Parents: How to help your middle schooler (and you) navigate this season

Parents: How to help your middle schooler (and you) navigate this season

It never fails, when I tell people I teach middle school they respond with some version of Why? Their twisted up face recalls their own experience and for most, it’s not a good one. Middle school is a difficult season for many people. It’s one of the reasons I chose to teach this grade level; mine was pretty rough having to move during the school year. But middle school is really the last chance for kids to be kids before that pressure of adulting takes hold. It’s called the middle school for a reason, it’s a transition period. Transition means you’re having to do something for the first time and that’s tough. Besides middle school today is not like middle school in “our day,” so let me share a few ways to help make these years easier.

Middle school can be difficult years for students and for parents. Here you will find advice from a veteran middle school teacher to help your child survive these difficult years of school.

Responsibility Grows in Middle School

These years of transition call for a shift in responsibility. I’ve recently read several parenting blogs that have addressed this topic and how it’s a problem area for parents. Meaning we aren’t giving our kids enough responsibilities so that they grow up knowing how to handle important tasks or take care of difficult situations. I would have to agree with this because over the years I’ve heard many parents apologize for their child with, “It’s my fault they didn’t” fill in the blank. It’s not your fault parents! Teachers are very good at communicating their expectations, so your child knows what they need to accomplish they just chose not to do it. Help your child add responsibilities to their daily routines. Think about what tasks you do for them currently that you could one-by-one start making them responsible for. Especially tasks that are school related.

Organization & Time Management in Middle School

Here are two places where you can really help your child gain more responsibility. Keeping papers organized is a major issue with most middle schoolers, they don’t know how to do it. Many of their elementary teachers did these things for them in order to keep order in their classrooms. Now that students are traveling between classes this could be different for every class or there may not be a system for students to use at all.

Start by showing them how you organize. Not all the details but think of a place where you have a system and show them how that works for you. Everyone is different, so brainstorm with them ways that could work for them. For me color coding separate folders works. Some kids like to have one place for everything and prefer the zippered binders with an accordion folder system.  However, they choose to do it is fine, as long as there is a system. During the Open House at your school talk about how to organize their locker. There are so many accessories for this, but simple is also good. Load books left to right, pull from the left place back on the right and the books will rotate through the day. Stacked is not a good idea!

Parents: How to navigate the middle school years

Managing their time is also a major pitfall for many middle school students. They are naturally becoming more social and now have the opportunity of extracurriculars that they didn’t have with elementary school. Our building provides students with a planner to write down all their assignments and activities. Keeping up with this is something we as teachers try to oversee, but it really helps when parents do as well. It will also keep you informed of what they are doing in school. Again, show them how you do this. Even if you keep a calendar on your phone it helps when they see that this is a lifelong skill and there is value to learning how to manage our time. There is nothing worse than seeing a student’s organizer with the word ABSENT written across all the squares. They now have nowhere to write what they actually missed on that day. This is also an indicator that they don’t understand the use of a planner or choose to use it for its true purpose. Once they do use a planner for its true purpose they may need help executing the follow through. It may be written down, but are they completing the tasks and making time for the activities they listed? Helping them find a routine for school-related tasks can be helpful. Remember it’s all about showing them what it can look like and then let them take responsibility for these tasks. If it starts to fall apart, revisit why it’s not working, and then look at ways to make changes to help the system work again.

Be involved vs. over-involved

Technology has given teachers so many new, easy ways to communicate with parents that were never there in the past. Some teachers embrace this and some let the district or building make communication. Either way look for how you can stay up to date with what’s happening in your child’s classrooms. Please read the newsletters! This is a great time for everyone in the family to sit down with their planners and write down important events. Schools are also posting grades online in a way that allow parents and students access. Make sure you know how to access these sites. There are often options for adding additional contact information and for alerts when your child has missing assignments or low grades. THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO TAKE CONTROL. Here is a perfect example of how you can help your child gain more responsibility. This is not the time to do it for them. Ask them questions. If they don’t know the answer help them prepare a conversation to have with their teacher. Let them go to the teacher before you do. This is what they need! They need that opportunity to take care of a situation on their own, but if they haven’t done this before it’s good to practice at home first. Roleplay, you be the teacher and let them ask their questions. Even the most approachable teacher can still be intimidating simply because they are the teacher. Keep in mind our end goal as parents are to grow and encourage capable adults.

