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A Very Special One-Year-Old and His Mom

One year ago yesterday, a cherished and unusual little person named Kieran was born.

newborn k

His mom, my friend Skye, already knew he would be born with a cleft lip and palate. It was a tough time when she found out about it, because there are a lot of challenges that go with having a cleft – for the child and the parents. And although she is a brave, dedicated, smart, and pragmatic mom, she is also a single one, and she already had a toddler at home.

So she researched the heck out of cleft lip and palate issues, and prepared herself as best she could. She went on lots of forums to read about real people’s experiences. She knew she would need special bottles for him, and a breast pump – because as much as she would have loved to nurse Kieran as she had her first son Grayson, she had found out in her research that the attempts of a cleft-palate baby to breastfeed often actually use up more energy than they provide.

She also knew he would need multiples surgeries, two of them within the first year.

Skye gave birth to Kieran the hard way; she had been given an epidural that came unseated, and you can’t get always get a visit from the anesthesiologist when you need one. (The nurse didn’t figure out the problem until afterwards – and even if she had, she’s not allowed to replace the needle.) I had the privilege of being present for the birth, and I wish I’d had the confidence to go harass somebody about it.

In spite of the severe pain, however, things did go well. Skye was a trouper. Kieran was born healthy and precious, and was immediately cuddled by his smitten mama. Thanks to her thorough preparation, they had everything they needed ready to go.

Skye and Kieran had lots of visits to McMaster Children’s Hospital throughout his first year, with a team of professionals (a plastic surgeon, an ENT doctor, a pediatric dentist, and a developmental pediatrician, to start with) checking on him and getting him ready for his operations. When I would visit them in those newborn days, he wore tape on his lip and a hook in one nostril, to stretch his face gradually to the shape it would take after surgery.

k lip tape

He would drink from his special bottles and burp like a teenage boy. It took him a while to gain weight, but it wasn’t long before he learned to smile and interact, and although he did not look like a typical infant, he was incredibly cute.

favourite

During Cleft Awareness Week (in May), Skye shared these thoughts:

When I first saw pictures of babies with a cleft lip, it was hard to look. Before Kieran came, I didn’t know what to expect with respect to his appearance. But really, who knows what to expect! 

I have since read some things online about parents who are nervous to put their child’s picture online (or even take a picture) or even take their child in public, for fear of reactions. My heart breaks for those parents, and those children. It never crossed my mind to hide Kieran, only to show him off. Looking back, maybe he has helped someone else be more comfortable with some kind of difference, but that is not why I did it. I did it because how could I not? He is (and was) adorable!

I never had one, even slightly, negative reaction to the way Kieran looks. I feel like the world proved its kindness, which I usually believe in anyway.

The first two weeks following the three-month lip surgery would test the mettle of any parent. Suddenly Kieran could not use his soother, had a little cone (“trumpet”) in his nose to shape it, had splints (called “no-nos”) on his arms to prevent him from touching his stitches, and was dealing with painkillers – and a mouth that was whole new shape. As you can imagine, there was a lot of crying and soothing and difficulty sleeping during that time. Skye had wisely pre-arranged for Grayson to spend big chunks of that time with grandparents and friends to ease the situation.

after first surgery

As mentioned, though, Skye is brave and dedicated – and, as you’ve no doubt gathered, really tough. The rest of us were not surprised, but definitely awed, at how graciously she managed – and how she always seems to manage in general, despite how hard things can get.

As Kieran’s face healed, I missed his wide-open smile, but it was amazing to see how suddenly obvious was his resemblance to his brother Grayson.

brothers

The surgery on the palate itself is supposed to happen around the one-year mark for babies with clefts. Thankfully, Kieran got his about seven weeks before that, so they had some recovery time before his birthday, and before September when Skye goes back to work.

For Skye, the two weeks after the second surgery were both harder and easier than the first time: Kieran still had to wear no-nos, could only have pureed food, and was unfortunately adamant about not drinking from a cup (and therefore not drinking at all – stressful for mama!). He was more distractable, but less soothable. She went on lots of walks with him, because it seemed to help.

after second surgery

Since his palate has healed, he has finally learned to suck normally for the first time. It’s frankly amazing what the specialists – and a caring family – can accomplish.

