The Grass is Always Greener, on Facebook… a Graduation Tale.


 

This face, almost makes it all worth it.

This face, almost makes it all worth it.

I’ve talked about it before; I’ve shared the good, the bad and the ugly in blog posts and on Facebook, but the reality is that we generally put our best Facebook forward. We put our sparkly stories out there, our flattering photos, the “status” updates that tell everyone that we are “blessed,” more fortunate, more attractive, happier… better. I’ve had plenty of those– all honest, but rarely complete pictures of what’s happening. No matter what we want to believe, those Facebook statuses just aren’t always true. Let’s face it, most people don’t want to tune in to see you cry, pout, behave badly, or admit defeat. The ones who do, are those “friends,” not the ones you really count on, not the friends who know your real status.

I’m just returning from my oldest son, Middle Man’s graduation from college, and admittedly, my emotions are all over the place. I want to write that it was amazing; I’d like to say that the years and months of waiting for this day were all I imagined they’d be; that’s what I’d like to post on Facebook, and say to my friends and family.  But, it wouldn’t be entirely true.

Instead, this is the truest status I could muster this morning:

One more College Graduate in the family! So proud of (Middle Man) and his friends. It was a wonderful graduation celebration, though my Nikon broke just before things started. Thank goodness his friends posted some pictures, and I had my iPhone! (Middle Man) is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, and with not too much effort, he’s moved out of his dorm, and on his way. After a fun dinner in LA last night (with my boy, his good friend T and T’s uncle), I’m headed home today. How overly optimistic of me, to bring my bathing suit to southern CA… hot as hell, and no time for laying around!

A bit evasive, right? It’s all true, but as I typed I realized that I wasn’t sure what to write… without glossing over the truths. Not quite the status I thought I’d write. The truth is, these past four days were a mixed bag– a mixed bag of: excitement, pride, disappointment, unmet expectations, laughs, angry words, hurt feelings, fun, enthusiasm, disappointments, thrills, and more… all sandwiched between lots of love. Whatever else, the love was there.  However, it was certainly a mixed bag. And key to that story is the word expectations. Looking back over those four days, nearly every difficult moment was wrapped in met or unmet expectations.

Graduation expectations were easier... when they were little.

Graduation expectations were easier… when they were little.

In the twenty-four+ years that I’ve been a parent, I’ve certainly had enough experience with expectations; one might think I’d have them in check– but I don’t, and I didn’t. A very important person in my life is fond of reminding me that: “we are entitled to our labor, but not the fruits of our labor.” Stop and think about that for a moment. That line ran through my head over and over this morning, as I showered, packed my bag, and got ready to leave for the airport.

We are entitled to our labor, but not the fruits of our labor.

Though infuriating, how true that statement is! We are entitled to put ourselves out in whatever way we choose. We can try to plan fun dinners; we can drive our kids all over the place, helping them tie up loose ends; we can help their friends get to airports and shipping centers; we can try to get to know their friends and the people who are important to them… hoping to connect, and share experiences; we can buy lunches, and dinners and treats along the way. We can help pack, and help carry; we can advise and support; we are free to knock ourselves out. But, and here’s where I struggle: we are not entitled to the fruits of that labor. We are not entitled to thank yous, or graciousness; we are not entitled to humility in return, or emotions we’d like to see expressed. It’s ok to hope for it, but expecting it, waiting for it, feeling entitled to it… only leads to that mixed bag, at best, and disappointment at worst.

There are not photos with our boy in his cap and gown... but we managed to get one family shot!

There are not photos with our boy in his cap and gown… but we managed to get one family shot!

As a mother, I would like to be better able to let things go, to not have expectations, to allow things to organically unfold, and just enjoy them– but that’s not really how I’m wired, as a mother or a person. I’ve worked hard at it; I believe I’m much further along than I once was. But, it’s still a battle some days… and during times of heightened emotional events, let’s say: a college graduation, that challenge is even harder. My son’s graduation this past weekend was an epic challenge for me to maintain my balance and manage my own stuff.  Smart Guy was challenged too; as a couple– as parents, we had to deal with things not being what we’d hoped they’d be. At a time when I would generally post happy photos and excited Facebook updates, for friends and family to follow along… I had little to say. Things being what they are, my camera broke as we took our seats for graduation! I can’t begin to express the helpless frustration I felt, sitting there in the tent, wishing to photograph the moments unfolding around me. After taking 200 photos of my nephew’s graduation, a few weeks ago, there I was with only a cell phone to click, on my son’s big day.  But then, the two events were very different.

