The birth adventure: Girl Power Edition

The birth of my niece was one of the best days of my entire life. She was the first baby I ever caught. How lucky am I? Every year on her birthday I’ll remember how she was the first, and she is truly perfect.

It was such a surreal experience it has been very difficult to encapsulate, I still don’t think I did it justice with these words, but nonetheless, here is my best crack at her birth story. The story of the night Faye was born. The night life began anew.

 

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Dear Faye,

Your birth was the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed. That might sound like an exaggeration but I can promise you that it’s not. I have stood and marveled at the Taj Mahal, walked through ancient vine covered temples in Cambodia, seen cities lit up in the valley below from a quiet place on a mountain, and run my hand through Caribbean water so blue it hardly seems real. And your birth beat them all.

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I hope one day, as you read this, that you remember how special you are. I hope you feel in your heart how much your family loves you. I love you so much it scares me that anything would ever make you sad, or hurt, or angry. Your mom, my sister, grew you in her belly and read your older brother books about what it would be like to have a little sister. We were all worried he would be upset at your arrival but in a testament to your sweetness, he was obsessed with you from the time you were a little baby. Even now, he hugs and kisses you all the time, calling you his Faye Faye, inviting you everywhere he goes. He tries to hand you toys he knows were meant for you. When you’re all dressed up he says you look like a princess. I think, Faye, that you are love personified. You are so sweet, you smile endlessly, you snuggle into your mom’s arms and sigh your little baby sighs. You have the best head of hair- since day one!- that we all love to fuss with. You are a miracle. I know, because I caught you in my arms the night you were born. I thought you might like to hear the story of how it all happened, so, here it is:
You were born in the cool month of October, late at night, three days before Halloween. Your Dad called me that morning, just as he had when it was time for Wayland to be born, and told me “today is the day”. I asked if he was sure and he said, “I’m not. Shan is.” I was so excited! We all were. When your brother was born we all had to stick it out for hours at the hospital since your mom’s water broke early. But with you, everything was going according to plan, except for the fact that even though your mom was in labor with you Wayland was demanding her full attention. She had planned to labor mostly at home, but he was climbing all over her, saying “Mama, Mama” while she groaned and smiled at him through gritted teeth. The hospital, I realized, was the only place she could probably relax. So, Grandad and Grammy K took Wayland out for ice cream to distract him while your Mom, Dad and I made sure everything was packed in the hospital bag and ready to go. Momo and Aunt Mez had planned to spend the night with your brother, and after laboring at home for awhile you mom’s contractions started coming on more quickly. We left for the hospital as the sun was setting, chattering in the car to help take your mom’s mind off the pain and guessing what time you’d be born as we drove down Napoleon Avenue. We called the midwife, our favorite, Kate, and she told us she’d meet us at the hospital. I had ordered a shirt that said “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” when I found out you were going to be a girl. It’s an old midwives shirt from the 1970s and I had been saving it in my drawer, looking at it and smiling for months, waiting for the day I’d get to rock it at your birth. I didn’t want to “ruin it,” which makes me scoff now, because in a matter of hours there would be birth fluid all over it. I had on a flowery skirt that I’ll never get rid of because it’s the skirt I caught you in- and Birkenstock sandals. Before I left my house I had packed snacks and supplies I thought your mom might need, and when we got to the hospital and checked in everything started to feel surreal.
Kate met us in triage and we got checked in. Your mom needed an IV because she had bled so much during Wayland’s birth, and they thought she might again. They wanted to give her Pitocin after you were born to contract her uterus and stop any profuse bleeding. She would bleed profusely anyway, but we’ll get to that. The nurse who did the IV couldn’t stick your mom’s veins anywhere other than her inner elbow, the only place your mom requested the IV not go. But everything was so exciting she didn’t even care, we joked and laughed through the multiple sticks of the needle, and with the IV port finally in place we started to get into the swing of laboring around the room.
As your parents worked together to bring you into the world, I smiled from the doorway of the birthing suite, happy that they’d found each other. Your parents are an awesome couple- they truly understand and don’t try to change each other- they appreciate how much the other does and the unique skills they both bring to the relationship. I love them and was thinking about how excited and nervous they must have been in those moments, hugging each other as your mom laughed between contractions remembering your Dad’s frazzled first few minutes at the hospital when he had forgotten all the supplies they’d brought in the car in all the excitement and nerves. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned around to Kate the midwife beckoning me into the room next door. I followed, unsure of what she needed to talk to me in private about. One thing about me that you probably already know: I’m a bit of an alarmist and a worry wart, so I immediately started creating scenarios in my brain that something was going horribly wrong and we were going to have to approach your parents about it together to break some tough news about a C-section, a test result, a slow heartbeat.
“Hey,” she whispered to me in the dark, “do you want to catch the baby?”
“ME!?,” I blurted out, “CATCH…THE…BABY?! BY MYSELF?!”
Of all the things she wanted to talk to me privately in a dark room about, this was not what I thought she’d say.
“Yes,” she laughed back at me. “You can do it! It’s the easiest part of the whole birth usually. I’ll talk you through it. I just needed to know if I should get you some gloves.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I replied nervously, “I…totally will, I’d love to. That would be…”
“Great!” She said, walking out of the room, “I’m gonna go finish my charting, so hang with your sister, but wait…let me see your hands.”
I held my hands out in front of me, looking at them differently than I had just seconds prior. These hands were about to deliver a baby, these hands were about to deliver my own niece. These hands were about to do the most important thing they had ever done.
“Mmmm ‘bout a six I’d say,” she squinted at my hands, “Cool.”
She made her way off down the hallway, relaxed as ever, as I stood in the dark room, totally shocked that I’d just been offered this opportunity. You see, Faye, I was taking my prerequisites to go back to school for midwifery. I was signed up for a doula training in the spring, and I’d read a lot of birth books, but no one had ever just nonchalantly offered to let me deliver a perfect human child into the world, from the body of my own beloved sister no less. I had seen a few births, but I’d never been part of one.
I slowly walked out of the room and settled back into the doorway.
“Holy shit.” I kept thinking, “This is going to change my entire life.”
It did. Your birth changed my life; it changed all of our lives for the infinitely better. I looked at your mom and dad again, holding each others’ arms, your Dad intermittently kissing your mom’s head and shoulders. Your mom smiling between contractions, knowing as they intensified it meant she was one contraction closer to meeting her daughter. It was surreal. You are a miracle.
Your brother’s birth was long and arduous and action packed. It seemed at points that every minute was a hour and every hour a lifetime waiting for him to drop, but with you, your mom was in pain, but making jokes almost the whole time that were actually really funny. We played music as she sat in the tub, with the lights all the way down, navigating through her contractions without medication or intervention, just like she wanted. I don’t know what birth will be like by the time you read this, my Faye, but I hope a birth like yours is the norm, because every minute was beautiful. I sat on the edge of the tub and watched your dad stroke your mom’s hair. She inhaled sharply when contractions came on, and exhaled slowly as they left her. Kate the midwife was in and out of the room, working on charting, coming in to chat and check your mom’s progress, and just generally being the best. She told us about her band to take your mom’s mind off the pain, we discussed what bands were classified as ska (a genre your mom was very passionate about in middle and high school), and your mom told us about all the food and wine she planned to have once you were out of her belly and in her arms. No oysters or cocktails in a town like New Orleans is hard, Faye, but your mom knew you were worth it.
