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I Need A Haircut

Today, we got the clippers out and all three boys braved my previously-untested hair dressing skills. I used to cut my own when I couldn’t afford for someone else to do it, but that was in the distant past and didn’t necessarily yield the best results. Since I don’t want a buzzcut, my locks are as yet unmolested. It’s a couple of months since they had anything done, so they are getting scraggy and the ends have started to split. I need a hair cut.

But in a very real sense, I do not need a haircut. When people protest about lockdown, the closure of hair salons seems to serve as a posterchild for the restriction of our liberties. After all, it’s not something you can really do yourself, especially if you live alone, and most people of all genders and walks of life are used to having “smart” “styled” hair. We see it as a necessity.

It’s not though, is it? The concept of smart, styled hair is very new in the course of human endeavour. As much as the stars and stylists of the screen seem to ignore this, most people weren’t having a regular cut and blow dry >100 years ago (Sorry, “Last Kingdom”), and if the apocalpyse came, we wouldn’t still be made up and coiffured while we fought rival tribes and races for land and food. (I’m looking at you “The 100”.)

Finan..... I call him Yum Yum lol (With images) | The last kingdom ...Clarke Griffin - Wikipedia

Even when I was a kid, your hair was probably cut by your parents, possibly using a pudding bowl as a guide. 200+ years ago, while the upper classes wore wigs to avoid the issue, most people probably kept their own hair either very long or very short (the better for keeping clean and lice-free too).

It’s not just new, it’s also Western. On volunteer trips to Ghana and Nepal, respectively, Jon and I met whole orphanages full of shaven-headed children (boys and girls alike). They didn’t notice or mind, they weren’t hankering after pony-tails, braids or bangs. There is no money for fashion when there isn’t enough money for food.

But even when there is the money, fashion is fickle. Smart and stylish are just words, which we have applied to the same thing for long enough that we’ve forgotten they can change. I doubt many Saxon warriors looked like Finan, and I doubt many post-apocolapse amazons will match Clarke. They would look at picutres of us with curiosity. But they wouldn’t necessarily consider our fashions superior, any more than most of us hanker after mullets, perms etc.

If the covid-cut comes your way, consider it a new way to explore yourself, express yourself, and redefine “style”. Maybe I’ll get that buzz cut after all!


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Lockdown so far

Seven weeks ago, when I collected the boys from school, I knew it would be for 3 weeks and maybe more. Having had a few days’ practice at homeschooling via one-day teacher strikes, we talked over what they had (and hadn’t!) enjoyed and rejigged the schedule a bit, took a week off for March Break, then hit the ground running (ish). Since then, we’ve tweaked the plan and replaced some of Mummy’s work ideas with the stuff sent out from school.

I am lucky. Even before the pandemic, it would have been hard to claim I was far down the privilege ladder, but I have to acknowledge my Pandemic Privilege in being financially secure, living in a house with a garden and separate room (even if it doesn’t have a door) for Jon to work from home, having no job myself so that I can focus on the kids, having no need for either of us to engage with other people except for shopping, having the people I love most right here in my household, being used to using skype etc for grandparent and friend communications… etc. This is not to boast, I am just acknowledging that when I say I’m doing well, it is in the context that I am bloody fortunate.

But for the most part, I am doing well. Parenting has never been something that came naturally to me, and I would certainly never pretend that what works for us would or should work for anyone else. I miss school. I miss the break from being constantly talked to, constantly touched, constantly relied upon. I miss the opportunity to write both rambling blog posts and concise content (two short paragraphs this afternoon took me 25 minutes because they were written in between a thousand interuptions and I wanted them to be tight). I miss talking to my friends and my husband without anyone saying “What? Why did you say that? Who’s on the phone?” and then stealing it and hiding it under a cushion while I yell at the person on the other end not to hang up. I miss work, even though I didn’t do very much of it.

But for the most part, we are doing well. We have found a balance that mostly works, most of the time. That is structured enough that my structure-craving boys and I feel safely cocooned in our regime, and flexible enough that if they just don’t feel like working today, we can play 96 games of monopoly and Zombie Kids, and then they can run out into the garden and whack each other with cardboard swords while I watch some crap on Netflix and clean the bathrooms.

