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Fathers Matter (Every Day of the Year)

Fathers Matter!Last Sunday was Father’s Day — a day for celebrating the parent that goes largely unnoticed and under-appreciated the rest of the year.

Dads are under-appreciated partly because our society is no longer conditioned to hold fathers in high esteem.

Fathers have long been a favorite target of television sitcoms, where the vast majority of them are depicted as inept, irrelevant idiots more deserving of ridicule than respect.

For decades, fathers have been marginalized and emasculated and treated as if they have nothing of value to contribute to their family’s life beyond its economic support (if that).

And to the degree that life imitates art, men must fight against these stereotypes, not only in contemporary culture, but sometimes even in their own homes.

But another reason dads go unnoticed and under-appreciated is because so many of them are absentee fathers — they’re seldom around to attract any attention or appreciation.

This may be due to death, divorce, abandonment, or career choice; regardless of the cause, their absence comes at a high cost to the children they’ve left behind.

Despite what the liberal media might lead us to believe, fathers play a vital, irreplaceable role in the development of their children. Despite the divorce lawyers’ assurances that “kids are resilient and will quickly adjust to life without you,” the children rarely (if ever) escape such an ordeal unscathed. Most will carry scars from their parents’ split for the rest of their lives.
Do Fathers Matter?
And while having a loving, engaged father living in your home, eating at your table, and taking interest in your life is not essential to success, studies show that paternal involvement makes such success a lot more probable.

According to a fascinating new book by Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, the general consensus, at least in the research community, is that fathers do matter. They matter a lot.

Beginning before conception and moving through pregnancy, delivery, infancy, children, teens, and all the way to fathering in old age, Raeburn covers cutting-edge research that gives insight into how fathers shape their children, for better or worse.

The bottom line? When fathers are involved, everybody fares better:

The children benefit.

  • Infants respond most positively to the way their father plays with them, which tends to be more physical and idiosyncratic than their mother’s play. (p. 126) Furthermore, children of fathers who engaged in the most physical and enjoyable play were less aggressive, more competent, and better liked by their peers. (p. 152)
  • Fathers have a huge impact on their children’s language development, even more so than mothers and irrespective of the mother’s education level or how she speaks to the children. (p. 145)
  • Children with fathers who are supportive and encouraging show a boost in intellectual development. (p. 147)
  • They also do better in school, both academically and socially: Paternal encouragement is associated with better relationships between children and their school teachers, as well as better behavior and social skills. (p. 150)
  • Engaged, attentive fathering has been linked to higher IQs in children, lower risk of smoking as teens, and even lower incidence of depression and psychological ailments decades later. (p. 151)
  • Sadly, there appears to be a robust association between father absence — both physical and psychological — and accelerated reproductive development in daughters, increased sexual risk taking, and higher incidence of teen pregnancy and STD infection. (pp. 160-164)

The wives benefit.

  • When fathers are present in the delivery room, mothers are less likely to cry or to require pain medication. (p.111)
  • Supportive parenting on the part of fathers has been shown to improve the behavior of mothers toward their children. When he’s more loving and attentive, she is, too. (p. 147)
  • When couples forge a strong alliance in parenting, their marriage is strengthened, as well. (p. 85)

The fathers themselves benefit.

  • Fathers who are involved with their children have a reduced incidence of illness and mortality. (p. 138)
  • Men who devote more time to fatherhood also have higher self-esteem and lower parental stress. (pp. 123-124)
  • Interestingly, low testosterone is not only associated with increased longevity, but also with better, more attentive fathering (pp. 74-75) — so why does our society push supplemental testosterone on middle-aged men as if it were candy?

And those findings are just the tip of the iceberg. I’d encourage you to read Do Fathers Matter? to get the details on the benefits mentioned above and to discover a myriad of others.

So what does all that mean for us? How should these studies affect our day-to-day lives?

For me — and these are my thoughts, not the author’s — this book serves as just one more reminder of how vitally important it is that I nurture my marriage. The next generation is counting on it!

No matter how much others would like us to believe that marriages are just contracts of convenience that can be dissolved without consequence, that simply isn’t true. When Mom and Dad go separate ways, the children are always affected.

