Der, Tooth Fairy

Apr 30 2013

Our codependent relationship with the Tooth Fairy is well chronicled. I know. And I hate to beat a dead horse, but, really, if you’re going to beat a horse at all, one that’s already dead is definitely the best kind, right? ‘Cause who wants to go around beating a live horse? NO ONE. That’s who.

We had, um, a little malfunction with the Tooth Fairy a couple of nights ago. Yeah, yeah; wake you up when something new happens. BUT WAIT. The Tooth Fairy actually came, you guys. On schedule. Turning over a new leaf after her last stint in Tooth Fairy rehab. She’s trying to change. She, like, pinky swore and everything. And there she was! On time, and, if not exactly clean or well groomed, well, at least clothed. In pajamas, but whatever. Baby steps.

She did her work and left, and it was so easy. Such a relief! To not wait up. To not cover for her in the morning. To not panic or rush or scramble for change.

And then Cael woke up and reached under his pillow… and came up with a half-dollar.

Not a shiny half-dollar coin.

A paper dollar. Ripped in half. But only one half of it. Which is…

THE TOOTH FAIRY SUCKS.

Sorry.

Sorry.

Just… GAH!

So we obviously offered to trade the poor kid a whole, real dollar for his pathetic, ripped dollar, but he wouldn’t take it.

The Tooth Fairy, he said, would want to know. The Tooth Fairy, he said, would want to make it right. So he wrote her a letter.

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Der Tooth Fairy,

Can I hav a nothr dollar? Myn is rippt.

Cael

DER, Tooth Fairy. Doy. Duh. DER. I COULD NOT have said it better myself, son.

So last night, the second night, he stuck the letter under his pillow. And guess what? The Tooth Fairy didn’t show. Did. Not. Show. SERIOUSLY. WHAT IS HER DEAL? Is this so hard, Tooth Fairy? 

Fortunately for everyone, the kid didn’t remember in the morning. But I did while we were out running errands this afternoon, and I frantically texted Greg…

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… and offered to cover for her. AGAIN.

SERIOUSLY. WHAT IS MY DEAL?

You guys, I’m pretty sure I need counseling or a sponsor or something. Because no matter how hard I try, I cannot quit being the Tooth Fairy’s enabler on my own.

There’s a dollar under my kid’s pillow right now. A whole dollar, waiting to be found. And I’m going to let that unreliable whack-job of a tooth fairy take the credit. Again.

So my question for you is… how do I stop this vicious cycle? Is there hope? Have you found some? What is it? Where? And how do I get in on it?

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How do you get through times like this?

Apr 29 2013

I’m trying to write this morning, because I have important follow-up work to do charting your booger rules and stuff, but Greg’s home and he keeps making breathing sounds and clickity clackity click clack typing sounds and allergy season sounds, and, unbeknownst to Greg, it’s all been very distracting. Now it’s after noon and he’s in the kitchen making toast buttering sounds like scritch scritch scritch and cupboard closing sounds and foot walking sounds and sandwich eating sounds and, well, you see how far I’ve come on the booger charts.

Living with family is hard, mostly because family is made up of people and people are cobbled together from wishes and dreams and noisy things and silent spaces and hard bits and broken pieces and beauty and dirt and pain. It’s all a terrible mess.

Sometimes I think it’s the most stunning thing in the world that I’m tasked with the care of others when I can barely manage myself. I mean, here I am, inside my body, and I know what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling and all about my own needs. You know, in theory. And yet I find myself still somehow needy. And then there are more people around me. More people with more needs which are not my own, many of which require sussing and masterful sleuthing and decoding and then, eventually, commitment and resources and selfless engagement to properly meet them.

Some days I feel empowered. I can do this. I will do this. And I will rock it hard, baby.

Other days? Oomph.

I was walking out of a room last night after a long, good day at a kid event and my purse strap caught on the door. Just like that, arms overflowing with stuff, trying to get the car to get to the home to get to my bed to get to some sleep — trying to put one foot in front of the other and make rest happen by sheer force of will –I was caught. Pulled back. Stuck fast. And I had to walk backwards for a while because that was the way toward freedom.

