Posts Tagged ‘Trust’

my portal to the dark side

March 25th, 2019    -    6 Comments

I am bothered by parents who constantly check the parent portal, sometimes 5 or 6 times a day. I’m not sure they realize the school can see how many times they access the portal. — An irritated teacher

Reading this, I am beset by a sudden, sinking feeling. It is the same feeling I had fifty years ago when I was riding my bike and a police car pulled up behind me, siren blaring. I knew what I’d done, and it was bad. Faced with the choice to do the right thing, I had nevertheless given in to the impulse to ride, rather than walk, my bike through the crosswalk. I was busted.*

Last week I came across an article on the pros and cons of student information systems, or parent portals, to view grades, attendance, and assignments, and I found the quote above. My first thought was: who checks grades only 5 or 6 times a day? My second was: they knew.

Everyone knew. The school knew, the teachers knew, and my daughter knew. Everyone knew what I am about to say for the first time.

My name is Georgia’s Mom, and I was a parent portal addict.

To my mind, it was a unavoidable. I was practically forced. They opened the vault and shoved me inside. Sometime around 2013, our school district adopted student management software. I can barely remember how sweet and simple life was before then. From kindergarten to fifth grade, there weren’t any number grades. The report card would have an O for outstanding, an E for excellent, an N for needs improvement, and a P for practically perfect in every way. One year, my daughter got an actual award for Being An Awesome Young Lady!! Admittedly, she was only 6, but I found this to be a quite sufficient and extremely accurate record of progress.

But no, they had to come up with a “way for both parents and students to stay involved in the student’s academic life.” Oh, you want me more involved in her academic life? Just watch me.

I remember how involved my parents were. Not. They saw my grades when I brought home my report card. They signed it and went back to watching Jeopardy. That’s how I learned to be involved by myself.

I was your basic recreational user of the parent portal until I went hardcore in high school, specifically 10th and 11th grades. Those are the years that matter, I’d been told, those are the years on the transcripts that are sent to the colleges, the grades that determine everything going forward, the rocket fuel for one wild and precious life. So naturally, I upped my involvement. I learned a lot over that time period. I learned, for instance, that some teachers load grades only intermittently or haphazardly, leaving your child with a mysterious missing assignment for days upon frantic days and nights. I learned that attendance records are erroneous and require an immediate text to your daughter to tell her to confront the faulty roll-taker today. I learned when the math teacher graded tests (after 2 p.m. on Fridays) and when the English teacher graded essays (after 11 p.m. on Sundays). I learned that getting final semester grades in real time requires refreshing the page, oh, 50 or 100 times a day over Christmas break so that you can heave a sigh minutes before your child strides out from her bedroom saying “I made an A-minus!”

But mainly what I learned is what a gnarly beast of an ego I carry around, haunting myself and terrorizing others. “No one else’s parents are like you!” my daughter would cry in self-defense. “I’m afraid to tell you anything because you are so OCD! It makes me feel that you don’t trust me to do anything right.”

Gulp.

By senior year I knew I had to go cold turkey, so I swore off. I never checked the portal, not once, so I didn’t see that shocking F on the March 13 quiz in economics. Whatever. I told my husband that it was his job to stay on top of grades, which he didn’t do, and would have never done, so I had to do it just a little. The bottom line is that the die was cast; she was on her way to where she would have gone anyway, and without me.

The saving grace of college, by the way, is that they go without you.

Reflecting now on my shame and regret, it seems that the parent portal is just more technology sold in the name of connection that causes infinitely more disconnection. I realize that there is no privacy in our world. Someone is looking over your shoulder all the time. What I can do is quell my own beast and swear that the person foolish enough to distrust my daughter will no longer be me.

*Do you want to go to jail? the policeman yelled at me. I was 11. He let me off with a warning.

invisible from earth

March 14th, 2019    -    4 Comments

My smiley 13-year-old came home from school one afternoon, stepped into the kitchen where I stood at the sink and instantly blurted out a stream of gibberish that sounded like so-and-so asked me if I wanted to date him and I said yes.