Add Value to Their Middle School Experience

School today looks a whole lot different from what we experienced, but this is not a bad thing. Often times I see parents struggle with this, it looks so different they throw their hands up and choose to disconnect with that part of what their child is doing. Middle school is often the time that parents stop attending open houses or conferences or really talking to their child about school at all; until there is an issue. Many teachers have embraced the way technology allows parents to peek inside their classroom on a daily or weekly basis. When you ask your child about something you read or saw from these opportunities it adds value to what we as teachers are doing in the classroom. Kids translate that as you care about what’s happening there and recognize the importance of school. When you ask “how was school today?” the common answer will be, “good.” When you start the conversation with, “tell me more about that immigration project you worked on today,” a one-word answer is a lot harder to give.

Middle school is full of new things, but those things don’t have to be negative. Let’s give kids a joyful memory of middle school. I know that’s my goal! Are you a parent of a middle schooler? Share in the comments what has worked for you and your child. Are you a middle school teacher? Tell us how you help parents and students navigate this changing season of childhood.

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Back to School, Off Maternity Leave

Back to School, Off Maternity Leave

Summer has looked incredibly different this year because I’m not home with a newborn. Last summer we welcomed our daughter at the start of June, and the year before that our son surprised us 3 weeks early with his arrival on St. Patrick’s Day. Ending the school year on maternity leave felt comfortable, starting the next school coming off of maternity leave was harder than I expected. I thought the summer had given me the time I needed to prepare, but I didn’t really know what to prepare for exactly. Before our son was born I read everything I could get my hands about giving birth. Then I gave birth and I hadn’t spent enough time reading about what to do when the baby gets here. Because once he was here there was no time for reading, or at least I couldn’t stay awake long enough to finish much more than a blog post or article. If you’re like I was last summer, having a little anxiety about returning to school this fall, let me share some things to think about and maybe help you prepare.

Coming back to school after maternity leave is hard enough trying to pump during the day shouldn't add stress. Advice for how to make pumping at school more manageable.

Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

What to wear

Go through your closet. Find all the pieces that fit well and feel comfortable. Now put those at the front of your closet. After having a baby our bodies can change a lot or a little, so try everything on and know if you feel good in it. The next thing to check, if you’re nursing, is to decide if you can comfortably pump in it. As I did my back to school shopping I looked for tops with buttons or specific nursing clothing. Even though the baby isn’t with you it’s easier to pump in a nursing compatible top. Don’t forget about a hands-free pumping bra. I used a cheap elastic thing that really didn’t give me much mobility while using it. This is one of those places I would say don’t skimp. Maybe try a few before making a final decision.

Pumping Schedule

As a nursing mom, it took me a while to really get the hang of it, with both kids. Seriously, you would think it’s like a riding a bike situation, but every kid is different. What helped me prepare for returning to school was to get on my school schedule before it actually started. I looked at the times that I would be able to pump and started to make sure those were the times I was feeding baby. This was tricky at first, but it helped in making that full feeling not so bad when school started.

Pumping Station

This will be dependent on where you’re able to pump. I was able to lock my classroom door and sit in the corner by my closet where I kept all my supplies. If you have to use a room somewhere else in the building I would suggest stocking it well before the first day. My pump came in a carrying bag and has a bag for bottles with an ice pack. Consider how you will be able to keep milk cold, the ice pack was enough for me. I started out pumping twice a day, lunch and then planning period. I used the Medela pump wipes after lunch when there wasn’t time to run to the sink because kids were already coming back to class. I also found that it was helpful to have a roll of paper towels handy.

One more thing I want to stress is the emotional side of this situation because as prepared as you may feel there will be emotions you may not have expected. Everyone is different of course. So let me share some things that came up for me in case they can help you navigate the same emotions.