No matter how often society argues that what consenting adults do in private should be of no concern to anybody else, their behavior does affect the community around them — especially the children.

And no matter how emphatically our culture insists that one definition of “family” is just as good as the next, the preponderance of research indicates there is an optimal design, at least when it comes to rearing offspring: that of a father and a mother firmly committed to one another and jointly and lovingly involved in the lives of their children.

Cultivating Contentment

Cultivating Contentment in the Season you're InMy husband used to have a medical colleague with a bad habit of complaining: When work was slow, he’d complain that he couldn’t make any money. When work was busy, he’d complain that he never saw his family.

Doug suggested that all he really needed was an attitude adjustment.

“When you’re working hard, be happy for the opportunity to make money. When your schedule’s light, be happy for the opportunity to spend more time with your family. Just flip-flop your reactions and you’ll have nothing to complain about.”

It occurs to me that a lot of wives and mothers might profit from a similar shift in thinking.

When our children are little, it’s easy to focus on the sleepless nights, the endless messes, the never-having-a-free-minute-to-call-our-own. As they grow, those earlier trials give way to hectic schedules and constant chauffeuring, then attitudes and hormones, then college tuition and car repairs, and then suddenly — in the blink of an eye — they’re grown and gone and you find yourself sitting in an empty house wishing for a do-over.

That’s why it is so important to focus not on the trials of each stage, but on the joys. Savor them, for they are fleeting. Tomorrow that chubby cheeked toddler who wakes you up three times a night will be married with children of his own.

I am so grateful that, when I was just a little girl, my mother warned me of the dangers of wishing one’s life away.

Instead of thinking, I’ll be glad when I’m old enough to wear make up or drive or date or attend college or get married or (fill in the blank), Mom advised me to just enjoy whatever stage of life I was in to the fullest.

The next stage would arrive soon enough, she assured me, but I’d miss the pleasures of the present stage if I spent my time pining for the privileges of the next.

It’s a lesson I carried with me into marriage and motherhood, and my life has been so much richer as a result.

Contentment is not something you should postpone for a more convenient time. If you are ever going to experience it, you must actively cultivate it.

Right now.

Right where you are.

This involves shifting your focus off the things you can’t do in your current season of life, and instead attending with gratitude to those things you can do.

Instead of complaining about the cold all winter and the heat all summer, relish the opportunity to wear sweaters and build fires and drink hot cocoa when temperatures drop, then take joy in wearing flip-flops and eating watermelon and going swimming when the mercury peaks.

This simple solution, consistently applied, has a profound effect on overall happiness and contentment.

One practical thing I do to help keep things in proper perspective is make lists. I’ve written before about the fact I keep a running Empty Nest List and a Do It Now List in my notebook.

These serve as a reminder to do more of what I’ll miss (like cuddling with my little ones, reading them stories, and baking cookies together) and to chill out about stuff that’s relatively inconsequential (there will be time to alphabetize my home library and organize my small parts cabinets when the kids are grown and gone, if those things are even still important to me then).

Of course, your children aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit when you focus on the things you love instead of the things that irritate you — your spouse will appreciate such a shift in thinking, too.

As much as you might like to grow old together, you have no guarantee that will happen, so show him all the love and respect and appreciation you can muster while you still have him with you.

Live in a way that will leave no lingering regrets when he’s gone.

What kinds of things would/should be on your “Do It Now List?” What things might be better postponed for another season, perhaps when your nest is empty?

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Making Big Investments in Little Things

President Obama created quite a stir last week with his comments regarding Moms who leave the workplace to stay home and raise children: “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make,” he said resolutely.

Recipe for Success: Making Big Investments in Little Things

His solution to the pesky problem of SAHMs? Taking more and more children out of their homes at younger and younger ages and placing them in tax payer funded preschool, so their moms can get back to climbing the corporate ladder ASAP.

The President pushes this agenda — and pretends it will be best for all parties involved — despite the fact research has shown that the more time kids spend in non-maternal care during their first 4.5 years, the more behavioral problems they develop.

