Baby Steps

Nov 30

Image by raruschel

On Sunday I sat on the floor in the living room, kids napping behind closed doors, my husband watching football, and went through piles of outgrown baby clothes.

Like an intake nurse in the emergency room, I busied myself with triage: the impossibly small polka dot sleeper my eldest wore home from the hospital saved in a big orange Tupperware bin with his name on it; the baby blue fleece penguin-themed suit my toddler was wearing when he first sat up in another one; many more items whose significance never rose to the level of the sacred stacked less carefully in a third pile.

And then I did something I’d never done before.  Instead of placing that third group of items high up on a shelf in the boys’ closet in boxes boldly labeled, “NEWBORN” or “6 MOS,” I put them instead in giant garbage bags, threw them in the the trunk of my car, and drove them to the Goodwill collection center next to the grocery store.

Up until now, there had always been another little one in our family – or at least the idea of one – ready to inherit his or her sibling’s clothes.  But now we know, or are pretty sure at least, that Baby Sister is it, the seal on our family.  So those tiny onesies and zip-up sleepers with extra fabric that fold over a baby’s hands are being passed on to other families, to clothe babies smaller than anyone in this house ever will be again.

I’ve reveled in my daughter’s babyhood more than I allowed myself to with my sons.  And that might be because I am a more experienced mom now and I tend to worry less and let more things just be.  Or it may just be that she’s an easy baby: quick to flash one of her gummy grins, happy to go with the flow of life in our crazy household.  But I suspect that my savoring of these months has even more to do with my realization from the first moment I met her that hers will be the last infancy I ever get to experience as a mother – the last first teeth, the last first words, the last first steps.

With the moment of her arrival came not a sense of panic that these moments were slipping away as quickly as they arrived, but one of completeness – of fruition – as if all the work and worry of the past five years was meant to culminate in that single moment.  Like there was some cosmic force that meant for us to have three kids, these three kids.

I know some parents fear having more kids because they can’t imagine loving another child as much as they love their first. But I realized when I saw my daughter, as I’m sure those parents do too, that having a third child would make me love my other two even more.  It would lend more dimensions to my love (now Big Brother isn’t just my first child, he’s my oldest child, the big brother to his little siblings), just as I love my husband more now because I now know him as the father of my children.

Despite this feeling that I still have that we are just where we are meant to be, with each step forward there is both a celebration – more sleep! – and a quieter, more subtle mourning.  And I felt those paired sensations when I dropped off those bags of clothes on Sunday, as though in depositing those bags into the giant bins at the Goodwill, I was throwing away moments from my children’s babyhoods, moments we would never get back.

I got home from my mission feeling both heavy and empty.  The kids still napping, my husband now doing some work of his own, I went downstairs to my desk and opened up the copy of Katrina Kenison’s The Gift of an Ordinary Day that had been sitting there since I read it last month. As I had several times before, I looked through the passages that I had marked with neon pink Post-It notes and happened upon one whose wisdom felt like just the balm I needed at that moment.

Katrina writes

Being alive, it seems, means learning to bear the weight of the passing of all things.  It means finding a way to lightly hold all the places we’ve loved and left anyway, all the moments and days and years that have already been lived and lost to memory, even as we live on in the here and now, knowing full well that this moment, too, is already gone.  It means, always, allowing for the hard truth of endings.  It means, too, keeping faith in beginnings.

I put the book down then and went back upstairs.  I stood in front of the bins of clothes I had kept, the most treasured items that I will save for the kids and myself.  And I said a silent benediction: not for the sweet, too small strawberry-shaped knit cap that will never again grace the head of my daughter, but for the baby she was when she wore it and for the girl and the woman she will grow to be.

Are you good at “bearing the weight of the passing of all things”? Which transition has been the hardest for you to make and to take?