Timing

It can be difficult timing things on a strict schedule. I tried to read about pumping at work, but so many of those articles talked about an environment that allows women to set their own schedules. That is not a luxury we have as teachers. My schedule after having my son worked out pretty well, but with my daughter, it was off by an hour and that made a difference. I wasn’t able to pump 10 ounces in 10 minutes like my colleague and that made me feel very frustrated. However, flow is not something I found I could change so I accepted the fact that it would take my entire break time to pump.

Feeling Isolated

 Since I was using my entire time to pump I had to be strategic in how I could multitask while pumping. For starters, I had to eat lunch. This meant I missed out on casual lunch conversation and catching up with my colleagues’ personal lives. I felt very much out of the loop. The team also had to be intentional about scheduling parent meetings when I would be available. Before I would use my planning time to make copies or run errands around the building, now I was stuck to my back table. So I made sure to use that time for responding to emails, or typing plans, or writing feedback, or grading papers. I saved errands and copies for before or after school.

Remember, every woman is different, but this wasn’t a topic I had ever talked to my friends about so I didn’t really know what to expect other than I knew this is what I would do. If your experience was different and you have some good tips or tricks please share them in the comments. Anything we can do to help each other when navigating a new experience is encouraging.

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Traveling with Toddlers (and babies)

Traveling with Toddlers (and babies)

From September of 2012 to July 2013 I was traveling the world on a mission trip that took me to 11 countries in 11 months. With all of that traveling experience under my belt, I still was not prepared to travel with my children in tow. Schlepping a 55-pound hiking pack and a ten-pound backpack is nothing compared to the gear you have to haul around to accommodate your children. I’m not talking about unnecessary items either. You’ve got a stroller, car seats, diaper bag, and on one of our trips I needed a breast pump. All that after you have checked any baggage. I can remember the first time we traveled one hour to my parents’ house, the minivan was packed to the gills. We have since learned our lesson or kept duplicates at their house.

Planning a vacation or getaway with the family can be stressful when young children are involved. The younger the child the more gear they seem to need. Here are some tips and tricks for making travel with your toddler and infant less stressful.

How to travel with toddlers. Packing tips and advice to make travel day easier.
Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

Last summer we flew to Colorado and California (from Ohio) with a two-month-old and a one-year-old. Then this past spring break we flew to Myrtle Beach. Here are some of the things I learned when flying with children.

Airline Policies

 (Note: You should, of course, double-check with your specific airline, if we’ve learned anything recently it’s that there is fine print attached to your plane ticket.) All of the airlines we flew allowed us to bring car seats and strollers aboard without being charged. I highly recommend a bag to stash the unused car seat. You might also fit a pack of diapers or two inside. We purchased this car seat travel bag with shoulder strap from Amazon in orange so it would be easy to see and easy to carry. Be sure your car seat says approved by the FAA, we almost had an issue. Of course, that’s only if you care for your child to sit in it on the plane, otherwise, check it at the gate.

Another thing I learned that you may not be aware of is bringing food through security. Any snacks or drinks that are intended for the children are legal to bring through security. That includes breast milk. You may have seen the tragic story about the woman who was made to dump her milk, cringe! There are regulations for traveling with it. I printed the policy and had it on hand just in case there was an issue! They also allow you to carry on your breast pump, without considering it a carry on item.

One policy we did not account for was not being able to sit together with both children as lap children. There wouldn’t be enough oxygen masks if we all sat in the same row. Fortunately, two incredibly nice women sit next to me and offered their help when I needed to feed or change the baby.

Flying Tips 

One of the best things I brought with me on the plane was My Brest Friend Inflatable Travel Nursing Pillow that I purchased from Amazon. I didn’t use it on the first flight and my arms were so tired by the end. The flight attendant said it wasn’t safe for me to wear the baby. So on the next flight, I inflated the pillow and she was able to comfortably rest while my arms did as well.

On our flight to Myrtle Beach, the kids didn’t handle landing very well, even with pacifiers and bottles. The flight attendant suggested Dum Dum suckers. It sounded crazy, but it worked fabulously on the way home and even saved another toddler across the aisle from losing it.

