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How to Enjoy Disney World When Your Child Has Autism

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This year my husband insisted on a trip to Disney World. I resisted because our nine-year-old, James, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. James can normally blend in with his non-autistic classmates, but this was Disney: three solid days of overstimulation, temptation, distraction, and surprises.


But James is only one member of our four-person family. We also have a seven-year-old princess… I mean daughter.

I visited an easy-to-find section of Disney’s website: Services for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities, “including those on the Autism Spectrum.” There I found a chart with sensory details on each ride: smells, bumps, sounds, flashing lights, periods of darkness. There were videos to help kids prepare, and lists of what to bring, such as headphones, earplugs, or a favorite toy. There were maps to special “break areas,” where people could go if they were overstimulated.

All the basics that most people with autism need.

The tricky part is, James is like most people with autism, in that he’s not like most people with autism. Autism features a wide range of presentations, from severely developmentally delayed people who can’t speak, to college-educated professionals. So each person’s needs are highly specific.

James didn’t need a sensory guide. When it comes to roller coasters, the louder, the flashier, the bumpier, the better. But crowds? Unfamiliar foods? Unexpected closures? Far-away restrooms? Any of these, and especially these in combination, could ruin the trip.

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Exhaustive preparation is always my best defense. Disney offers Fast Passes for free to all visitors, not just those with disabilities. They were all we needed (beyond advance dinner reservations and a restriction on overdoing it) for our first two days in the Magic Kingdom. A Fast Pass gives you a generous time window during which to report for a ride, and admits you to a fast-moving line once you show up.

On the first day of our visit, we had a hint of what was to come. We hit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, our second planned ride, about 45 minutes ahead of our Fast Pass arrival time. I decided we’d wait in the regular line, which looked short to me.

Well, actually James decided. I wanted to use our Disability Access Pass, which we’d obtained within our first 15 minutes at the Magic Kingdom. It would have functioned like a Fast Pass, sparing us some time in line but not swooping us to the front.

“I understand,” the young woman at the desk had murmured before the second half of “High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder” was out of my mouth. Then she asked to take James’ picture.

“Mom,” James whined, looking around us. When I’d first mentioned the pass to him, he’d put his foot down. “Disability Pass? No. I don’t need special treatment.”

Cool kid, right?

Before I was James’ mother I was a child psychologist specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorders. I follow my own advice, even though being the mom is nothing like being the psychologist. Instead of supporting James in his attempt to tough it out, I made him get the Disability Access Pass, which afterward he referred to as the Autism Pass.

Any little bit could help.

Back to Big Thunder Mountain. Disney lines snake around, so that you can’t tell you’re near the front until just before you hop on the ride. At precisely the 30-minute mark, James abruptly stepped within a millimeter of the young woman in front of him and growled, “I hate this person. I’m going to push her.”

He didn’t push her. He never planned to. This was just his way of saying he’d had enough waiting. Unfortunately, I could tell by the young woman’s face that he didn’t look at all autistic to her.

He looked like a brat.

Later, I asked James what he would rather be: a brat, or a person with autism?

“I just hated that girl. She was in my way.”

I explained and explained, but in the end he agreed only to this: 30 minutes in line was his limit. For any wait beyond that, we would use the Autism Pass.

Most people are beginning to understand that Autism Spectrum Disorder means different things for different people. What’s less commonly understood is that it means different things for the same person at different times.

Hopping out of the front car of Space Mountain, high-fiving his dad and exclaiming, “That was awesome!” James looks like a typical nine year old. But tack on a few discomforts and uncertainties, and suddenly he’s scratching gashes into his own forearms and yelling, “Put me up for adoption!”

I’d do anything to prevent one of these rare outbursts. As she arranged our Disability Access Pass, the young woman had asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I said no, because I didn’t know where to start. At the end of our trip, I came up with a wish list:

  • A private taxi from our hotel room’s door to the front of the park.
  • The cell phone number of the taxi driver so we could escape at a moment’s notice.
  • Immediate service at any restaurant offering plain hamburgers, hot dogs, or cheese pizza.
  • Immediate restroom access within 100 feet of any ride.
  • For all gift shops to hide their Star Wars action figures, until such time as we were ready to make a purchase.
  • A magic pod that would transport us swiftly through a crowd of any size, so that we wouldn’t have to dodge people as we walked.