And so the minutes turned to hours and the tub turned to the birthing stool, and the toilet, and the birthing bed. Your mom moved to each new place, taking her sharp inhales with her. The dance of labor is an interesting phenomenon. Women in labor without intervention move how their bodies tell them to move and oftentimes that can look like hips swinging about in the shower, moving on hands and knees to make space for the baby to drop on the bed, or perfect stillness in the bathtub where eyes squinting shut and the body tensing up tell us on the outside when the pain wave has crashed onto the shore of the laboring mother. We waited patiently for the dance of labor to turn to transition, when the jokes stop, and the business of bringing you earthside would really begin.
Around 10:30 pm, it happened while your mom was sitting on the birthing stool with her arms on the bed. Transition began and your mom’s mood started to plummet. Transition is when women start to doubt that they can give birth at all. They’ve been in labor for hours, their body is tired, their mind is clouded, and they need encouragement to keep going. Kate asked if your mom had eaten anything, she said no through huffs and that she didn’t want anything either, but Kate knew your mom’s energy was depleted and she needed something STAT. “I have nut butter!” I screamed. One of the few supplies I had brought was packets of Justin’s almond butters, which I ate a lot before workouts. “Perfect,” Kate said, “easy to eat, get her one.” I will never forget squeezing that vanilla almond butter into your mom’s mouth straight from the packet. Even in her transitional labor pain, your mom and I made eye contact and cracked up. “Wow,” she said through giggles, “This really is the perfect snack. Thanks, Ern!” She bit the packet and dragged her teeth along the outside to get the last bits and we laughed again. I would feed her another packet of nut butter before this night was over, right after you were born, and it would be just as funny as the first time.
With some healthy fats and calories in her, your mom started to perk up, sipping water and saying she felt ready to push. We called for the nurse to get the supply cart, and as it was wheeled in Kate handed me my size six gloves.
“Here ya go,” she said, “try and keep them as sterile as possible.”
“No problem, of course,” I said, having no idea how to keep gloves sterile.
Your mom didn’t really want to move much, so she stayed where she was, alternating between sitting on the birthing stool and standing, bent over, with her forearms on the bed. Kate assembled everything around her, laying out absorbent pads and arranging towels and tools in easy to reach places, all the while encouraging your mom. She’s an amazing midwife. Turning to the nurse she asked if the Pitocin was in place for after the birth to stop the uterine contractions and prevent your mom from excessive bleeding.
“Yep,” the nurse said, “it’s right…wait, where’s her port?”
In the throes of bathtub and toilet and bed and stool and chair labor, the IV port had fallen out of your mom’s arm. There was nowhere to put the Pitocin. Kate gave your mom two options, she could get stuck again to put in a new port and get Pitocin, or Kate could give her a pill that did the same thing but would make her hot and itchy. Your mom chose the pill option, she was ready for a few icky side effects if it meant she could push you out now.
“Alright, let’s push!” Kate announced. We were now crouched behind your mom, your Dad was holding her, trying to peek around to see what was going on where we were. If he got too far away, your mom pulled him back to her, gritting through her teeth that he was NOT to move from that spot.
She pushed, and there was some blood and fluid. She pushed, and there was more blood and fluid. She pushed once more, and there was poop. Your mom pooped right on my glove. It plopped right onto my gloved hand during the third push, following the comedy rule of threes. I still laugh when I think about it. I looked at Kate, she looked back at me. Wordlessly, I wiped my hand on the absorbent pad, transferring the poop onto the pad and off of my glove. Then, I looked back to Kate. She nodded, “Perfect,” she laughed. So much for keeping my gloves sterile.
With the next big push, your head emerged and Faye, you were en caul! Babies born en caul (in their amniotic sacs) are rare and beautiful. They’re good luck babies, extra special blessings, perfect displays of the miracle of nature; you, my little love, are all of those things. You were covered in a silvery film, perfectly encased in what had helped grow you on the inside, emerging now on the outside, earthside. Kate and I gasped and announced what was happening to your parents. Once more, your Dad tried to get a glimpse and after craning his neck to see, your mom pulled him back down to her. She was ready to push again and needed everyone in their places.
Pushing is hard work, and as your mom struggled to muster the strength to bear down as a contraction hit, the amniotic sac burst with the pressure and covered my “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” shirt in ammonia tinged, yellow-white amniotic fluid. My shirt was ruined but it was such a message from the universe: the strength of your mother, pushing you out of her body where she had grown you for months from a bundle of cells to a full fledged human girl. The burst of fluid was a testament to the power of your little body wiggling and dropping downward, ready to fill your lungs with air and scream that you were here. The trust of the midwife to allow the process to happen naturally and to turn over the most special, life affirming part of it to me, never underestimating me for a moment. And then there was me, nervous but determined to do right by you and your mom, to catch you in my arms, be the first hands to ever hold you, and help my sister deliver you, my niece, into the sacred sisterhood of women. It was the circle of life and the wonder of women. We were women ready to hear you roar.
With a newly wet ensemble and my poopy gloves, I was starting to feel like maybe I had no idea what I was doing but Kate assured me if she were the one getting ready to catch her scrubs would look the same. I sighed, and hoped the rest of the process would feel more intuitive. Your mom pushed and out came the top of your head, covered in thick dark hair.
“She a brunette!” I squealed, “A Kelley girl!” Kate rested her hand on your little head, encouraging your mom to take a deep breath and get ready for the next push. She turned to me and asked, “You ready?”
“I don’t feel like I’ll ever really be ready but yeah I’m ready,” I said back, being honest, feeling scared and excited.
Your mom groaned through gritted teeth and pushed again. Out came your whole head.
“Oh my gosh!” I said, “she’s beautiful!” I looked up at your dad, seeing him cry for the second time ever. The first time was at Wayland’s birth. It takes a lot to make your dad cry, but you two are the best things in his life, so you make it look easy.
I looked at your hazy eyed Dad and then back at your perfect little head resting in my glove and started to cry too. I tried to be tough and hold back my tears, going into midwife mode, but this was too beautiful, so I listened to Kate’s instructions and just let the tears roll down my cheeks, disappearing into the wetness of my birth covered shirt as they dropped from my chin. Your shoulders came, and then, with the next push, your mom delivered you, standing up. I caught you, kneeling behind her, and you were slippery and cheesy and perfect. Your mom turned around to reach for you and I tried to hand you to her around the side of her leg.
“No, no,” Kate laughed and sighed, “through her legs, she’s still attached to the cord!” Your mom’s legs were shaking as she took you in her arms. Everyone was crying. She handed you to your Dad, the first person to ever really hold you and take you in. “Ten fingers”, he said. “Ten toes. She’s so cute. She’s perfect.”
At this point, there was blood everywhere, Faye. Your birth was beautiful to be sure, but it was messy. Crime scene messy. Your mom had blood dripping down her legs, and that was the first moment I looked around and saw just how much blood she had lost. There was blood on the birthing stool, on the bed, on my arms and hands, on the absorbent pads, some of which had absorbed so much that the blood was now trickling off the sides of them onto the floor.
“Is this a normal amount of blood? It seems like a lot,” your Dad asked Kate.
“Yeah, yeah, she’s fine. It’s gonna be fine,” she answered. Your Dad smiled and looked back down at his perfect new baby while Kate turned to me and gave me the this-is-actually-a- shitload-of-blood-SOS-we-gotta-save-your-sister-look. I started cleaning up the blood on the floor and putting it into the biohazard bins so it wouldn’t freak your mom out while Kate got to work stopping the bleeding and delivering the placenta. Your mom took the pill the nurse gave her to stop her postpartum hemorrhage and laid back on the bed while Kate pressed on her uterus, waiting for the placenta to make its way out. Once it was delivered and placed into the cooler for the placenta encapsulation ladies to pick up and your mom had stopped bleeding profusely, I fed her another nut butter and felt like the situation was under control and I could really take a look at you.