Not Evan wrote me last night. Do you remember our friend, Not Evan? From On Accidentally Having 5 Kids and an Open Call for Joy? He’s the guy who, along with his partner, is adopting five foster kids, and he wrote:

I worry that I sometimes feel like we’re running a breakfast-eating, getting-dressed, do-your-homework factory rather than a family. And I don’t want to let the worry consume me to the point where I can’t see the joy.  

We wrote back and said, “word, man” and offered up pieces of joy and honesty and camaraderie like gifts.

Well, folks, good news! Five kiddos have been cleared for adoption from our foster care system, and Not Evan and partner are just paperwork away from becoming a family in the official, on-the-dotted-line sense.

CONGRATULATIONS!

And, HOORAY!

And, WOW!

Right?

Yes, of course, right.

And, since we’re honest here, can we all just hyperventilate a little?? Let’s call it togetherness.

Five kids, you guys, and only two parents. All of whom come with bottomless needs. Which is panic-worthy, just the same as any number of kids and any number of parents. Because, you know, all of us are made from the stuff of humans. Which, to repeat, is a terrible mess. A beautiful, terrible, horrible, glorious mess.

Right?

Yes, of course, right.

Not Evan writes:

Now, I understand how fortunate we are for this journey and hope that you understand we feel truly lucky.  However, with the ‘real’-ness of it all sinking in, we are finding ourselves nervous.

Simply put, after ten months of parenting five kids, We. Are. Exhausted. I feel like the optimism I had and the calm that came when I was parenting (even in the difficult moments) are gone… and that the periodic weekend away, sleeping in, and routines that we fall back on are not enough to ‘refill my tank.’

I worry that I’m not prepared for the long haul.  I worry that my exhaustion and frustration are just the tip of a very large iceberg. In the really bad moments, I worry that we shouldn’t go through with it. And then I look at the kids, their smiling faces and (mostly) good attitudes in the face of all they’ve been through and I think, “how could we not give them a forever place?!”

So I am exposed and hoping no one judges too harshly but maybe you can tell me how you got through a difficult time like this one?

“I worry that I’m not prepared for the long haul.  I worry that my exhaustion and frustration are just the tip of a very large iceberg.” You know what? Me, too, Not Evan. Me, too. In my darkest hours, even still, me, too.

Of course, I have a lot of answers to your question. Answers of how I get through the difficult times. Answers like coffee. And Jesus (who — free advice, Jesus — should market that whole “rest for the weary” thing better). And friends. And medication. And exercise. And time.

But that’s the funny thing about answers. My answers may not be your answers, and I think there’s much to be said for community, which I like to call Come, Unity, like we’re all beckoning unity closer by participating in it.

So, friends, I’m lobbing Not Evan’s question your way, knowing we’ve all wandered in this exhausted space of the unknown.

When uncertainty whispers in your ear, when hard and good times take up equal space in your home, what do you do? How do you get through times like this one?

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5 Quick Questions, vol. 3

Apr 26 2013

It’s time for a new edition of 5 Quick Questions.

This is my opportunity to get to know you better, and one of my favorite new things we do here. To those of you who used the last two volumes to delurk, it’s so very nice to meet you! And to those of you who’ve been around a while, messing around in this space and putting your feet on the furniture? You’re always rad. Thank you.

Here are your questions for today.

5 Quick Questions:
the Sun-is-Shining-in-Oregon-So-I’m-Feeling-Like-a-Goof Edition

In priority order…

  1. What is your family booger rule? Also, is it actually enforceable? If so, how? 
  2. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why? The why part is critical here. I want to know how you’re going to use it. I mean, sure, we all want to fly, but would we really give up the chance at mind control just to soar over the earth from time to time? No. Probably not. Let’s be realistic here.
  3. Which is better, “Just Say No” (Nancy Reagan) or “Just Do It” (Nike)? No fair saying this is an apples and oranges question. Just go with your gut. (“Just go with your gut.” Beth Woolsey)
  4. If you had to pick between kids eating their vegetables or kids sleeping through the night, which would it be?
  5. Beauty, brains, brawn or brownies. Pick two.