Recall that James doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, and it’s an impossible situation. I wanted that magic pod, and I wanted it to be invisible, too.

Like Disney proved in their guide, I know what’s likely to trigger my child with autism. I zero in on these triggers and try to snuff them out completely in the name of family fun.

But spontaneity is also part of the fun. By the third day, even as James’ stress level increased, we both appreciated the pop-up parade, the roaming Tigger, and the Mickey-shaped waffle. We would have missed all of that if I’d been “helped” to everything on my list.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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No kid is born a picky eater, but there are plenty who will give you a run for your money come mealtime. Whether it's a selective eating phase or simply a natural resistance to trying something new, getting your little one to try just.one.bite can be easier said than done.

But sometimes your attitude about eating can make the most impact. A 2017 study found a direct correlation between "mealtime emotional climate" (AKA, how positive meals are for parents and children) and a child's consumption of healthy food―meaning the difference between your child trying their green beans or not could depend on how positive you make the experience.

Not sure where to start?

Here are 10 positive parenting techniques that can help overcome picky eating and lead to more peaceful mealtimes for all.

1. Make them feel special.

Sometimes just knowing you have a special place at the table can help kids eat better. Create a special place setting with dishes just for them.

Try this: We love OXO's Stick & Stay plates and bowls for creating less mess at mealtime. Not only will the kids love the fun colors and designs, but the plates also come with a suction cup base that prevents little hands from knocking plates to the floor (or in your lap). Trust us—we've tried it.

2. Take off the pressure.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Plate

Think about it: If someone kept telling you to take one more bite during lunch, how likely would you be to go along without bristling?

Try this: Instead, use the Satter Division of Responsibility of feeding, which lets parents be responsible for what, when, and where feeding happens, while the child is left responsible of how much and whether. Besides promoting a more positive environment at mealtime, this method also boosts your child's confidence and helps encourage better self-regulation of food as they get older.

3. Serve a variety.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Divided Plate

It could be that your child is bored with the usual rotation. Keep things interesting by regularly introducing new ingredients, or reworking a familiar ingredient in a new way. The familiar setting might make your child more likely to take a bite without a struggle.

Try this: Sub in spaghetti squash with their favorite pasta sauce, or add in a new veggie to a beloved stir-fry. We love OXO's Stick & Stay Divided Plate for creating a "tasting menu" of new flavors for little ones to pick and choose or using the center spot for an appetizing dip.

4. Don't bargain or negotiate.

Many kids resist trying new foods or eating at all because it gives them a sense of control over their lives. By resisting an ingredient―even one they have tried and liked in the past―they are essentially saying, "You're not the boss of me."

Try this: Instead of resorting to bargaining tactics like, "Just take one bite!" or "You can have dessert if you try it!" lower the pressure with a neutral statement like, "This is what we're having for dinner tonight." There's no argument, so you avoid tripping their "Don't tell me what to do!" sensor.

5. Serve meals in courses.

Even adults are more likely to eat something when they're really hungry. When their tummies are rumbling, kids will usually put up less of a fight even when they're uncertain about a new ingredient.

Try this: Serve up vegetables or other new foods as an "appetizer" course. That way, you won't have to stress if they don't fill up because you can follow up with food you know they'll eat.

6. Make it a game.

The fastest way to get a toddler on board with a new idea is to make it more fun. Turn your kitchen into an episode of Top Chef and let your little one play judge.

Try this: Use each compartment of the Stick & Stay Divided Plate for a new ingredient. With each item, ask your child to tell you how the food tastes, smells, and feels, ranking each bite in order of preference. Over time, you just might be surprised to see veggies climb the leaderboard!

