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Archive for August, 2010

The bobcat returns

Long before Heather Armstrong started writing about her new house, the crazy lady who sold her said house and the mythical bobcat that supposedly camped out in the shed, my grandmother claimed she had her own bobcat roaming the back yard.

That my grandmother thought she had a bobcat living in her yard was funny enough to warrant a blog post and I wrote a rather lengthy one about how bobcats are only known to inhabit remote spots in northern Michigan.  We don’t see them this far south.

Or at least we didn’t.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the West Michigan bobcat.

Photo credit: Emma Butler via @WZZM13

I know he doesn’t look like much, but this guy apparently bit a local teen who produced the pictures during her visit to the emergency room and was subsequently treated to a nice round of rabies shots.

So don’t mess with the bobcats. Even if you suspect them to be mythical.

Special thanks to Jessica Puchala at WZZM-13 for retweeting this story. My grandmother would have felt vindicated if we hadn’t already found out her bobcat was just an ordinary abandoned house cat without a tail.  The cat now lives comfortably with my brother and is no longer the victim of mistaken identity.

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A few years ago my mother gave me this awful little digital video camera for Christmas.  I think it may have been a doorbuster deal at some store on Black Friday, but the thing  sucked the life out of every AA battery I put into it and took really horrible videos to boot.

The first time I uploaded the videos to iPhoto, I was able to view and edit them without a problem. Shortly after that, however, some of the videos would play without audio and others would be black squares on the screen with just a soundtrack.

Since the videos were crap anyway, I wasn’t too concerned about the lost footage and they just hung out in my iPhoto library waiting for the day I decided to re-visit them, which happened to be this past weekend. I was having a little mom moment as I perused through the early years of my photo library and happened to click on one of the previous unwatchable videos.  This time it worked and I was given the gift of several short snippets of Autumn as a baby.

The most precious of these videos is the one I’m posting here. It was taken a month before her first birthday. The lighting is dim and you can’t even make out the dog sitting next to her, but this one minute absolutely broke my heart because the child in it will be heading off to kindergarten in two weeks.  And like every other mom I’m left wondering, “The hell? Where did those four years go?”

October, 2006 from noahsarc on Vimeo.

I had completely forgotten about the “ba ba ba” thing she does at the end there. Our daycare provider taught her that and we used to think it was the funniest thing. After seeing this, I can’t help but wonder how many other little things I’ve forgotten since then.

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There’s a good post over at BlogHer right now about the importance of a fat woman being able to call herself “fat.” I’m not going to summarize it in depth other than to say the author, Angie Manfredi of Fat Girl, Reading, urges us to look at the word not as an insult but as an adjective. It’s just a word and nothing more, she says.

Since this sort of goes along with my last post, I’m going to add my two pennies and say that while I agree with the sentiment, it’s a difficult one for all fat women to adopt. I think the comfortable self-acceptance that allows a woman to rightfully and accurately use the word “fat” to describe herself is born out of maturity and hard-won confidence. Not all fat women get to that place and I think those who can look at that word as just a word are in the minority.

When Autumn called me “fat” last week, it wasn’t the first time she had made a comment about my size. She made the first comment nearly a year and a half ago, referring to me as a “big lady”, and as soon as she said it I immediately thought of all the other big ladies out there who might be offended by a similar observation about their girth. Maybe I’m projecting too much of my own past angst onto those faceless obese whose feelings I didn’t want my kid to hurt, but I remember all too well how the weight of that one three letter word used to crush me. All through my childhood and into my teen years it was used as a weapon and it took a very long time for me to be able to call myself “fat” without feeling shame.

I remember one night about sixteen years ago Nathan and I were working third shift at Target with another guy named Nate (not confusing at all, right?). This was at least a year before Nathan and I started dating, and while we did indulge in a little playful flirting, he wasn’t even a blip on my radar. He was married to someone else at the time, and as I later found out, he possessed a talent for putting his foot in his mouth that nearly killed our relationship before it ever got started.

That particular night Nate, Nathan and I were sitting around a table in the break room completely punch drunk and hopped up on Mountain Dew. We were giggling like fools about who knows what when Nathan made a completely innocent comment about my weight and how he probably weighed the same as me.

