there world crumble. I saw them cry and cry and not know what to do. It only lasted a few moments because they had to take care of me. I was just little after all, as were my brothers and sisters to greater and lesser degrees. But it showed up again as they had to go through the ceremonies and the condolences and the quiet nights alone when they might not have known I was still up and might be coming down to watch tv or grab a drink. Maybe I was exactly what they needed in that moment. I can’t imagine anything less than my own kids being the salvation that will keep me alive after the bomb lands on me. 

I’m fortunate. I’m in a position where I’ve never had to confront an issue so many I love have. My life is one of gratitude and as a child of my parents I’m sure I’ll make it to the finish line, my own finish line, one that will be hopefully at the end of a long and fruitful life as grateful as I am today. But by the time I get there I know I will have passed through times that will test that and I hope I can sustain the weight of all the good fortune I’ll have endured. 

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