The Wordsmythe's Weblog…

…On Words, Love and Life

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On Parenting and possible negligence

Parenting is hard at the best of times. Trying to get the balance of raising independent, resourceful and confident yet respectful children is like, my friend, Jọkẹ says, walking a tightrope. We don’t get it right every single time. We make mistakes.

Sometimes those mistakes have no lasting consequences beyond feeling a bit guilty about our wrong judgement call and no one will ever find out about them except we mention it. Other times, our mistakes are grievous and affect our children, and possibly others, adversely.

In this age of phone and watch cameras, some of our mistakes are immortalised in film and replayed over and over again across the world for everyone to see.

That one momentary lapse. That one time we looked away. That one time we got distracted. Perhaps that one time we let our guard down. It is that one moment by which our entire parenting gets judged.

I don’t know much about the mum of the child who accidentally fell/deliberately climbed/speedily crawled (depending on who is telling the story) into the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo a few days ago. I have read one eyewitness’ account of how this mum was frantically looking for her child when she couldn’t find him where he was a few seconds ago while she snapped a photo. This account tells of how this mum nearly passed out when she realised her child was in the enclosure with a 400-pound male silverback gorilla. I don’t know what she looks like, her name or how old she is. I don’t know if she is a good or negligent parent.

I don’t know her but I can only imagine what those ten minutes her child was in with that gorilla must have been like for her. Ten excruciatingly long, drawn out and painful minutes! Six hundred seconds of wondering if this was last she would see her child alive. The self-recrimination, the utter helplessness, the metallic taste of fear, the confusion! I know that long after those ten minutes were over, presently and possibly long after this is a distant memory to the rest of us, she will relive those moments, again and again.I know that the guilt will stay with her for a long time.

All parents make mistakes. Good parents make mistakes. Bad parents are mistakes on legs. Making mistakes goes with the parenting territory. Try as we might to keep them safe, our children get up to mischief. We would probably all hate it if our parenting were defined by our mistakes.

I am deeply saddened that the gorilla was shot. I am also deeply relieved that the child is safe. I feel both emotions alongside each other. They are not mutually exclusive. We can mourn the loss of the creature whilst empathising with a parenting lapse.

 

 

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When you can’t find the words

 

“Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it, or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.” Sylvia Plath

Two years ago to the day, the 18th of January 2014, I was driving and singing along to the radio when a phone call came through. It was my younger sister. I pulled over. Through her frantic cries and hysteria I managed to make out the words, “Daddy is dead.” It is a mystery that my heart didn’t come to a complete stop.

“I was standing in our dining-room thinking of nothing in particular, when a cablegram was put into my hand. It said, ‘Susy was peacefully released today.’ It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live.” Mark Twain

In the weeks and months that followed, I realised that I had lost more than my dad. I lost the ability to write. The thoughts were in my head but I couldn’t articulate them in words. In a sense, his death garrotted me yet didn’t kill me outright.

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.” C. S. Lewis

I still struggle to write even now. I am desperately hoping it comes back to me.

“Losing people you love affects you. It is buried inside of you and becomes this big, deep hole of ache. It doesn’t magically go away, even when you stop officially mourning.” Carrie Jones

Whilst I have found it difficult to express how I felt (still feel) in my own words, I found the words of others that do just as good a job.
Hear me through them.

“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world—the company of those who have known suffering.” Helen Keller

“The weird, weird thing about devastating loss is that life actually goes on. When you’re faced with a tragedy, a loss so huge that you have no idea how you can live through it, somehow, the world keeps turning, the seconds keep ticking.” James Patterson

“How do you go on knowing that you will never again—not ever, ever—see the person you have loved? How do you survive a single hour, a single minute, a single second of that knowledge? How do you hold yourself together?” Howard Jacobson

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” Aeschylus

“Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die: It happens again every single morning.”Anna Quindlen

“Sometimes, when one person is absent,
the whole world seems depopulated.” Allphonse de Lamartine

“Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved.” Iris Murdoch

“If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.” Lemony Snicket

“We never truly get over a loss, but we can move forward and evolve from it.” Elizabeth Berrien

Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” Anne Roiphe

“Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing….” Elizabeth Gilbert

“Grief is like a ball of string, you start at one end and wind. Then the ball slips through your fingers and rolls across the floor. Some of your work is undone but not all. You pick it up and start over again, but you never have to begin again at the end of the string. The ball never completely unwinds. You’ve made some progress.” Anonymous

“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.” Arthur Golden

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Anne Lamott

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” Earl Grollman

“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.” Arthur Schopenhauer

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.” Anonymous

 

Inchoate and random, because life sometimes is.