Now, somehow, Kieran is one whole year old. He is very charming and handsome, and very strong-willed (some might say stubborn); he feeds himself enthusiastically, and recently started crawling; he smiles a lot and shows off his three teeth; and he is loved by a whole lot of people. He will probably need help with learning to speak, and he may need more surgeries later in life. He will get to some of his milestones in different ways and at different times from other kids.

He, and his family, are really special and awesome.

From the grit he is already showing, I have a feeling Kieran is going to be just as tough and brave as his mama, so I know they will get through it all together.

family

There’s lots of information on cleft lip and palate at Cleftsmile.org.

A site specifically for moms of babies with cleft lip and palate is Cleftopedia.com.

To donate to surgeries for babies with cleft lip and palate worldwide, please visit Operation Smile.

***


 

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Happy Second Birthday, Rainbow Baby

AB's second birthday

Dear Delicious Little Girl,

Two years ago yesterday, you came peacefully into the world, and immediately began howling. It was a day joyous beyond description for the people who love you.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot about you. Some things we learned right away:

  • You like to be snuggled – but not every second.
  • You are unafraid to use your voice to express yourself and your needs.
  • You have a strong set of pipes.
  • Your beautiful eyes can break hearts.

Other things it has been our privilege to watch developing:

  • You love music and dancing.
  • Your smile and your excitement are infectious.
  • You are really into books and stories.
  • You learn fast – when it comes to things you care about.
  • Your verbal skills are, quite literally, off the charts.
  • Your dramatic skills are also pretty stellar, especially the trembling pouty lip + tragic wilting combo.
  • You know exactly what you want (even if it’s the opposite of what you wanted three seconds ago), and you will furiously stand up for it.
  • You will try any new food that’s going – in fact, you insist upon it.
  • You are independent such that if we weren’t watching, you would just wander right off without us.
  • You are determined, and you really, really, really want to do it yourself.
  • You are very observant of people, and somehow, you already understand how to be compassionate.
  • You adore your big brother and want to do everything he does.
  • Your cheeks are so kissable, we can hardly stand it.
  • You give wonderful hugs.

There are many moments every day when I just marvel at the fact that we are the family who gets to take care of you.

Here is a little video to celebrate you. It includes many of the people who love you – but I wish it could show all of us who know the heartrending gratification of loving your adorable little self, and watching you grow. So fast.

Happy birthday, Sweetie. You’re the best.

***


 

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Toddler Tracks: Baby AB and the Snackalicious Journey

Dear Baby AB,

Here’s another chapter of the Chronicles of You at One Year and a Half. This one’s about food!

You and food have a great relationship. I’m really glad I read Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter (thank you, Leslie) and Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett (thank you, Megan) before you started solid food, because you are quite a flexible and enthusiastic eater of all kinds of great things. I sure hope you stay that way!

You have enjoyed lasagne and chili and vegetable stirfry and spinach omelette. You showed a liking for curried vegetables and lentils before you were even one year old. Most recently, you delighted in some quiche with red peppers and kale, and some potato leek soup.

It is such a relief to have a kid who eats a variety of foods. (No offense to your brother, especially because I partly blame myself for his pickiness, but his rigidity regarding food is exhausting.)

There are a few things you won’t eat so far – cauliflower and avocado come to mind – but you’ll try almost anything.

Of course, you have your favourite things – things that you get vocal about. Pancakes and pizza are two examples. You see a pizza box and you go all “Pizza! PIZZA! PIZZA!!!” Like a kid from a commercial.

Also, you munch on seaweed snacks like they’re going out of style, and your preferred cooked veggie is broccoli (which you originally called “boppily”).

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Broccoli roccs!