This marginalizing of mothers’ influence reminds me of a friend I had in graduate school who was totally grossed out by the idea of breastfeeding. “Why would you choose to nurse,” she once asked me in all seriousness, “when formula is so readily available?” (She also considered C-sections preferable to vaginal birth).

Infant formulas have made great progress over the past few decades in approximating the nutritional make-up of “nature’s perfect food.” And I’m glad they are available — especially since one of my own children had difficulty latching on and might’ve died without formula supplementation.

But even the formula manufacturers themselves concede that mother’s milk is superior.

I tried to enumerate the benefits of breastfeeding to my squeamish friend, but she remained unpersuaded.

This girl was no dummy. She went on to earn her PhD in Mathematics. Babies and breastfeeding just weren’t a part of her plan for that season of her life, but rather than owning up to that fact, she tried to pretend that my babies would be better off if I’d adopt her choices.

Of course, I didn’t buy her pitch, either.

Instead, I dropped out of graduate school three classes shy of having my Master’s in Math. My first baby was born just a couple of weeks after my final final, and it was more important to me to stay home with him and the others that would soon follow than to earn another diploma to gather dust in my closet.

I know some mothers will choose or need to work outside their home while their children are still young. I get that. And I understand why they’d want high-quality childcare to facilitate this.

That much is obvious.

But let’s not pretend that a publicly-funded institution is a better place for preschool-aged children than a loving home, or that paid workers can do a superior job of nurturing and teaching and loving on little ones than their own mother.

And let’s not assume, Mr. President, that the workforce is best place for a woman at any stage of her life, but especially not when she has young children who need her attention.

Those little ones won’t stay little for long, and the investment a mother makes during their formative years will pay much bigger dividends in the long run than any 401(K) plan an employer could offer.


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My Favorite Marriage and Family Blogs

Want to nourish your marriage? You'll find a healthy dose of encouragement here: My Favorite Marriage & Family Blogs | lovinglifeathome.comIf there’s anything I’ve learned in 27+ years of marriage, it’s that “happily ever after” takes work.

Yes, it’s attainable, but not without liberal helpings of love and focus and commitment and intentionality and grace and forgiveness and discipline.

Marriage is wonderful. I love sharing life with my best friend.

But we are both human, and there is always room for improvement.

The secret for me has been to focus on the areas I need to improve rather than on what I think he needs to change.

One way I invest in my marriage is by reading good books and blogs on the topic of marriage and family.

I love the encouragement I receive from these candid, Christian writers.

I like the fact that reading their stories gives me the opportunity to learn from somebody else’s mistakes rather than repeating them myself.

There are lots of great books and blogs out there to choose from, but here is a list of my personal favorites: Click on each image to visit the blog and learn more about it.

Ashleigh Slater  Better Mom  Club 31 Women  Happy Wives Club  For the Family  Matt Jacobson  Revive Our Hearts  Time Warp Wife  To Love, Honor, and Vacuum  5 Love Languages

Incidentally, all but two of these authors/bloggers have books in the Ultimate Christian Living Bundle (only on sale through November 10, 2014). Among all the other great resources, you’ll find these treasures:

As well as a copy of my own book, which is also included…

Are there any books or blogs on marriage and motherhood you find yourself gravitating toward? Tell me about them in the comment section below so I can check them out, too!


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10 Things Your Teenager Hates

10 Things Your Teenager Hates (Are you making any of these mistakes?) | http://lovinglifeathome.comThere’s no doubt about it.

Navigating life with a teenager at home can be a little tricky.

All those hormones raging through the bloodstream will sometimes have you walking on eggshells.

(Of course, teens might say the same thing about living with a menopausal mother, but that’s another post for another day.)

No parent is perfect. We all make mistakes. And it is sometimes necessary for us to make decisions that won’t necessarily be popular with our kids.

But if we can somehow manage to avoid the biggies — if we can refrain from doing these things our teens hate most — then our homes might be much happier, both during the teen years and beyond.

  1. Disapproval
  2. Your teenager hates to disappoint you. Whether he acts like it or not, he is hungry for your affirmation and approval. He needs to know that your love for him is unconditional. Yes, he’ll make mistakes. And yes, those mistakes may need to be addressed. But they’ll need to be addressed in a way that communicates your love for him and your confidence in his ability to do better.