I do my best writing while driving. And no, (wipe that shocked look off your face) I do not actually write while driving. I mean I get my best ideas for writing while driving.

I know people get their ideas at various times and in different places, some commonplace, some random. In the kitchen, in bed, in the throne room, in the great outdoors etc. My friend, Nwuye, told me she gets hers in the shower. I advised her to design and patent an app or device she can write with/on while in the shower. She made all the right noises at the time but as far as I know she has come up with nothing. She is busy trying to evict all the weird and wonderful characters who live rent-free in her head. If you think I exaggerate, read her stories here, here and here. Anyway, I digress.

I find that whenever I am driving, usually alone, the words and pictures come effortlessly and flow seamlessly into beautiful prose. Missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle suddenly fall into place. There’s just something about the collaboration of man and machine that engenders inspiration, that makes me think in alacritous alliteration like, ‘gargantuan gas guzzlers gyrating gratingly along’ or something equally as abecedarian. I don’t know exactly what that something is but it does it for me almost every time.

However, the moment I sit and try to recapture those ideas, I find the words are mostly gone with the wind that blew in my hair while driving. I try to corral them into formation but I see them, in my mind’s eye, floating off in different directions, cackling and mocking as they fizzle into nothingness, elusive as air. And all that’s left is a shadow of a memory of something that was and then wasn’t.

And that’s why some of my best writing never gets written. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

 

*****

 

When I was growing up, I had some aunties. Well, they weren’t all related by blood, however, all adult females were aunties and every adult male, an uncle. It was just the way it was and I never questioned it. Anyway, every time I saw these aunties, they would exclaim how much I’d grown since they’d last seen me. How much taller I’d sprouted. And I would roll my eyes, albeit in my head because actual eye-rolling would have resulted in me having said eyes gouged out by the fair hands of my mother who brooked no disrespect for elders on her watch.

I wondered if they expected me to remain exactly the same as when they’d last seen me irrespective of how much time had lapsed. Why were they so surprised I’d grown? After all, that is what children do, grow. I would stand there beaming coyly as they cooed their disbelief, never voicing my thoughts for fear of defenestration by my mother, while waiting impatiently till I could go off and do something I considered more worthwhile.

Fast forward twenty odd years or so and I have become those aunties. Sometimes, when I see children of friends or relatives, I open my mouth and out spills the aunties. I exclaim at how tall they’ve grown since I last saw them. I regard them in disbelief as I mentally count how old they are in order to reconcile their age with their height. I remind myself how much I disliked being on the receiving end but I’m still unable to stop myself.

Now I’m older and hopefully wiser, I can empathise with those aunties, albeit belatedly. As Oscar Wilde rightly said, youth is wasted on the young.

 

****

He says his sermon won’t take long. But then he quickly reassures us that it won’t be the shortest in the history of the church either. He tells us about the shortest sermon in the history of the church. He is right. It was short. All of fifteen words, nine of which was the same word repeated over and over again. That would have been the perfect day to be at church, I think.

He goes on to introduce his topic. He tells us that if we’ve got it he can stop here now. He asks us if we get it. We respond in the affirmative. He asks us again. This time we raise our voices in agreement and tell him we have. It would appear I am not the only one who would like him to stop now. But he doesn’t stop. He goes on to tell us about it. He reiterates that he will not be long.

PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide, he tells us again and again. His voice dips. I am lulled into thinking, this is it, he’s done. But it soon picks up again and he clicks on another slide. On and on. I lose track of time. But I, who have sat and listened to many sermons, know that this is by no means a short one.

I am listless. I want to be elsewhere though I don’t know where exactly. The last time I was here was a year ago. And it was hard. And sad. But I tell myself that this too shall pass. Like it did the last time. And it does. Eventually.

.

Carry on Camping

Wonderful camp at St John’s School this weekend. Thank you to all who made it happen.

Camping is a true art form, not for the faint of heart nor the infirm in body. Ensuring an enjoyable experience is all down to personal opinion about what exactly is enjoyable.

There’s the deciding what to take along with you and if you’re anything like me that would be everything apart from the bath tub and kitchen sink. This includes taking the available facilities at your camp site into consideration. Will there be power points to pump up air beds or do you go for self-inflating mats instead (bearing in mind that the ‘self’ in ‘self-inflating’ may well be your knackered self) ? Bunsen burners or electric cooker? And so on, and so forth, etcetera, etcetera.