Two weeks ago, I posted countless happy updates on Facebook. My nephew was so excited to have me there, so grateful that I’d made the trip and that I wanted to share in his big day. He thanked me over and over for helping him move out of his apartment, for coming, for buying his meals… he was full of emotions, and he shared them freely. There were lots of hugs, and special moments. And sent me one of the most thoughtful letters I’ve ever gotten, thanking me again.  My son, is much less effusive person.  I know that about him, and so the sensible thing would have been to step back and re-frame my expectations. However, in the weeks leading up to graduation, there had been lovely phone calls and texts from him, filled with excitement. I’d been to that other graduation and I was still floating on that high. I wasn’t getting it… that things were different, and I needed to change my approach, drop my expectations. In fairness, and for the sake of transparency, I brought some of this on myself.

I didn’t realize that broken eye glasses and empty contact boxes would require lots of driving around, desperately trying to get new ones (without a prescription) with someone who was frustrated, tired, stressed and later in pain– when new contacts only scratched his eye, and made fun even harder to enjoy. I didn’t realize that the heat would suck me dry (literally and figuratively), and that his needs would challenge my ability to stay centered. I didn’t realize that I would feel jealous at times of his friends and girlfriend, and his divided attention. I didn’t realize how sad I would feel, when others were better able to help him, and make him feel better, even as I soaked in the reality that others love and enjoy him, and that makes me happy.  I thought we’d have some time alone, when I could tell him how proud I am, how excited I was, how happy I was to be there.  That didn’t happen.

The honest status would read:

Feeling tired, and sore. Feeling jealous– and stupid for feeling that. Happy and excited for my boy, but losing my grip.

Another might read:

Progress! I didn’t say things like “hey, you were partying all week that’s why you have so much to do,” or “you should have dealt with this before we got here,” or “hey, we are all here for you; make more time for us.”

Who would want to read that? Passive-aggressive at best, and annoyed at worst– I kept reminding myself that he is a very different personality than me, and I had expectations clouding my experience.

I wanted to hug him; I wanted to reassure him that it would all be ok– we’d figure it out. He wanted me to step back, and not get in the way. He wanted to sleep, but knew he couldn’t. He wanted to spend time with his friends and girlfriend, but we (his parents and siblings) were there wanting a piece of the pie. I wanted to have some time alone with him, but this wasn’t the time– even though he’d asked me to stay a day, just to have that. I wanted to be helpful, but mostly I felt in the way. I wanted to kiss him on the cheek and say good morning that last day, but he was frustrated by other situations and read other things in my efforts… and bit my head off.  I wanted to turn things around, but my feelings were hurt, and he couldn’t hear me, in that moment. I didn’t respond well, and went for a long walk– leaving him to work things out his own way.

As I walked around his campus, the place where he’s grown up, and away from me… I felt such a rush of so many things. I ran into some of his friends, and they hugged me and talked about their plans. I congratulated them, and wished them well. I tried not to look as withered as I felt. I walked across campus, around the dorms, alone and took in the other families moving their kids out– some looking as stressed as me, others laughing and having fun. I remembered coming the first year, and later to get Gracie and visit my boy. I thought about how he would be leaving, and I would likely never take this walk around campus again. I cried.  I smiled at people. I caught my breath. I cried some more. I beat myself up, in my head… and then I tried reminding myself that disappointment is hard to swallow. I’m not the epic failure I was feeling like, as a mother, or a person.

The real status would read:

Walking around alone, feeling sad and frustrated. Wish things had gone differently. Wish I could fix this. I can’t.