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Faye, you were perfect. Down to your little toenails and soft downy little eyebrows, you were beautiful. One thing about your Grandad is that he hates to be left out of the action. When your mom’s labor had begun and we’d first arrived at the hospital I begun to receive texts that read “UPDATES??????” About every half hour while your mom sighed and swayed and groaned and exhaled. I’d texted back probably three of the forty seven times he texted me, but this time I got to make The Call. I told your grandparents who were fidgeting in anticipation in the hospital waiting room that they had an absolutely perfect granddaughter, but would they mind going to Wendy’s because their daughter wanted a cheeseburger really badly, and a frosty too.
“Anything for my girl!” Your grandad yelled into the phone, followed by one of his famous yelps of joy and he and MoMo hustled off to Wendy’s together. They returned, handing your mom a bag of greasy fast food she had never deserved more. Your mom held you in her right arm, and ate a cheeseburger with her left. What a broad! We all marveled at her. She was pale from the blood loss, but “nothing a cheeseburger can’t fix,” announced Kate, walking into the room to check on us. Everything was perfect, your Grandad said, looking at you in your mom’s arms as she sat in bed next to your Dad, all of you together at last. “Everything is perfect.”
It’s been almost a year since you were born, Faye. You’re eleven months old with a Faye-esta themed birthday party in two weeks as I finish writing this. It’s taken me all year. Your birth affirmed a lot of things for me. Your subsequent eleven months of giggles, smiles and cries have affirmed even more. Since the beginning of time women have helped other women give birth in a sacred act of sisterhood that binds us all together. Birth stories are our war stories and now I can say not only have I gone into battle with my sister twice, I’ve helped her win the battle with my own hands. I caught you in my arms, Faye. I’ll never forget how slippery you were. I’ll never forget how easily the gasp left my lungs when I saw you en caul, how my mind cleared when it came time for me to pull you out of your mom during the final push, and how my heart opened up instantaneously to make room to unconditionally love you for the rest of my life. Your birth was the most exciting night of my life, and the morning after, when I woke up, my hair still in the braid it had been in the night you were born, I had never felt such peace. I knew, a few blocks away, you were sleeping soundly in the pink blanket your mom had picked for your hospital bag. I knew, in a few hours, your family who waited for you and was so ready to love you and watch you grow would fill that hospital room with laughter and happy tears and camera flashes. I made myself a pot of coffee, put on my favorite overalls, and sat with my legs folded on the couch and my eyes closed reliving that night.
As I walked down the street to the hospital on that cool October morning to go see you again, feeling a little bit like a real deal midwife, I saw a feather on the sidewalk. Your Aunt Mez told me when you find a feather on the way to where you’re going that “you’re on the right path”. I knew, in that moment, that I was. I felt the same heart opening feeling that rushed over me the night before as I’d crouched behind your mom, ready for you to enter our lives and never leave. When your brother was born I realized how much my aunts loved me and always had. That love happened all over again when you were born and hasn’t stopped for a second. I don’t think you’ll ever know how much the three of us love you until you’re an aunt yourself, but when your Aunt Mez and Aunt Cez and I stood around you, sleeping in your moms arms, I again felt the bond of family and sisterhood, and knew you’d get to feel it one day too when Aunt Mez looked up at us and said with a smile, “Kelley girls rule.”
“Yeah we do,” your Aunt Cez agreed, stroking your little baby hairs with her fingers, “and now there’s one more.”
You’re our girl, Faye. I wished for you. I love your brother, he’s the most wonderful, sweetest boy, but when we found out you were a girl I was seriously over the moon. Girls rule, as you know. There is so much I want to teach you and show you about being a girl in the world and yet, I have no idea if I’m doing it right. I want to help make you unstoppable, confident, and strong. I want you to know that you are capable of anything.
You are almost one and already take no shit from anyone, including your older brother. You are sweet as can be until someone crosses you at which point you let them know they have wronged you and demand reparations. I say it’s the Scorpio in you, but really, it’s the Kelley girl. Your mom is assertive and magnetic, funny and confident. I am driven, capable, and kind. Your Aunt Mez is philosophical and sweet, stubborn, but nurturing. Your Aunt Cez is independent, adventurous, beautiful and brilliant. Your Momo is a trailblazer, a force to be reckoned with, and a one-of-a-kind woman who has raised four daughters to be a veritable coven of women warriors. In short, you don’t mess with the Kelley girls. On your Dad’s side you have your Grammy Sally who is an incredible woman with insights on just about anything you can think of. She has a quiet strength I admire and she loves you fiercely. Your Aunt Sarah is brave, outspoken woman navigating what is traditionally a man’s world with courage. Her daughter, your cousin Ada is sweet and sassy. You even got a bonus grandma, Grammy Kerry who has an easy way about her that disguises the true grit and fortitude that give her a fiery spirit. We all bring different things to the table and lay them at your feet, Faye. We hope you love us, learn from us, and join with us in the circle of women that have come before you to make your place in this world.