It turns out that why I am not a natural parent, I might to some extent be a natural teacher. Or at least a natural maker-of-interesting-worksheets, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. I’m NOT enjoying class control. The patience it takes to watch a child lounge around, groaning because you have just asked him to add a period (full stop) to a sentence he’s written but he is soooo tiiiireeeddd mmuuuuummmy… that patience is not something I was blessed with. But I enjoy learning and I love to watch and guide the boys in their discoveries. It’s a thrill when they get caught up in a project I’ve set (or even one I’ve passed on from their teachers), and it’s great exercise for my brain to create the projects while they are asleep.

So, mainly for the sake of posterity, but also because I have been totally amazed by how many things capture their interest and how much they can do… here is a list of just some of the things we have fit into the first 7 weeks of lockdown…
1) Chalk. Walking around the neighbourhood is the most exercise most of us get these days, but I find it hard to walk for the sake of walking. A destination helps, and making that the home of one of their friends helps them stay connected. So we walk there, we leave chalk messages or trails and we walk home again. It’s made even more exciting by the prospect of friends reciprocating a few days later!
2) Backyard play. Jon made the boys a swingball set and I bought them a plastic baseball bat. They have rediscovered their climber / slide and when the oven arrived in a huge new box, they extended their fort and play who-knows-what outside happily for 30-60 minutes every couple of days. Sometimes they borrow a pair of scissors to trim the fir trees. Sometimes they take the lid off the sand box – they particularly enjoyed the first few weeks when it was very wet and they could build dams and rivers and occasionally Mummy appeared to teach them about strong foundations and adding weirs for overflow.
3) Sometimes we walk up to the trainline and scream for the duration of a passing train. The boys are much louder than a modern engine, so the neighbours probably hate this one, but sometimes everyone needs to drop the ‘indoor voice’ requirement for a minute!
4) Mapping project. I printed a googe map of the ‘hood and set Sebastian a project to mark lots of houses and shops we know. Then he had some extra challenges – like visiting a number of places without doubling back on himself, or only turning right (or going straight on). We tested them out on our neighbourhood walks and talked about the effect of these extra rules.
5) Biking. I’d like to say Dominic has taken advantage of this extra parent time to ditch the training wheels, but instead he’s regressed to a trike, which he now confidently rides around the whole area, while his bike (with training wheels still attached) languishes forgotten. Mummy and Daddy might have to figure out some impetus for that particular challenge.
1) Screen time rules have been slightly relaxed, but mostly for ‘educational’ activities and keeping in contact with friends. Both boys have taken to Messenger Kids and WhatsApp calls with their friends, and enjoy exploring a few websites / apps with games on. Dominic will play any amount of and the Monkey Preschool app, Sebastian uses Starfall as well as the work set by his teacher. They have both watched countless hours of someone else playing Luigi’s Mansion on youtube. It doesn’t seem to occur to either of them to ask us to buy the game for them to play themselves!
2) We got a couple of extra board games for Easter (Robot Turtles and Zombie Kids Evolution). The latter in particular is at a perfect level for them to BOTH play, with or without us. We are also required to play several games a day of these, Monopoly, Game of Life, Rat Race, Cribbage, Snakes and Ladders, Scrabble, Memory… etc I love board games, but even I find this level of playing exhausting, and very few of the games appeal to both boys so which adult is involved has to play two different games simultaneously. It appears to be a huge way that Sebastian measures love though, and although the boys are handling the lockdown very well, it’s important to me to give him that extra attention and recognition when I can.
3) Tapping into this love of board games, I have discovered Sebastian loves doing projects to discover more about them and about the strategies behind them. So I’ve written him worksheets guiding him through complicated probability questions and tactics (likelihood of dice rolls, rates of return on investment, different incomes for different career choices, etc). They are one of our favourite parts of homeschool.
4) School started sending work for the boys a few weeks in. Their reading is on, which means it’s on a screen. Sebastian quickly started to complain of sore eyes and headaches, so we’ve stopped that in favour of reading real books. Luckily I managed to get a few books at his level at Walmart and we have plenty of books that are a little easier that he can dip into. It means his teacher isn’t ‘witnessing’ his reading, but I am happy that it’s happening at least to some extent. Dominic is getting on OK on epic, probably because his books are a lot shorter so it’s less intensive reading time.
S gets Math homework on screen too, through Math is a subject he finds easy, so he sails through the set work and can occasionally be persuaded to try something at a higher level. D’s math is games and counting – and he’s teaching himself multiplication because the ‘game’ he is desperate to play is in the Grade 3 section of Starfall.
S’s main language project is writing a Mr Men story, which he’s enjoying and doing a great job on. Dominic gets poem comprehensions each week and some fun ‘science’ experiments, which we generally all do together. Yesterday’s ‘mystery ice cubes’ (I’d frozen tiny toys into each one) was a real hit.
5) Science is popular with both boys and once a week we drag Daddy out of the basement to ‘teach’ for an hour or so, usually using one of the Science Kits the kids have had for months but rarely had the time to dig into. This lesson gives Mummy a desperately-needed hour off supervision duty and the three of them enjoy making a mess much more than I do. Glow-in-the-dark slime, ‘alien blood’, bouncy balls and bath bombs are just a few of their creations. With me, they have baked brownies, made beautiful birthday cards for Daddy and for a few friends and this week we melted some discounted Easter chocolate and made heart-shaped chocolates with homemade jelly filling.
6) On the subject of unused gifts, we’ve been collecting the boys’ Little Passports envelopes unopned on a shelf for a few months. Just before Lockdown, I was about to cancel their subscriptions, but we are finally finding time to focus on them now. Dominic’s most recent included a velcro weather chart, which he’s enjoying updating each day. April is the best month for weather charting in Toronto, becuase it’s the most varied. We often use all the symbols over the course of one afternoon!
7) There’s plenty of play too. The kids like to build forts on the furniture, build lego, play with their toys, chase each other around and just generally let their creativity flow. It’s a bit of a break for me, although I’m unable to completely relax because I am always on the lookout for declining tempers and imminent battles, but at least it allows me to clean or check on a friend or neighbour. At weekends, Jon and I try to give the boys an hour or two apart, but otherwise they are togehter 100% of the time and it occasionally results in drama. I am grateful, though, that for the most part it seems to have cemented their friendship and support for each other.