Months ago, when I was booking our trip and my son asked me stay an extra day– “I may need your help moving… and we can spend some time together,” that last part is all I really heard. My expectations started building then, without my even realizing it, and as plans changed– friends had needs, other plans were made, and I slipped from his radar– I found myself hustling to keep up.  The changes came pretty late in the game, and Smart Guy and I hardly had time to notice, let alone adjust. My emotions got the better of me, and try as I did, I found myself hurt and trying to find a new solid ground.

There’s progress to post: the status might read:

Kept my shit together. Didn’t yell, or snap, or say things I really regret. There’s progress.

But, I can’t post that things were fantastic, or that this big event that we, as a family– as parents– have looked forward to for so long, went quite the way we had imagined. More than Smart Guy, who is much better at letting these disappointments go, or letting his expectations shift (or, better yet… not building them to begin with!), I wallow in it. Again, progress: I did a lot less of that. While he was Smart enough to hold his tongue, he felt many of the same things, and we tried to reassure ourselves that this will pass. He was my litmus test, reassuring me that things really were challenging, and I wasn’t as sensitive as I felt I was. He was also there to say… we need to move through this, let it go.

Just like the broken camera, and blurry photos... you can't do it over

Just like the broken camera, and blurry photos… you can’t do it over

I kept trying to find new ground, but as I travel home, I mostly feel tired and a little shell-shocked.  That was not what I expected; that was not how I wanted to behave; that was not how I wanted him to behave… wait! I want a do over.  They are rare folks– do overs, and they almost never exist for those sacred moments, those really important events that only happen once. Accepting that is my new challenge. That was graduation day, and it wasn’t what you hoped for. Accept it and move on.

Our last night, I drove his girlfriend to LAX, and then drove my boy and one of his good friends, T, (from a pack of 9 guys, who met the first week freshman year, and were tight the entire 4 years) to LA, where they will leave from, for one more road trip. Initially, yet another last minute let down: we had agreed I’d drive to LAX and he and I would spend an evening in LA, alone.  Don’t get me wrong, of all of my boy’s college friends, T is one of my favorites. He’s a particularly sweet kid, who I enjoy enormously! (In fact, it was with him that day, that I shared some of the more reflective, and thoughtful moments… waiting in line for a coffee, and driving to LA).  However, when the plans had changed last minute, again, I had accepted them, with the expectation and understanding that Middle Man and I would spend some time alone, at dinner. As that was evaporating, it just felt like one more bitter pill to choke on swallow.

In the end, T’s uncle B joined us, and it ended up bringing an unexpected chance to turn things around a little. He’s a talent agent, and true LA person…  via New York– New York, I get– Honest, blunt, wry, funny. We instantly got each other, and I felt comfortable sharing talking and letting some things go.  We laughed at the silliness of some expectations. He reassured me that I’m not totally out there, but that I could still work on some of what I had hoped for, and how that got in my way.  We agreed that kids grow up, and maybe they look back and realize that they too could have done some things more thoughtfully, more mindfully; that a big moment like college graduation is for your parents too, and concessions on both sides should be made. We had a great dinner; I had a drink (I had to drive, so only one… but what sweet elixir!); we played some fun card games at his place… and I went back to my hotel feeling a little better.

What a future these guys have!

What a future these guys have!

Right now, I’m still feeling the sting of disappointment, of missed moments, and mixed signals. I’m working on moving forward. I’m remembering some of the truly lovely moments of the weekend and working on letting go of the ones that hurt or disappointed. Watching my son with his group of friends, all of them excited and so supportive of each other. How rare and special, that nine boys would meet the first week of school, and be there for each other to the end. I’m remembering the look on my son’s face, when he looks at the woman he loves. It makes me smile, just knowing that someone else loves him as much as we do, and that he feels that good around her. In the next short months, this same boy that I love so much will move far, far away. He will be in Australia for a year, and I don’t want him to leave– for us to say goodbye, with old expectations and disappointment sitting in the way of good things that could be there instead. I have to move on, and not expect… not expect anything. Not feel entitled to any particular fruits.