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Of course, you have even more family, men and women alike, who adore you. Your brother is sweet and protective over you, his Faye Faye. Your dad is absolutely wrapped around your finger (though he may deny it all he likes, it’s simply the truth) and calls you Sweet Pea. Your Grandad is smitten and talks about all the places he can’t wait to take you. But for right now, you are just a baby. You have no idea how adored you are by everyone who knows you. Right now you just like to do you. You carry things around in your mouth which never fails to get a laugh, sleep best (and sometimes exclusively) when snuggled up with your parents, and will eat just about anything you can get your hands on, including dog food and markers.
I wonder who you will be as a kid, as a teenager, as a young woman. I can’t wait to see what strikes your interest and show up for soccer games or ballet recitals or karate belt ceremonies or math league championships. Whatever you choose, just know I’m all about it and super proud. I love you so very much, Faye. You light up the room with your sighs and giggles. Your cry breaks my heart. When you get frustrated and smush your face into my neck it is simultaneously the cutest and saddest thing that has ever happened. And it’s just the beginning.The night you were born is one of my happiest memories. Something tells me you’ll be the star of a lot of my happiest memories from here on out, as you grow and change and learn and make your place in the world. I’m here to help you every step of the way. We all are. You’re our girl. Whoever you become, you’ll always be our Faye Faye, your dad’s Sweet Pea, your mom’s little lady that she fought for and wished for and fell in love with at 11:21 pm on October 28, 2016. The world is a better place with you in it, Miss Faye. Happy first birthday. I love you.

Forever your family,
Aunt Erin

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Right Over Thar

What I Remember, Photo One:

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This photo was taken by a man named Vincent, who I sincerely hope is doing well, and who I feel I can safely say is doing something really extraordinary right now just because he can. Last I heard, he was studying Reiki in Japan.

This is Kate and I and a warm beer with the sun setting over the dunes of the Thar desert in Rajasthan, India. We had taken a camel safari from Jaisalmer that picked us up at the gates of the fort. Just before we left, sitting in the musty old van that would take us to the edge of town to our waiting camels, I saw a man pick up a barking dog and throw it on the ground, breaking its legs. India can really suck sometimes, but other times it’s the most magical place you’ve ever been, better than your wildest dreams.

When we got to the camel camp, they, in typical Indian fashion, took us to two neighboring villages in the desert on the way out to “get supplies”. This usually translates to people from that village rushing you to try and get you to buy some postcards, figurines, etc. and children begging you for chocolate that you don’t have while your guides gather supplies, somehow, by sitting and eating a meal with their friends. At one of the villages there was a herd of baby goats. Kate loves goats, so when she started cooing over them a man with an incredible tank top farmers tan literally picked one up and tossed it into her arms. She gingerly placed it down and we high tailed it back to our camels, cuz that village was wild.