Packing Tips

If you haven’t been introduced to packing cubes let me tell you how great they can be. I ordered three different colors, one for me, one for my husband and one for the kids. Check out these travel packing cubes, from Amazon, they come in a number of different colors. This allowed us to pack in one suitcase, but keep everything organized. If you separate by clothing type it makes it very easy to find what you need while keeping all the other items neat.

There are tons of great videos on the internet that will show you how to save space when packing. Yes, rolling your clothes saves space. It goes without saying an extra clothing option for the kids is always good in the diaper bag. My preference is a romper or footed pajamas so I’m only adding one article. Parents may want to toss an extra t-shirt for themselves in the bag as well. Try to find something both mom and dad could wear in case of an emergency.

Next time you book a vacation try using this website for the best travel sites. These are just a few of the things I’ve learned in the last two years traveling with our children. Share some of your great traveling tips in the comments below.

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Meal Planning for the Working Mom

Meal Planning for the Working Mom

Before my husband and I married he was very clear that his cooking skills were non-existent. As he put it, “I heat, I don’t cook.” This was fine with me, I was perfectly happy to take the lead on all things food. Since this post is not about his previous eating habits and overcoming his limited palette I’ll refrain from elaborating on those hurdles. For me, the greatest hurdle was cooking for two. Then shortly after, 14 months to be exact, cooking for a family of four. This may sound crazy to many of you, but in my single days, I had more of a Carrie Bradshaw relationship with my oven. It didn’t actually contain my sweaters, but it certainly could have in those days. Meal planning was not something I felt deserved ink on my to-do list. Let me also say, as a disclaimer, there are certain areas of my life, mostly teaching, where I am very planned and prepared; however, there are other areas that are extremely messy. Because I can fully understand the value of a planned lesson I quickly realized that this type of organization could also help at home.

Meal planning doesn't have to be difficult when you're a working mom. Use these tips and tricks for making easy meals that your family will love. Save time by implementing these meal planning strategies.

Meal planning tips and tricks for the working mom.

Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

My planning process

Decorating a planner using flair pens and stickers seemed like such a waste of time until I started to actually do it. Now I love to sit down, choose a color scheme and find the perfect stickers to represent my week ahead. A friend introduced me to the Happy Planner. I have loved the layout they provide. There are also accessories like grocery list notepad inserts to make it extra easy. This system has greatly helped me stay organized at home. Sitting down on Sunday afternoon to plan has now become my habit.

I like to start by writing in all the week’s events. These events can have an effect on what’s for dinner. When I have more time in a day I like to try new recipes and collect them on my Pinterest board, Carly’s Kitchen. I reserve the bottom square of each day in my planner for dinner menus. I write the title of the meal and then each side. This makes generating a grocery list for the week easier. Add the usual breakfast and lunch items, plus a few snacks if the drawer is low, and I’m ready to head off to Kroger.

I’ve always been the kind of cook who has no problem following a simple recipe. As long as it has normal ingredients and cooking methods I can follow directions. Soon I discovered that choosing recipes, even from Pinterest, was not very fun and it was extremely time-consuming. That’s when a friend asked me about hosting a Tastefully Simple party. Now, this is not a post or blog about me being a direct sales consultant, but this is how I made my life a little easier so I’m going to share my story.

Prepare meals in advance

When I joined Tastefully Simple they advertised making it easier to get dinner on the table during the school year at a decent time. All without feeling too exhausted to enjoy the meal. I love their concept of the Freezer Meal Workshop. The kit of products comes with 10 recipe cards, a pre-made grocery list with options for sides, and even a few leftover ideas. I would send out a message to my friends asking who needs 10 meals in their freezer? The ones who responded YES would gather their groceries and join me in my kitchen on a set day and time. About two hours is usually enough time to put all the meals together. Having someone to talk with while preparing the meals is much more fun. Sometimes we even poured a little wine.

There are so many positive outcomes from this kind of meal prep:

1. In the end, I have meals ready to go.

2. I’ve spent time catching up with friends.

3. The meals are going to save me time after work from needing to prep.

4. I’ve only spent money on the groceries I actually needed.

5. We are going to eat home-cooked meals for two weeks.

For the times that I’m not able to find a friend or two who can join me I still use the recipes, I just follow the “cook tonight” directions. It does require more prep time after a full day at school, but it’s usually only 30 minutes or less.