I’m pretty sure I paused in thoughtful reflection before I said the wrong thing. I’m pretty sure I paused because 1) I’d never heard of the boy named so-and-so, and 2) I couldn’t conceive of how two children their age could go on anything approximating my idea of a date. My next question came from genuine puzzlement.

What does that mean?  

I DON’T KNOW! The words flew out of her in a sobbing scream and she covered her face with her hands. That right there was a pretty convincing indication that we’d entered a perilous new phase of this zen motherhood thing, a phase where neither one of us knew what was going on.

After that, I didn’t know why she had occasional migraines and mysterious stomach aches, days when she begged to stay home in bed or pleaded to leave school at lunch, had what seemed like twice-weekly panic attacks, called me crying from the girls’ bathroom, lied, drank, and smoked in her bedroom the night before finals as if we couldn’t smell the smoke from under her door. And so I didn’t understand why one day her hope soared and her heart healed, she got her groove, and surfaced on the other side, alive.

So yeah, I don’t know about any of that.

I’ve been talking to some friends lately, friends whose daughters are 13 or 14. They are dealing with issues of boundaries, setting limits, and having endless arguments over how much time a day is safe to let a teenager disappear into the phone. These parents are worried, naturally. They mean well, I know they do, because I always mean well too, even when it doesn’t look like that. But what I end up saying to them is something like this: It won’t work. The signal won’t reach.

Adolescence isn’t a place in-between childhood and adulthood. It’s not like a long road trip where you pass through Kansas City to get to St. Paul. Adolescence isn’t even on the map, and get this: our kids know it, so underneath the mask of anger and rebellion, they are terrified and alone.

For me, that day my daughter walked into the kitchen was like an alien landing. And for her, it was the first step onto the dark side of the moon. A world where she doesn’t know the words or customs, where she has to let go of old things and grab hold of new things, take risks, make mistakes, get angry, be lost and the whole time act like she isn’t.

Two days later, so-and-so said that he no longer wanted to date her.

I don’t have a name for the dark stretch of deep worry and difficulty, but astronomers do. They call it the new moon, so hopeful and full of promise, and entirely invisible from Earth.

Somebody else may tell you exactly what to do about it. But all I have to say is what you don’t want to hear: step back, have faith, and give it time.

wheels up

May 31st, 2018    -    7 Comments

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever
to be
able to do it. — J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Last weekend I got on a plane and paid close attention to the takeoff. The explosive roar as the engines throttled up. The rattle and shake as you accelerate down the runway. The bounce, the din, the doubt. The outcome of the whole endeavor doesn’t seem very promising at this point. Then, when you’re about to run out of runway, the lift of the wings overcomes gravity and the ride goes suddenly smooth. You’re wheels up, in flight.

The day before, I’d walked into the house and my daughter calmly announced, “I cleaned my bedroom.” This is something I might ask her to do, oh, about nineteen times a day. Here she had done it without provocation, and was so quietly pleased that she wanted to show me. I stepped into a room devoid of any scrap of her school days. No pencils, pens, or spirals. No notes, no lists, no riot of papers. Counters empty, drawers organized, clutter disposed.

In that moment I realized we’d cleared the runway.

Today is her last day of high school. An on-time departure.

practice no harm

February 7th, 2018    -    3 Comments

Cracked_Pavement

When folks begin to practice Zen, they can be set back by how hard it is. They might have expected to be good at it—for certain they expected something—but what they are good at is something else altogether.

Why is it so hard to just breathe? Because you’ve been practicing holding your breath.

Why is it so hard to keep my eyes open? Because you’ve been practicing falling asleep.

Why is it so hard to be still? Because you’ve been practicing running amok.

Why is it so hard to be quiet? Because you’ve been practicing talking to yourself.

Why is it so hard to pay attention? Because you’ve been practicing inattention.

Why is it so hard to relax? Because you’ve been practicing stress.

Why is it so hard to trust? Because you’ve been practicing fear.

Why is it so hard to have faith? Because you’ve been trying to know.

Why is it so hard to feel good? Because you’ve been practicing feeling bad.

Whatever you practice, you’ll get very good at, and you’ve been practicing these things forever. Take your own life as proof that practice works as long as you keep doing it. Just replace a harmful practice with one that does no harm.