There were two guides on our trek, both of whom proposed marriage to the two British girls we went on the overnight with. I think their names were Sophie and… Claire? Let’s say Claire. So it was Sophie, Claire, Vincent, Kate and I with two Indian guides and a little boy who lead the camels, walking along the dunes in frayed sandals.

One of my favorite memories of Vincent was what a character he is. He’ll make it into the memoir that will be lost on my hard drive one day and never published, that’s for sure! We met him with Sophie and Claire at our guest house in Jaipur. We found out the two girls were headed to Jaisalmer too and wanted to do a camel safari, so we invited Vincent to come along and he told us he’d meet us there the day of. So when the day of arrived four days later, we got in touch with him via Facebook and he met us at the Fort gates. We were supposed to leave in 40 minutes for the safari, so we were just hanging around, eating snacks and shopping in the bazar set up inside the gates, but Vincent said he needed to run some errands and he’d be back. So he dashed off, and when we saw him again, it turns out his “errands” were essentially that he needed to get into costume. He’d purchased a turban, mala beads, and a white linen outfit to trek the desert. He was, to put it simply, the most entertaining person I’ve ever talked to under the Indian stars on a little sandy blanket. And there were approximately 5 other people I talked to in that same capacity, so…

On the way out to the campsite we saw a dead decaying camel (jarring), lots of little shrubbery, and a pack of wild dogs that would follow our camels and be our companions for the night. Later on I would feed them some of my chapati, and they would become my minions, sleeping around my blanket to protect me from the dune beetles, which they’d eat or paw away. I was the Queen of the Desert Dogs. When we got to the camp, everyone hopped off their camels and immediately became five year olds as we all took turns rolling down the sand dunes. We took the iconic jumping pics, drank warm beer and “wine” (read: gin) that we’d bought from the guides sight unseen back at the fort gates, and shared stories about our travels, which always felt like a contest to me, that I’d rather not be in.

For dinner we had curry, and they made two different kinds. A mild one for the tourists, and a spicy one for the Indians. I really like spicy food, so I asked if I could have some of the spicy curry the guides were eating. They told me of course I could, but it would probably be too spicy for me because I’m not Indian and not a man. The curry was the spiciest fucking thing I’ve ever eaten, but after the comment that I couldn’t handle it because I was a woman I cleaned my plate as my mouth slowly numbed and told them I wished it was spicier. My stomach would punish me that night, and I would take my first desert shit the next morning, but hey, that’s just me bein’ me.

That night, a man came into camp and said he was there to play music. With that, he grabbed a bucket, flipped it around and started banging on it like a drum, singing a song in Hindi. We had a little fire, a full moon, and some stars, but other than that, complete darkness. I just remember laughing to myself, looking up at the stars, wondering how my life had brought me here and feeling really thankful as this man’s voice drifted over the sand dunes and into the night sky. I thought about all the desert caravans that had no doubt passed through these same little sand flecks, cooking over fires and sleeping under stars and trading spices and fabrics in new worlds.

Kate hadn’t wanted to stay overnight, and I think she still doesn’t know why we did it, but I forced her to sleep in the sand with me, and Vincent, and the two British girls we’d befriended instantly, who I’ll probably never see again, but whom I shared the warmth of a campfire with by night, the laughter that came in the morning when we woke up to sand covering us like blankets, and the strangest breakfast of stale bread and limes the following morning.

When this photo was taken, Kate and I were covered in sand. It was in the crooks of our elbows, the backs of our knees, the cracks of our butts, and dispersed through our hair. It softened our feet and made its way into all of our bags. We shared the warm beer, laughed about my desert alter ego Axl van Halen because of my choice of aviators and a tie dyed head band with my linen shirt, and, in a moment of sheer bliss said “I love you, you’re my best friend!”

Those words were something we screamed, laughed, and cried at each other throughout our travels. There were moments where it would just bubble up that we were sharing this experience together that we’d worked so hard for. Countless double shifts at work, nights of planning and booking and budgeting, long journeys on buses and trains, wrapping each others wounds, paying each others ways, fighting over Kim Kardashian’s right to privacy during her pregnancy. All these things, these moments, these memories I have now with my best friend- they’re incredible and they make me laugh to this day. This picture really sums up our trip for me for some reason. I think it’s because both of us wanted to go to India so badly. I think it was the climax of the trip for both of us. This picture was a long time coming, because I’d imagined us on camels riding through the Indian desert together, and it had finally happened, and we were at camp, and we were happy.

This felt like the right photo for the first post in this series, because for me, it’s a summation of that time in my life when there were no jobs, no bills, no rules, nowhere we had to be, we were really just being. Sure, we were beings who demanded WiFi and hated cold showers and squat toilets, but we were, to me, limitless in our opportunity for adventure, and we were (and still are!) best friends, and we were together, and that was all that mattered.

Cheers to warm beers and Indian sunsets over the desert dunes of Thar.

 

 

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What I Remember Photo Series

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Hey, maybe one person, maybe two, most likely my parents, who read this blog…

it’s me…your daughter.

I’m trying to write more, trying to be more, trying to learn myself. I think I do that best through writing. Why I publish said writing on the internet is beyond me, but here I am, at it again.

I came up with this idea, one that’s more for me than for anyone else, just to take a photo and try to remember it. Where I was, how I felt, who I was with, what I accomplished, why I snapped the photo to begin with.

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These days I feel like we take photos of everything. We’re snapping pictures of our food, our outfits #OOTD, our faces with dog filters, ourselves looking wistfully in front of a brightly colored wall. We’re running our pictures through photo apps, staying in the most picturesque air bnbs, traveling with the intent to make a fuckin’ photo docuseries on our Facebook pages, and it all just feels…weird to me.

