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By Diana Divecha

In the months leading up to birth, a pregnant woman begins to read about childrearing, including a book called Attachment Parenting by pediatrician William Sears and registered nurse Martha Sears. They advocate for a collection of seven practices they call the Baby Bs: "birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding close to the baby, belief in the baby's cry, balance and boundaries, and beware of baby trainers."

The pregnant woman finds their ideas compelling, and so decides to embrace this style of "attachment parenting." But nothing goes according to plan. She begins delivery at home with a midwife, but when the labor doesn't proceed, she's taken to the hospital and given a Caesarean section.

Influenced by Attachment Parenting, she worries that she has missed a critical bonding experience with her baby. Six weeks later, the mother develops a severe breast infection and reluctantly switches to formula. "Make sure you find some other way to bond with your baby," her pediatrician cautions, adding to her distress. At night, the mother pulls the baby from his crib into her bed—even though it makes the baby cry.

Pretty soon, no one is happy—and the new mother wonders if her child is on the road to insecurity and anxiety.

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All of these experiences are real; they've happened to mothers I know. And as a developmental psychologist, I know this tension between the ideal and the reality is based on a misunderstanding. Home birth, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping all have benefits—but none of them is related to a baby's secure attachment with her caregiver, nor are they predictive of a baby's future mental health and development.

Simply put, a secure attachment—which does lead to positive child outcomes—is not the same thing as the philosophy called attachment parenting.

What is the scientific view of attachment?

The term attachment parenting was coined by Sears and Sears to refer to a parenting approach that emphasizes responding sensitively to the needs of babies and children. Many of their ideas come from parenting their own eight children, as well as from their pediatric practice; some are from anthropologists' observations of indigenous childrearing practices (thought to be more "natural"); and some (like emotional responsiveness) are consistent with research findings.

Many parents, myself included, have welcomed the Sears' guidance for creating warm, loving relationships, especially in contrast to earlier parenting approaches that were more strict, cold, or distant.

The implication, though—liberally strewn throughout the Sears' writing and the precepts of the related international attachment parenting movement—is that the Baby Bs lead to a secure attachment, which is a specific psychological concept based on 60 years of research. Here we come to the problem: their use of the word attachment and the confusion it creates with the scientific notion of attachment theory.

Attachment theory has its roots in the work of an English psychiatrist, John Bowlby, who in the 1930s worked with children with emotional problems. He noticed that the troubled children in his care were deprived of affection and had disturbed or nonexistent caregiving. He came to believe that a primary caregiver served as a kind of "psychic organizer" to the child, and that the child needed this warm, intimate influence to develop successfully.

According to Bowlby, babies form a "small hierarchy of attachments": The number has to be small for the baby to learn relevant emotional information, but multiples offer the safety of backups. And it's a hierarchy for safety, too—in danger, there's no time to think, so the baby can automatically turn to the person already determined to be the reliable comfort.

In the 1950s, Mary Ainsworth joined Bowlby in England. A decade later, back in the United States, she began to diagnose different kinds of relationship patterns between children and their mothers in the second year of life, based on how babies respond to separations and reunions. When babies have a secure attachment, they play and explore freely from the "secure base" of their mother's presence. When the mother leaves, the baby often becomes distressed, especially when a stranger is nearby. When the mother returns, the baby expresses joy, sometimes from a distance and sometimes reaching to be picked up and held. (Babies vary, depending on their personality and temperament, even within a secure attachment).

Though early researchers studied mothers, current research shows that fathers, co-parents, grandparents, babysitters, and even older siblings can be significant attachment figures. Caregivers who foster a secure attachment are responsive, warm, loving, and emotionally available, and as a result babies grow to be confident in the caregiver's ability to handle feelings. The babies feel free to express their positive and negative feelings openly and don't develop defenses against the unpleasant ones.

Why the confusion about a secure attachment?

The Sears' idea of attachment parenting is not well defined—and certainly has not been scientifically linked to a secure attachment outcome. And this confusion can sow guilt, worry, and misdirection in parents, who (understandably) are not aware of the distinction.

