smitten stuff

soon there will be no baby in this house.

she is blooming, this Posey, turning into a short person whose only speed is full ON and who goes from chewing on a shoe to sheer tragic starvation and an uncanny impersonation of a woman in labour in four seconds flat, all smiles and contentment and mmm, shoe to uh uh uh uh aaaaaagggghhhh!!!! with a gusto that announces her as a presence.

she is the age when the answer to all her sorrows is a baby cracker or something even the teensiest bit stable so she can stand and bounce. just those small things, and joy abounds.  a familiar face nearby, and her blue eyes will crinkle and say, oh, there you are and in that moment you will preen and know your life has purpose.

mostly my purpose seems to be to keep her from choking herself to death on every single last scrap of anything anybody ever dropped on any surface within two-and-a-half feet of the floor.  that and to taunt her mercilessly with the glorious blue light that encircles the laptop’s power cord plugin, currently in her estimation the most interesting thing in the house bar none.  toys schmoys.  rescuring my poor beleagured laptop from her enthusiastic attentions has made my days an elaborate game of keepaway.

i get nothing done when she’s awake, except when i strap her in the mei tai and we clean the kitchen or venture out into the frigid garden to weed.  (honest to god, July, you’re just not pulling your weight around here.  we had frost. frost.  i had to put her coat on yesterday to take her for a walk.  at noon.  in the “sunshine”.)

by nothing, of course, i really mean no writing. she is a hands-on girl. and my hands grow weary from conveying the nos, the danger, the constant circuit of let me remove this from your determined wee grasp and let me change that bum before you launch yourself across the room like a pudgy torpedo.  my hands grow itchy to type the internal monologue that i too often forget to share with her.

having let one baby go with these hands and watched the next sprout into a full-blown manchild seemingly overnight, i should be holding this one while i can.  except, of course, she does not want to be held, not too long. she wants to scoot, to cruise, to discover, to literally taste the world.

babies don’t keep.  i squander the starry eyes that follow me as i try to sneak a minute on the computer before she marauds it yet again, i waste these last days of her infancy home here with me folding the fucking laundry. again.

we push and pull against each other, Josephine and i, our dance a tender one in which each tries to escape being subsumed by the other.  i have known from the moment she was placed in my arms that she was my last baby, my longed-for girl.  i have known, too, when i’ve been honest, that the privilege of the year at home with her would be a strange journey for me, a hard slog of patience and attention to minutiae and a selflessness that does not come easy. the days are long but the years fast, goes the proverb, and it sums up babyhood for me. for all my abiding love for her, i struggle to be a baby mother.  for every time i play pat-a-cake and stack the little rings on the stick, there is another when i am trying to clean things she’s yet too young to help me with, or read things that don’t have cardboard pages.  yet somewhere inside, i am trying to burn her on my memory so that someday i can look back, wistful and unfettered by the guilt of reality, and believe that these storied days of wine and roses had no thorns, no outbursts of “mother of GAWD is it too early to drink?”

and still as it slips through my fingers i grieve.

because she turns her own hands up to me when she wakes, even deep from sleep. i creep in to where she breathes and curls into herself in her sleep sack, fat hand tight ’round her bunny, and i watch her and realize she will never remember these days and each time i am struck by the singularity of it all, these moments of beauty that only i see, that only i in all the world get…and the universality of the motif, the recognition that this is what it is to be a mother. in the dark of her room, i bear witness to her, to now, to this, the stuff of our days that is only mine to register.

i brush her wispy head and murmur tenderness and her arms open to me and a little smile crosses her bleary face. i reach for her and heft her from the crib and she pushes her head into my neck, soft hairs tickling, and we rock, for one moment in the same rhythm, both pulling close, made whole by the other. she smells of milk, slightly sour and sweet and plump, and i grow sticky and soft with love and gratitude.

someday if memories fade and warp, this is one i hope i hold to, get lost in, get to live again just one more time.

because soon they will be gone until those someday sojourns of old age, these moments when the laundry and the lure of the world and the web fall away, when i could spend an eternity standing and rocking my last baby, cheek to cheek.

soon. but not quite yet.

we talk about it, her father and i.

without hand-wringing, because it is neither of our first priorities, but with curiosity nonetheless, because observation of humanity is a hobby here. like a betting people taking wagers, we muse about it with gravity, as if it mattered…and in the same breath, with cavalier pretense, as if it didn’t.