  3. Lectures
  4. Your teenager hates being lectured. Sure, she still needs your counsel and correction from time to time, but it will fall on deaf ears if you deliver it in a spirit of anger or condescension. Don’t talk down to your teen or use sweeping generalizations. Make your point clearly, but don’t belabor it. Always and only speak the truth in love.

  5. Hypocrisy
  6. Do you use one voice for company and phone calls, but another for your family? Is the person you seem to be at work and church and out in the community the same person your spouse and children see at home every day? Teens are especially sensitive to discrepancies in this area. They are watching you, examining you, constantly observing whether your talk matches your walk. Be genuine and sincere. Live a life of integrity. Apologize and seek forgiveness from your family when you fail. Otherwise, you risk having your teen reject not only you, but everything you allegedly stand for.

  7. Micro-Management
  8. Don’t be a hovering, helicopter parent who tries to dictate your teen’s every move. The older she gets, the more important it is for her to take responsibility for making her own choices and decisions. This is a healthy part of growing up. Sometimes she may do things in a different way than you would do them, but in most cases, that is alright. God never intended for your teen to be an exact replica of you. She is wonderfully unique. Give her some freedom to be herself. When you try to control every detail of her life, it sends your teen the message that you think she’s either incompetent or untrustworthy.

  9. Passivity
  10. As much as your teen dislikes it when you’re controlling, the opposite extreme is just as bad. There must be a balance. Your teen still needs you to remain involved, to be available, to hold him accountable. When he pushes the limits, he’s just testing to make sure they’re still in place, the way you might push against the doors of your house each night to make sure they are properly latched. You should expand his boundaries a bit as he grows, but you shouldn’t remove them altogether. Whether consciously or not, your teen takes comfort in knowing that you care enough to keep tabs on him.

  11. Manipulation
  12. Your teen hates guilt trips. If you want or need her to do something for you, please just come out and say so. Don’t expect her to read your mind or try to guilt trip her into doing what you want. Be straightforward in your requests and sincerely grateful for her cooperation.

  13. Comparisons
  14. Your teen may tolerate positive comparisons to people he admires, but he hates to be compared negatively to anyone. Let him stand or fall on his own merit. There’s no reason to drag anybody else into it. If a comparison must be made, let it be in comparing your teen to his younger self and noting the growth, maturity, and progress he’s made.

  15. Discord
  16. This may seem counterintuitive, given how prone she is to argue sometimes, but your teenager hates strife. She especially hates to hear her parents fighting. There is enough turmoil in the world — don’t add to it by being at odds with your spouse. Let your home be a haven of rest, a peaceful oasis where your children can relax, recharge, and take refuge from worldly cares in full confidence of your commitment not only to them, but to one another, as well.

  17. Inflexibility
  18. Avoid letting “no” become your knee-jerk response. Don’t get locked into doing things a certain way, just because that’s how you’ve always done them. Be willing to think outside the box and weigh all the options, especially when making decisions that affect your teen. Attempt to see things from his perspective. Sympathize. Remember what it was like to be a teen yourself. And if your erstwhile dreams, ideals, and love for adventure have been snuffed out in the passing years, do your best to rekindle them — for your own sake as much as for his.

  19. Uncertainty
  20. Remember the verse about not being anxious for tomorrow, because each day has enough troubles of its own? This is especially true for our teenagers. Our kids face so many uncertainties during these years — Will I pass my test? Will I make the team? Will I get into college? Will I ever find love? — they don’t need parents heaping their own worries on top of what’s already there. Remain calm. Don’t overreact. Pray for your teen, point him to the solid Rock, anchor him there when the storms roll in, and assure him the sun will soon come out again.

What other things does your teen hate? Is there anything else you’d add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.


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Letter to a Weary Mom

Letter to a Weary Mom -- http://lovinglifeathome.comDo you hang on to old letters, so you can read them again and again?

I do.

Especially now that handwritten notes have become such a rarity, I enjoy leafing through that stack of saved correspondence, rereading the expressions of love and appreciation and encouragement recorded there, along with a wealth of old news and commentary.