I know there are systems that will also send you the groceries, but I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Not everyone does. For me it’s relaxing, and it has that nostalgic feeling to be pushing my daughter in the cart like my mother used to do for us. I have always been impressed with my mother’s grocery shopping skills. The woman can write her lists in order of the aisles! I prefer someone else make the list for me.

That feeling of checking things off the list! Add using coupons and then putting it all away knowing you have a stocked kitchen makes me feel ready to tackle the week. I’ve also started to use this time on Sunday to set my goals for the week. For keeping track of my goals I’ve been using Lara Casey’s Powersheets.

Are you an Instant Pot user? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and download your FREE monthly meal plan of pressure cooker dinners. Share your secrets for planning meals. What works best for your family? What tips or tricks have you discovered? I’m a sucker for a good app!

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Stay at Home Mom Season

Stay at Home Mom Season

Most people consider a calendar year from January to December. However, for the teacher, a year starts in late August and runs to the first week of June (or end of May if you’re lucky.) That makes the summer months our “off-season,” or what I now refer to as my “stay-at-home-mom season.” The time schedule each day as a stay at home mom is very different, but the structure looks mostly the same.

Summers are the time for teachers to get a taste of being a stay at home mom. The trick is using the summer to spend quality time with family and plan for the upcoming school year. Summers are the season for reading books, attending webinars and courses to learn ways to help our students.

Teachers have the chance to be stay at home moms for a few months each year. Find out how your teaching skills can help make summer both productive and enjoyable.

Skills Training

One down and one to go. On a whim this past spring break I decided to potty train the three-year-old. We had planned to stay at home for most of the week, making it an ideal opportunity. In my classroom, I have learned the value of front-loading material to help students learn faster. After implementing valuable advice from a colleague, who explained that her toddler sits on the toilet while the water runs helping him feel the urge to go, we introduced potty sitting before bath time to give them the basic concept. Even though I consider myself a pretty good teacher of reading, I honestly thought to teach my kids how to use a toilet would be a tougher monster to tackle. Turns out the front-loading concept works well for potty training, also. After two weeks of timers and a few extrinsic motivators (new toys), my son is accident-free! He’s even waking up dry in the morning.

Our daughter, who will be turning two for the kick off of summer is next. It’s probably a little early for her, but I’m hoping her desire to do everything her big brother does will motivate her.

Mealtime

During the school, day lunch is generally a time to relax and engage in adult conversations. However, during the season of stay at home mom I become the cook in charge of feeding everyone. I appreciate the power of planning and being prepared.  Throughout the school year, I have been in the habit of meal planning and grocery shopping on Sundays to help. Usually, these shopping trips consist of dinners for the week and some breakfast and lunch staples. Rather than standing in the kitchen looking for something to throw together ten minutes before the meltdown begins I prefer to have a plan. I don’t consider myself a cook, so the throwing food together doesn’t usually turn out well. I like to follow a recipe, and like any good collector of ideas, I’ve turned to Pinterest for toddler meal options. If I don’t it might be PB&J sandwiches every day. Some days we have exciting, specially crafted lunches, some days we need to pack our lunch to go, and some days we are going to eat a quick PB&J. However, most days I do not get to have enjoyable adult conversations, instead, I get to belly laugh with my kids.

Prep Period

When in a stay at home mom season prep time is also known as nap time. For the kids, not me. My actual planning period is usually more of a marathon. How many things can I check off my to-do list in a short 42 minutes? Thankfully, nap time usually lasts much longer than 42 minutes! As long as I can get both kids down at the same time I can often count on about 2-3 hours. So much can be done in that amount of time!

In order to really make the best of this time let me again suggest planning and preparedness. Unlike a school day, where parent phone calls or other emergencies could pop up, a day of being a stay at home mom can be much more predictable. Decide which days you’d like to complete the usual cleaning or organizing tasks and then save time for yourself. Work on a personal hobby or sit down to a good book. Dedicate this hour to self-care, you deserve it.