***

For the benefit of those who will be practicing with me at any of these places, and especially for those who won’t be able to make it.

Winter Sun Retreat, Madison WI, March 1-4
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, March 18
What is Zen? Retreat, Kansas City, April 13-15

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the end of my rope

July 16th, 2017    -    32 Comments

 

This post was written seven years ago when my daughter had just turned 11, what I  now recall as a particularly anxious year in the life of a girl and her mother. Truth is always true, though, so perhaps it is what you need today.

Yesterday morning trying to pry my daughter out of bed and off to school was so completely awful, so terrifyingly bad, so angry, so loud, so confounding, that I thought: she needs a new teacher, she needs a new school, she needs a new attitude, a new diet, a new bedtime, a new mother, and short of that, an exorcism. I trembled with the weight of the disaster all day after. Something big would have to change, right away, and I had no idea what that could be.

This morning was different. A radical change occurred overnight. It’s called “a new day.” I never know for sure exactly what my daughter needs, but when I’m at the end of my rope what I need is more rope.

There are a lot of contrasting parenting styles and an endless supply of dos and don’ts. You’ll find a parenting expert of the day on the daily morning shows, and that expert isn’t me. Don’t get me wrong: every bit of information that comes your way can be helpful. If I have anything to offer it’s just my ever-renewed trust that our babies will be okay. If I have anything to give you it’s just more rope.

I always invite people to stay in touch with me, to write me with their questions and concerns. Sometimes they do. They might ask about discipline, handling sibling rivalry, overcoming their own parental fears and anxieties, or how in the heck to get the kids dressed, fed and to sleep through the night. It might sound like I’m giving an answer, but what I’m giving is simply rope – the lifeline that keeps us bobbing aloft until the blessed rescue of a new day.

Do you know who makes the day new? Only you.

 

the man on the wall

February 12th, 2017    -    13 Comments

A couple of days ago some visitors dropped by to see the garden. Before we went outside we sat around the dining room table chitchatting. One of the guests pointed to an old-timey portrait on the wall and asked who it was.

The fact is, I didn’t know for sure. I’d been told it was my father’s grandfather, my grandfather’s father, whose name I only guessed at because nothing had ever been told to me about him except that he had died young and left his family destitute. This old-fashioned, hand-tinted photograph turned up after my grandparents died and if I hadn’t claimed it, it might have been tossed out of the shed along with everything else. This side of my family didn’t waste much sentiment on the past, for reasons you know if you’ve read Paradise in Plain Sight, but still there was a little bit of mythology that we granddaughters clung to, as some of us do about historical fictions. First, we’d been told ours was a clan of railroad men, iron tough but weak to the degradations of drink, and that somewhere sometime they’d come from Ireland. That sounded like a romantic beginning to an American fairy tale but my grandfather didn’t have a wisp of interest in spinning it, nipping our questions about the old country by saying “if there had been anything worth remembering, we’d have never left.”

But things being what they are these days, and the question coming across the table at me last Thursday, I thought I would try to verify the simple facts of the mysterious man who has been hanging on my wall for the last 20 years, peering at me through the same liquid blue eyes that have marked the scoundrels in the family for at least a hundred years.

***

We all have an immigrant story. Some of us were right there in it at the start, clutching a hand, crossing a border, coming ashore; for others, it’s a story covered in dust and thick with make believe. When my daughter was 12, my sister and I took her to New York City and then by ferry to Ellis Island, where we heard a less lyrical history of the place than I would have ever guessed from the words in the national anthem. Here I thought I was a good American student, but I was shocked and sad to realize that immigration has always been as much about keeping people out as letting people in. And so the hollow caverns of the Statue of Liberty National Monument are haunted with the desperation of not just those who survived the cull, but those who didn’t: the ones judged defective or diseased, crippled or criminal, cross-eyed, insane, unemployable or unlucky enough to cough that day, folks who were put back on the boat to sail the other way. I don’t know what you’d have left to say after that kind of cruel passage, which was not just the end of the worst but a hard start to what would prove to be harder still.

So I went looking for a thread to connect those liquid blue eyes from one generation to the next, from father to son, to find the name behind the frame that came to be hanging on the dining room wall. I found it and something else too. I found out how much my family was like every other immigrant and refugee family: they damn sure wanted to be Americans.