I also can “check” my labor. I can get better at saying no, when I don’t feel my efforts are appreciated. My kids are all, for the most part, adults now. It’s not my job to put my needs and desires aside for theirs… any more. We’re all adults now, and the tango is a lonely dance for one.  If I’m asked to stay an extra day, to spend time with someone, and suddenly, I’m stuck on my own… I can say:  that doesn’t work for me.  While it would have been hard to say: Hey, I’m not doing any extra driving; I’m tired. I’m not spending my last half a day schlepping around by myself, and then driving you; I feel disrespected and dismissed– I could have.  In the big picture, I’m happy to help, when and if I can… but we all have to check our expectations eventually, not just Mom.

Things aren’t likely to change; we have to change– I have to change. Facebook seduces us to post what we want things to look like, what we hope for. We most often post the happy things that happen, the times when we choke up, not the moments that choke us.  The Grass is Always Greener on Facebook; it’s up to us, to keep it real.

My status could read a lot of things right now. An honest one would read:

“Meaningful four days at my son’s graduation from college– filled with big transitions, some truly wonderful moments and some fairly disappointing ones as well. Still proud of my son, still happy for his future and his successes, and planning to check my expectations at the gate… when I get off this plane.”

unknown jpeg, internet

unknown jpeg, internet

*    *   *

If you enjoyed this post, please hit like and then leave a comment; I love to hear what readers have to say.  Check out Tales From the Motherland’s Facebook page (my goal is 400 likes this year), and Twitter, where I struggle to keep it brief.

© 2014 Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

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About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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48 Responses to The Grass is Always Greener, on Facebook… a Graduation Tale.

  1. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Yes, those nasty expectations, Dawn. They can trip one up every time. This was a brilliant post and one that I and, I suspect, many others can identify with. Fortunately, we humans do have a great propensity to forget pain and I imagine writing this helped. And you are brilliant at sharing your wisdom, heart and human perspective.

    Like

    • Thanks so much Cathy…yes, it always helps me to write it out, When I get better at “working it out,” I can lose those extra pounds! Like childbirth, we tend to forget the hard stuff, and move on… thank goodness! 😉

      Like

  2. Amy Reese says:

    Dawn, I can totally relate. There have been lots of times when I let my expectations get in the way of enjoying something as it truly is. In that experience you described here, there seems to be so much involved with so many players, it would be hard to predict how things would turn out. Plus, moving, nine friends?? Wow! That is so much to go through. Pat yourself on the back. Don’t worry, he may be an adult but he will need you in the future. I’m sure of it! xo

    Like

    • Thanks so much Amy. Yes, there were a lot of players, and a lot of things going on… BUT, I did not move 9 friends! Man, I think I’d have to shoot myself. 😉 I was saying that there were 9 friends who celebrated together all weekend, and were close for all 4 years… lots of goodbyes for my son to make. I was on the periphery of that, merely enjoying it. Some of the other dynamics were a tad more challenging. Thanks for taking the time for this long, long processing of events; your thoughts are always valued.

      Like

  3. katkasia says:

    I’m new to this motherhood lark, but I do know that it’s never as simple as they would like to pretend! It also seems to me as if our children are a magnifier for all our emotions, and I’d be interested to know if you feel that this is still true when they are adults? Thanks for your honesty here – it must have been hard to write about it. 🙂

    Like

    • Welcome to Tales From the Motherland, katkasia. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment; it’s much appreciated. You’re so right; our kids are indeed often a giant magnifier for our emotions. As adults, it may be more so…? As they become their own people and reflect back family dynamics and personal views, they force us to look at our own stuff, and either work it out, or stew in it. There were so many new, and old, dynamics going on this past weekend… all wrapped in a very important event, that was emotionally charged for me and my husband, and no doubt for my son…. on a very different level. A perfect storm of potential emotions. I think I’ll be processing this for a while. 😉 Thanks again for taking the time. I love when my writing prompts conversation, back and forth.

      Like

  4. Psychobabble says:

    Props for the raw transparency.

    Like

  5. Gina says:

    Dawn, I love the raw honesty of you sharing Middle Man’s graduation experience the way you have here. Clearly you have loved and mothered him as well as anyone could ask of any mother. He is blessed to have you, and you are blessed to be honest with yourself about what you feel. Pushing those emotions down, now that’s what I’d call a problem.

    Like

  6. Beautiful Post. Tears sprung to my eyes reading, and my kids are only in middle school. I already have anticipatory grief. 😉 Thanks for sharing your heart.