7. Get them involved in cooking.

You've probably noticed that toddlers love anything that is theirs―having them help with preparing their own meals gives them a sense of ownership and makes them more likely to try new ingredients.

Try this: Look for ways to get those little hands involved in the kitchen, even if it means meal prep takes a bit longer or gets a bit messier. (We also love letting them help set the table―and OXO's unbreakable plates are a great place to start!) You could even let your toddler pick the veggie course for the meal. And if your child asks to taste a raw fruit or vegetable you planned to cook, go with it! Every bite counts as training that will ultimately broaden their palate.

8. Cut out unstructured snacking.

Not surprisingly, a hungry kid is more likely to try new foods. But if your toddler had a banana and a glass of milk (or a granola bar, or a handful of popcorn, or a glass of juice) an hour before dinner, odds are they aren't feeling truly hungry and will be more likely to resist what you serve at mealtime.

Try this: Stick to a consistent eating schedule. If your child leaves the table without eating as much as you think they should, remind them once that they won't be able to eat again until X time―and make good on that promise even if they start begging for a snack before the scheduled meal.

9. Model good eating habits.

Kids may not always do what you say, but they are much more likely to follow a good example. So if you want a child who eats vegetables regularly, you should do your best to fill your own plate with produce.

Try this: Pick a new food the whole family will try in multiple ways each week. For example, if you're introducing butternut squash, serve it roasted, blended in soup, cut up in pasta, as a mash, etc.―and be sure a healthy serving ends up on your plate too.

10. Don't worry about "fixing" picky eating.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Bowl

In most cases, children go through relatively consistent eating phases. At age two (when parents tend to notice selectiveness ramping up), growth rates have slowed and most children don't need as much food as parents might think.

Try this: Focus on keeping mealtime positive by providing children with a variety of foods in a no-pressure environment. And remember: This too shall pass. The less stress you put on eating now, the more likely they are to naturally broaden their palates as they get older.


This article was sponsored by OXO Tot. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Learn + Play

Every time Amy Schumer posts something to Instagram we're expecting a birth announcement, but in her latest Instagram post, Schumer let the world know she's still pregnant, and unfortunately, still throwing up.

Schumer made her "still pregnant" announcement in a funny Instagram caption, noting, "Amy is still pregnant and puking because money rarely goes to medical studies for women," suggesting that hyperemesis gravidarum, the extreme form of morning sickness that's seen her hospitalized multiple times during her pregnancy doesn't get as much attention as conditions that impact men.

She's made a joke out of it, but she's not wrong. Gender bias in medical research is very real, and something that the medical community has just recently begun to address.

And while more people suffer from erectile dysfunction than hyperemesis gravidarum, let's consider that five times as many studies are done on erectile dysfunction than premenstrual syndrome (PMS) when about 19% of men are impacted by erectile dysfunction but 90% of women experience symptoms related to PMS.

Schumer's point is important not just for women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, but for women and vulnerable pregnant people with all sorts of under-studied and under-diagnosed conditions. The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and bias in medicine is part of the problem.

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News

“Brrrr… I guess winter's back!" I awkwardly joked with a mom at preschool pick up today. We'd had a few warm days this week, but March in Wisconsin means that's short-lived, and it was only a matter of time before our 19 degree mornings returned.

She and I were the first ones to arrive, so I saw it as a golden friend-making opportunity for me. Before the other moms came and distracted her with chatter about grabbing coffee and going to yoga and getting their boys together to play. I thought this was my chance to make a bridge.

As the new mom whose family just moved to town, I am not in that circle. My preschool son has no boys to play with, nor do I have a coffee dates lined up, or invites to yoga or to go for a run on warm days.

And that circle—as all women know—can feel like it's impenetrable. Like once it's formed, no one else is allowed in. Being the new mom has me feeling like I'm back in 6th grade. But instead, I'm a grown woman in my 30s.

I don't necessarily think it's intentional, either. Having just left a circle of mom friends back home whom I stood and chatted with and did this very thing with every day for years, I ask myself—did I isolate any new moms? Did I brush off someone who tried to make small talk with me, hoping to make a friend? And I honestly don't know.