"Attachment [in the scientific sense] is a relationship in the service of a baby's emotion regulation and exploration," explains Alan Sroufe, a developmental psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota, where he and his colleagues have studied the attachment relationship for over 40 years. "It is the deep, abiding confidence a baby has in the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver."

A secure attachment has at least three functions:

  • Provides a sense of safety and security
  • Regulates emotions by soothing distress, creating joy, and supporting calm
  • Offers a secure base from which to explore

"Attachment is not a set of tricks," continues Sroufe. "These [attachment parenting principles] are all fine things, but they're not the essential things. There is no evidence that they are predictive of a secure attachment."

Take breastfeeding, for example, touted as key to attachment parenting. Mechanical and insensitive breastfeeding could actually contribute to an insecure attachment, while warm, sensitive, interactive bottle-feeding could help create a secure attachment. It's not the method of feeding but the quality of the interaction that matters for attachment, says Sroufe.

Constant contact, too, can be misunderstood. Certainly, skin-to-skin contact, close physical touch, holding, and carrying are good for infants and can even reduce crying. But again, what matters for attachment is the caregiver's attunement. Are they stressed or calm? Checked out or engaged? Are they reading the baby's signals?

Attachment parenting advises emotional responsiveness, and this practice aligns best with scientific attachment theory. Babies grow best when their feelings are taken seriously. But well-meaning parents can overdo it, believing they need to meet the child's every request, which can be exhausting and counterproductive. In contrast, research on secure attachments shows that, in the flow of everyday life, misattunements happen about 70 percent of the time!

What is important, researchers say, is that the baby develops a generalized trust that their caregiver will respond and meet their needs, or that when mismatches occur, the caregiver will repair them. This flow of attunements, mismatches, and repairs offers the optimal amount of connection and stress for a baby to develop both confidence and coping skills.

"There's a difference between a 'tight' connection and a secure attachment," Sroufe explains. "A tight attachment—together all the time—might actually be an anxious attachment."

The neurobiology of attachment

"Attachment theory is essentially a theory of regulation," explains Allan Schore, a developmental neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

The areas of the brain that process emotional and social information begin to differentiate in the last trimester in-utero (whereas the more "intellectual" regions pick up in the second year of life). By birth, the amygdala, hypothalamus, insula, cingulate cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex—regions important for emotion processing—are present, but the connections among these areas develop in specific patterns over the first years of life. That's where input from the primary relationship is crucial, organizing the hierarchical circuitry that will process, communicate, and regulate social and emotional information. Synaptic connections are pruned, and epigenetic processes modify the expression of genes that regulate stress, depending on input from the environment.

Parents use their own empathy, perspective taking, inference, and intuition to discern the needs of the baby. And the behaviors that parents are inclined to do naturally, like eye contact and face-to-face interaction, baby-talking and holding, are exactly the ones shown to grow the neural regions in the baby that influence emotional life. It is through a "right-brain-to-right-brain" reading of each other that the parent and child synchronize their energy, emotions, and communication.

"What a primary caregiver is doing, in being with the child," explains Schore, "is allowing the child to feel and identify in his own body these different emotional states. By having a caregiver simply 'be with' him while he feels emotions and has experiences, the baby learns how to be," Schore says.

And it's not just about regulating stress. Supporting positive emotional states is equally important to creating a "background state of well-being." If the caregiver's emotions are too high, the stimulation could be intrusive to the baby, Schore explains. Too low, and the baby's "background state" settles at a low or possibly depressive emotional baseline. Just right, from the baby's point of view, is best.

Even then, there's a lot of leeway. As Schore says:

Insecure attachments aren't created just by a caregiver's inattention or missteps. They also come from a failure to repair ruptures. Maybe the caregiver is coming in too fast and needs to back off, or maybe the caregiver hasn't responded and needs to show the baby that she's there. Either way, repair is possible, and it works. Stress is a part of life, and what we're trying to do here is to set up a system by which the baby can learn how to cope with stress.

How important is attachment?

"Nothing is more important than the attachment relationship," says Sroufe, who, together with colleagues, ran a series of landmark studies to discover the long-term impact of a secure attachment.