Then there’s the fitting of everything, first into bags, pouches, coolers and all manner of receptacles then into the vehicle that will conduct you to your camping site. You can forget about using your rear view mirrors. The only rear view you will have will be that of sleeping bags.

There’s the choosing the right tent for your needs and taste. They range in cost and size from £10 pop-up, jack-in-the-box types to hundreds of pounds worth of palatial boutique Bedouin marquee complete with deep shag pile Persian rugs, chiffon-draped ceilings and bejewelled belly dancers.

Then there’s the locating the perfect spot for your tent (note: a rocky patch is usually a bad idea and so is underneath a benevolent tree which provides stopovers to hordes of migrating birds. Ever tried washing bird poo off polyester?) And thereafter the putting up of your tent. The latter is single-handedly responsible for many a divorce unless your tent falls into the pop-up category.

By the time the tent is up, you may have long lost the will to live much less clap in time to and sing Kumbaya around the camp fire.

Anyway, if you manage to navigate all the aforementioned, marriage and sanity intact, you are well on your way to a lovely time in the great outdoors.

However, let me just put this out there, camping is a holiday only for those who didn’t attend boarding school in Nigeria.

PS: Ours is the orange and gray tent. And we’re still married. And sane. Well, somewhat.

Camp 2015 (2) Camp 2015 (3) Camp 2015 (4) Camp 2015 Our tent

Navigating relationships

Relationships. I’m thinking of relationships.

Sometimes the way forward is murky and unclear leaving one in a quandary as to what route to take. Other times, it is as clear as day. The writing splashed across the mind’s wall in a large bold font, unambiguous, unequivocal, its message, unmistakable.

When, in a relationship, you find yourself morphing into a person you scarcely recognise, bending over backwards in a manner contortionists the world over would envy, to accommodate and to fit in with the other’s expectations of you, you do not need a seer to tell you that it does not bode well for the future. You would be wise to vote with your feet.

A person who keeps demanding that you change to suit them will never be satisfied. They are selfish, self-centred and narcissistic. They think the world and everyone in it exist for the sole purpose of pleasing them. They have no thought for the well-being of others unless it directly affects theirs. Such a person is incapable of appreciating your sacrifices. They believe it is their God-given right that others do for them and never them for others.

It is folly to expect that marriage will be an improvement on the current state of affairs. On the contrary, it will probably be a lot worse. Anything that is so one-sided will eventually topple.

Relationships only work when both parties appreciate that neither is perfect, are willing to compromise and make efforts to accommodate the other. Anything else is simply a disaster waiting to happen.

Natural Hair Anonymous

I read a post on one of the natural hair forums on Facebook yesterday. The lady posted some photos of her hair and claimed she had been natural for 36 months. Turns out she started transitioning in September 2012.

Now I realise Maths is not my strong suit but even I noticed the numbers didn’t add up. My first thought was to point out that she has actually been natural for just 24 not 36 months and I was going to say as much when I stopped myself. I stopped because I had visions of all the comments that would follow. Comments that would accuse of me of not being supportive of a fellow natural. Of being one of those black women who take delight in putting other black women down. I’ve seen it happen before. Someone posts a photo or says something about their hair, someone else comments and says they don’t like it, then come the abuse and accusations.

It’s as though in becoming natural, one surrenders one’s rights to personal opinion and preferences. Because we wear our hair a certain way, suddenly we must all think and reason alike, have the same world view irrespective of background, upbringing and personal experiences.

This natural hair thing has become just like Alcoholics Anonymous. “Hey, my name is Nkem Ivara and I’ve been natural x years.” Cue applause and back slapping as I collect my coin. Women who have successfully weaned themselves off the life-threatening, disease-causing creamy crack should be applauded. They should have support groups where they can discuss their addiction and life post-addiction.

Women have become so militant about how they wear their hair, it’s almost a burden to have natural or any type of hair at all. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

As the Igbo proverb says, ‘Egbe belu, Ugo belu, nke si ibe ya ebela, nku kwaya.’ Roughly translated, it means, ‘Let the kite perch, let the eagle perch. Whoever says the other should not perch, let his wing break.’ Now this is not me saying anyone’s wing hair should break/fall out but can’t we all just get along? You know, live and let live?

 

I am tired of this hair, hair, everywhere.

I couldn’t have said it any better. Thanks for taking the words right out of my mouth, Nwuye. Don’t mind if I share.

How to love Igbo things (or what you will).

Maybe I’ve always been a bit blasé about hair because mine grows so easily; I could always switch from natural to permed and back again.  But lately especially, I find myself tiring of the natural versus relaxed hair debate.