And you love chocolate. I don’t even know if we’d given your brother any chocolate by this age, but you first tried it many months ago, and fell directly in love. You only have it in very small amounts, but you’d eat lots if I let you. You always demand, in your most authoritative voice, “More chockit.”

chockit
Mmm. Chockit cookie.

And I’m going to have to watch out, because you’ve already been known to help yourself to foods that are within your reach. What a go-getter.

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If someone accidentally leaves the crackers in the living room, said crackers will be claimed.
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And if not, Baby AB takes matters into her own hands. Bonus: cupboard-sitting!

Mostly, it’s just fun watching you deal with food. Rice vermicelli is particularly funny.

And just lately, you really want to do it yourself. You’re surprisingly good with peas and a spoon. Yogurt and a spoon makes a big ol’ mess, but it’s hard to say no to your gusto (and I’m sure yogurt’s soothing on the skin). And I suppose your hair has probably benefited from the various greasy things you rub in there on a regular basis.

My most cherished hope, when I watch you relishing a meal, is that you will always have such a wonderful and healthy relationship with food. That you will always feel free to love eating, and enjoy all different kinds of cuisine. That you will be unafraid to own your appetite – and that, consequently, your appetite will never own you.

And just so you know… the most delicious thing in any room, at any moment, is your adorable self. *SMOOCH*

***


 

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Toddler Tracks: Baby AB and the Power of Toddling

Dear Baby AB,

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written of your exploits here, even though – or perhaps because – you’re continually astonishing. There is so much to catch up on!

At the end of this month, you will be a year-and-a-half old. Eighteen months. That’s big.

The first thing I guess I have to concede is: you’re not really a baby anymore. We call you Baby or Bébé a lot, because you’re still the baby of the family (I called E “Bébé” until you came along), but you are now officially a toddler. You toddle like the dickens.

You took your first independent steps on November 12th – toward your Papa – but you didn’t make a habit of it. You practiced by tromping around with your stabilizing doll stroller until you were ready to muckle onto walking, over the Christmas holidays.

stroller
That stroller was your best friend when you were ALMOST walking.

As you careened around in your wobbly, intrepid way, Uncle D observed that whoever coined the term “toddler” was right on the money – it’s almost onomatopoeic, visually speaking.

In these physical ways, you are the opposite of your brother at the same age. You are adventurous; caution is not a priority for you. You started pushing against boundaries practically the moment you were born, and you push more strongly every day. Incidentally, I would not call you “mellow” like your brother was either – you know what you want and don’t want, and you will do what (you think) it takes to have your way, no matter how loud or rough you have to be.

Here are some things you’re into, now that you’re a toddler.

  • You love high fives. If someone nearby is getting one, YOU MUST HAVE ONE too.
  • You like patty cake. Hearing you say “patty cake” is awesome (though it sounds more like “pie-cake”).
  • You feel entitled to get right into cupboards and make yourself at home.
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Ugh, trash cupboard.
cupboard
Yeah, we should probably child-proof some things. #parentsoftheyear

  • You are a dancer in your soul. The aforementioned stroller has a button that plays a few bars of music, and you love to push the button and dance. We (and now you) call it “dance break!”
  • Just in the last few weeks, you have learned to “tiptoe.” You mince about in your little slippers and it’s ridiculously cute.
  • You aren’t nervous about being out of our sight. Recently we spent an afternoon celebrating a friend’s 8th birthday at a church gym, and you wandered around freely, trying on other kids’ boots, gregarious and curious and not at all worried. Luckily, there were some small maternal types around who were happy to keep an eye on you.
  • You are pretty swashbuckling on the bouncy horse. Sometimes I think you even post-trot.
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Yikes.