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda November 30, 2011 at 7:52 am

It is for this very transition that I am rocked with gratitude for the day the new mom that I was decided to start a blog. There are memories that course through me each day, but sometimes, when I long to draw a passage closer, I turn to those many letters huddled together, keeping warm that flame of moonlit nursing sessions, first words and skinned knees.
Just lovely.

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Peitra November 30, 2011 at 8:09 am

Stop making a pregnant girl cry!

A friend of mine just quoted Dr Seuss who said: “Don’t cry because it’s over… smile because it happened.”

I tend to put my memories on a sort of revolving belt of emotions- at times I am able to smile sweetly, only to find myself feeling unsettled when I remember the moment six months later.

Now another baby will get the chance to make some sweet memories for his or her family in those clothes. Think of it as passing good karma.

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Lindsey November 30, 2011 at 8:10 am

Oh, no, no, no. I am absolutely terrible at bearing the passing of all things. And I likewise underlined and often re-read that same passage in Katrina’s gorgeous book. The baby clothes make me sob, as does every tooth my son (my younger and last child) loses. Oh it is just so bittersweet. I had no idea. xo

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Kirsetin @HipMomsGuide November 30, 2011 at 9:03 am

Wonderfully said. Just beautiful.
Oh, I so remember that day. I remember exactly where I sat, sorting through those clothes with the boxes marked “keep” and “give.”
I thought it would be easy–sort, give, and we’d have so much less stuff crammed into our space. It was anything but. And when the day comes to give away the crib and high chair…fair warning, my friend. It’s easier, I think, if you can give the crib directly to someone who needs it. Sort of like a loan, but permanent.

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Kristen November 30, 2011 at 9:41 am

Give away the crib and the high chair? Wait, what? You mean everybody doesn’t have them bronzed and stored permanently in the basement? :)

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Sarah-fortheloveofnaps November 30, 2011 at 9:41 am

WOW! This is exactly my thoughts! Girl, I have been going through clothes and that feeling that it was going too fast the moment Sydney was handed to me has been overwhelming me this entire first year. And now we are down to the end stretch of the “baby” phase and I am scared. We too are supposedly done and feel so complete with our two boys and little girl. But I think I am that mama that will always wish for this stage to be over. I have started watching that Parenthood show and as I watch the one family on there with the older kids and how the parents are able to sit and have their coffee and their kids just come and go and they talk and have family nights – I realize that the next stage is going to be great too. If I let go of this need to focus on how fast and sad that this stage is passing.

WONDERFUL post.

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slamdunk November 30, 2011 at 9:47 am

Thanks for sharing your moment Kristen.

For me it has been school related. Our oldest boy is now in 5th grade. I can remember the teachers names and classrooms of each of my grade school teachers through the years. Knowing that he has passed those days never to return is a transition that I am not ready to accept.

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Elizabeth Grant Thomas November 30, 2011 at 10:46 am

As the mother of who will likely be an only child, this post made me ache — and I mean that in only the best way. Only now, 15 months out, am I beginning to regret so much of what I wished away. This is just beautifully written, Kristen.

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Melissa November 30, 2011 at 11:04 am

We are moving on Friday and I went through the same exercise, separating clothes and neatly labeling bins. 2T for spring 2012, 4T, etc, etc. Those were the happy bins. I know D will grow and I will see those little clothes again. They will bring back memories and create new ones. The bins that filled me with angst were the new baby ones, because I haven’t made the decision. As much as I want another little being to inherit those tiny clothes, it’s probably not the best idea now, and time is running out… I kept the bins, labeled them just the same. I hope someday soon I will know what to do with them.

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Andrea November 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm

This is beautiful. I got chills from “I put them instead in giant garbage bags, threw them in the the trunk of my car, and drove them to the Goodwill collection center next to the grocery store” and they are still here. Great post.

I prided myself on being unsentimental when my kids were babies and looked cavalierly forward to each new stage, but now that they are older children (tweens, even), I find myself cherishing every last shred of childhood they have to offer.