One of my favorite letters in that collection was not actually written to me. It was given to me, rather, by a friend of mine who had written it to a friend of hers. I found it to be so rich in gentle reminders, timeless wisdom, and loving encouragement that I’ve held onto it for over a decade now.

When I ran into the author at the bagel shop last Sunday, we got to talking again about her sweet letter and how often I’ve re-read and been encouraged by it. I told her I thought it would be a blessing to other moms, as well, and asked her permission to publish it on this blog.

She agreed, so here it is. Enjoy:

Dear Friend,

Hang in there, my dear! In the “seasons of life” you are in the gale season. New house, new city, and five children all very precious, but all very young to home school. Any one of these things would be enough to overwhelm me! However, we know that God has a plan for you and that whatever that plan — His grace is sufficient.

In the middle of a gale, I’m sure it’s hard to even see the grace, much less grab hold of it. But we know that Jesus is with us in every storm, and that God is our very present help in trouble. We can cast all our cares upon Him and lay down our burdens at His feet.

These things are all so intangible sometimes and hard to get a hold of. So please, pray for me to faithfully lift you up in prayer — that, like the disciples, your eyes will be open to the power that Jesus has over every storm. That you might see His grace and help and power in and over every situation. That you might see how to cast your cares upon Jesus and lay your burdens at His feet. That you could “hands up, I give” surrender, so that it’s not you, but Christ in you doing the good work that you’ve been given, always remembering that He who began that good work will be faithful to complete it.

Intangible and hard to grasp, but promises of our faithful God! Let me pray for it all to be real and rock-solid for you! And pray also for His word to be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path — clearly illuminating His best way for educating your children. And finally, that your joy may be full!

Home schooling isn’t easy. Motherhood isn’t easy. Marriage isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy. Over the years, I’ve had to pray:

  • To love my children
  • To understand my children
  • To see them through the eyes and with the mind and heart of Christ
  • To be the instrument in His hand to guide and train and shape and mold them
  • To enjoy my children
  • To delight in every moment spent with them
  • To say “yes” to them any time I reasonably can
  • To try never to say “no” to a request for my time or interest
  • To say “yes” joyfully. Not grudgingly, “OK, just one game!”, but rather, “That sounds like fun! I think we’ll have time for one game before I have to fix dinner!”
  • To always remember “the cat’s in the cradle.” Someday we’ll desire their time, attention, companionship… and right now we’re sowing what we’ll one day reap
  • For wisdom and for the law of kindness to be upon my tongue
  • For gentle speech
  • To build up and not tear down my house with my own hands
  • To bring out the best and not the worst in each member of my family

The list goes on and on.

I generally feel like I’m in the trenches with SELF as my most constant enemy. I don’t want to play that game or help with that math problem. I don’t wake up hungry for God’s Word. I get irritated and the law of kindness seems to have no authority over my tongue. It’s a wonder God still allows me the use of it.

I frown when I should smile, lecture when I should sympathize, get irritated when I should laugh, etc, etc. For the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do!

So I just continue to pray that day by day and generation by generation, each one of us individually and collectively would walk more closely with the Lord, taking comfort in the fact that I cannot create or manufacture love, kindness, joy, peace, patience, or any other good thing.

I can only ask for it.

I love you all and count you as a terrific blessing in my life!

Teresa Praytor

Scripture references: II Corinthians 12:9; Luke 8:24-25; Psalm 46:1; I Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:6; Psalm 119:105; II John 1:3; Romans 8:14-25; and, not paraphrased in the text of the letter, Philippians 4:13

I learned something about this letter last Sunday that I hadn’t known before. Teresa told me she’d written it in the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep. The letter’s intended recipient had paid her a visit earlier in the day and had seemed unusually weary and discouraged at the time.

So she poured her heart into these words, then read the finished letter to her husband the following morning and asked whether he thought she should mail it.

“By all means,” he told her, “but be sure to keep a copy. You may need it yourself someday.”

She did — on both counts — which is how I came to be in possession of a copy, as well.

What kinds of things encourage you when you’re feeling weary? What would you tell another mom who feels discouraged? I’d love for you to share in the comments below.