    Like

    • Thanks so much Heather! Thanks for taking the time to visit Tales From the Motherland… you picked a long, dizzying post, no doubt! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Yes, you have a ways to go, but it does go so fast! Some days, it wont feel that way, 😉 , but overall… blink. Enjoy these years!

      Like

  7. Dawn, I’m sorry there were problems having to do with your son’s college graduation. We were there for my daughter’s college graduation, but it took my son extra time to complete college because he took a year off to work before starting and worked while attending. He therefore couldn’t go full-time and graduate in four years. By the time he graduated we were in India and couldn’t get back for it. He understood and was older by that time so just had them send him his diploma and didn’t go to the ceremony. Some of his professors took him out to lunch.

    These things happen so we were just glad his grades were excellent and he good a good job shortly after graduation. He’s now thinking of going to night school to get a law degree. He’s wanted to do that but there were no night classes for law in his area and he had his job as a law librarian with a large firm to consider. A college in the area has now started night law classes. I wish all the best for your son’s future success and happiness and for you and your family’s. 🙂 —Susan

    Like

    • Susan, what an incredible son you have! Such hard work! I hope he’s able to complete his law degree, and follow his dreams. It must be hard to watch it all from afar, but I’m sure he appreciates your love and support. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment; as always, it’s much appreciated.

      Like

  8. So heartfelt and honest; so brave. Well done, you.

    Like

  9. Mike Lince says:

    It would seem you learned a lot about yourself, your son and your expectations for the outcomes you desired on this trip. I can empathize with sitting in the crowd just like I did as my daughters joined the commencement parade to receive their diplomas. As proud as I was of my girls and as much as I reflected on the years leading up to that moment, I was just another face in the crowd. In your case, factoring in the stifling heat to which you were subjected, I can understand how drained you must have felt. Add to that the broken camera and I could feel your frustration.

    I believe you are much closer to your children as a mother than I was to mine as a father, and I envy you that connection and the contrast between your familial relationship as a mother of sons, and mine as a father of daughters. It’s complicated. Some things I guess I was never meant to understand. As is so often the case, I was moved by your story and your candor in letting us see deeper than your Facebook smiles. – Mike

    Like

    • Thanks so much, Mike. Your comments always get to the heart, and I feel connected and supported. Thanks for that. There was a lot going on this weekend, and I imagine I’ll be processing for a while. Later, I may wish I waited to post this… but for now, it’s where I am.

      I’m not sure about who is close or not close to their children… or closer… but I do feel grateful that my kids and I have always been open and honest with each other. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always pretty, but I’m grateful that we are. Thanks friend. xo

      Like

  10. Robin says:

    Really beautiful, real post…that’s what you were aiming for and definitely achieved. I’m always saddened these days by the mixed signals people put out there on facebook, and just won’t do it. I have a good life but I”m not going to brag about my kid or my wonderful husband or my sweet little life. My internal thoughts about my success in life is much more complicated than that would project. I’m not looking for admiration from those on the web–why do people seek this? Anyway, love your last status update…truthful indeed.

    Like

  11. Graduations bring out all the emotions– the feeling of how fast time flies by, the wistfulness about our kids growing up and becoming adults, and the pride of course in their achievements. Wow, one in Israel , one in Australia. Have to say your daughter doesn’t appear as “frum” as you’ve described her before- has she softened her beliefs? Chin up, my friend, you done good, mom.

    Like

    • Yes, there are so many things going on, emotionally and otherwise, at these important events! Wow, indeed… the other one will be in Rome! Three kids, three countries and three continents! Seriously? As for my girl… she is moving in some new directions. I’ll have to think about that one a lot more, before commenting. Overall, it’s all good. 😉 Thanks for your thoughts, Lisa!

      Like

  12. ME says:

    At least he graduated and so did not feel the need to call in a bomb threat to cover up that his name was not on the list. You have to look on the bright side! Congratulations to all on getting to this point. Best wishes. XOXO

    Like

  13. I really loved this post. Thanks for your honesty and openness. Expectations are so tough. I appreciate your wisdom and insight as we continue to traverse this parenting path. I will remember this one when my oldest graduates from high school next year.