Here are my answers:

  1. Boogers: Our booger rule is Pick ‘Em in Private. Seriously, kids, everyone picks. It’s just important if you want to date anyone ever to do it in secret. We call this situational awareness. And no, it’s apparently totally unenforceable.
  2. Super Power: When the Super Power Genie comes to my house, I’m picking Transportation. Not, like, a new minivan. I’m thinking Star Trek. The ability to instantly transport myself from where I am to where I want to be. Sure, this will make international travel a snap (I’m going to get the Luxury Edition with the option to bring others with me by simply linking arms), but mostly I intend to use this to go downstairs at 11 every night to get my book which I can never remember to bring to bed with me.
  3. Just Say No or Just Do It? Just Do It! I’ve always been terrible at Just Say No. Turns out it was a good thing I was never socially aware enough to get invited to the drug parties.
  4. Vegetable-Eaters or Sleepers? Sleepers. Doy. I mean, how bad can scurvy really be? What’s that? Deadly, you say? Crap. This is a really hard question. Who came up with this anyway?
  5. Beauty, Brains, Brawn or Brownies: I piiccckkkk…. brains and beauty. No. Ha! I can just say no. Except not to brownies. So I pick brains and brownies, instead. Actually, how ’bout beauty and brownies? ‘Cause will I even know if I’m missing brains? Probably not. I feel like I’m outsmarting the system. Which is ironic, really, since I’m giving up brains.

Alright, folks! I showed you mine. Can’t wait to see yours!

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Vomit Lift-Off

Apr 25 2013

We went from “I feel sick” to Vomit Lift-Off in 1.5 hours today. I consider this a victory.

I mean, it’s not a family record or anything. We’ve had middle-of-the-night and out-of-a-dead-sleep yarfing episodes that carry a zero-to-TAKE-COVER rating, so there’s no real competition left there. It’s just, I don’t know, when there’s a kid who’s sort of generally blah without any other overt symptoms and I have to make The Call — send him to school or keep him home — it sometimes takes a while before I get any real feedback.

ID-10043649It’s like being a NASA project manager at every launch ever. You know the launch is coming. You trained for this. You’ve done it before. You’re following protocol. Marking the check-list. The engines are on. All signs are go. The ground is shuddering. The crowds are enraptured. But you don’t know until the very last second if this one’s gonna take off… or fizzle.

This can go on for hours. Sometimes for days. And it’s nerve-wracking. For the project manager and for the poor little guy stuck in the ship.

This time, though? Sometimes it all comes together, friends. The timing. The boy. The bucket. Like a well-oiled machine. Lift-off. Vomit Victory, baby!

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P.S. If you’d have told me at the beginning of the mama game that one day I’d consider this kind of day a victory, I’d’ve cried at my future patheticness. This is why they don’t let us have crystal balls, people. It’s for our own good.

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P.P.S. The boy that shaved his head is the same boy who has raging poison oak is the same boy who barfed so successfully this morning. Now, he has access to unlimited Popsicles which makes the entire week, in his words, “TOTALLY WORTH IT, MOM.”

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And that’s exactly the kind of perspective he’s gonna need to be an awesome, if somewhat delusional, parent some day.

Amen.

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Rocket Launcher image by digitalart via freedigitalphotos.net

In Case You’re Having One of Those Days

Apr 23 2013

Got out the grill last night and burned it. Not dinner. The grill. Well, dinner, too. No one was injured. Except the grill. And dinner. Dinner was salvageable. The grill was very injured. What with the burning and all.

My kid has a rash. Or bug bites. Or hives. Or allergies. Or poison oak. Maybe all of the above. He’s lumpy in places. Not places where there are usually lumps. I’m taking him to the doctor.

There’s a sign in the bathroom.

photo (56)“The hot water is off because it has a lick.” The sign has been there for 16 days. It’s a tough lick to fix.