will she be pretty?

it’s not a polite thing to talk about.  unless offering up compliments or weighing aesthetics and symmetry, ‘pretty’ is not a subject for public discussion.  society is more comfortable with those judgements kept under catty cover, spewed all over reality tv but never actually parsed out at the dinner table.

and yet…her father and i ruminate on the topic like cows at a cud, chewing it over.

she’s as cute as a bug’s ear, we’re clear on that.  fuzzy head, skin like butter.  her blue eyes are bright and, we’re quite sure, intelligent. we’ve been known to break into parental rhapsody over the edible nature of her fat little legs.  we also call her Piggy Nose.  hey, it’s a piggy nose. facts is facts.

do not get me wrong.  her little face with its elfin gaze and double chins is precious to us: the most beautiful baby girl face we know. because it is hers…and we love her, without qualification or caveat.  but still we wonder.

maybe it’s simple validation-seeking, a co-dependent search for the cheap pat-on-the-head that says we has us a pretty baby and thus must therefore, by genetic extension, be not so terribly fugly ourselves.  could be. we are not above cheap pats-on-the-head, us.  but i think it’s more.  especially since we never once had this conversation about Oscar, who is equally the fruit of our loins and really rather a pretty boy, if i do say so myself.  but in this one area, there is no gender equity.

we shouldn’t care if she’s pretty, after all.   smart, sure.  kind, yes. resilient, absolutely.  empathic and hard-working and thoughtful would be nice too.  with a side order of creative, thank you very much and i’ll deal with the crayoned walls later.  but pretty? beyond the flattery to our own gene pools, why would we care about pretty?  the exotica of the child beauty pageant circuit holds no lure for us; trolloped-up little girls in mascara and pint-size prom dresses give me the heebies.  we eschew sex-specific toys, let our son’s hair grown long, harbour hope and suspicion that gender is mostly a construct.  pretty shouldn’t matter to us.

but pretty always matters more than it should.

no matter how feminist our politics, there’s no escaping the fact that we live in a world where for girls, “worthy” and “pretty” end up conflated more than they should.  even if we reject the connection utterly, others will eventually take it up.  it’s in the ether of this culture. we will teach her that beauty is inside, and mean it, and love her for every inch of herself. but that will not protect her from the pageant that is simply living in a female body, coming to selfhood in a skin that gets appraised and assessed and reflected and judged, every day from puberty through to cronehood.

pretty is bound, at some point in her life, to be the yardstick against which she judges herself.

part of me thinks our musings on the subject are us trying to guess at how and when she and the yardstick will collide, readying ourselves to help her negotiate a relationship with pretty that does not subsume or damage all the other things she is.  because pretty is a brutal master, no matter what one’s face actually looks like.

Dave swears that his personal early research into Women, the Species, shows that the girls who grew up believing themselves “the pretty ones” often ended up stunted, their personalities self-restricted, externalized, by the emphasis placed on their surfaces.

i was the opposite.  i grew up in a house where pretty never came up.  when my father left, he took with him my mother’s sense of her own attractiveness…and i was well into college before she took any of that back.  i was expected to be clean, pleasant, pleasing, polite…but  “pretty is as pretty does” was as far as my mother ever went towards an assessment of my looks.  i grew up with the overwhelming sense that being embodied in female form was a vaguely shameful thing, and that my flaws – crooked nose, pudgy belly, short humpy neck – were horrors barely to be tolerated.  i was 21 the first time i ever remember being called pretty, flat out pretty.  i was so grateful i nearly fell over myself to sleep with the flattering party, to an REM soundtrack in a dirty little room.

so yeh, my late-blooming sense of my own appeal did inspire me to develop a sparkling, uh, wit and intellect as compensation, but it also led to a deep, longstanding insecurity in the worthiness of my physical person.

i don’t want either extreme for Josephine.

and so we talk about it, this unspeakable thing in terrible taste. we hope she’s pretty, but not too pretty.  we hope to teach her that even if the question of pretty is always out there, waiting to tempt her or cause her doubt, her worth is more than the sum of her parts.  no matter how lovely her parents think they are.  or how loony they sound talking about it out loud.