Over a 35-year period, the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (MLSRA) revealed that the quality of the early attachment reverberated well into later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, even when temperament and social class were accounted for.

One of the most important (and paradoxical) findings was that a secure attachment early in life led to greater independence later, whereas an insecure attachment led children to be more dependent later in life.

The MLSRA studies showed that children with a secure attachment history were more likely to develop:

  • A greater sense of self-agency
  • Better emotional regulation
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better coping under stress
  • Closer friendships in middle childhood
  • Better coordination of friendships and social groups in adolescence
  • More trusting and positive romantic relationships in adulthood
  • Greater social competence
  • More leadership qualities
  • Happier and better relationships with parents and siblings

But attachment is not destiny; it depends on what else comes along. A poor start in life, for example, can be repaired in a subsequent relationship with a good mentor, a healthy romance, or constructive therapy.

As for my new-mother friends, they're bonding successfully with their babies, welcoming and enjoying the moments when connection happens. And if you're concerned about bonding with your own baby, rest assured that you'll have some help—from your baby. Because regardless of their individual personalities—whether they cry a lot or sleep very little, whether they're breastfed or bottle-fed—babies invite adults in with their wide-open gaze, their milky scent, and their tiny fingers that curl around your big ones. They let you know what they need.

Before you know it, they are lighting you up with their full-body smiles and pulling you close with their plump, soft arms. And the sweet elixir of attachment is underway.

Originally posted on Greater Good.

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth is an example of the kind of character she seeks to foster in the next generation. As the founder and CEO of the Character Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to children's character development, as a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a mom, Duckworth is trying to teach parents to let their kids struggle and that success is a long game.

According to Duckworth, grit is "this combination of passion and perseverance over really long periods. So it's loving what you do and working really hard at it for a very long time."

During the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Duckworth tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety, "One could argue that motherhood requires more grit than anything else because it is such a stamina sport and the grind doesn't always feel like it's working."

As Duckworth explains, mothers can model grit every day by persevering in the face of challenging parenting moments, but we can also instill grit in our children, even very young kids, by encouraging them not to give up. It is so easy to tie a child's shoes for them when we're running late, but if we take a moment to stop and let them work through that challenge on their own we are being gritty and encouraging it.

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"You let them struggle and you don't solve their problems for them too early," Duckworth tells Tenety, recalling a time when one of her daughters was struggling to open a box of raisins. "When she gave up and like walked away thinking that's too hard, I did worry about her long-term grit. I was like, oh my gosh my daughter's been defeated by a box of SunMaid raisins. But the important thing is that when you see your child struggle, let them struggle a little longer than maybe is comfortable for some of us."

By not rushing to open the box of raisins for her daughter, Duckworth taught her an important lesson in perseverance: If you want something you have to keep working at it yourself because you can't assume people will do things for you. This can be hard for parents because we often want to rush in and fix things for our kids, but Duckworth suggests we force ourselves to wait a beat and give our kids a chance before coming to the rescue.

"If you solve their problems guess what? They will not figure out how to solve their own problems if you make life a frictionless path. Then don't be surprised when they are not very resilient," she explains.

When we don't do everything for our kids they learn that they are capable, and we're cultivating a growth mindset. When we let our kids struggle and persevere, we're teaching them that the ability to get back up and overcome challenges is more important than talent—we're teaching them grit.

To hear more from Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author Angela Duckworth about grit and growth, listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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News

Relocating is one of the most stressful life changes families will experience, even more so when you add kids into the mix. Packing boxes and getting everything ready for your move with toddlers around can seem like an impossible task. You know the scene: You're trying to pack clothing and lift heavy boxes, but they want to play and see everything that's going on. But packing doesn't have to be a chore, mama.

Try these playful interventions whenever you're struggling to keep your little one entertained.

1. Create special time.

Believe it or not, children want to help us. When they feel disconnected to us their behavior can go off-track. That whining, moaning, tantrumming toddler is sending out a red flag that says, ''Help! I need connection!''

So before spending a day packing boxes, be proactive and connect with your child. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and tell your child it's their special time and they can choose whatever they'd like to do with you. As you play, shower your child with attention, so their cup is filled. This helps them to internalize a sense of connection to you, so they are less likely to demand it in challenging ways and get in the way when you need to focus.