The atmosphere in the room immediately changed. I stared at Nathan for a moment, pushed my chair back from the table and left the room. At that time I probably weighed 180-190 pounds, a good hundred pounds less than what I weigh now, and all 180-190 pounds of me were pissed off. Who was this guy to make comment on how much I weigh? Seriously, who does that?

My husband did, or rather the man who would one day be my husband did. For the rest of the night I gave both Nathan and Nate the silent treatment, leaving them to wonder what the hell had happened. And while the incident was only the first of many times my husband would open his mouth without thinking, he lost my trust that night and I wound up going out of my way to avoid him whenever possible.

What hurt most about what Nathan said to me was that he confirmed what people, and what men in particular, saw when they looked at me. I could look in the mirror and tell myself it wasn’t so bad because the mirror didn’t show me how the weight affected the way I moved through the world. I hid behind big hair and large, loose clothing in order to draw attention away from my flawed body, but once in awhile someone would call me out and it hurt. Whether it was a harmless comment like Nathan’s or a mean-spirited jibe meant to insult, I was forced to look at myself through someone else’s eyes and I didn’t like it.

Ironically Nathan is probably the biggest reason I now have such a healthy attitude about my size. He has seen my weight go up and down over the years and not once has he even hinted that the added pounds were a turn-off. Everything about the way he looked at me and held me indicated he found me just as attractive at 356 pounds as he did at 200 pounds, which is what I weighed when we started dating.

And when you have someone in your life who continually tells you how sexy you are, you sort of start to believe it. The trick, of course, is learning to accept the compliments.

Back when I was single, I used to joke that any man who wanted me was a man I didn’t want. Any man’s willingness to date an overweight woman was viewed as a serious character flaw. I figured they were either chubby chasers, who I found repulsive simply because they wanted their women fat, or they were hiding something like a brick-lined pit in the basement or the carcass of a dead mother drying out under a light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

I never believed a man could love me in spite of my size and that my wit, my sense of humor and my independence were the most valuable and most attractive parts of me. My husband has seen me at my worst. Clothed and unclothed, he has seen every side of me. He knows what sags, what flops and what parts of me continue to move even after I stop moving. He’s been with me through depression, frustration and various sexual droughts. I’m not always nice to him, not nearly as nice as he is to me, and yet he’s still there.

Either he’s a glutton for punishment or the dude really loves me.

And when you find that kind of love and open yourself up to it, loving yourself is so much easier.

I never really considered myself a fat advocate. To sit squarely in the camp of size-acceptance, to me, meant preaching to others that being fat is okay. I never thought being fat was okay because all I’ve ever wanted is to not be fat anymore. In every one of my fantasies in which I am a beautiful, successful woman, I am also a thin woman who can walk into any store and buy clothes off the rack.

I’ve gotten to the point where I realize I may never be thin and I’m okay with that. I’m going to have to fight with this weight for the rest of my life and the end result may never be me slipping into single-digit pants sizes. The end result may be a happier, healthier woman whose knees don’t creak every time she gets up from a chair and who can chase, and maybe even catch, her child in a game of tag.

Size-acceptance isn’t about getting others to see your beauty so much as it is opening your own eyes to it. It’s about forgetting everything you’ve ever been told about how there’s no place in this world for fat women and realizing there’s an entire universe of worth and value contained within your heart.

So yeah, I guess I am a fat advocate.

And I’m also fat.

I’ve earned the right to say it, so much so that I’m going to say it again.

I am fat.

But I am also awesome.

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Autumn has started to pay more attention to the physical differences in people.  I’ve wanted to write about this for awhile because a) she’s a girl b) she’s my girl and c) she recently called me “fat” for the first time ever.

I knew this was coming. Once Autumn was introduced to the preschool environment and a much larger pool of different shapes, sizes and ethnicities than she had ever seen before, I knew she’d eventually figure out I’m a pretty big woman.  Even though obesity has sort of become the unfortunate norm these days, I’m still the largest parent I’ve seen since we started her at the preschool.

So she called me fat. She said it matter-of-factly in a strictly observational tone and I thought, “Okay, there it is. That wasn’t so bad.”  And it really wasn’t. I told her yes, I am fat but that it’s not polite to say that to someone no matter how true it is.