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Jessica November 30, 2011 at 3:23 pm

This is so beautiful. I have a terrible time moving on and moving forward. We too are done and I think I am finally okay with it, although tomorrow I may answer differently.

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Kate November 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I cried for a week when my baby, my first baby, went to kindergarten. A year and a half later, I still miss our days mostly together, our unstructured time. Even as I enjoy the girl she is becoming. Even as I treasure both of our freedom. I miss the lovely dependence. And my second is growing so fast. I look and see a kid. Not a toddler anymore. Diapers gone, baby fat melted from her face. How does it happen? I love her glorious words and her fierce independence, but I can’t come to terms with how fast her babyhood sped by. No. I am not good a bearing the passing. But I try to see what’s here. These days are no less magical. And the clothes are cute too – and last longer.

About a year ago, I went through everything, with little regard for sentiment and sent almost all of it to my cousin who was having a baby two months into moving and starting grad school. They needed those clothes and that made it easy. Of course, now, as my belly grows I kind of wish I had more bins left. I won’t when we move in a couple of weeks.

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Kristen December 1, 2011 at 3:35 pm

“These days are no less magical.”

That’s just it, isn’t it? The ability to celebrate the magic in the now just as much as we did the magical moments in the past.

Thanks, Kate.

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Jack@TheJackB November 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

This past summer we sold or gave away all of the baby gear. It was a bittersweet goodbye t0 strollers, high chair, crib, toys, books and more. I was surprised by how hard it was to do.

On a related note last week my fifth grader got sick and had to stay home from school. I ended up carrying him to his room and marveled over how big he has gotten. My almost ten pound baby boy is over four feet tall and about 80 pounds.

That was bittersweet too. I can carry a lot more weight than that but it is unlikely that I’ll ever have to carry him again. I love who he is now but I miss the boy who used to fall asleep with his head on my shoulder.

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Kristen December 1, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Your comment made me wonder, Jack, about all of those “lasts” that we might not even notice.

We’re doing potty training with our toddler right now and I wondered yesterday as I changed his diaper, “When will be the last time I change his diaper?” (And will I even know it’s the last one when it happens?”)

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Jack@TheJackB December 2, 2011 at 3:58 pm

It is hard to know any of these things. One moment they are there and the next they are gone. Thomas The Tank Engine was the master of all things, best toy, best friend and then he wasn’t.

Just changes overnight.

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rebecca @ altared spaces December 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I do not remember the last diapers I changed. That last simply faded. And it was OK.

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ayala November 30, 2011 at 9:51 pm

A sweet post, Kristen. Enjoy the blessings in your life :)

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Jane November 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm

At my old age, I’ve decided life is full of transitions. Chock full. Change is always uncomfortable. But full of promise. When my babies were babies I thought it couldn’t get any better than that moment. Now that my oldest is in college and we’re becoming closer than ever – I feel the same way.

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rebecca @ altared spaces December 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Amen.

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Wolf Pascoe November 30, 2011 at 11:30 pm

EMILY: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama! Wally’s dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another!…I can’t. I can’t go on.It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?

– Thornton Wilder, Our Town

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Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla December 1, 2011 at 12:47 am

Kristen, I love what you said about loving your husband more now that you also love him as the father of your children. I loved something else once we became parents of a girl. We had our boy first, for nearly four years alone, and he was such a wonderful father to a boy and that added such a wonderful dimension to our marriage, but I was amazed at how great he was being a father to a girl and I wasn’t sure of that before it happened! I wonder if you’ve noticed this too?

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Kristen December 1, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I’ve definitely noticed this, Linda, and it makes me realize how lucky I am all over again.

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Perfecting Motherhood December 1, 2011 at 12:52 am

How interesting you’re entering this phase! I’ve just been trying to sell a lot of baby stuff this past week, so this rings a bell with me.

I’m a forward looking gal though, so getting rid of baby stuff, or any other stuff I don’t need is rather easy for me. I want to make room for what’s coming and not carry “useless” things. I have my memories, lots of pictures of my kids and even though I kept a few things that remind me of their babyhood, everything can go.