2. Host a packing party.

Put on some music and make packing fun! Give your child their own box, and allow them some freedom to pack their own toys themselves—even if you go back and rearrange things later. Don't seal all the boxes so they still have access to toys to play with. And remember that they're bound to get distracted and start playing with every. single. toy. they pack away. Make sure they're occupied so you can continue packing.

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3. Try giggle parenting.

Giggle parenting is when you get a child to laugh to ease the tension. If you notice your child getting bored, or frustrated, giggle parenting can ease tensions, and give your child mini doses of connection to help their behavior stay on track.

For example, maybe you playfully say, ''I really need to pack this big object,'' then you attempt to place your child in a box and exclaim, ''oh no, that's not an object, that's [insert child's name!]'' Or pick up a dirty sock and say with a playfully inviting tone, ''I really don't want this sock to be packed'' and put it on the floor. Cue your child trying to pack the smelly sock, and you can act playfully annoyed, and retrieve it from the box. Repeat as the long as the giggles keep coming,

It's the perfect antidote to situations where they feel powerless and out of control. Spending 5-10 minutes being playful at various intervals throughout the day can help shift the feeling that something big is happening.

4. Pack with a puppet.

Although toddlers don't always listen well, you will probably find that they are much more likely to respond to a plush toy or puppet. So use a puppet to ask them to pack in a silly voice that gets them laughing. Or have a naughty puppet who removes items from boxes, while you act playfully frustrated. After a few laughs to release tension, your toddler will be more able to listen to you about what needs to be done, or will be more likely to play independently.

5. Use reverse psychology.

Good old-fashioned reverse psychology works wonders when trying to distract little ones. Say to your child in a playful way that you'd really like them to leave their toys on the floor, and not pack them. Then leave the room. They are bound to take this as an opportunity to pack things up, and you can pretend to be upset that they didn't listen.

6. Turn packing into a race.

Older toddlers love to win so why not set up challenges to get them moving and competing? Have a race to see who can pack five things the fastest. Make it a close call but let them win, and act playfully disappointed when you lose. You could also try setting a timer to see how many things can be packed in 5 minutes or how long it can take to pack a whole box.

7. Practice pretend play.

Use a trolley or a toy stroller to act as a delivery service. Ask your child to bring you items to pack. Pretend play gives them a sense of purpose, and a fun, novel way to be involved.

8. Take a break outside.

At some point during a full day of packing or moving, get outside, even if it's just for ten minutes. Have a playful game of chase in your yard, or go to a local park. This can really help shift grumpy moods.

9. Stop for tantrums.

At some point during the day, tears and tantrums may come up. You may be tempted to stop tantrums, but this is counterproductive as it may just postpone the upset. Crying is a healing process for children, a natural way to release stress and tension, so the best thing you can do is listen and empathize. Be the lighthouse guiding your child out of the stormy seas of their emotions, and when they recover they will feel well-connected to you, and be much more willing to help in the process.

10. Remember to relax.

Do something for yourself, mama. Order takeout. End your day with snuggles and bedtime stories. Packing and moving with toddlers can be one of the most challenging jobs you can do, so well, done, you did it.

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Learn + Play

Brooklyn based stay-at-home dad Mike Julianelle, also known as Dad and Buried online, shared a brutally honest post on Instagram recently that has gone viral. In it he describes how being a stay-at-home parent is really hard, especially during the summer when the kids need to stay entertained in the long hot days in the city.

The post also goes into something that struck a chord with many stay-at-home parents: not having a choice. Many of the over 500 comments the photo has received touch upon how stressful and draining being the parent at home with the kids all day can be.

The post reads:

"It's day two of my summer as a stay-at-home dad and I've already lost it on my kids.

Actually, I lost it at day 1.5. I'm not cut out for this.

I knew it 6 years ago when I did it for the first time, I knew it a month ago when it was looming again, I knew it yesterday when things were going well, and I definitely knew it today when I yelled at my 8yo and carried him to another room because he wouldn't stop complaining about something he actually wanted to do.