When Kate and I traveled we took a lot of pictures. But we didn’t really run them through filters, or pose deliberately, or go somewhere just for the pics. We weren’t rollin’ like that, but I follow all these Instagram accounts and all I see is #wanderlust and #adventure and #liveyourbestlife or whatever is trending now. And don’t get me wrong, I’m really, really thrilled that things are so global and accessible and beautiful and provide such a great basis for learning and experiencing. But it just feel to me an awful lot like people are curating their personalities through their social media accounts. And there’s really nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re staying true to yourself.

Sometimes I wish that these photo editing apps I now use had been available to me when I traveled. I wish air bnb had been a thing instead of hostelworld.com. I wish I’d traveled now, when I feel I know a little more about the way things can work, but I think I learned a lot of that while traveling when I did, so who knows who or where I’d be if I packed up and left today. But I wouldn’t want to, because I’m on this medical journey toward becoming a midwife and making my boyfriend crispy strips of bacon with his coffee in the morning and Googling the best way to put my dog on a raw food diet because I’m one of those dog moms and yeah, life’s great. I’m broke, like really really broke. I’m tired all the time. I’m confused about where my life is going, nervous about all the things that can go wrong, and really overwhelmed to the point of tears, like, I don’t know, three or four times a week, but hey, it’s all relative, man.

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So my idea was, to kind of, remember the way things were. They weren’t always great. A lot of times they were really shitty. But sometimes, life would seem like this beautiful flower opening up for me, and I was sitting in the middle, surrounded by these soft colorful petals of experiences and I just felt, free. There are photos I’ve taken in really bad, dark places of my existence. There are photos in what I was sure was the best moment of my life, only to have another one beat it out later on down the line. So I just kind of want to remember, as much as I can and as honestly as I can all of the different people I have been. All of the different places I have stood. All of the different ways I’ve made my way. And I think I’ll start today.

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the birth adventure

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Anyone who follows me on any of my social media accounts knows that my sister gave birth to a perfect angel recently. His name is Wayland Robert and he is truly a triumph.

I witnessed his birth, and while it took place right in the city of New Orleans, that day and the entirety of these days have been a huge adventure. Mostly for my sister and her husband. But also for me. We have a new family member. He’s small, and wide eyed, and can’t really communicate at all yet, but he’s ours and we are all in love with him.

Wayland was born April 18, 2015 at 11:58 pm. This is his birth story, written by me, to him, to someday read. It’s really long, much like my sister’s labor, and it might not mean a whole lot to you, mystery reader, but it sure does mean a lot to me, cuz this new little blob of sweetness is my most favorite human in the world!

When we were in the birthing center for one of many appointments, this was on the wall:

Being born is important
You who have stood at the bedposts
and seen a mother on her high harvest day,
the day of the most golden of harvest moons for her.

You who have seen the new wet child
dried behind the ears,
swaddled in soft fresh garments…
You know being born is important.
You know that nothing else was ever so important to you.
You understand that the payday of love is so old,
So involved, so traced with circles of the moon,
So cunning with the secrets of the salts of the blood.
It must be older than the moon, older than salt.

-Carl Sandburg

And now, here’s this one particular birth story, that resulted in a perfect angel baby who goes by Waybob.

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Dear Wayland,

This is your birth story.

The day you were born was, up until that point, the most incredible day of my life. You know the feeling you get as a kid when you wake up and remember it’s the first day of summer vacation? That’s how I felt when I found out you were coming, except instead of just being three months of sunburns and watermelon juice and no school it was a lifetime of love for a little human I hadn’t even met yet. I remember being half asleep and feeling my phone vibrating on the bed next to me. It was your Dad calling. We both wake up early, so when I saw it was around six in the morning I thought maybe he was calling me to ask if I wanted to take the dogs on a walk with him or see if they wanted to go swim at the levee. Instead, he told me your mom’s water was broken and that they were at the hospital. You can imagine how surprised I was since it was April 18th and you weren’t due until May 3rd!

Now, let me give you a little back-story on our lives before you were born. Shannon and Nate were living on Laurel Street, just three blocks from your Uncle Leif and I who lived on Valence. As you read this, my hope for you is that you’ve grown up in that house you were first brought home to because it’s a great house. I helped your mom tile the shower we used to give you baths in, and I messed up tiling the kitchen with her so badly we had to uplift almost the entire floor. A lot of love and care went into that house with your parents imagining you running up its steps, reading in its sunlit corners, napping with your dogs on the couch, and sleepily shuffling from your bedroom to the kitchen and back for midnight snacks. They wanted you so badly, they tried for months and months to get pregnant, and when it finally happened everyone was overjoyed. Your mom told our side of the family at your Great Grammy’s 80th birthday party, and all of us were so surprised and excited when we found out you were going to be a boy on your Grandad’s birthday, December 8th.