And if you’d like a copy of this letter for your own collection, you can click here for a free printable PDF: Letter to a Weary Mom


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Which Shall It Be?

A friend of mine (and fellow mother of many) recently sent me a copy of the following poem. It conveys beautifully the special place each and every child occupies in a family, no matter how big or small that family is.

Unfortunately, several lines had been omitted in the version of the poem my friend shared.

Two things clued me into this fact.

First, the poem is written in rhymed couplets, and one of the lines was missing its mate.

Second — and even more importantly — although the poem’s subject is seven children, only six were accounted for in the verses that remained.

As soon as I noticed this omission, I went in search of the lost stanza. The top results in my Google findings had also published incomplete versions, but I finally managed to track down the missing lines in a YouTube video enactment of the poem (linked at the bottom of this post) and transcribed them that way.

At the time this poem was written, it was not uncommon for poor families to send one or more of their children away from home to work as an apprentice or indentured servant for years at a time.

As a mother, I can hardly imagine how difficult that must have been, although with four of our twelve now grown and gone, I know well how it feels to have children missing from their accustomed places around the dinner table.

Here is the full version of this lovely poem. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we have:

Which Shall It Be?

by Ethel Lynn Eliot Beers, 1826-1879

Which shall it be? Which shall it be?
I look’d at John; John look’d at me
(Dear, patient John, who loves me yet
As well as though my locks were jet).
And when I found that I must speak,
My voice seem’d strangely low and weak:
“Tell me again what Robert said?”
And then I, listening, bent my head.
“This is his letter:

                  ‘I will give
A house and land while you shall live,
If, in return, from out your seven,
One child to me for aye is given.’”
I look’d at John’s old garments worn,
I thought of all that John had borne
Of poverty and work and care,
Which I, though willing, could not share;
I thought of seven mouths to feed,
Of seven little children’s need,
And then of this.

                  “Come, John,” said I,
“We’ll choose among them as they lie
Asleep;” so, walking hand in hand,
Dear John and I survey’d our band.
First to the cradle lightly stepp’d,
Where the new, nameless baby slept,
“Shall it be Baby?” whispered John.
I took his hand and hurried on
To Lily’s crib,

                  Her sleeping grasp
Held her old doll within its clasp.
Her dark curls lay like gold alight,
A glory ‘gainst the pillow white.
Softly the father stooped to lay
His rough hand down in loving way,
When dream or whisper made her stir,
And huskily said John, “Not her!”

We stopped beside the trundle bed
And one long ray of lamplight shed
Athwart the boyish faces there,
In sleep so pitiful and fair;
I saw on Jamie’s rough, red cheek,
A tear undried. Ere John could speak,
“He’s but a baby, too,” said I,
And kissed him as we hurried by.

Pale, patient Robbie’s angel face
Still in his sleep bore suffering’s trace;
“No, for a thousand crowns, not him,”
We whispered, while our eyes were dim.

Poor Dick! bad Dick! our wayward son,
Turbulent, reckless, idle one—
Could he be spared? “Nay, He who gave,
Bids us befriend him to the grave;
Only a mother’s heart can be
Patient enough for such as he;
And so,” said John, “I would not dare
To send him from her bedside prayer.”

Then stole we softly up above
And knelt by Mary, child of love.
“Perhaps for her ‘twould better be,”
I said to John. Quite silently,
He lifted up a curl astray
Across her cheek in willful way,
And shook his head, “Nay, love, not thee,”
The while my heart beat audibly.

Only one more, our eldest lad,
Trusty and truthful, good and glad—
So like his father. “No, John, no.
I cannot, will not let him go.”

And so we wrote in courteous way,
We could not give one child away,
And afterward, toil lighter seemed,
Thinking of that of which we dreamed;
Happy, in truth, that not one face
We missed from its accustomed place;
Thankful to work for all the seven,
Trusting the rest to One in heaven!

I hope that remembering this story will help your toil seem lighter, too. Raising a family is hard work, but the reward of seeing all those happy, loving, little faces around the table (and the joy of watching them grow into strong, capable and confident young adults) more than compensates for the all effort involved.


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