And what about mental health? So many of my parent-friends are reporting real dramas from their kids, that I have to take my hat off to our boys, who have mostly slid into the ‘new normal’ as if they’ve been doing it all their lives. Their energy / enthusiasm for homeschool comes and goes, and they are slightly more clingy than usual, with Sebastian’s board game habits at least partly just an excuse for parent attention and Dominic frequently deciding he is a baby sloth (and in need of carrying around). But for the most part they are on a fairly even keel. We’re being careful with their emotions and have worked hard to smooth the transition and downplay any fears about the world outside, but I feel they deserve a lot of the credit for even tempers and willingness to adapt.
For me, that constant sense of being ‘on duty’ is the hardest thing about parenting, it always was. A close second is finding the balance between the loving, supportive side of parenting and the disciplining, challenging side. Lockdown has intensified both problems. This week, they haven’t felt like schoolwork of any kind. It’s been hard to know when to insist they at least try and when to let them kick back and relax. There is no universal answer and each situation has to be taken on its merits, but that is the challenge and at the moment it crops up 100 times per day.
I miss my friends and the chance to kick back, but I am trying to have calls and even the occasional distance-chat, and I miss the gym but the boys and I do a dance party every day and even when they lie around, I jump about like a fool.
For the most part, then, I’m doing OK. Jon said the other day that I was “strangely calm” about all this, and I am. I can’t do anything about the bigger picture and I am doing all I can about the smaller one. I am luckier, in so many ways, than so many others and focussing on that helps. My life has changed but it also hasn’t, and not all the changes are for the worse.

And the weather is getting warmer, which always improves my mood.

(I’ll try to add pictures later; writing this post over the last 2 days has completely used anything approaching spare time I don’t have.)