The man on the wall is Grover Cleveland Tate, my great-grandfather, who was born in Illinois in 1885 and died in 1919. His wife, my Grandpa’s mom, was Mary A. Cox, born in 1883.

Grover C. Tate’s father was George Washington Tate, who was born in 1850 and died in 1928, father of 10. And although all these many lives were lived in Illinois, the 1900 US Census shows that, sure enough, G.W.’s father had been born in Ireland.

Sixty years later, his blue eyes turned up in my grandpa, George James Tate:

And then again in my dad James Allan Tate:

None of these men amounted to much except what little comes from hard luck, hard life and hard times. Not much to show for all their work and woe other than me and my sisters and all the lives entwined in a galaxy with ours, my daughter and nieces and great-niece and great-nephew-to-be, each and every bloom of fruit on this fertile plain, all the sons and daughters of George Washington and Grover Cleveland, the weak, the strong, my family, my heart, my home, my country, my countrymen and women waiting to cross over and become one of us. I don’t have a political position on immigration; I don’t have the slightest idea. What I have is a life. What is it that you have?

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what to do next

February 1st, 2017    -    12 Comments

Never underestimate the power of a single monk on a mountaintop. He alone is transforming the universe.

***

A terrible forest fire broke out one day, and all the animals fled their homes. But one hummingbird zipped over to a stream, got some water in its beak, and rushed back to the raging fire. The little hummingbird tried to douse the flames with a few drops of water, then back to the stream it flew to retrieve more water. The other animals watched in disbelief. They asked the hummingbird what it was doing—one tiny bird would not make a bit of difference. The hummingbird replied, “I’m doing the best I can.”

***

On a winter day 56 years ago, Edward Lorenz, a mild-mannered meteorology professor at MIT, entered some numbers into a computer program simulating weather patterns and then left his office to get a cup of coffee while the machine ran. When he returned, he noticed a result that would change the course of science.

The computer model was based on 12 variables, representing things like temperature and wind speed, whose values could be depicted on graphs as lines rising and falling over time. On this day, Lorenz was repeating a simulation he’d run earlier—but he had rounded off one variable from .506127 to .506. To his surprise, that tiny alteration drastically transformed the whole pattern his program produced, over two months of simulated weather.

The unexpected result led Lorenz to a powerful insight about the way nature works: small changes can have large consequences. The idea came to be known as the “butterfly effect” after Lorenz suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado. And the butterfly effect, also known as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions,” has a profound corollary: forecasting the future can be nearly impossible.

***

It seemed to be going one way, and it turned out to go the opposite. The disaster is overwhelming, and you are powerless to change the tide. What do you do now? Be a hummingbird, be a butterfly. Do your best against impossible odds.

The hummingbird and the fire is a Japanese folktale, but you might like to hear it told by a masterful storyteller, political activist and Nobel laureate.

The story of Edward Lorenz is quoted from this article by Peter Dizikes in the MIT Technology Forum, Feb. 22, 2011.

And impossible things? They are happening every day.

 

to parent a teen parent yourself

May 17th, 2016    -    11 Comments

These days kids are 2 going on 12. Mine is 18. What I keep in mind with my teenager is this one thing, the sum total of my old teacher’s advice on raising kids.

Become one with your child.

That may not mean what you think it means. It does not mean to fabricate phony friendship or rah-rah enthusiasm. Nor does it mean to harbor ambition, fear, hope, or dread. It means to become as your child is right now, meet them where and as they are, dissolving the distance from which you judge them. When judgmental distance disappears, you may see that the teenage years are very reminiscent of a far, far, earlier stage in parenting, when you tiptoed about, wanting nothing more from your child than that they sleep and eat, whereby they mysteriously and marvelously continue to grow.

When I become one with my daughter as she is, I find that the secret to parenting a teenager is to parent yourself. Here are seven ways to do that:

1. Be quiet! — Teenagers become as quiet as the quiet you once wished for. They seem to disappear inside themselves, but they are not lost. Accept their silence within your own nonjudgmental quiet. The silence you keep between you is undefiled love. Trust, faith and respect grow in the silence. That way, when your teen speaks, it will be something they really want to share.