I may let my kid watch too much TV and I may display my temper in front of her a little too often, but one thing I’ve made sure to never do is criticize my appearance in her presence.  For one, I don’t want to be responsible for building the foundation of an unhealthy body image.  Yes, I am a large woman but repeatedly calling myself such in front of my daughter would be just as damaging as if someone like Heidi Klum did the same thing.

The other thing is that I don’t need, nor do I desire, the kind of validation one seeks when she utters the words “I’m so fat” out loud. There’s really only one way to respond to that statement and that’s why women say it. They want someone to tell them it isn’t true.

But in my case it is true.

I was feeling pretty good about how I handled this thing and I thought the conversation with my daughter had come to its natural conclusion until she said, “Jacob told me, ‘Your mom’s not pretty’ and I got mad at him because you are pretty!”

You should have seen her face. It was as if Jacob had told her Santa Claus wasn’t real. And knowing the kind of kid this Jacob is, he most likely will be the one to detonate that bomb and destroy the innocence of his friends some day.

I have to admit it was awesome to be able see myself through my daughter’s eyes.  She thinks I’m beautiful and I couldn’t  love her more for that.  But there was also this other feeling, this little emotional punch to the gut knowing the Santa Claus killer was out there talking smack about me.  How many other kids were telling my daughter the same thing?

Still, I glared at Autumn and said, “Who cares what Jacob thinks? I certainly don’t and you shouldn’t either.”  We went on to discuss why people say hurtful things and how it shouldn’t matter as long as we feel good about who we are.

There was a part of me that knew what I was saying was crap. The ideology behind it was true enough, but I know very well what she’s in for in the years ahead.  My after-school-special postulating might work now while she’s very young, but eventually the voices of her peers will become louder than mine and she’s going to start picking herself apart.

Maybe that’s why the conversation was that much harder the second time around. Last night it came up again as I was putting Autumn to bed.  We were roughhousing a little bit and she said how some day she’ll be strong enough to flip me off her back like I do her.  I said, “You’ve got a lot more growing up to do before you’ll be able to do that,” to which she replied, “Yeah, because you’re fat.”

This time I got just a little pissed off because, hell, I’ve lost 60 pounds since October. Why can’t she notice that?

So there we were, launching into another discussion about the delicacy of making remarks about a person’s appearance.  It was rough. I found myself stopping and starting, fumbling over my words and trying not to sound like a fool as I again explained how some people might construe the world “fat” as being hurtful.

I think what was so hard about this was that I wanted to explain the negative connotations of calling someone “fat” without implying that being fat is some sort of character flaw.

Because it’s not.

Being fat is not ideal. Being fat is unhealthy. Being fat is unpleasant in many, many ways and can make life very difficult, but it’s not the hallmark of a sub-par human.

Not everyone raises their kids to believe that. I know because I’ve run into many of those kids over the years.

I have no doubt this is going to come up again, and I do hope that eventually Autumn will recognize my weight loss and see it as something positive born out of desire to improve my health rather than a desperate attempt to fit in with the soccer moms and the PTA crowd. But this may be one area in which I’m not great at communicating with her because I haven’t talked to her about the weight loss at all. I haven’t wanted to explain how being fat isn’t healthy, which in turn makes me unhealthy. She’s not a worrier by nature, but four year-olds don’t have the capacity to put things into perspective.  Their little minds are completely unboxed and their imaginations have no barriers.

Lately Autumn has taken to telling us she needs to work out. She’ll hang off the chair and do one or two push-ups before collapsing on the floor.  This irritates Nathan to no end.

“You’re four years old for cripes sake!” he says. “You don’t need to work out!”

But she sees me work out. She sees me leave and come home a hot mess from my time on the elliptical. She thinks she needs to exercise because I need to exercise. She pays attention and wants to emulate me, so I have actually taken the time to explain that grownups have to exercise because we work all day and don’t get recess anymore.

I hate having to tell her things like that. It makes me feel like the Santa Claus killer.