    Like

  14. I don’t know how you hold it all together, Dawn. How you keep from being overwhelmed. Expectations and crossed lines of communication are always at the root of disappointment, in my experience. We have a tendency to expect that the other person just knows (or should know) what we want, what we need, when in fact, we never came right out and told them. Because we are so afraid to ask for what we want or need for fear of seeming needy or, indeed selfish.
    You seem to have a good sense of self, and an ability to examine your motives and emotions — a valuable skill that will serve you well through this.

    Like

    • Thanks so much, Helena. I always appreciate your thoughts, as you’re so often on target. That said, I think I have a challenged sense of self, and I’m continually struggling to figure it out. I am able to examine my motives and emotions, true, but man… I still seem to stumble around in the dark a lot!

      There were several times this weekend, when I did express my needs, quite clearly… but those needs were not heeded or honored. There were additional times when hurtful things were said to me in private, that looked very different to significant others, adding to my sense of isolation at times. I was trying so hard to honor his other relationships, and not makes (public) waves… it was a tough ride at various points. However, I do think there were also other times when your point hits the nail right on the head! Especially with men and women, what we think we are expressing, isn’t always the message received. It was a challenging few days! I DON’T always hold it all together… and I’m often overwhelmed. You wont see either of those statuses any time soon! 😉 Thanks Helena… your perspective and thoughts mean a lot. I know you get it. xo

      Like

  15. Judah First says:

    I think this post is something I need to read many, MANY times before the October wedding. I’ve already been feeling ‘nudges’ regarding expectations. I want to let go and allow the people I’m hiring to do the worrying while they execute our plans. Tough stuff, but do-able. Thanks for this, Dawn. Your honesty provides both refreshment and aid to your readers.

    C

    Like

    • Cindy, I can’t even imagine a wedding right now! I’ll need to work on my buttons a whole lot more, before they start getting pushed that hard. That said, I really do think that we all could learn a lot from stepping back, taking a deep breath, and allowing others to work things out… share your vision with the planner, and then surrender. In the end, and I truly believe this: if the bride and groom are in love, if they end up married, a lot of details will not matter as much as we think. Easier said than done; I know. I have a feeling you’d be better off finding some better reading, for advice! 😉 Thanks for your kind words and support, C.

      Like

  16. This makes me think about the future…and the past. How to keep my expectations in check as a parent…and how I may have caused some of these same emotions in my parents when I was younger. Parenting really does call for the mother of all “sucking it up,” doesn’t it? And your son can’t possibly understand what you are feeling until he finds himself in the same shoes.

    Like

    • No doubt, on all points. Sucking, sucking, it sucks. I know that all of this will pass, and I know that there are many different versions of what happened these last few days, but right… he will not fully appreciate it until it until he has his own. And I, need to get over it. Thanks for taking the time, Kelly. It always means a lot!

      Like

  17. Carrie Rubin says:

    Such honest words you write here, words that I think most mothers can relate to, at least those of us who have older kids. We invest so much into them, and it can be difficult when we don’t feel the efforts are appreciated, or even recognized. But I suppose if they can separate from us so easily after these milestones in their lives, then we have done our jobs well. We wouldn’t want them clinging to us in fear. But that knowledge of a job well done can sometimes be insufficient when what we really want is a hug and a “I couldn’t have done it without you, Mom.” 🙂

    Like

  18. sara says:

    Hey, tricky stuff Dawn. I know you’re struggling with disappointed expectations, and remember reading your thoughts before on this subject. We definitely don’t do parenting for the gratitude; that’s for sure. We do it to raise beautiful, aware human beings to go out into the world and help the world become what it needs to become. We want our children to be loved and loving, well rounded, effective human beings. Don’t we? Sounds like you and your husband have done a great job! My mother has let me know all the way through when I’ve crossed boundaries – asked too much, been neglectful or rude – and many times she’s also just let my bad behaviour go, knowing that I am learning too. It takes a long time to be considerate and compassionate, and often our parents are the last recipients of this gift. I hope you do take up meditation, I think you’ll love the effects! Love, Sara xo

    Like

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