  • You are snuggly and very affectionate. I mean, you have your limits – if you aren’t in the mood for snuggles, you make no bones about it – but when you decide it’s time for kisses, everyone present gets kisses. Same with hugs. You hug your brother and then turn to each person in turn and say “Hug too.” It’s incredibly charming. No one has ever declined yet.
  • In fact, you love to love your peeps, in general. You learn names in a flash, and nobody can resist hearing you say their name. The other kids at day care vie for your attention.
  • Speaking of affection, we recently bought something you are more passionate about than any other toy: a doll like your brother’s. You like cars and dinosaurs and books, but you latched onto that baby as soon as you were mobile; whenever you saw her, you would grab her and lick her face and say “baby” a lot. Of course E gets suddenly possessive about any toy you show an interest in (even if it’s been on its face in the corner for a week). One night there was a heartbreaking scene in which both of you cried bitterly about that doll, right at bedtime. When I tried to interest you in your Cabbage Patch Kid (usually a favourite), you cried harder. You didn’t want the “doll”, you wanted the baby. The next day I brought you your own new baby, feeling like a pushover… but I think it was the right decision. You caught sight of it the second I walked in the door, and you knew it was for you. You said, “Baby, baby, open baby!” until I got it out of the package for you and you hugged it fiercely. You needed it at bedtime, and the first thing you said when you awoke in the morning was “Baby.” You LOVE that baby.
  • Right now, admittedly, the baby fever is not quite as all-consuming as it was. Now it’s spring fever. The thing you are most obsessed with is “go outside, walk around!” We’ve been outside to walk around a few times lately, but it’s hard with the current weather. Giant frigid puddles are problematic, especially because you love them and seem not to notice the cold. Even worse is the sheer ice they turn into (the day after the puddles, you wanted to find them again but they were frozen solid and you kept wiping out). When we bring you inside, you thrash and cry tragically, “No no no, walk around!!!” I think we’ll be outside a lot this summer. I can hardly wait to walk around with you sans snow gear.

You know, I think we have so much to talk about, we’re gonna need several chapters to cover all your news. And… probably a video montage at some point.

Please tune in again for the next installment, coming soon to a blog near you!

***


 

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A Special Anniversary

Today is a really special day.

There are great numbers of us thinking of Newtown today, and praying for those families who are dealing with the first anniversary of the worst day of their lives. I have thought of those families all year long, and send them extra love today. (For a way to express your support and see what beauty has been made of the tragedy, please visit My Sandy Hook Family.)

But December 14th, 2013 is also the one-year anniversary of something exceedingly joyful: it’s Baby G’s first birthday.

Baby G 1 month
Sleepy li’l one-month-old.

My dear friend Skye (who has been mentioned more than a few times on this very blog) is one brave mama. When she first told me she was going to have a baby on her own, I was overwhelmed by her courage. As a mother who has often thought she would go actually insane without the help of her baby daddy, I couldn’t imagine having the guts and strength to make the same decision.

I don’t think Skye looked at the leap into motherhood as particularly brave; she is a very pragmatic, super-competent person who has just always wanted to be a mom. She got to a certain point in her life and decided to take matters into her own hands. It made perfect sense, really.

She was not under any illusions about parenting. Most of her friends have young children with whom she has spent lots of time (and about whom she has heard – or witnessed – plenty of stories/moments from the trenches), and she teaches kindergarten. She knew it might be incredibly hard. She did her reading and research and pondering.

And she knew there are a lot of us who love her, who would love her baby just as much, and who would be delighted to help her in whatever way they could.

Now, already, that beloved baby is one year old.

Baby G is amazing. He slept seven hours straight as a very tiny newborn (one month? two months?) and twelve hours not long after. (Yes, I was/am envious. Also thrilled for them.) You’ve never met a sweeter, more even-tempered baby. He likes babysitters. He took a bottle with no problem. He likes all his veggies. He’s totally adorable.

Happy 11-month-old.
Happy 11-month-old.

His mama is also amazing. She’s calm, practical, and level-headed, even as she loves her son to bits. She seems to have somehow skipped all the neuroses that go with first-time parenting, and gone straight to the territory of Really Experienced Moms. I know it would be hard for her to describe how Baby G has opened up and illuminated her life – but then, I’m pretty sure he’s illuminated the lives of everyone he knows.

They are a very special and awesome little team.

Happy Birthday, Baby G. You get wonderfuller every day.

And Happy Mamaversary, Skye. You’re doing a spectacular job. We are all so glad to be in this with you.