So how I’m going to end this is by asking for your thoughts. I think I need some other voices to chime in and I’d love to hear how others have addressed the mine field that is body image, self-esteem and teaching our daughters to respect and appreciate physical differences.  Sometimes I get the sense it’s all “kill or be killed” out there and that’s not really a world I want to send my kid out into.  Some girls are given armor and some are given ammunition.

Others are given boys.

Lucky bitches.

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When I was a kid, there was one day every year that I dreaded like none other. As it approached, the bile in my stomach would rise, my palms would sweat and I had no other wish than for the ground to open up and swallow me whole. If there was ever an antithesis to Christmas, that day was it.

Track and field day.

I do not come from athletic stock. In fact, I would bet that in the days of hunting and gathering, my ancestors were the large, lumbering folk who were frequently eaten by predators. That I am here today to tell the story of how much I loathed physical activity pretty much proves that the process of natural selection isn’t really about survival of the fittest.

Because I was not fit.

And at no time was this unfitness more gloriously showcased than during track and field day.

I really couldn’t tell you all the activities my gulag of an elementary school forced me to participate in every year. All I remember is the running. Oh, how I hated the running. I could do the long jump without humiliating myself too much and I even managed to score a third place ribbon in the soccer kick one year.

But the running, it killed me.

The sprint or the dash or whatever they called the hell that is forcing my legs to propel my body forward at unnatural speeds left me gasping like an 80 year-0ld asthmatic.  And I was always dead last. The stereotypical fat kid pulling up the rear.

I mean seriously, couldn’t they tell by looking at me that we were just wasting everybody’s time?

But no, those were the Reagan years and they took physical fitness very seriously.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just say no.  I had to participate.

In fifth grade I participated with every other fifth grader in the district in a huge track & field event at the high school. I don’t remember anything about that day. I suppose if I were to dig deep down into the recesses of my subconscious, I might be able to pull up random snippets of agony and mayhem reminiscent of a Lady Gaga video, but it’s probably best for those memories to lay dormant.

Of course this aversion to running and every other form of exercise did not serve me well in the long run and I eventually found myself weighing over 350 pounds.  Now that I have matured, dropped some of the weight and have overcome a debilitating knee injury, I am thankful to be able to do any physical activity at all. I revel in it, actually, and hope to some day incorporate running into my fitness routine.

But that problematic history with track and field day still exists, so you can imagine how I felt upon dropping Autumn off at school last Thursday and seeing these words posted next to the door as I left:

FIELD DAY WILL TAKE PLACE TODAY IN THE SOCCER FIELD NEXT TO THE SCHOOL.

I froze for a second and stared at the sign, a mixture of relief and pity brewing just underneath the uneasiness I felt at seeing the words “FIELD DAY.”

I was relieved I’d had the foresight to send Autumn to school in sneakers instead of the usual flip flops. Even though the school emails a calendar to parents every week, I don’t always read it and tend to miss things like returning books to the reading bus, which in turn leaves me driving through town on my lunch hour with two Dora books in the front seat and no idea where to actually deposit them.

The pity came from a deeper place, and as I read the sign I couldn’t help but think, “Dang, girl, your life is going to suck now. Innocence lost and all that. I have a space on the couch reserved for you.”

Don’t get me wrong, I really want nothing more than for my child to love activity. She has all this energy that lately has been funneled into driving us crazy, but I’m pretty sure she could physically excel in whatever sport tickled her fancy. It’s just that she’s my kid and that alone serves as a pretty significant handicap.  I don’t always lead by example, you know.

But get this.  The girl I picked up from school that day had a medal hanging from her neck.  Ok, so every kid wore a medal and that medal was probably purchased at the dollar store, but it was a medal nonetheless.

“What did you get that for?” I asked.

“Soccer!” she exclaimed.

Dang. Apple. Tree. Even if your skills are mediocre, it’s still awesome to see your contribution to the gene pool.

“And did you run in any races?” I asked, looking to see if that seed had been planted and taken root.

“Yeah, and I won!”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yep. And then we raced again and I won again and we raced again and I won AGAIN!”

“Wow! You’re pretty fast!”

“Yep,” she said, and though I doubted the veracity of all her claims, I did have to admire her confidence and enthusiasm.

The girl likes to run.

Thank God.