On the day you were born, your Mom had been planning to head down the French Quarter to finish closing up her gallery, the Green Eyed Gator at 901 Chartres. I worked catty-corner at a job  managing a retail store called QUEORK, where everything is made of cork. I don’t work there anymore and there’s a good chance QUEORK is gonna blow up and be a massive multi million dollar corporation someday. If you’re reading this and QUEORK has, in fact, turned into a multinational corporation worth billions, at least you can say your Aunt Erin never sold out to the man. I was even more excited that you were being born on a day I was supposed to be at work, because it meant I got to call out, and call out I did. I rushed over to your Momo’s house, who had just gotten into town the night before to help with final prep for your arrival. She had no idea your Mom was going to have you that day, and I got to be the one to tell her. At first, she panicked because she felt like your mom wasn’t ready and must be really scared. But panic turned to joy and eventually your Momo was being her very-vivacious-yet-borderline-insane-self, rushing around the house to get ready, making me carry a huge, heavy dresser to fill with your baby clothes up the stairs of your house with your Uncle Leif, and making my job as “mom wrangler” quite difficult. You see, your Momo was SO excited to meet you that she had made your Mom really worried that she was going to be less helpful and more totally bonkers if she somehow made her way into the delivery room. Your Mom thought she just wanted your Dad there, and me on the sidelines in case she needed an extra hand. So it was my job all day to keep your Momo distracted, which I did by convincing her we needed a lasagna and some chicken soup in the freezer for your parents to eat when they got home with you, as they were sure to be hungry. I kept your Momo occupied, texting your Dad to ask about the progress your Mom was making and updating her as she cooked. Later, your Momo would completely destroy the pot of chicken soup, turning it to ashes when she left the stove on in the rush to get out of the house to the hospital to see you born. Her house smelled terrible for weeks, but you were worth it, and that story has been filed away as a family classic alongside the turkey gizzards she lit up into flames and ashes one Christmas.

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Well, the fact of the matter is, you couldn’t make up your mind. See, you’d broken her water, but after that you decided to hang out in there a little longer. But, you had to be out in 24 hours or the doctors would have to do an emergency Caesarian on your mom, which was the last thing she wanted. She had read all the books, seen all the movies, and taken a birthing class to prepare for your arrival, so a C-section was out of the question in her mind. So, after hours of walking around trying to get you to drop down and start her labor, your Mom got hooked up to a dose of Pitocin, which speeds up contractions and makes them extra painful! Normally at this point a woman begins some series of pain medication to deal with those extra hard contractions, but your Mom wanted to see you be born fully awake and didn’t want any more drugs. This should be foreshadowing for you, Waybob. The delivery room was about to turn from pleasantly pastel with mild cramping to WWE levels of pain and hardcore screaming. I arrived at the hospital around 5 pm with cookies for your nurses and a balloon for your parents. Your mom was in pretty high spirits, but when a contraction would come on, she’d need a backrub from a contraption she’d made (tennis balls wrapped in a wash cloth that I would later attempt as a memento to keep before my dog Hank ripped it to shreds). The hours passed on and we walked up and down the halls, rubbed your Mom’s back what felt like endlessly, and just generally kept asking when she could start pushing.

Your mom was being treated and watched over lovingly by midwives during her pregnancy. Our favorite midwife was Kate, because she was young and cool and funny, but when it came time for you to be born it was Esther who would deliver you. We liked all of the midwives, so we didn’t mind much, and Esther ended up being just what we needed, because your Moms spirits went from slightly in pain but still laughing to pooping, groaning pregnancy monster in excruciating pain in the span of about three hours. Esther had a very grounding, nurturing energy that most of us Kelley women lack, so she was a welcome addition to the team. When I arrived at five, I knew it was only a matter of time before your Momo peeked her head around the corner of the door, and sure enough, just an hour later, there she was in the purple shirt we had picked out for her to wear. It was then that your Mom’s contractions started to get more painful and she began laboring around the room trying to get comfortable. She labored on a chair, on the bed, back on the chair, on a squatting stool, on the toilet, standing up, in a hallway, in the bathroom leaning on the sink, back to the chair, then back to the bed, and nothing seemed to help. During all of this she was essentially drunk with pain and doing things like asking for water, and then refusing it, yelling at everyone to rub her back, then yelling at no one to rub her back. She had a lot of back pain, and the bathtub is supposed to help alleviate some of that pain due to water’s weightless tendencies, so when Esther said she could finally labor in the tub, your mom was visibly excited.

Before I came your Mom had asked me to go to Walmart to get her a black tank top to wear in the tub to cover up. She had also been concerned before your birth about your Dad and I “seeing her that way,” by which she meant, in the throws of labor, I suppose. I don’t think she had any idea just how graphic and intense labor would be, and by the time it came time to get in the tub she ripped her clothes off and climbed in naked with such determination no one thought to offer the tank top. Your mom had stopped caring about us seeing her like anything and just wanted to get you out of her uterus. She moaned and groaned in the tub. Your dad tried to gingerly climb in behind her, but slipped and fell in wearing all of his clothes. I can’t lie: it was hilarious. Your mom was in a lot of pain and nothing seemed to help. All of a sudden she was pushing down on her contractions and then she looked up at your Momo and I and said, with a tiny gasp “I think I’m going to poop! I think I’m pooping! Am I pooping!?”

She was, Waybob. She was totally pooping. Your mom was bearing down on that pain that seemed to sear all the way through her, and in the midst of it, a tiny little turdlet had popped up to the water’s surface. I quickly fished it out with a little bucket and flushed it down the toiled. “There you go, sis,” I said cheerfully, “Like it never even happened.” But then, once again, your Mom was totally pooping. I’ll be honest, she pooped way more than any of us thought she would, and your Dad is a real trooper for just sitting behind her acting like he wasn’t sitting in a bathtub of her tiny turds. He really loves your Mom.

Then it came time for your Dad to take a break, because he’d been sitting in the poopy tub for over an hour rubbing her back and attempting to help her along. Your Momo and I looked at each other and with knowing eyes, I said, “I got it,” and it was my turn to be in the poop tub. So I took off my moccasins, pulled up my dress (every time I wear it to this day I think about how I saw you be born in it), and climbed in behind your mom, trying not to fully submerge myself because I had no idea how much longer I was going to be in those clothes. Your Dad had packed a spare outfit (smart!) and went to change, emerging in pajama pants and a sweatshirt, ready to get your mom out of the tub. I’ll be frank, we all thought your Mom needed to get out of the tub, but she was in a labor blackout, and pretty much wanted to be anywhere that she was feeling the least amount of back breaking labor pain. So, in the tub we stayed. We were playing soothing music (I chose Hawaiian music, I thought it would be nice to be born to), giving her sips of water, and rubbing her back feverishly. By this time, your Momo and I started taking bets of when you’d be born. It was 7:41 when we made our first bet. Your Momo said 8:30 and I scoffed! I said closer to 10:00 was more reasonable, and we waited.