***


 

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A Little Night Weaning

November was obviously a banner month for Barely Blogging At All. Sigh.

I’d like to say that it’s because my other project was progressing in leaps and bounds, but I’m afraid that’s not the case either.

What there HAS been: some serious sleep issues – for all of us. Especially me.

So today, I’m thrilled to present “A Little Night Weaning.” Or, as Mozart would have described it, Eine kleine Nachtentwöhnen. I assume. (Konstanze must have done her share of breastfeeding the kids she had with Wolfi.)

Performers:

Daddy – dedicated father, works at 7 a.m. on weekdays, naps at the drop of a hat.

Mommy – dedicated breastfeeding mother, teaches part-time, has trouble napping.

E – four-year-old son, attends full-time kindergarten, never naps.

Baby AB – fourteen-month-old daughter, stubborn + screechy type, down to one nap/day.

The Scene:

For the past year, Daddy and E have shared a room to sleep, and Mommy and AB have shared a different room to sleep, since Baby AB is a frequent and unquiet waker. (When dissatisfied with the situation, she escalates to barking screams like a brawling baby mountain lion.)

Mommy has been pleasantly surprised by how much easier sleep deprivation has been with the second child (as if her body just resigned itself to the exhaustion), but after more than a year of two to six wake-ups per night, she is reaching the end of her… you know, whatever you get to the end of. She has tried to be disciplined and not nurse AB every single time she wakes up… but mostly she’s too tired to be that organized. And there’s that screaming thing. Recently AB’s been not only waking but nursing forever or climbing up on Mommy’s chest instead of dropping back to sleep… so yeah. There is much sleep loss.

All is not perfect in the other room either; E sleeps well most of the time, but recently has been awaking at 5:30 when Daddy gets up, and feeling anxious about him leaving. Hence, he ends up in Mommy’s bed. Mommy tries hard to make sure both children get some more sleep at this point without suffocating her – but things don’t always go as hoped.

The Opus

First Movement – Thursday Morning: Adagio fatiguo furioso*

It’s been one of those nights/mornings. Nobody has had enough sleep. E wakes up grumpy and is crying within minutes about some inconsequential thing. Mommy gets up with less than zero patience, and shortly thereafter, despite her lethargy, yells at her firstborn son in a way that horrifies all parties. She then apologizes, feeling like the worst parent ever.

That evening, she discusses the situation with Daddy.

Daddy says, Honey, it’s time. WE ARE DOING THIS. He brooks no argument whatsoever.

Daddy has offered many times to trade places with Mommy and bear the brunt of the mountain lion’s fury so that Mommy can sleep. Mommy has always found reasons why this isn’t a good idea: AB has a cold right now and needs nursing to clear her passages; Mommy wouldn’t sleep anyway because she’d still hear AB with her bionic Mommy hearing so then BOTH parents would be overtired grumps; Daddy works with heavy machinery during the day AND PLUS is a bit of a wuss about tiredness, so Mommy is better off taking the sleep hit….

The crux of it is, Mommy knows that her baby no longer needs food at night, but she also adores nursing and sleeping with her child. But surely Baby AB needs proper extended sleep too. The “still worth it” refrain has worn thin enough to see through.

Second Movement – Thursday Night: Rondo agitato lacrimoso

Mommy gives Baby AB a last sleep-feed before going to bed – in the bunk below her son – at a reasonable hour, with earplugs in (as ordered by Daddy). Unfortunately, Mommy never sleeps well the first night in a new bed, and the anxiety of the first night ever apart from her daughter does not help. The mattress seems to eat her. The unfamiliar pillow and the remnants of her strep throat threaten to choke her. The silence of the earplugs makes her feel she is drowning. She is afraid she will hear crying, and afraid she won’t.

Finally, at 12:30 a.m., she removes the earplugs and is able to breathe somewhat. There are scraps of fitful dozing until about 2 a.m., when she hears (faintly, down the hall and through two closed doors) the crying she feared. And soon, the scream-barking, then the semi-hysterical sob-gasping. She texts Daddy to let him know she is awake anyway, if he wants to switch. Hoping desperately he will say yes.