A Note On Privilege
Privilege is a funny thing. Many people seem to react to their own privilege with either guilt or defensiveness; to me, acknowledging my privilege isn’t to apoligse for it or to dismiss the struggles that we faced and face or that fact that lots of people have it better than we do. To me, noting my own fortune brings only a sense of duty – to acknowledge it, and to attempt to improve things for those who weren’t dealt a flush.

Privilege is a lot like playing cards actually. If you get dealt a crappy hand, you can still win. You need a lot of work and skill and a little bit of luck along the way, but you can still win. And if you’re dealt a great hand you can still fluff it up and end up losing the game through bad luck or bad judgement. But the odds are stacked in favour of the guy with the better hand, and to watch a single round and then claim he won purely through his own skill would be missing the part the deal had to play. The relative skill of two players simply cannot be properly measured if they are consistently dealt unbalanced cards.

In cards, the deals are balanced by playing multiple rounds and by careful shuffling. In life, if we only get one round and we cannot guard against the imbalance of luck, we should instead guard against the error of judging a man by the cards he is dealt.


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I never thought I’d renew this blog in circumstances anything like this, and yet here I am posting twice in two days, on a topic that’s entered our collective consciousness so swiftly and completely. I promise not to bombard you with Covid-19 ramblings every day – if I manage to reinvigorate this blog I’ll try to keep the old emphasis on fiction first and foremost, because I for one need the escapism!

But I’ve been thinking something about the disease and this seems as good a place as any to record those thoughts.

Covid-19 Crisis

As modern Westerners, we’re not used to large-scale crises on our own doorstep. We read about them on the news and in history books, we feel sympathy and we may even be inspired to act, but it’s hard to empathise and the actions we take almost never jeapordise our own wellbeing. We are removed, and we are safe.

This taken-for-granted sense of safety has been apparent to me twice before in my life. In 2001, I watched the USA reeling from a terrorist attack on their own shores. It was shocking and terrible for all of us, the world over, but as a Brit, I was surprised by the depth of the reaction of Americans. And then I realised – I had grown up with a constant awareness of terrorism in my community. Although I had never (mercifully) witnessed it myself, I knew every time I went into a city centre, to a concert or on a train, that there could be an IRA bomb, or at least an evacuation, and I had seen the effects on the news when they happened. I hadn’t grown up scared, but nor did I find it mind-blowing that terrorists had attacked and killed people. Americans I knew didn’t seem to have the same level of normalisation to this type of violence, so their grief and fear and shock were heightened by genuine surprise that it had happened at all.
Then in 2009, I lay down for bed on a Sunday night and felt an intense pain in my chest. I couldn’t inhale fully and we rushed to the hospital for what I think was my first trip to A&E (the ER). I received treatment, stayed overnight and was home the next day with a diagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism and the medication to make it better. On Wednesday, I got the train to work. I lasted a couple of hours, then went home and stayed away for almost 6 months. It seems crazy now that I went into work on that Wednesday, but I genuinely had no idea I could be that ill. I’d never had more than a couple of days off at a time, and I know I now had the drugs to make me better. It was several weeks before I came to terms with the fact that I was really quite ill, and probably a couple of months before it really sank in that I wasn’t immortal.
All of which is a long way of analogising what the Western world is going through at the moment. Most of us, for the first time ever, find ourselves in an actual, day-to-day, community-wide crisis. There is something we can do, but it’s completely messed up the things we took for granted – popping out for cream just because we’ve decided to have cake for dinner, sending the kids to school or taking them to the park, buying enough bread to feed the carb-monsters’ daily cravings…
We are the ones who look on and help (or don’t), we are communities where one person gets terrible news and the rest of us rally round; this is not a place where everyone gets terrible news and the capacity for rallying is severely diminished by the need to stay away. We aren’t those people who queue for bread, wear face masks in the street and celebrate finding toilet paper in the store. Those people live in the history books and in the ‘Third World’.
And yet here we are.
We are learning to live with this new normal, and we will, because we are human beings and those people have much to teach us about the human capacity for resilience in the face of ongoing, universal crisis. But let’s not expect to go to work on Wednesday, or to carry penknives in our hand luggage for a long time to come.
We’re in this together… 6 feet apart.



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FF Rerun – Oldest Surviving

An unexpected free pass today, in the form a of rerun from last February for our FF prompt. Thanks, Rochelle! Click here to read my story.