do you talk about pretty?  do you wonder, for your own daughters?  have you worked out your own relationship to your looks and how they’re taken up by others, in this life?

when i was a little girl, they gave out carnations at church on Mother’s Day. white if your mother was deceased, pink if she was alive. my mother’s was white, mine, trailing beside her, obviously pink.  they were crinkly and soft, the flowers, little pom pom indicators.

these days, Oscar tags along to church with my mother some Sundays.  we’re not believers, his father and i, even of the mild sort frequented in the social gospel-focused United Church of Canada with its left-wing politics…but his grandmother is eager to bring him and i like the idea of him having exposure to the literacies of liturgy and scripture that are so foundational to the history of western culture…as well as him being part of a genuine multi-age community, where old folks fuss over him and note that he’s gotten his hair cut.

thus far my mother has refrained from having him guerrilla-baptized, so it’s all going along swimmingly. he likes church, especially the cookies at the end.  i hope his eventual faith choices will be based on deeper calls than those of his sweet tooth, but i suspect there may be a few in every congregation who are actually there for the cookies…so he’d not be alone, at least.

he came home today with carnations. one white, one pink.  one for his Nannie, and one for him to bring home to me. my mother stayed for lunch. and i was happy.

there is much that the pink flower on my kitchen table tonight does not tell about my relationship to Mother’s Day.  it does not explain that my mother and i sometimes can barely speak without snipping at each other. nor how i worry about her.  it doesn’t explain how she was left with me when she was only 23, already an orphan; how i sometimes rail that i was raised with not a single useful skill in the world and other times feel full to bursting at all she managed to hold together for me.

the pink flower does not note my own motherhood.  it does not mark that first Mother’s Day eight days after my son died, sprinkling ashes under the trees dug into the raw earth of our yard. neither does it note that my daughter is eight months old today, my last baby, already pulling herself up.  it does not know that it is carried in Oscar’s sturdy hands,  proffered up with a shy smile of bestowing.

when i was a kid, i thought the flowers told all.

i did not know about neglect, about abuse, about the holes adoptions can sometimes leave in mothers and in children.  i did not know about miscarriage and the death of children, about infertility, about role reversals and daughters who become caregivers and the hurts we inflict all over each other just in living out this primal relationship of Mother.  i did not know.  i was lucky.

i know, now.  i know this whole Mother’s Day thing is fraught with complications that Hallmark can’t begin to address.

but i got a pink flower, today.  and i smiled at my boy coming in the door and my mother behind him, and held my baby close in my arms and was grateful.  i am lucky, still.  i have my mother with me.  i have these children.  i am beyond thankful.

here we is.

mother's day 2009


a year ago, the only word combination he could utter was “no, mama” and its paternal equivalent. “bah” stood for ball, bear, book.

yesterday, we perched at the table and he piped up, “…so. this morning i wouldn’t let Daddy and Grandpapa play with my castle. i only wanted to play with Grandmaman. i took the helmet off the castle man and put it on backwards! haha. wasn’t that funny?!?!”

tomorrow, he is three. he inhabits a body that leaps and wiggles and reminds me of the cherubs of stone cathedrals come fresh into the world, round belly and perfect bum and dancing feet.  he is not tall for his age, yet to me somehow stretched beyond comprehension, this boy now. the baby is almost gone from his face.  in its place, eyes sweet with wonder and fierce in the sulk, an open, curious, willful, playful boy…an imp.

and i am consistently amazed and driven crazy and delighted and moved by him. he is a force, now, and reckoning with him sometimes takes all i have and i run dry on endurance and urge and push and snap at him to hurry up! or to be quiet! and i long to just lie down limp on the floor and rest for a moment from this barrage of need and demand, always changing, morphing and oh my god he will eat me alive, i swear, but then, sometimes there is grace and the patience his lovely, learning little soul deserves and i look into his eyes and see that he is still whole, unbroken by my petty flaws, and my heart crumbles with relief and terror and a love that would destroy worlds to keep him just as he is except i know his job is to ripen and become and oh, how i hope for him a life rich and rewarding.