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So I don't begrudge the mom circle that stands tightly knit, content with their foursome.

But they hadn't arrived yet today, and I saw my chance. The weather—an easy topic, right? I wasn't coming at her with politics or organic vs. processed foods or vaccines. I chose something easy and non-controversial. Something that wouldn't get me judged. Or get my kids judged as having “that mom."

But, unfortunately, she didn't bite. The one other mom standing with me at preschool pickup at my son's new school just smiled meekly at my generic weather comment, and then turned away.

Okay. I guess that's that, I said to myself.

So, I'm 38 years old. I've done the clique-y girl thing before. I know the game. I know the difference between “Yeah! I know! Brrrr! So you're new, right? Where are you from?" and a fake smile followed by the back of your head. Not interested. I get it.

Up until recently, I didn't really care that I didn't have friends yet. We've been in our new town, new state, new school, and new house for a few months. But honestly, it's only been the past week or two that the feeling of loneliness has hit me a bit. I've been too busy being Mommy.

All of my energy—every waking moment—went to helping my kids adjust. Helping them learn their new school routines. Ensuring they were happy and making new friends. Enrolling them in activities. Learning the bus schedule and memorizing the lunch menu. Figuring out which folder is the reading folder and which is the math folder. Where are the Boy Scouts meetings? Where should my daughter take gymnastics? What baseball team is best for my boys? We needed a pediatrician. And dentist. And eye doctor. And allergist.

On top of focusing on my kids, the last few months were spent researching electricians and plumbers and painters. When does the garbage get picked up and how do we dispose of our Christmas tree? Where can we get good Chinese takeout and get my car washed? Which grocery store has the best deals and where is Costco?

But now, all of a sudden, I feel like my children are all doing okay. The house is organized and we know how things work around here.

And now I've remembered that there is one more person who needs to learn her new world—me. I haven't had a hair cut in months. I don't have a doctor yet. Or a dentist. But most of all, I desperately need some girlfriends.

Maybe not the one who brushed me off at preschool pickup. And that's okay. I've met some friendly moms who've mentioned getting together in passing. I am now navigating that awkward “when is too soon to text and/or friend you on social media so you know I want to be friends but I don't seem stalker-ish" territory.

I guess it never gets easier, this making new friends gig. The one good part, however, of this experience—is that it's given me a glimpse into my children's world. I have gotten a taste of what their first few days were like back in December when we first arrived.

I was so busy unpacking and learning their school schedules and setting up their bedrooms that I didn't take the time to sit in that experience with them. To see it from their perspective.

Now I wonder, was my daughter brushed off by a girl she tried to befriend? Was my son kept out of the circle? I now know, what that must have felt like. And I'm so proud of them for standing tall, walking into their new world, and facing that challenge head on.

We are all going to be okay, though. This is our family adventure—the good and the bad—and we will come out stronger on the other side. We will be better at facing new challenges. We will be experienced at making new friends. And next time there is a new family in town, and the mom asks me how I feel about the weather, I will be ready to give her the response I was hoping for—not the one I got.

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Love + Village

I remember being in a conversation about working moms with a few people I know—comprised of both men and women—shortly after I had had my first child. I remember it so clearly because one of the men said, "If she's working so much, what's the point of even having children?" I was so taken aback. To me his comment screamed: Why would a busy working woman even bother procreating if she's not going to dedicate herself wholly and completely to motherhood in every way, shape and form?

Like, if you're going to be a mother, then just BE a mother. Be one with motherhood. Be all in. Forget about the other things. Right?

Wrong.

You know what I've realized in my five years of motherhood? When you throw yourself mind, body and soul into every. single. thing. motherhood, you're likely going to lose sight of the uniqueness that makes you you.

Your "pre-mom" self is in the past along with sleeping in on Saturdays and spontaneous date nights. And the woman you thought you were now—this mom version of yourself—is buried so deep under diapers and goldfish and stuffed animals and to-dos and errands and responsibilities that she is struggling to stay afloat. Struggling to really see herself.