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We Don’t Have Holiday Parties…

*** Trigger Warning: This is tongue in cheek. Mostly. But if you comment with a platitude like “This too shall pass” or “Enjoy these times, they go by so fast”, I will find a trigger and pull it. Merry Christmas. ***


We don’t have holiday parties, here in the Motherhood…

…Because we’d have to bring the kids along, and that’s not the kind of party we’re talking about here.

… Because at any given time some proportion of us wouldn’t be able to drink because we were pregnant or had decided not to drink while nursing, or just didn’t want a hangover AND a child bursting our eardrums at 4am.

… Because another proportion of us wouldn’t be able to come or would be terribly late or have to leave early, because the baby needed nursing or we’d just given birth and couldn’t really walk

… Because part of the point of a holiday party is to get dressed up and we didn’t have time to shower this morning (yesterday’s was somewhat cursory too) let alone put on a nice dress, brush our hair or dig out the makeup that hadn’t been used as a marker by the preschooler

… Because getting dressed up means finding clothes that aren’t stained with bodily fluids and then keeping them in that state long enough to leave the house

… Because we saw at least part of every hour last night (and every other night since this ‘job’ began) and frankly our idea of a good time is now 150 minutes of unbroken sleep. Or a shower, (see above), or going to the washroom uninterrupted.

… Because do you have any idea how many presents there are to buy and wrap and label and distribute to friends and family members? Ain’t nobody else gonna do that if we’re partying, you know.

… Because then who’d move the ****ing elf?


We don’t have holiday parties here in the Motherhood, much like we don’t have holidays or salaries or sick days.

But yes, dear, you go ahead (to the second? third? of the month) and enjoy yourself. You’ve earned it.

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FF … or not

Sebastian turns four tomorrow, so I’ve got cakes to bake and gifts to wrap … and slime to mix (Don’t ask!). My Mum’s visiting, which is fantastic, but of course I had an ambitious idea of all the stuff we can do with her help, like making a papier mache cave for one of his presents.

And then it’s the beginning of November, so obviously I’m recovering from a cold, have a chest infection and laryngitis. Everyone’s helping out, but I’m on an enforced rest programme.

So, I’m taking a pause from a few things, including the pleasures of Friday Fiction. See you again soon!



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Remembering Catherine

Ten years ago, my best friend called me at work to share the news that our mutual friend, Catherine, had died. Catherine was suffering from depression and ultimately it killed her: she killed herself.

This month, in commemoration of her life and our loss, a group of Catherine’s University friends are making an effort of collectively walking 250 miles – roughly the distance from her home town of Bootle to our university town of Cambridge. You can track our progress and read more about the project here. I appreciate many of you sponsored me for a walk last month, but to contribute to the cause for which we are walking, you can sponsor us in aid of mental health charity the MindEd Trust if you wish

It’s a great cause, but my main reason for walking is more selfish. Walking is proven to be good for the mental and physical health, so walking is good for us as well as being good for the cause.

I’m a goal-oriented individual, so I’m naturally inclined to check off as many miles as I can, but with little feet and little brains walking alongside, that’s rarely the way it happens.

Two weekends ago, I went with the family for a long walk in the forest. We enjoyed the changing North American trees, and a low-pressure couple of hours together looking for pine cones and pretty leaf colours. Then I went back to move the car, and walked for a while alone. It was a very different experience; freer and faster, but less social.

Then last weekend, we went again. And this time, one of the youngest members of the sponsored group got his first taste of forest walking. Dominic, who only started walking at all 10 days ago, did 100 steps or so of the 2 miles total. Again, we’d have been quicker and gone further if he’d stayed on Daddy’s back, but while those few metres add nothing to the group’s total, they are some of the most special to me, along with the times we stopped to show Sebastian the difference between evergreen and deciduous trees, or took detours to hunt crickets off the main path.

For the group, this walk is about an old friend, but it is also about mental health – both that of strangers and our own. Sebastian’s been walking for almost 3 years, Dominic for less than three weeks – they are both the strongest and best reasons I can think of for walking a little less far, and getting a whole lot more out of it as a result.