he has a joker’s heart, a showman’s sense of audience, of timing.  on Saturday, we took him and his little cousins to the local annual Pinch Penny Fair for his birthday “party”, for face painting and a magic show. the magician took him up onstage, and Oscar gaped at the man, compliant but slackjawed, almost in trance, suddenly smaller than i’d seen him in ages.  until the applause started and he turned to the audience, awestruck by the sound. in his eyes, a light came on, a recognition, and for a second i saw him ageless and beyond me, soul exposed. and i thought, i see you, my son.

and i beamed up at him, reaching out my hand to steady him as he tottered off the stage in his little rubber boots.


then he turned into a tiger for the day and we had cake and i gave thanks for him, for the thousandth time these last three years.

happy birthday, big  boy.  my god, how i love you.

baby and toddler

Originally uploaded by o&poecormier

i had no idea how complicated it would be, these two, these little lives unfolding in my house yet solitudes unto themselves.

she turns to him, all baby squeak and anticipation, oozing delight; he turns away, all toddler moody i will go this far and then no further and then repentant. he turns back, suddenly empathic, his tallest self, most kind, solicitious, and brings her blocks and teethers only slightly pre-chewed and he sing songs baby baby baby this is a little song for you do you like it baby and sometimes she lavishes him with the praise of her laughter like bells but other times there are her toes to explore and he could be the wind, invisible.

i watch. some animal instinct tells me this is between them.

he sprays her with his froggie in the tub and laughs his belly laugh and she mimics with her little heh heh heh and then she beams at him like he hung the moon and i catch my breath, full of wonder.

one of those weeks without enough coffee in the world.

3 am, 4 am, 5 am, 6 am, and 7 am all witnessed on the clock by my bleary eyes. sleep training feels like one big irony from here, a joke concocted by sadists. training me to do without sleep, is apparently what the fine print musta read. i can’t vouch for it. i can barely see.

i was quite happy just bringing her into the bed and nursing through the wee hours, dozing and shifting, the two of us a cosleeping tangle that i never intended but found rather civilized. ’til now. apparently the regularity of our round-the-clock feedings have encouraged Ms. Posey in the belief that one must also wake up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in regular intervals around the clock. jesus have mercy. there was a point in my life where 3am was a perfectly reasonable time of day for oh, i dunno, ordering up a round of shooters, but now that i am denied such revelries i think she should be too. so i’m trying to break her of the expectation of a full breakfast at 3, replete with cheery mommy waitress. instead, we lie in the dark, swaddled and shhhhing, repeatedly inserting the reviled – by Josephine – soother while she scratches at it and me with her baby wolverine talons. quality time, that. and she’s got stamina, my kid.

last night she actually stayed in her little sidecar bed, granting the soother a haughty acceptance. i have removed all the stimuli i can think of from the experience, all the motivation…we did not feed, we did not talk, we did not rock. there were only gentle shhhhes and the pat of my drowsy, drooping hand on fat cheeks. and still she was wide awake from 3am until 5:30.

Dave got kicked out of bed and down to the couch when it became clear that the swaddle and the Fisher Price aquarium lullabies weren’t doing anything to soothe the wee, savage Iggy Pop all a-frolic in her cot. i figured one of us might as well sleep. he in turn then got up with Oscar so that when slumber finally fell heavy on our daughter at dawn, i didn’t have to watch 8 am come round on the digital display. at 8:12, she woke for good…but at 8 am i was dreaming that i’d forgotten to get on the plane for my vacation.

vacation, ha. but small mercies, small kindnesses. love in this house.

last night, bathtime for munchkins. Posey had been retrieved wriggling from the water and primped and packed plumply into her sleeper and sleepsack and we sat nursing in the rocker whilst Oscar finished his rousing rendition of do mi mi, mi so so for his bath toys and then i heard Dave lift him out of the water and O made the very same request as he’s been making after bath since he learned to finally articulate the words months ago.

tell me a storwy about Diesel, Daddy.