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Fool me twice

One of the best things to have come out of this blogging gig is that I’ve become friends with people I never would have known had I never started writing online. Some of these friends are other local bloggers I’ve met through our monthly meetups, but the dearest members of my online tribe tend to live several hundred miles away.

I hadn’t actually talked to Meg since our visit to Oklahoma last December. We tweet and email frequently, and maybe it’s because we’re always so connected online that we rarely feel the need to call one another. I’m there when she needs me and vice versa.

Last night Autumn and I were having dinner at McDonald’s when a notification on my phone told me Meg had responded to one of my tweets. I looked at Autumn and asked, “Do you want to send a picture to Meg?”

“Yeah!” she said so I pulled her up onto my lap, snapped the picture and sent it off in a text message to my favorite Okie.

A minute later my phone rang. It was Meg.

“Hey!” I exclaimed.

“Hi,” said Meg. “Did you just send a text?”

“Yes,” I said, “We’re just here at McDonalds and wanted to say hi.”

“Cute picture,” she said.

“Wow, you sound horrible,” I said. “Are you sick?”

“No,” she said, “I’m feeling fine. Maybe I just need to sound more enthusiastic.”

“Maybe,” I said. “You just don’t sound like yourself at all.”

“Nope, I’m fine, but I’m going to let you go now.”

And with that our conversation ended.

Wow, that was brief, I thought. Usually our phone calls are a little more lively and not so short. I shrugged it off, knowing she was nursing a recent Sea Doo injury and figured she was either not feeling well or was just being considerate of my time since we were out for dinner.

I didn’t think anything of it until later. I was still feeling a little bit embarrassed about telling her she sounded so bad. I hadn’t talked to her in months, after all, and one of the first things I say to her is that she sounds like death?

So I decided to hop onto Twitter and issue an apology.

A few minutes later I received this reply.

Oh. Ok. Clearly she wasn’t offended, but I figured she would at least know what I was talking about. Her tweet suggested otherwise so I went on to explain.

This was her reply.

I chucked, remembering Meg’s tweet from previous day about being on pain meds for her broken finger. I figured she had called back after receiving the text and, being drugged up, simply didn’t remember the conversation.

The reply I received suddenly turned the conversation into a whole different direction.

My heart quickened as I stared at those words.

Oh no.

I immediately sent Meg a direct message.

ME: “OK, Now I’m freaking out. Is your number 918-xxx-xxxx?”

MEG: “NO! Who did you talk to?! It’s 918-xxx-xxxy!”

ME: “Um, I have no idea, but someone in the 918 area code now has a picture of me and Autumn on their phone. No wonder you didn’t sound like you!”

I’d had the number wrong. Apparently when I transferred all my numbers to the new phone, I made a mistake when I keyed in her digits, all of which were correct except for the last one.

Which means I sent a picture of me and my daughter to a complete stranger.

Who then called back and gave no indication whatsoever that she didn’t know me or that I had sent the text to the wrong number.

WHO DOES THAT???

Feeling very Lucy Ricardo-ish, I went into my contacts, changed Meg’s number to the correct one and dialed her up.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t know it wasn’t you,” I said. “The Okie accent threw me!”

“That’s okay,” she said, “At first I thought you guys were messing with me. It’s nice to know I’m not going crazy!”

We laughed and fell into the familiar rhythm of friendly banter I had expected when her impostor called earlier. And here I’d been expecting a laugh at her expense. The joke had been on me the whole time.

Shortly after our phone call ended, I went back into my text history and looked at the picture I sent to the stranger. Above it was another text message I’d sent to the same number a few weeks earlier.

Oh yeah. The joke is definitely on me.

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My daughter starts kindergarten in three and a half weeks.

I told one of my co-workers this yesterday and she was all “Nuh-uh! Already?”

I know.

Our district tests for kindergarten readiness in the spring. Not all districts do this and I consider us very fortunate that ours takes kindergarten placement so seriously. Of course parents can do whatever they want regardless of what the assessment suggests, but I was hoping it would be one more tool at our disposal to help us make the best decision for our child.

Secretly, though, I was hoping the assessment would make the decision for us.

The assessment took place last March at a local church. The children were handed off to the evaluators while the parents sat in a room and learned about the assessment process and what skills they looked at when determining placement.