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FF Rerun – Spirit Lamps

An unexpected gift from Rochelle this week, in the form of a rerun. This story includes one of my favourite characters, so I’m very happy to take a week off and bring her back to you.



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FF – Purple Heart

Thanks to Ceayr for this week’s photo, below. I’m rushing this online before running out the door, but your feedback is always welcome.


Purple Heart

Lea had never liked the mirrors in the bathroom before. Their angle made endless, shrinking reflections in her peripheral vision as she teased out what the whole family called her mane. Knots, tangles and flyaways repeating over and over into infinity.
Today she’d worn it down all day, much to Mum’s dismay. It looked dreadful, she knew that, but then she always thought it looked dreadful and now it hid something worse – the purple ring on her neck. Heart-shaped almost. Nobody better see that. And Greg Luto better never do it again. At least not somewhere so damn visible.


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So proud…

I’m going to brag now. If you don’t like Mummy brags or you simply have no interest, please look away now. I’d feel bad about it, but I’m bursting with pride over my little hero and I want to shout it from the rooftops.
This morning, I woke him early, even before his gro-clock was awake, and drove him across town to the start line before he even had breakfast to join the 4th Annual

#WALKFORSICKKIDS. Breakfast was provided at Main Camp, then we set off walking.

Chance, and a very distracting train line, meant we were towards the back of the crowd from virtually the off. Participants of all ages joined the challenge – which was to walk anything up to 20km around the streets of Toronto, with activity ‘campsites’ and the chance to catch the bus back to home base every 2.5km – but Sebastian was by far the youngest I saw not to have a stroller or wagon to ride in.
We arrived at the 2.5km Camp with the trailing pack. It was there that we first met the “marshmallow men”, two guys on bicycles who were the caboose for the group, in charge of rounding up stragglers and making sure nobody fell by the wayside. They had sticks stuck to their helmets with marshmallows skewered and ready for toasting, and candy in their pockets to revive struggling participants. I wish I’d taken a picture; they were a real highlight for us both.
I had originally intended to do 5km. Even that felt like a big challenge for a little boy. He’s had a bad cold and a bout of croup in the last two weeks. Seven days ago, it was touch and go whether he’d be able to do this walk at all. A few blocks before the 5km Campsite, the Marshmallow men caught up with us and a couple of other families, and passed out lollipops to all the small people. Our support crew – Jon and Dominic – were at the campsite to greet us. The line for the bus was long and it was clear that anyone still at the campsite wasn’t going on, but when I asked Sebastian, he was cheerful and enthusiastic … and adamant he wanted to continue.
Jon and Dominic left us to get lunch. The 2.5km from Sick Kids Hospital to Riverdale Farm were long. We saw almost no other participants, the cheerleaders had all moved further up the route and the Marshmallow Men cheerfully waited for us at a few major intersections, but I encouraged them not to abandon the rest of the field on our account. But although they were slow, they were fun. Sebastian chased pigeons in a park, we sang songs and I danced (“Mummy, stop dancing!”), we talked about everything under the sun. We were in no rush, we were enjoying a walk through our city, and occasionally a stranger would come up to ask us what it was all about, having seen crowds passing through ahead of us.
At Parliament and Carlton, Jon and Dominic spotted us from their bus home and joined in the last few hundred metres. Sebastian is a happy boy, but it’s almost impossible to get him to smile for the camera… even looking at the camera is often a push. And yet every photo from today has him beaming. At 7.5km, I called time because he had already totally exceeded expectations and I had a feeling neither the activities nor the buses back to Main Camp would be running by the time we made it to Camp 10km. I’m pretty sure Sebastian would have signed up for more if he could!
We raised nearly $800 (you can still sponsor us here if you want to increase that!). We walked almost non-stop from 9am till 1.30pm and I’ll admit, my feet ache. A woman I met on the bus back said she’d done 17,500 steps. Sebastian’s stride length must be less than half hers, so he easily topped 30,000 steps today. Most of all, we had fun, took it at our own pace and for once didn’t have to rush or bustle or hurry anywhere.
I’m grateful to all our sponsors, to our support team, and to the patient, supportive Marshmallow Men. But most of all, I’m incredibly proud of my little hero.


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