2. Do not disturb — You’re worried about whether your teen has enough good sense. But what do you give them 24 hours a day? Doubt and distrust? A nag, prod, poke, or push? An ominous warning? Anxious oversight? All of the above?  Imagine that your teen is now wearing the sign you once hung from the doorknob to the nursery. Baby sleeping. Don’t let your neurotic fears continually rattle the calm between you.

3. Feed yourself —Children learn to feed themselves. Now it’s your turn. As teenagers wrest themselves from their emotional dependence, parents can feel starved for love. Nourish your own neglected passions, purpose and interests. Fulfill yourself by yourself, and you’ll free your children from your emotional appetites. Now all your relationships can mature.

4. Draw no conclusions. — We are deeply attached to the illusory signs of  “successful” parenting. As in all of life, the next setback inevitably interrupts our self-congratulation. The only conclusion is that there is no conclusion. Stay on the ride. See where it goes. It keeps going forever.

5. Grow up. This is what I remember from being a teenager. As I reached the age where I could see my parents’ foibles and follies, I wished for one thing only: that they grow up. Like my daughter, I am trying my best to grow up.

6. Knock softly. For a few more years at least, your children are still guests in your home. As with any guest, be a good host. Give privacy; respect boundaries; ask permission.

7. Wait for the door to open. It will. Because there was never a door to begin with. You are not strangers. You are not enemies. Two blooms on a single branch: you and your teenager are one.

This may be a good time to read:

8 Reminders for Mindful Parents
8 Ways to Raise a Mindful Child
10 Tips for a Mindful Home
15 Ways to Practice Compassion on the Way Home for Dinner
7 Tips to De-Stress Your Home
Rules for a Mindful Garden
10 Tips for Mindful Writing
5 Tips for Meaning in Cleaning
10 Tips for Mindful Work

***

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a mother’s unmanifesto

November 10th, 2015    -    27 Comments

window1Do not be me.
Do not act like me, look like me, talk like me, live like me or remember me.
If you should, in some late season, see me in yourself, realize that I am long gone and happy to live forever in the deep well of your forgetting.
Forget my voice.
Absolutely, I mean it this time.
Even this voice!
Allow yourself the quiet I disturbed.
Remember instead what you said and what you did.
The things I overlooked.
The things I tried to change.
Your silliness.
Your friends.
Your fascinations.
Your refusal to listen to my worry and fear.
I was trying to turn you into me!
Find your heart.
Free your mind.
Use your feet.
Love your life and hate it, sometimes, too.
Everything is permitted.
Give yourself totally to your world.
Overrule me.
Remove my hands.
Escape my grip.
Kick me out of the house.
I will fly in on the starlight
between the cracks
through the gaps
in the empty veil of time
and watch you.
Silently watch you.
It’s all I ever wanted to do.
Love, Mom.

For my daughter, in tribute to my mother, with apologies all around.

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in the backseat

October 14th, 2015    -    1 Comment

Downtown LA view from the backseat of my friend's car

There was a shadowy presence, and I was afraid.

This summer I had a dream. In the dream my daughter was driving a car. In the backseat there was a shadowy presence. I could not see who it was, and I was afraid.

I’d been feeling a little wobbly since my daughter declared last fall that on February 12, 2015, she would be 15 1/2 years old and eligible for a learner’s permit under California motor vehicle law.

I braced myself.

Suddenly she was speeding through a series of tight turns, each more unexpected than the last. She had already researched online driver’s ed and would I please sign her up? You mean today? And having finished the course, would I schedule the permit test at the DMV? Are you sure you’re ready? And having passed the test, would I arrange for the six hours of driving instruction? So soon? And if I was going to the grocery store, could she drive? Right now? And could we go to the mall and practice parking? Tonight? And could she drive home in the dark? And in the rain? And in traffic? And on the freeway?

Freeway driving I scheduled with her certified driving instructor, and they drove off one Saturday morning in September. When she got home two hours later, I asked how it went.

Fine.

Where did you go?

I took the 210 to the 134 to the 101 to Studio City and then the 101 to the 5 to the 134 to the 210. (Forty-five miles round trip.)