All the while I listened I was hoping the results would be clear. Autumn is only two weeks from the cut-off date to even be eligible to attend kindergarten this year and would most likely be the youngest in her class if that’s where we decided to put her. Nathan and I discussed it and decided that if the test was inconclusive, meaning she could go either way, we’d give her another year and put her in pre-k.

But the test wasn’t inconclusive. As I sat down with the evaluator, a very nice teacher from one of the elementary schools, I was handed a piece of paper with the evaluation results laid out in a grid. On the left side of the paper were the skills that were tested; fine motor, gross motor, language, reasoning and whatnot. The top of the grid broke down how well the child tested in each category and the teacher pointed out where the child needs to be in order to handle the standard kindergarten curriculum.

Autumn tested at or above kindergarten readiness in each category, and at the bottom of the page where it asked the evaluator to note her recommendation, she had written “kindergarten.”

I was just about to issue a triumphant fist pump when the teacher lowered the whammy.

“While she did test ready for kindergarten, she would also do very well in pre-k.”

Emphasis on the very well.

The teacher went on to say that pre-k serves as an opportunity for children to continue to learn and grow before entering the big bad world of kindergarten and that Autumn would only be that much more ready to tackle elementary school if we gave her another year.

I didn’t get the sense that she was trying to push us towards pre-k, mind you. I think she was just trying to reassure us that pre-k was an option if we decided we wanted to wait a year. In the end, though, I signed the paper indicating we agreed with the initial assessment.

Of course the process wasn’t over. The assessment was on Thursday. Final placement would not be determined until we called the district the following Monday. We were given the weekend to sit and think about it, and since I happened to have a conference scheduled with Autumn’s preschool teachers in the afternoon that Monday, I decided to show them the results of the assessment and gather their input before calling the district.

Both of the teachers said they had a hard time making a recommendation. They each said Autumn is very smart but that a year in pre-k would help her become more of a leader.

“Kindergarten is not what it used to be,” said one. “Learning through play is crucial to child development and pre-k would help her build the skills she’d need to really excel in kindergarten.”

So here we had three teachers telling us Autumn was academically ready for kindergarten but that pre-k was the less risky option that would allow our child more time to be a child. It’s a practice called “red shirting” and many parents do choose to hold their children back a year. My parents did. Since my birthday is a week after Autumn’s and since Nathan and I live in the same district where I grew up, my parents were in the very same situation 34 years ago. I tested ready for kindergarten but the evaluator suggested pre-k. And so that’s where I went.

Now this is the part where being a parent sucks because these kinds of decisions are the ones that have the potential to have repercussions years down the line. Will she fall behind academically because we pushed her before she’s ready? Will she be that much more immature than her peers? Did we take away her childhood a little too early?

And, of course, will she hate us because she’ll be the last of her friends to earn her driver’s license?

I really wanted this to feel right. No matter what we chose, I wanted to know we’d made the best decision for our child. But it just wasn’t happening. No matter which way we went, there was an even balance of pros and cons that left me with a nauseating sense of uncertainty.

This is my child. My one and only child. I don’t want to make the wrong decision.

On the other hand, I also don’t want to play it too safe. I don’t want to limit her potential and I do want to challenge her.

I was not challenged. Even now, when faced with a challenge, I tend to look around it rather than through it. I procrastinate. I defer. I’m passive and a little bit lazy.

Would any of that have changed if I’d not gone to pre-k? Who knows? I’m not saying my parents made the wrong decision. They made the best decision with the information they had at the time. But I know my parents. They are not risk-takers. They never have been.

So maybe it was with a little bit of defiance that I signed that paper and later called the district indicating our desire for kindergarten placement. Both Nathan and I are prepared to give her that little bit of a push neither of us ever received.

I’ve had five months to think about this decision, and as we get closer to the start of the school year, my doubts have started to dissipate a little. I don’t think I’ll feel entirely comfortable until we’re on the other side of this first year, but even then I may still wonder if we did the right thing.

Our little home is in for some big changes within the next few weeks. It’s going to be an interesting transition and I have no doubt I’ll spend that first day of school weeping at my desk and wondering how this girl

turned into this girl.

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