Just in case you’re having one of those days, friends — a burned down, lumpy, licky kind of day — I want you to know…

Downton Abbey’s coming back. Some day. Like hope for the future. In the meantime, this:

Or, if you’re not a Downton Abbey fan, and you still need a pick-me-up, you can always ship your pants.

Sending love.

xoxo,
B

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(Thanks, Sara Kelm, for the Downton link and Christine for the Kmart link!)

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Hair, Vampires and Vitamin D: Letting Kids Make Choices

Apr 22 2013

I want to write today but the sun is shining and it’s April and I live in Oregon. Bear with me. I’ll do what I can.

An Oregon Sun Day is sort of like a Snow Day; some people love it, some people hate it. My kids think school should be canceled. And not so they can play outside. No; my kids think school should be canceled so they can hunker down inside because “THE SUN. IT’S BURNING OUR EYES. TOO BRIGHT. TOO HOT.” Sun Day? Kid panic. And just FYI, it’s 60 degrees (15 degrees Celcius) right now. I’m raising a brood of modern-day vampires is what I’m saying. They sparkle in the sun, and it’s distracting.

I, on the other hand, am no vampire. And, look, I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but of all the vitamins I love D the best. In Oregon, D is like the Prodigal Vitamin. It runs away. It hides. It withholds its affection and doesn’t show up for family events. Then it returns, and even though our relationship is totally dysfunctional, I greet it with open arms and celebration. Every. Time. My kids shun it. I forgive it. And I haul out the BBQ in its honor.

So. It’s summer in Oregon. For at least today. All week if we’re lucky. And we should talk summer fashion. Particularly, let’s talk fashion for 6-year-olds and what to do when one of ’em wants to go bald.

In general, our family’s philosophy around hair is “It’s yours. It grows back. Whatever; it’s just hair.” So, you know… a powerful position statement with clear do’s and don’ts. And my kids have done a lot with their hair freedom. Long. Short. Flat. Spikes. Hot pink.

photo (55)-001They run the gamut.

And mostly I’m OK with that. Mostly I love it. Mostly I buy the idea that my kids are not me and therefore don’t have to do what I would do. Mostly I believe it’s good for them to make some of their own choices. And mostly I like it when we’re somewhat counter-cultural because I don’t believe in buying into all that mainstream culture is trying to sell us.

Which is why I was surprised how much I had to think about Cai going bald. And how much I held him back. Me, the mama who had no trouble sending my boys to preschool in hair barrettes, pink nailpolish, swim trunks, parkas and rain boots. I found myself afraid of what others might think about the bald thing.

Will people think Cai has cancer? Will they think we’re being insensitive to people with cancer? What about racism? Can I allow a white boy to shave his head when he’s not, you know, actually going bald? Are skinheads still a thing? If I don’t let my white boy shave his head simply because he’s white, though, is that another kind of racism? Or is it just called sensitivity in that case?

All winter I held him off. It’s too cold, I said. You’ll have to wait for warmer weather. Hoping, of course, that he’d forget or change his mind.

He didn’t. And then the sun came out.

So I took him to get his hair cut. Like this:

photo 1 (53)-001Not quite bald. More a drastic buzz cut than bald. A brilliant compromise. A way between. The mama’s specialty, right? Finding the perfect balance.

Except he didn’t want a drastic buzz cut. And the perfect balance isn’t a thing.

He wanted it “BALD, Mom. ALL THE WAY BALD. And you said I can choose.”

And he’s right. I did. So Greg and I shaved our son’s head this weekend.

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So. In case you were wondering about the blinding light coming from Oregon? That’s my kid. Glowing. Body and soul. Head and heart. Eyes and smile.

As for his mama? I don’t have the answers on this one. Not for anyone but us. And barely that. But I will say this: my kid’s happy, comfortable in his extra skin, and the sun is shining. That’s enough for now.

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What about you? How do you decide what you will and won’t let your kids do for self-expression? Do you just say a few Hail Marys and go with your gut like I do? Or is there a method to your madness?