I understand all the connotations of having relaxed hair. Believe me, I do. I too have had weave itch, the sort that leaves you slapping your head repeatedly in public, with no thoughts whatsoever as to how mad you look.  No care either. Nothing but the desire to scratch that unreachable, infuriating, itch.  The near soporific effects of scratching it cannot be matched by anything in this world.

I have suffered the sores that come from digging too deeply with a pen or other handy pointy object under dandruff and sweat encrusted wefts. I have had my hair fall out from too much relaxing and traction from braids. It was not…

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A quick trip to the Supermarket – First world problems

I made what I planned would be a quick stop at the supermarket this morning to pick up two items, Ribena and some ham. Tesco-LogoAs the automatic doors of my local Tesco Extra swung open ushering me into the world of retail excess, I remembered that we are on our last tube of toothpaste. Since I had not written a list, I chanted the three items in my head over and over again so I would not forget any.

Three small items do not require a trolley but I was feeling lazy and could not be bothered to carry a basket. So I grabbed a trolley and went into the store. I usually have a knack for picking out trolleys with wobbly wheels which make me look like I am trying to steer a 10-tonne articulated lorry. But this trolley worked like a charm, it actually went in the direction I pushed it.

Heading to the oral hygiene aisle, I spotted the greeting card aisle. The following occurred to me in this order;

  • today, the 20th of November is exactly a month to Christmas day.
  • the boys will want to give their teachers Christmas cards.
  • there is usually a shortage of teacher Christmas cards in the run-up to the end of term.
  • now would be a good time to grab them and avoid the disappointment of not finding any later.

So I made a quick detour and searched for the cards. I saw cards for mums, dads, grandparents, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, boyfriends, girlfriends and several others but none for teachers. I walked up and down the aisle but still could not find them. I asked a member of staff who was stacking the shelves with birthday cards if they had any Christmas greeting cards for teachers. She took me to where she remembered seeing some but could not find any. She apologised for their absence. I told her not to worry I would come back another time. So much for beating the rush to the teacher greeting cards.

Aquafresh plainI carried on to get some toothpaste. On the oral hygiene aisle, I went to get our usual brand of toothpaste, Aquafresh, plain and simple Aquafresh, the original fresh and minty flavour but I could not find any. There were various other flavours promising heaven and earth but none of the one I wanted including;

Aquafresh

  • Aquafresh Extreme for pure breath
  • Aquafresh Active for fresh breath
  • Aquafresh High Definition White (High Definition? Is it a television?)
  • Aquafresh Triple Protection for cavity protection. Cleans with calcium*
  • Aquafresh Multi Active, Antibacterial Action

How very exhausting and frustrating! In the end I gave up and left for the cooked meats aisle. I found the ham without much ado and moved on to get some Ribena. This is where things went downhill. My quick stop turned into a major shop and my steely resolve against retail advertising strategy crumbled into helpless capitulation. You see, between the cooked meats and squash aisles are many other aisles lined with shelves laden with items I somehow managed to convince myself that I absolutely needed.

Shower gel, chicken legs, frozen spinach, frozen mixed veg, chips, chicken stock cubes, milk, spaghetti, rice, mushrooms, bell peppers, apples. Slowly but surely, the trolley filled up. By the time I picked up the Ribena and paid, the trolley looked like this. A-supermarket-trolley-ful-001-480x288

I left the store with a full trolley, a dent in my wallet, a determination to do better next time and a lesson learned.

Though I learned this lesson at a great cost, I will share it with you, free of charge because I am generous, because I care deeply and because I do not wish to help enrich Tesco and similar retailers any more than absolutely necessary. So here are a few tips to save you from making the same mistake;

  • Always make a list.
  • Stick to it.
  • Do not be taken by the tempting offers if you do not need the items on offer e.g buy one, get one free, buy two, get one free etc.
  • Take a basket not a trolley, if you are planning to buy only a few items. If you take a trolley, chances are you will fill it. It is a law of nature to want to fill up a vacuum. If you do not believe me, see this – The Law of The Vacuum states that all material forces of the universe abhor the vacuum and rush to fill each hole, opening, void, blank page, field of clarity or empty moment with image, garbage, sound and fury, often signifying nothing so precious as the original voidness. Tesco and all big retail corporations knows this law too well.
  • If you must take a trolley, choose one with wobbly wheels. The frustration of trying to steer it aright but knocking down displays and getting glares from the shoppers you bump into will make you curb any temptation to do any unnecessary shopping.
  • Finally and most importantly, avoid eye contact with any items not on your list. Eye contact equals emotional connection. You are less likely to pick them up if you do not feel an emotional connection to them.