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Being fully immersed in the deep, sometimes treacherous waters of raising tiny humans is wondrous, yes. But it can also be overwhelming and all-consuming. It can be exhausting and challenging.

Then, one day, your head will pop up above the surface and you'll breathe fresh air and you'll say, "Wow, it's really beautiful up here, too."And you'll remember: Something will remind you that you're a person, not just someone's mother. It could be anything—maybe it'll be the way your partner looks at you in that dress or maybe it'll be what the yoga teacher said that struck a chord with you. Maybe it'll be the writing class you sign up for or a new job or a new community or a new lease on life. Whatever it is for you—you'll notice it.

And it'll wake you up in a way that nothing else has since becoming a mother.

I find myself on a mission now. My mission is to discover who I am exactly. I'm not my pre-mom self anymore and I'm not just this exhausted, harried, overwhelmed mom-of-three. I don't have to only be that. I can be a mother and… other things.

That being said, because I am a mother and… doesn't mean you have to label me that way.

I have a job, but you don't have to call me a "working mom." I'm simply a human who works who also happens to be a mother.

I like to workout, but saying I'm a #fitmom seems unnecessary to me. I am a human striving to be healthier.

I have dreams and goals for myself that both relate to motherhood and have nothing to do with motherhood at all, but you don't have to label me a "mom boss." I'm just a human who wants to achieve certain things in life.

I am a Beyoncé devotee, but we can all agree it would be silly to label me a "mom-Beyoncé fan," right?

Bottom line: I am more than the caregiver of my tiny humans. My worth is greater than the number of pickups and drop-offs I do in a week. I am deeper than the mountain of dirty laundry in the hamper. I am better than my meltdowns when I lose my patience and I'm worthy of cultivating hobbies, interests and passions outside of my role of "mom." We all are. Attaching the word "mom" to everything we do contradicts all of this.

What I think I am finally starting to understand is that becoming a mother is a complete transformation that happens over and over throughout the course of our motherhood journeys.

We'll figure out the mom we need to be at each stage of our children's lives and we'll figure out who we are exactly, eventually. Spoiler alert: It's going to take time. And it's going to keep changing. And we'll be growing and learning and unearthing the truest versions of ourselves over the course of our lives—right alongside our babies.

The role of mother is of utmost importance to me. I am so proud to be raising my three children. I do get an immeasurable amount of fulfillment and joy from this hat I wear. But the other hats I wear? They're so much a part of me, too, and a lot of them don't have much to do with motherhood at all. It's time our society starts valuing the other roles mothers have independent from motherhood because that's where validation happens, and that's how society proves motherhood is worthy. That's how we feel seen. That's how we get a seat at the table.

So, what was the point of having kids for that woman who works a lot?

To create another human being who she could help mold into an upstanding citizen of our future. To expand her family and lineage. To open her heart to the love that is caring for another person. To give her life meaning in a way nothing else had yet. Because, I suspect, she felt called to.

And what's the point of her working so much?

To make money for her family. To feel validated outside of her home. To continue to learn and grow in her profession. To set goals, reach them and start all over again. To interact with other adults on a regular basis. To continue this part of her life that is so ingrained in her identity. To show her children that just like men, women can have successful careers, too. To give her life meaning in a way nothing else does. Because, I suspect, she feels called to.

But the even bigger point that stayed with me from that conversation about working mothers is this: Women, just like men and non-binary individuals—just like any other human on this planet—can make their own decisions. They can decide to be a mother or not be a mother. They can decide to be the primary caregiver for their children or they could decide to work a full-time job outside their home. They can decide to sign up for yoga teacher training, join a gym, learn how to paint, go back to school or whatever.

From looking around me at all the amazing moms in my life, I believe this to be true: Mothers can, and will, decide what is best for them and their families by themselves or with their partner. What we won't do is wait around for a man, or anyone else for that matter, to tell us how we should be living our lives or to pass judgment on our choices.

We are mothers, yes. But we are also so much more.

And it's time for society to start seeing us that way.

Originally posted on Medium.