Also, this question was easier for me to answer when it was on my friend Jacoba’s blog about her kid and not mine. I say we just farm out our parenting questions to each other from now on. K? K.

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P.S. My bloggy friend, Carrie Cariello, wrote A BOOK, and Parents.com called it “the perfect choice for Autism Awareness Month.” I’ve read it. Parents.com is right. What Color is Monday? is the honest, endearing and often humorous story of Carrie’s son’s autism diagnosis and how their family of 7 (yep – 5 kids!) learned to embrace all their son has to offer. Here’s Carrie’s book trailer:

(Psst… I get no kickbacks or other benefits for promoting Carrie’s book. Other than the benefit of telling you about something rad, which is actually a pretty cool benefit. The end.)

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You Don’t Have to Choose a Parenting Method to be a Great Parent

Apr 18 2013

I walked the floor with a baby on each shoulder gently bounce, bounce, bouncing them, my back burning, hoping to ease my twins to sleep. They must’ve been just a few weeks old, our fourth and fifth kids, recently out of the neonatal intensive care unit, all of us recovering from their premature birth as I tried to learn two new little ones. What worked. What didn’t. How to navigate a whole new life. Again.

One of the boys, Cael, my snuffler and snuggler and warm-skin lover, conked right out, comforted by the mama sounds and mama smells and chaos all around us.

The other twin, though? Oy. Cai didn’t settle. And so for him, I continued to pace. Was he colicky? Gassy? Burpy? Sick? Over-stimulated? Hungry? Bored? I didn’t know.

He cried and cried, and I walked and walked, and I didn’t know.

My mom-in-law was over, and she offered to help. “Can I take him for a bit?” Judy asked. “Give you a break?”

Sometimes I dream of being a grandmother. All the wonderful parts of childrearing with as many breaks as I need, full nights of sleep, less constant anxiety and barely any vomit at all. Other times, I think it must be a special kind of hell, this Grand Parenting, where I’ll have to ask permission to take the baby who owns a piece of my soul.

Judy asked for Cai. To give me a break. And I didn’t want to let her have him because I wanted to do it myself. All my byselfTo be the comforter. The soother. But my back was on fire, and I recognized Grandma’s need was the same as my own. So I let her have him, although my heart was grudging.

I assumed she would walk him. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth as I had done. Or, perhaps, she’d think she could sit with him in the rocking chair and she’d learn — quickly — that he cried harder when sitting. Instead, she laid him on his back on the couch and sat down next to him.

I thought, “You have got to be kidding me. I’ve been walking this child for hours. For days. And you’re going to take him and just lay him downThat’s not gonna work. That’s ridiculous. That’s

He was asleep.

Out. Arms askew. Blissful on the couch next to his grandmother. He twitched and then settled as if to say thank God you all finally quit touching me. 

That wasn’t the first time my kids were going to send my parenting method packing, laughing in the face of my One Right Way.

As for the twins, it turns out I’m parenting opposites:

Safety and DANGER.

IMG_4783-001

Night Owl and MORNING GUY.

Vegetables and SUGAR.

“Hold Me” and “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Are your twins identical, Beth? Um, NO. Not to mention my other three children, all of whom think they’re entitled to their own individual preferences and needs.

Sheesh.

When my oldest was a baby, we subscribed to the cry-it-out method of bedtime because it was the Right Way to Raise a Child. The Only Way, really. The Godly Way, for sure. I didn’t know there were other options, and, when I got wind of them, I was pretty sure they were Wrong because I had read a book.

I hated sleep training. It went against every grain in my gut if guts have grains. It went against my gut grain, is what I’m saying. My baby girl cried for me, and I sat outside her room and cried, too. And it didn’t occur to me for years — literal years — that both of us miserable indicated it was time to consider a change. I just thought… I don’t know… that miserable was part of it.

And then we had three children, and we made some adjustments. Night terrors and attachment issues and bloody noses and vomit and wet beds and sheer desperation will do that to you. We started sleeping on kids’ bedroom floors. Upright in chairs. With kids in our bed. And I use “sleeping” in the loosest possible sense of the word.