I hope this helps. Happy savvy shopping Open-mouthed smile

 

Be careful what you wish for

You know how sometimes you wish for something others have even though you know it’s not necessarily a good thing, you still wish you could have it? Well, I used to wish for food poisoning. Stupid, I know but I quite fancied the idea of quick weight loss with minimum effort. I used to envy friends with a weak constitution and delicate tummy. Their propensity to be affected and plagued by food poisoning was something I wished my strong-as-an-ox tummy would adopt. We would all eat the same things only for them to later tell me that they’d been sick while I would have not so much as had a twinge. Admittedly, I usually took pride in my food poisoning-resistant constitution but every now and again wished that I, too, could have the ‘pleasure’ of the experience and consequent weight loss.Kfoodpoisioning

However, that fanciful and foolish pining was before I became intimate with the reality and horror that is food poisoning. The griping spasms and stomach cramps; the churning and turning, gurgling and bubbling, my stomach erupting with gases and finally ejecting its contents. That was before I found myself  an unwitting participant in a sprint to the the loo every few minutes, dreading what led me there but welcoming the respite and relief I found there. It was before I could determine which end to stick down the toilet bowl as the force of the volcanic eruption threatened to come out from both head and tail. That was before nausea roiled around my abdomen like tidal waves crashing against the shores of my stomach walls causing debilitating pain. That was before even fluids couldn’t find a home in my intestines for more than a few minutes before being tossed out. My body mimicked a straw, whatever went in one end came out the other so even though it was the one thing that could help, I was loath to drink fluids. That uninformed envy of food poisoning sufferers was before all of the above left me dizzy and weak.

What trauma my poor body went through attempting to evict the foreign body, the illegal alien that brought such discomfort. The battle so fierce, white blood cells unleashing antibodies to squash the life out of the offending bacteria. As they battled it out, my body was left so weak from the effort. It felt like my insides had been put through a fast spin cycle.

You would think the fact that this condition has ‘poison’ in its name should have been a dead giveaway as to the severity of its nature but no, that flew right over my head. Perhaps if I had paid more attention in my Health Science classes instead of reading a novel hidden between the pages of my text book, I might have understood how debilitating this affliction truly is. Alas, I paid the price for my refusal to pick up the not-so-subtle signals.

As my body battles to rid itself of the vestiges of this vile intruder, I am so thankful to be on the road to recovery. Needless to say, I now know better to be careful what I wish for as I just might get it.


Stating the obvious

“Sometimes it takes an expert to point out the obvious” Scott Allen

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” Arthur Conan Doyle

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.” Khalil Gibran

There’s an email titled ‘To all the kids who survived the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s which has been making the rounds for a while now. It includes some of the following;

  • We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets.
  • We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were ok.
  • We did not have Playstations, Nintendos, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVDs, no surround-sound or CDs, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms…….WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!
  • We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

And though the list goes on, I can identify with almost every item listed. My childhood and teenage years were by no means perfect but time has a way of smoothing out the rough edges and I remember that period with great fondness. However, the world has changed, in some ways for the better and, in others, for the worse. Whereas we once possessed a childlike innocence, we have become suspicious and less trusting. We are quick to attribute ulterior motives to everyone and everything.

As a result our society has become extremely litigious. Precedents have been set by people winning what would have been considered ludicrous and outlandish law suits back in the day and getting large settlement payments. Organisations, large and small have had to become extremely careful not to leave themselves open to such law suits over their services and products. This has led to all manner of disclaimers. If you have ever listened to or watched an advert for drugs, you will understand exactly what I’m talking about. Manufacturers have learnt not to be remiss in clearly stating the side effects, both real and imagined, of their products ranging from mildly ridiculous to downright stupid.

Some of the below are actual labels, warnings and disclaimers printed on products. Talk about stating the obvious.

  • Nytol (sleep aid) – May cause drowsiness.coffeecrotchwarning
  • Coffee cup – Caution, contents hot.
  • Pack of peanuts – This product may contain nuts.
  • Child’s superman costume – Wearing of this does not enable you to fly.
  • Citrus fruit – May contain pips.
  • A birthday card for a 2 year-old – Not suitable for children under 3.
  • Supermarket pudding – On top of pack it read ‘Instructions on base’ and at the bottom ‘Do not turn packaging upside down.’

Peanuts   DSCN9145 

Sometimes political correctness is just not so PC after all. If you enjoyed reading these, you can find more here. Have you seen any daft labels or instructions lately? Please share them.

Tara for now.

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