Doesn’t he know you can’t drive? I didn’t say.

***

One day she saw a used car for sale in the parking lot at In & Out Burger. It was the exact car she wanted! She took a picture of the car, the license plate and the phone number. Two months later, the car was still for sale. She took it to our mechanic, who gave it a thumb’s up. Then she passed the driving test. The last question was: could she buy the car?

I didn’t answer. I didn’t have to. Before she died 15 years ago, my mother sent a gift for Georgia: some money to save, which turned out to be the exact amount of the car. I can imagine what my mother was feeling as she was about to let go. Her last grandchild only a year old, all her journeys still to come. She must have wanted her to feel loved and strong, confident and free, always.

In my dream I couldn’t see, but now I know who’s in the backseat riding with Georgia, and my heart is at rest.

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when you meet a nun on the mountain

October 4th, 2013    -    5 Comments

wilson2There they were in full-length habit, an unlikely sight on a Sunday morning hiking Mt. Wilson. Out of the blue, three nuns rounded the switchback straight ahead of me. They were coming down; I was heading up. No matter how promising the skies at the start of the trip, the southern trail descends into a merciless sun. They had to be broiling by now.

These suburban mountains lure all sorts of pilgrims on weekends—mostly first-timers, families, and well-meaning health-seekers who are ill-equipped for the incline. One minute you’re strolling in the park and the next you’re crawling up an unforgiving peak. It’s a lot like life: the path is steep. That’s why I’d found refuge in my practice as a Zen Buddhist priest. Zen teaches you to take each moment, like each step, one at a time.

This morning my step was heavy. I’d taken to the hills after an angry talk with my teenager and a tiff with my husband. I was still steaming as I stopped and stood to the side of the narrow path, letting the first two sisters pass.

They were talking and barely took notice, but the third was falling behind and as she approached she said, “So much farther to go.”

“Always farther to go,” I said, and then, struck by the words, went a little further, asking where she was from.

“From the Motherhouse in Alhambra,” she said, taking a card from a rubber-banded batch in her hand and holding it out to me. A meeting on a mountain is not without purpose, and she had come prepared to save someone’s life. Despite our religious differences, maybe that someone was me. I ventured another step.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Sister Imelda, like Imelda Marcos. Except I don’t collect as many shoes, but more souls.”

We both laughed, and my burden lifted. Two souls meet on a mountain, and although they come from different sides, they close the distance one step at a time.

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progress*

April 29th, 2013    -    5 Comments

bamboo

It looks like a two-year-old hoisting herself up between two bamboo stalks.
A four-year-old dressed like an elephant in a ballet recital,
crying on the way home, “I was the worst one.”
It looks like a five-year-old who can’t wipe the smile off her face.
Trying a cartwheel.
Falling down and liking it.
Getting a stamp, a sticker, a hug.
Getting better. Getting good.
Then, taking a break.
Shrugging it off.
“I’m just not into it right now.”
Being told, “You’re not strong enough.”
Thinking, “I’m not good enough.”
Holding a secret hope and then letting it die.
Joining the swim team.
Loving a horse.
Watching the Olympics.
Getting an autograph.
Progress looks like a new place, a new year, new friends, and a coach who says
“You can be on our team.”
Hours and hours. Night after night.
Being tired and sore and scared.
It looks like a sprained ankle. A stress fracture. A broken toe.
Six weeks wearing a boot.
It looks like quitting.
And then starting again. For the fun.
*That’s what progress looks like. Because there isn’t any such thing as progress.
There’s no curve, no line, no end. No graph or dots.
And never, ever, ever, is there a reason to compare.
A young girl, weary of the pressure to improve
“I already do things no one else even tries!”
and me, seeing all of it, the endless chase of it,
the ache and the letting go
glad to have a seat at the back of the house.

conversation with a closed door

September 24th, 2012    -    15 Comments

 

How are you doing?
Good.
How was school?
Fine.
How was the test?
Good.
What did your teacher say?
Nothing.
Do you have homework?
Did it.
Are you okay?
Yeah.
Are you hungry?
Not really.
Did something happen?
No.
How are your friends?
Good.
Do you need anything?
Would you come tuck me in?

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