He texts back to assure her that everything’s fine.

She continues to listen to the howling in nightmarish darkness, as her son sleeps peacefully above her. She sheds tears. She wrings her hands to keep from texting again. Then, just as she is about to give in – the crying abates, and stops altogether.

Wow. He did it.

Finally, there is some actual sleep.

At 5:30 a.m., Daddy summons Mommy to give Baby AB her early-morning feed while he gets ready for work. Mommy is beyond relieved to go in and stop the crying with her nipple, and have a snuggle before the day begins. E sleeps on.

~ Intermezzo ~

Later in the morning, Mommy sends Daddy a concerned text, wondering how he’s holding up at work. He replies, “I’m doing surprisingly well. Can’t wait for round 2!”

Mommy is more than a little surprised. And impressed.

Third Movement – Friday Night: Menuetto moderato stressando

This time, after AB’s last feed, Mommy goes to bed without earplugs, and with a new sense of faith in Daddy. She falls asleep much sooner. A couple of times, she wakes and hears crying, but it is short-lived.

At 5:20 a.m., she awakens to crying and figures it’s time for the feed. Daddy tells her that Baby AB did much better than the night before – none of the wake-ups involved the mountain lion.

E sleeps through to 7:30.

Fourth Movement – Saturday Night: Allegretto poco optimistico

Mommy awakens a few times, but does not hear crying, so goes back to sleep. At 5:30 a.m., she awakens spontaneously and looks at her phone. Daddy had texted her to come in a whole hour earlier, but she was sleeping too soundly to hear the buzz. She arrives at the bedroom and there is no crying: AB had rooted for food but gone back to sleep anyway. Daddy says she did almost as well as the night before.

When AB surfaces and realizes it’s time for a snack, she is downright jolly.

Daddy seems to be enjoying the bonding with his little girl, interrupted sleep notwithstanding. Mommy is starting to feel… rested.     !!!

Fifth Movement – Sunday Night: Largo giocoso con amore

Mommy goes to bed without administering the extra night-feed, since Baby AB is sleeping so peacefully at the time. She falls asleep without difficulty.

She awakens almost seven hours later, when Daddy phones for the morning feed. She does a double-take: SHE HAS SLEPT RIGHT THROUGH. It is the first time she has slept a solid stretch this long in more months than she cares to count. Daddy congratulates her with a hug.

Folks, it’s a WHOLE NEW WORLD.

Obviously, Mommy should have said yes to this plan long ago. She feels like shouting from the rooftops, “I Just Had Sleep!”**

And Baby AB seems to be learning. Her naps are solid.

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Nappin’ with the giant bear. She abandoned her little bed to get herself to that pillow… I guess she likes memory foam.

Daddy, you’re Mommy’s hero. xoxoxox

***

*I’m aware that my Italian terms are baloney and make no musical sense. In this case. Probably because there was no music involved.

**Oh yes she did. (Allude to Mozart and The Lonely Island in the same blog post.)

P.S.: For the record, there has been no evidence of wussiness about the fatigue on Daddy’s part.


 

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Baby AB’s Fashion Blog – Issue #17: Cozy

It’s getting cold these days, and it smells like winter out there. Here are some warm and snuggly fashions… from the last time it was cold (so, like, half a lifetime ago for the model in question).

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Li’l bear snowsuit – on loan from our friends since E was a baby.
E baby snowsuit
See? That’s (not-so-big) big brother, same snowsuit. (Sometimes even I can’t believe how much they look alike.)

homemade baby sweater
Auntie Em knitted this gorgeous sweater for Baby AB; Baby’s clearly thrilled to wear it.
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I want one in my size.
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Even better avec chapeau.
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We call this one “Baby-Wan Kenobi.” Jedis know: rainbow socks are good luck.
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Don’t worry about tangles. She’s got the force.
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And she’s using it on you RIGHT NOW.

***


 

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