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I don't want to be a stay-at-home parent. I don't want to have to find ways to fill my kids' days all summer. I don't want to plan, I don't want to pack stuff, I don't want to herd them places, I don't want to go places.

I don't have the temperament, I don't have the patience, I don't have the interest.

I also don't have a choice.

Circumstances being what they are, and summer being what it is, someone has to stay home with my kids all day. Mom and Buried has done it for years, and now she's working and I'm not, so I'm back in the saddle. Reluctance (and unsuitability) aside, I have no choice but to get better at it.

They don't need to know how stressed I am, they don't deserve a dad who's grumpy and frustrated before the day has even begun, and most of all, they don't deserve a boring summer.

Summer is sacred. And it's usually Mom and Buried's territory. But it's on me now.

No, we might not be able to send them to camp or take them on fancy trips, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to do. And it's on me to do them. More than that, it's on me to do them with a smile on my face. Or at least without constantly yelling at them.

So far, things aren't going so great. But there's nowhere to go but up!

This is one of the primary challenges of parenting. Not letting your grownup stress impact your kids' childhood innocence. We all have struggles, and sometimes the toll they take is going to manifest itself, often in ways you don't even realize.

I guess the good news is: I do realize it. Which makes it even more crucial that I manage it, and do whatever I can to prevent my kids from catching on.

I've gotta fake it until *they* make it. But what else is new?"

Shout out to this SAHD for his honest, and to all the stay-at-home parents for the hard work they do, all day, everyday.

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Life

The sound of my youngest son's wailing filled the air. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. As his screeches pierced my ears and my eyes rested on his angry face, a thought flashed into my mind: I wonder if I will ever reach a sweet spot in parenting.

I like to imagine that somewhere in my future is a magical age where the daily demands of parenting lessen and I will finally have it (mostly) all figured out. It seems I have been waiting for and wishing for this "easy" time since the first few weeks of motherhood.

When my oldest was a newborn and I was fumbling my way through sleep-deprivation, I just knew as soon as he started sleeping through the night, then motherhood would be so much easier.

When he finally did master sleeping longer stretches, he figured out how to roll over. He would roll one way and get stuck. I would flip him back, and he would be good for about five minutes and then get stuck again. I just knew as soon as he was able to roll back over the other way, then motherhood would be so much easier.

After months of nursing, and then pumping, and then bottle-feeding, I just knew that once he was eating solid foods, motherhood would be so much easier because he would sleep better, and I wouldn't have the enormous mountain of pump parts and bottles to clean each night.

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Then he started to eat solid foods, and meal times were so messy and I quickly grew tired of constantly cleaning his highchair and the floor and the wall. I just knew once he could eat on his own, then motherhood would be so much easier.

I carried him everywhere because he couldn't yet crawl, and my arms and back would ache. I just knew that once he could crawl motherhood would be so much easier.

And then he did start to crawl, and suddenly nothing was off-limits. I just knew once he was older and I wouldn't have to worry about him falling down the stairs or jamming a toy into a light socket, then motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to walk, then run, and I worried about him running away from me in the store, running into a parking lot, or tripping on his wobbly legs and doing a faceplant into the sidewalk. I just knew that when he was older and better able to listen and communicate, motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to talk and protest, and have very strong opinions about everything and the meltdowns began. I just knew as soon as we were done with this age, motherhood would be so much easier.

As my sons have grown, each stage has brought new joys, but also new challenges. Some aspects of parenting have become easier, and others have become harder.

So does this parenting "sweet spot" I have conjured up in my mind even exist?

Do I just have to be patient and it will arrive one day out of the blue when my sons reach a certain age or I gain the perfect amount of parenting wisdom?

I kept thinking about this as my son calmed down and pressed his tired little body into my own. I gazed down onto his tear-streaked cheeks. I brushed the wispy strands of his hair with my fingertips. I paused at that moment to really soak him up as he cuddled on my lap. I let the tension of the previous minutes fade away.

And a new thought entered my mind. "I'm already in a sweet spot, right here and now. I don't need to wait for one."

Parenthood will probably never be "easy." But it is pretty sweet, nonetheless.

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Life
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