There’s something cleansing and liberating about the whole experience. It’s all good.

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Mrs. L December 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for the reminder and encouragement to revel in the moments.

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Justine December 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Oh this made me tear up. Such a beautiful post.

You know we’re living parallel lives now. I’ve been doing the same things with my girls’ clothes here, sorting and recycling and now, donating. It’s heartbreaking at times to know that we will never see them in their newborn footie jammies again but you’re right, there’s just so much more to look forward that mourning the moments we loved and shared would only make us miss the ones we do and will have with them.

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Kristen December 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I’m hopeless. Reading the words “newborn footie jammies” brought tears to my eyes.

Sigh.

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Jennifer December 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I am so right there with you! My husband just had the snip, and I feel so extra attentive to each and every small and large moment with our third, and last, child. I wish I could slow it all down, but he’s getting bigger and more toddlerish by the day. All this is to say that I loved your post–beautifully written!

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Kristen December 2, 2011 at 9:58 am

Thank you so much for your kind words, Jennifer, and thanks for visiting Motherese!

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rebecca @ altared spaces December 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm

It’s interesting to me. We never had that “final” decisive moment. Like the last diaper, we simply didn’t have more children and one day we woke up to the idea that our youngest was old enough that having another would feel like we had 2 families. I didn’t raise my youngest knowing he was my last. So these final moments had to occur to me as time and realizations finally dawned on me. Which has its own richness, right?

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BigLittleWolf December 1, 2011 at 5:32 pm

This is very beautiful, and these feelings recognizable for many of us, I’m sure. That process of recognizing endings paving the way for beginnings is always both sorrowful and sweet. Harder still when they go off on their own – to your satisfaction, your relief, and you immeasurable sadness – exactly as it is meant to be.

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Sarah December 2, 2011 at 7:52 am

The attic waits for me. It has been waiting for years now. The too-small clothes from my youngest still make their way up there into the Tupperware bins, now overflowing. Last year I said I would clean everything out. Get rid of the jumpers, the highchairs, the swings and the clothes. But I didn’t. It’s such a large endeavor that I’m not surprised, but at the same time, a part of me feels that it’s just too hard.

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MK Countryman December 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

Your post brought tears to my eyes. I envy your position of being so sure and feeling complete with your three. I have three, but always thought we would have four. I have gone through the baby clothes several times, and each time donate a few more. It’s the only way I can do it. I went through all the books with the same feelings a few weeks ago. There would always be another baby to read Good Night Moon to, or Pat the Bunny. I put them in bags and put in storage room. Baby steps.

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Kristen December 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Both my mom and my mother-in-law still have boxes full of books from my and my husband’s childhoods. It’s such a treat to read them with my kids when we’re visiting. I think I’ll use their modeling as an excuse to hold onto my kids’ books forever! :)

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rebecca @ altared spaces December 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I’ve culled 3 times when our school library has asked for books. Now I’m down to just the most treasured treasures. And it’s enough. (Actually, it’s a lot… but then I’ve always said reading to my children is the best thing I did as a mother.)

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rebecca @ altared spaces December 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Sorry, this is getting ridiculous… but this is my last comment: When my sister-in-law was here last summer with her newborn I got out the board books and was reading to her babe. My daughter was there and listening. I am a VERY animated reader. When my sis commented on it my daughter went off on a diatribe of the books she remembers from childhood…and the voices I’d created. It made a difference. I got an “A”. :) It only took about 16 years to get that report card.

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Yulia December 3, 2011 at 9:35 am

hmm.. this post remind me, few months ago I started to sort some of my younger son’s clothes which are to small for him now. Sometime I feel like I don’t want to put away those clothes but those clothes remind me to my both sons when they were baby and even when they were one years old. They wore those clothes when they started to crawling, walking and running :)
Thank you for this beautiful post, Kristen

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6512 and growing December 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Love your new space! (kids aren’t the only ones in the house growing up, no?)
I am always walking the balance beam between loving-the-growing-and-maturing and missing-the-baby-toes. The beam I walk on is the gratitude for now. It’s just the walk of a parent. I’ve made peace with it.