In the end, Greg and I settled on One Right Sleeping Strategy for our family, just not on the same one. Greg is an ongoing proponent of Make the Kids Sleep in Their Own Rooms THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE THEM, and also, THIS IS MY BED, GET OUT. And I wholeheartedly buy the But Someday I Want to Remember I Had Their Legs in My Bladder and Elbows in My Eyes and Hot Breath in My Hair and ONE DAY MY BABIES ARE GOING TO LEAVE ME method.

It works out well between us.

And, actually, it does. Because Greg and I agree easily on one thing: we’re never going to sleep again and the method we use to get to “Hey, look! More midnight laundry!” doesn’t much matter. Because, of course, the word “sleep” in “sleep method” is meant to be figurative, which the manuals decline to mention. No matter what method you choose to help your kids sleep? It’s unlikely to net YOU any at all.

Who knew, right? Well, not me when I was a new mama, that’s for sure. I thought sleep training or attachment parenting or whatever, if done right, if done the way it’s prescribed, was supposed to result in sleep for us all. Or well adjusted children. Or well adjusted parents.

WRONG.

I mean, eventually it does, right? Parenting takes time, after all. But, in general, WRONG.

Which brings me to the entire point of this post, and it’s this:

Dear New Mama,
Did you know?
You don’t have to choose.

Parenting. It’s just so… whew!… devastating and triumphant. And that learning curve is WOW! Learning your child and yourself and your partner and your method and your madness and your magic all at once? WOW. And doing it again with each subsequent child? Double WOW.

Then along come the people. ALL THE PEOPLE. Who tell you what to do. And that there’s just One Right Way. The gurus. The books. Facebook. The grocery-store advisers. And they all talk in snapshots, with stationary bits of information, instead of telling you the more complex truth: There are Lots of Right Ways. Loads and loads. And this parenting picture is never at a standstill. Never ever. It moves, friends. It’s a moving picture. A talkie. In color. And surround sound. And high definition. On the BIGGEST screen of all. Your life.

And so, New Mama,
Did you know?
You don’t have to choose.

Not a sleep method. Not a feeding method. Not a potty or a pee or a poop method. Not a once-and-for-all, ’til-death-do-us-part method. You don’t have to choose.

But, wait.

What?

What is this, “you don’t have to choose?” 

That’s what I’m saying, friend. That’s what I mean. These parenting methods? The ones by the experts and from mama friends and the church and the schools and the doctors and the neighbors and the lady at the park who’s a specialist?

You don’t have to choose.

You don’t have to choose for once and for all. You don’t have to subscribe for forever. You don’t have to buy into this or to that. You don’t have to believe like in ice cream or world peace.

You can if you want to. You can choose, of course. But, new mama, you don’t have to choose.

You can try different things. It’s okay to try them. The sleep training and the all-night bladder-kicking. The cloth diapering and the ruin-the-earthing. The breast feeding and the bottle feeding. It’s okay to move in the picture.

If something’s not working, you can ditch it. Pitch it. Without ruining your baby or yourself or your mind. If something’s not working, you can do something else. You can, if you want. You can.

You can, and I know. I know ’cause I did. Or didn’t. Or don’t. Or, rather, it’s truer to say that I won’t. Not anymore. Now I just do what works. For right now. In this time. For this kid. In this space. For this night. For this meal. For this minute, what’s right.

Here’s the truth I’ve learned after five. And the twins at the end drove it home. All children are different. And all parents, too. With our needs and our wants and our whims. “Rock me!” “Hold me!” “Leave me alone!” So I try. And I move. And I breathe and I bend. And, in the end…

In the end, I’m happier and much better off when I’m me. Wild and free. And picking and choosing. And making mistakes. And making thing better. And making things best.

And my kids? Most important of all, my kids are better off, too. When I choose what works for us all, not a rule.

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Oh, mamas and daddies, what do you think? What’s your story of methods and peace? And how do you choose when to bend?

xoxo,
B

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