Oscar has a Thomas the Tank Engine fetish. to please our young enthusiast, his father and i have for what feels like a lifetime been fabricating – and massacring – stories about Thomas. the liberties we’ve taken would make Sir Topham Hatt cringe, delightfully.

but we’re tapped out. done. saturated. we’ve drawn the line. no more post-bath Thomas improvisations. please.

which doesn’t mean Oscar’s done asking. dulcet tones for the request, and his father’s firm “no” in return. a pause. then the parry, tell me a story about YOU, then, Dada. silence. the fuzzy silence that sweeps over even the most talkative of us when put on the spot and unsure if we know any stories about ourselves that are remotely interesting yet appropriate for two-year-olds. do two-year-olds like beer stories as much as trains?

ever helpful, i piped up, tell him a story about ME. i’m lots of fun!

a laugh wafted through the door. and i heard…

once there was a girl named Bonnie. she was a nice girl. one day she found herself on a very beautiful beach where she met a handsome prince.

and i glanced down at my wool socks and thought, oooh, i could love this story even though in non-fiction i am not so much the beach heroine type.

he continued, the prince was VERY handsome. very very handsome. amazingly handsome.

i began to suspect that i was not about to encounter George Clooney in this fairytale. scrreeeeeech went the sunny Thai beach in my mind. another set snapped down in the backdrop, another beach, a humbler one on New Brunswick’s north shore, and a bonfire, and guitars, and a twenty-one year old boy with sharp blue eyes and shocking frankness and a pestilent sense of humour…a boy who would lend me his old, torn Levi’s – to keep – that first night i met him. a boy who would seem to me to be the little brother i never really had for almost five years, until the kinship swelled into something urgent and less than brotherly.

and Bonnie thought she was SOOOOO lucky to have met the handsome prince…

that they both ran off and married other people! i inserted from my perch in the rocking chair.

Bonnie was very wrong-minded, intoned the storyteller cum toddler tooth-brusher in the other room. but eventually the handsome prince found her in a land far, far away, called Korea, he continued, and she looked at him and realized just how truly marvellous he was.

she had been drinking a LOT of gin, i pointed out.

he forgave her obvious flaws and weaknesses came the voice from the bathroom, trying hard now not to laugh, and then they lived happily ever after and had beautiful babies named Oscar – yes, Oscar! – and Josephine!

Me, Daddy?

yes, you, Oscar.

Oscar’s little face, pink-cheeked from his bath, peeked around the corner into the bedroom, his curls a halo. he looked at me intently, exultantly.

Mama, you have a PRINCE! he shouted, laughing as if this were the most hilarious thing in the world. then he stopped dead and looked me straight in the eye. where is he?

love in this house, and laughter.

(…or rather, love by one who cannot speak.)

you have your first crush, daughter.

on your brother.

(ahem…it’s true, that’s not as unusual as it ought to be ’round here. we have entire towns in these parts where only two or three last names can be found on the mailboxes…we’re, uh, like royalty that way, us Maritimers. but i’m thinking you’ll outgrow this smitten state at some stage. like when you realize he’s been stealing your toys for months now.)

still…you could do worse for your first love, your first case of hero-worship. he’s noticing your gaze, standing straight-backed and benevolent in the light it casts around him. i kinda hope you keep a little of this same twitterpation in your eyes for him, throughout your lives. i hope he keeps a little of the tenderness he sometimes shows you in his.
Posey gazing at Oscar
(you will note that the “short” new haircut is not so short, just…not so long, thus saving O from impending mullet-hood.)

they are getting bigger.

nothing odd in this and really, it shouldn’t come as news. they’re children. the job of children appears to be to grow (or to clutter one’s household, interrupt one’s sleep, and use up one’s extra income that one otherwise wasn’t sure what to do with. either way). but it feels as if since Josephine came along, the two of them have ganged up together and are riding time like a carnival pony, spanking its ass to go faster! and faster! until i expect to turn my head one day and catch them making off with my car keys.

Posey was four months old Saturday, all intense and rosy-cheeked and enamoured with her fingers. Oscar got his first big boy salon haircut that same morning, courtesy of a stylist friend of my sister’s he’d met last month and liked enough that the idea of going to see her outweighed his otherwise paroxysmal fear of haircuts, which i think he inherited from his father.

i took his picture in the lobby of the salon, while we waited, and i got this face.

then the magical hairdresser propped him up on a padded board stretched over the arms of the barber’s chair and draped the cape around his neck and suddenly, there scratching at the back of my brain was a beauty parlour and a big plank across a seafoam vinyl chair and the acetone smell of hairspray in a big gilt can. memory tickled the nape of my neck and i was the little kid with my legs sticking straight out under my cape. i had forgotten…but when it all came back it felt like yesterday and i was shocked to count what must be thirty-odd years between then and now. i scoured the traces of that memory for specifics…who brought me? where were we? what polyester confection was i wearing? but those are gone, just as Saturday is already mostly gone for O except for the pictures. the battle that was haircuts is over, for him, and now we are on to whether naps are really necessary and a hundred other big boy things and is Josephine big enough yet to have a cookie and shouldn’t he have hers instead and really, won’t he always get more cookies anyway?