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Life

Perfectionism is the pressure we often put on ourselves to do things extremely well. True perfectionists tend to judge their performance in the starkest of terms: Either they've done things brilliantly or they're a complete disaster. In some settings—a life transition or a challenging work environment—this drive can serve us well and earn us praise.

But when applied to parenting, perfectionism can sap the joy from everything you do, lead you to work yourself to the bone, and crush your ability to be present as you obsess about whether you did or will do a good enough job in each of your endeavors. It increases your mental load and can make you feel like you're failing before you even try.

Bottom line: Unbridled perfectionism will disrupt your capacity to experience contentment and joy.

Let it go

Freeing yourself from the logistical burden and psychological paralysis of perfectionism liberates you to manage the wide scope and scale of everything you need to do and helps you stay grounded over the long haul. It prevents you from expanding an already difficult job into an impossibly ginormous one, so that you can handle the workload with more ease and agility.

Furthermore, one of the best things you can do especially as a parent, for your kids and peers, is demonstrate in your own actions that you don't have to be perfect to be good or likeable or successful. In the age of illusory social media profiles, if we were all more open about sharing the things we struggle with, we might be able to disrupt the culture of the perfect parent. Who doesn't prefer someone who's accessible and real, anyway?

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How to overcome it: Think max-min-mod

As a parent, with so many things to do every day, it's easy to lose perspective and always think you have to do things par excellence. Perfection is a drive for safety, not fear of criticism or wrongdoing. MAX-MIN-MOD is a tactical handbrake that slows you down enough to ask yourself, "Before I do this, what am I trying to achieve?" Then you can consider, "What's a good enough job?"

Here's how it works. For any task or activity that threatens to swallow you whole—or that you're procrastinating about because it's so overwhelming to complete to perfection—define three levels of performance: Maximum (MAX), Moderate (MOD), and Minimum (MIN).

First, MAX. What is the maximum I can do? What does truly perfect look like? Write down, very specifically, all the actions you envision that would add up to the most stellar job.

Next, ask what is the minimum I could do? (Yes, skip moderate until the end.) Imagine you have run out of time, you can't skip out on the task, but you need to do the most basic version that will still get the job done.

Then, define MOD. What is something above the bare minimum, if you have a little more time to make it special but not go crazy? Here are a few examples.

Let's say you are going to send a cake to school for your kid's birthday.

  • MAX: Bake a cake, from scratch, in the shape of your child's favorite character, with individualized party favors for every child.
  • MIN: Buy cupcakes at the supermarket.
  • MOD: Bake cupcakes from a boxed mix with frosting from a can. Top your child's cupcake with a little figurine of his favorite character.

Plan to have friends over for dinner.

  • MAX: Cook a huge pot of yummy stew, a gorgeous salad, and your famous cornbread that everyone loves.
  • MIN: Order takeout, have everyone chip in, and serve it in pretty serving bowls.
  • MOD: Assign each of your friends a dish to bring, pot-luck style, and make a batch of your famous cornbread.

Clean up your house before friends come over for dinner.

  • MAX: Completely declutter the front hall and closet (finally!); deep clean the kitchen and bathroom; vacuum, sweep, dust, and put a pot of orange slices and cinnamon sticks on the stove to make the house smell festive.
  • MIN: Toss all the clutter in some reusable shopping bags and cart them to the back bedroom, and spray the house with cinnamon-scented potpourri.
  • MOD: Grab a few coats out of the front-hall closet to make room for guests' jackets, stash kids' toys in their assigned bins, wipe down the bathroom, and light a scented candle.

Once you've defined three levels of performance, you can choose the one that's most appropriate for the circumstances, the time you have available, and what else you have on your plate. Sometimes you'll choose MAX, sometimes MOD, sometimes MIN. The muscle is breaking the all-or-nothing thinking that leads to overwork or paralysis, and recognizing you have options.

Excerpted from TIME TO PARENT: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You by Julie Morgenstern published September 4, 2018 by Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright © byJulie Morgenstern. All rights reserved.

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Life
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