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Alecia @ Hoobing Family Adventures December 4, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Kristen, your writing is just getting better and better.

I myself am still coming to terms with Eloise being our last baby, our youngest. Andy is going to make that official later this month so there really will not be a number three. While I know this is what we both want, it does make the quick passage of time a little harder to come to terms with. I will no longer have a newborn, a 3-month-old, a 6-month-old. That seems weird. But I guess, as you are experiencing, it does feel right as I now know that B is the Big Sister and Eloise the youngest. Our family unit is defined.

Anyway, great post, as always!

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MLR December 5, 2011 at 11:07 am

Kristen, this is gorgeous. I was just meditating on this yesterday, as I get ready to return to work from my (last ever) maternity leave. Three months have flown by; and I know that I will never get this amount of time with my kids again. But at the same time, I’m excited to see where life will take us next. And trying to treasure these last, luscious, slow moments together before the hecticness of “real life” takes over.

Thank you, as always, for sharing.

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Liz December 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Oh, it has been so long since I’ve been around, reading all of you. I am tiptoeing back in, and today, after reading yours and a couple of my other “old friends”, I remember why it is so important for me to make time to be here..and there…and here. Because within all of your experiences and words, I find wisdom and brilliance and epiphanies and comfort.
I recently did the same thing (although me with Baby 2, which we, too, felt was like our sense of complete) and when I stored away the things to keep: the yellow M&M hat, the Very Hungry Caterpillar onesie…it was doubly important, as both my boys wore them, and now they were stored away and separated from the giveaways….No longer would I have the drawer labeled “newborn to 6″ (which I thought only I was anal enough to do, by the way!). It was a sense of relief and sadness all at the same time.
As for your questions, I am terrible at “bearing the weight” of passing of things…when something wonderful happens, I am almost depressed after…I often have “post-vacation trauma disorder” as I call it when I come back from a wonderful trip. When Christmas is over, I feel let down. When summer is over, I am bummed. I, of course, am missing out on whatever is next. I know. It is an issue.
Since this comment is almost turning into a post, perhaps I shall cut myself off now. Can you tell I’ve been off the writing scene too long? LOL.
P.S. LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVEEEEE the site’s new look since I”ve been round.

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Kristen December 6, 2011 at 9:41 am

Liz!!! It’s so nice to have you here!

And thanks for your nice words about the new site design. It’s brand new and the handiwork of our buddy Sarah.

P.S. The Hungry Caterpillar onesie got saved at our house too.

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Christine @ Coffees & Commutes December 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Holy crow, you have me crying, weeping with this post. It’s poetic in its beauty, but also so very poignant in the reality that it speaks of. I’m struggling with this, as I gnaw away at a decision of whether there will be a third in our family. As my boys grow older (5 & 1/2, and soon to be 3), I can almost feel it slipping away and yet I’m just not ready.

Beautiful writing Kristen, as always.
xo

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Emily December 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm

What a wonderful reminder to find the sacred in the every day, even when there are bottles to wash and you can’t remember the last time you showered.

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Kristen December 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

It’s not always easy for me to find the sacred, especially on those exhausting, shower-less days, but then I think about how quickly these days are passing and how soon they’ll be gone. It usually helps me to cling to them a bit more tightly.

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Jenni Chiu May 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Lovely.
I often find myself already missing the phases of my kids lives that are passing… eagerly awaiting the next phase… bittersweet excitement.

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Kristen May 7, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Thanks for your comment, Jenni. Isn’t that exactly the dilemma of being a parent: feeling simultaneous nostalgia for what’s passed and anticipation for what’s to come?

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