when he was a baby i’d gaze dotingly upon him, memorizing the fleeting infant face, the curve of chubby cheek, the down of what i desperately hoped would someday become eyebrows. and in moments, sometimes, i’d be sure i’d seen through time, caught a glimpse of the adult face that would someday emerge from the bundle i cradled.

watching the curve of his head emerge, though, from his clipped curls on Saturday, i realized that i was wrong, then. in the baby face i hadn’t seen the man inside the boy, only my own daydreaming and playacting and projecting, like when he gets jealous over a cookie his sister cannot even eat yet, learning what it is to be a sibling as i was learning to be a mother. but the babyface still evident even in the lengthening bones of his big boy frown? like a tickle on the nape of my neck and a beauty parlour probably long since torn down, it sits, tucked away in the vault of memory, called up by the twist of a grin or a particular raise of an eyebrow……it will be my babies i catch sight of in the faces of my children, no matter how big they get. and i will be shocked, every time, i think, to count how far away yesterday has gotten, how fast.

Originally uploaded by o&poecormier

…they abound.

her whole face lights up. i’d forgotten how nothing is quite so heart-melting as a baby’s first smiles.

someday, if the world is kind, she’ll flash this same cock-eyed grin – with teeth, we’re hoping teeth come with the package in good time – to some kindred soul, and maybe the earth will shift a little for one or both of them and that somebody, somewhere – maybe someone not even yet born – will taste a bit of this smitten silliness, this joy, that i feel when her eyes lock with mine and shine. i hope that for her. i really do.

but for the record, let it be known…mama was first.

she doesn’t need much.

milk, Zantac for her nasty, nasty reflux, diapers, a warm chest to cuddle into. she wears her brother’s preemie-size handmedowns for now, mostly blue…though kind friends and family have ensured she will have more pink than i ever dreamed of to grow into once she gets out of doll-sized clothing. which should be soon…she’s back up to her birthweight as of today, clocking in at about the weight of a diner lunch. she’s pretty enamored of her car seat, way more than the sweet little nest of a co-sleeper by the bed, no matter how i prop it up. but mostly she sleeps on me. and since this is our last time around the baby block – and i’d sell my hindquarters cheap right now just for unbroken rest in any form – i’m cool with that.

she has old soul eyes, this one. she stares, searchingly, like the one thing she needs is to know the world is a decent place. it’s a tautology to tell her that it seems that way to me because she’s in it. i look around me and all i got for those eyes right now is the weary, abiding love in this little zone of sanctuary and the sweetness new babies bring out in the most unlikely people and i pull what is precious to me tighter and hope that her serious, wary gaze finds beauty to light on in this life.

that’s what i’d like to give her.

but a beloved old buddy is throwing a shower – my first, ever – since we work amongst mutual friends now. and people are asking what this baby needs, what i need, in the manner of things that can be wrapped and opened. and i am grateful…but terrible at these things, eternally gauche when it comes to being the gracious recipient. my instinct is to tell everyone to just bring baby wipes or a donation to charity…or yeh, gee, that $150 swing in the catalogue looks gorgeous. erm, yeh. i have wants, see…but guilt, too. there really isn’t anything we need…we’re lucky. very, very lucky. plus my Scotch Protestant roots demand we get “good use” out of everything i’ve ever bought so it’s painful for me to retire any item before it yelps and sags and cries “uncle”. and yet…this time around i splurged and bought a cheap nursing rocker with footstool, and i’m already kicking myself for thinking i didn’t need one with O…no wonder i had that backache for three months, nursing on a futon couch after eons of bedrest. so sometimes stuff is good. somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous, there’s got to be some cool baby stuff that’s moderately green-ish and not too greedy that we’re missing out on knowing about here at chez crib? or at least that i can tell people about so they can bask in the joy of shopping?

leak the good stuff, friends. if you had cool baby items or can’t-live-without things for your babies, what were they? what made life with a little one easier for you?

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