Field Trips

To jump-start our summer we renew our Columbus Zoo family pass each year. The great thing about zoo membership is that they allow you to receive more benefits than just free admission to the zoo. We are able to purchase half-price tickets to a number of other zoos giving us the option of Cleveland and Akron, as well.  I’d like to visit Toledo Zoo this coming summer.

Teachers, did you know with proof of employment your ticket to COSI is now FREE? I would have been making trips to COSI a long time ago with that information.  With so much to see at each of these fun, kid-friendly places there are not enough days in the summer to experience it all.

The dress code is much more casual, the time is more flexible, and the kids aren’t being graded, but the day still has the same moments of learning taking place, belly laughs to break the monotony of routine, and time to reflect on how you’re so in love with this mom gig.

Teacher-Moms, share what you love about making the transition to stay at home mom.

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Why Teach.Mom.Repeat?

Why Teach.Mom.Repeat?

Does being a mom impact who you are as a teacher? Absolutely! Teaching is my profession, it’s how I defined my adult life. As a teacher, you often refer to your students as your “kids.” After all, you spend seven and a half hours a day with them, which is often more time than their actual parents. Of course, that didn’t really occur to me until I had my own kids. The first half of my career I spent single and hyperfocused on my career. Now that I’m a wife, mother, and teacher, my time must be budgeted for all three roles.  It takes creative thinking to balance between being a great teacher and being a great mom. Making time to spend with my husband and finding time to cultivate my own interests. Each of these roles requires a major time commitment. How do I do them all well? I have no idea!

Starting a blog is tough, but the reward is so much greater. Learning to blog has helped me learn to be a better teacher of writing. Blogging helps you meet all the right people to fuel your passions and make you better.

Feed your passions

This is where Teach.Mom.Repeat comes into play. Writing has always been a passion of mine. I want to share all the struggles and triumphs in my life as a teacher mom in hopes it will help readers like you. As a veteran teacher, I have spent time honing my craft and I plan to share my best ideas and resources through this blog. Students are always changing so it’s important to develop fresh ideas. I’m always reading new professional development books that help to enhance or sometimes even overhaul my classroom. Read more about that in my book review posts. There are always new products being developed for the classroom. Read about how I used an engaging activity through BreakoutEDU. Through this blog, I promise to share all the wonderful ideas I’m learning and developing. I promise to share them in a way that allows you to also use them in your own classroom. There is already a growing list of resources available to all of my newsletter subscribers.

This blog is also focused on helping moms. Moms who are also teachers. Moms who are also working. Moms who are looking for advice or needing to know that it’s not just happening to them. For a number of years, I watched my friends get married and have children. I often listened to their woes, not truly understanding, but lending a helping hand when possible. Now that I am living these same woes I understand how lonely motherhood can sometimes feel. Late at night when you’re nursing a newborn and all you want to do is sleep. Waking in a cold sweat only to realize it’s a fever and the baby is crying to be fed. Spending your lunch huddled in a corner of your classroom grading essays to the rhythmic sound of your breast pump. Moms need to connect with other moms. Here you will find posts about what has helped me raise my children and make it through those tough lonely moments.

Why this Teacher Mom started a blog even when life felt super busy.

Be part of the tribe

In my career as a teacher, there’s one thing I’ve learned to be essential: teaming. Cooperation is key. Students working as teams to accomplish tasks. Teachers working as teams to be better teachers. Recently our school has been placed on what is called the Ohio Improvement Plan. Part of this plan indicates how we as teachers should come together, creating professional learning communities within our school. I love this! Reading books and talking about them with others. Sharing and brainstorming ideas is my favorite kind of conversation. So why restrict it to just the people I teach with? And why make it just about teaching? This concept is great for moms, too. One comment to a blog post could become your own life-saving, sanity-keeping trick.  When raising babies, or educating children, “it takes a village” could not be a more accurate statement.

Join our village here at Teach.Mom.Repeat. Sign up for newsletters to stay in touch and receive FREE resources. Follow us on social media. Most importantly, please, leave a comment to let us know you’ve stopped by.

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