When we finally convinced your Mom to get out of the tub at 9:00, I knew I had already won the bet and was sad we hadn’t placed money on it. If you know you’re right, always wager money on it, Wayland. That’s a rule of life and an easy fifty bucks. I’m sure I’ve already won a lot of your money, and that’s because I’m a gambling gal and you shouldn’t bet against me. But back to your birth story: once your Mom was out of the tub, she felt ready to push. She had ripped out her IV like a badass bitch against the wishes of the nurses, and had put back on her robe, though she left it open because the second you were born she wanted you put right down on her chest covered in your baby cheese so she could marvel at you and let you know that she was your mom. We had Esther the midwife, a nurse named Dawn, your Dad, your Momo, and me in the room with her, all of us surrounding her on the bed and asking what she wanted us to do. All of us gathered around your mom felt so tribal and earnest, and I couldn’t help but think about all the little sister’s who had been at their older sisters’ bedsides for centuries, watching them become mothers, feeling their families and hearts grow. Esther had told her that you hadn’t dropped enough yet, so she couldn’t start pushing, which snapped me right back to reality because this meant more labor pains for your Mom, which no little sister likes to hear. While I felt concern, this new information made your Mom really mad, so she marched over to the toilet, sat on it backward, and started to work on dropping you lower and lower. “Come on baby!” she’d scream “Get out!” and so on and so forth, sniffling back tears from the pain of her labor and pooping even more tiny turdlets into the toilet this time (thank God, am I right?).

By the time you read this I will hopefully be a practicing midwife myself, so when I tell you this, please don’t judge me. Your Momo and I kept checking in with Esther to see if your Mom could push yet, and each time Esther would say, “Trust me, the sounds will change and then we will know.” Now, Esther is the kind of new age hippie witch goddess that I am normally all about. She wore tribal beads and tortoise shell glasses and had a haircut like a mushroom who was way past caring about the patriarchy and I am all about that, because hopefully that’s what I look like now too. But when your big sister, one of the three people you love the most in the world is in searing pain, telling you she can’t do it anymore, pooping uncontrollably, crying on your shoulder, refusing the water she just asked for (read: going crazy), you want that pain to stop at any cost. So when she kept saying I’d know the sounds, I was getting…let’s say…frustrated. That’s a nice word for it. Your Momo, though, was pissed. She kept calling Esther “that nurse” (WTF MOM) and acting like she’d forgotten her name because your Momo has no respect for authority or people who are doing her a service and that’s just who she is and we love her anyway. But let me tell you something, Waybob, I did know the sounds when they came. Esther was right. Your Mom went from moaning and groaning between active and passive pain to full throttle animalistic guttural lion sounds. She went from sounding like she had broken both legs to sounding like she was being eaten by wolverines and set on fire. It was the most punk rock sounds you’ve ever heard, coming out of your very pretty, very nice Mommy. I will never forget the sounds. It was time to push!

Esther and Dawn helped us guide your Mom from the toilet to the bed. She leaned back and had your Dad and I each holding one leg while your Momo stood behind the bed giving her sips of water and a cold washcloth to subdue her labor fever sweats. Dawn started preparing a table full of tools for when you’d emerge, and everything started to become very surreal. Your mom’s labor pain was intense and every minute that passed she screamed louder and louder as she pushed and pushed. Your Dad and I became human stirrups as your Mom kept on pushing with the coaching of Esther, who sat in between her legs, reminding her that she could, in fact, do it, even though your Mom was getting to the point where she was certain she’d never get you out of there and that her vagina may actually have caught on fire at some point because it sure burned like it.

When she started to push, it wasn’t like the movies. In the movies, the woman pushes two or three times and then all of a sudden a baby shoots out of her hoo-ha, coming into the world crying and pink and already six months old. In real life, your Mom pushed for over an hour and it was, in a word, brutal. Push after push I thought we would see you start to come out, but you didn’t. Your mom was getting more and more tired. Your Dad and I, who were holding her legs across from each other were exchanging glances that varied between worry, concern, and impatience. We didn’t like seeing your Mom in pain, but we knew it was a productive pain with you at the end of it, so we patted her knees while your Momo changed cold wash cloths and Esther kept on coaching and applying warm towels. Then, like magic, your little tiny tip of your head appeared, which is called crowning. Your Dad and I looked at each other and looks of relief replaced those of worry, just for a second. She pushed more and more, and as you began to emerge I remember thinking, “Wow, he’s so tiny!” I was worried you were too small, and that somehow after all the checkups and big milestone appointments and ultra sounds we had missed something and you were too little to live on your own. Esther asked your Mom if she wanted to see your head with a mirror, and she said what essentially boils down to “hell no,” which was probably for the best, because that image is seared into my memory for all time.

But then your whole head came out and all I could think was “THAT JUST CAME OUT OF MY SISTER’S VAGINA.” Your head was very big- too big, it seemed, to come out of something that small. Then, she had to pass your shoulders, so Esther wiggled your little neck around, careful not to hurt you or your Mom, and with a few more big pushes, your shoulders emerged, and then it was time to get you all the way out of where you’d been growing and changing for nine months. Your Grandad, Grammy Kerry, Aunt Colleen, and Uncle Leif were waiting impatiently in the waiting room, sending me texts that said things like, “update??!?!?” and “anything!??!?” and “tell Shannon to hurry up!” and “want anything from Cane’s?”. It was almost time to let them know you had arrived, but first, Esther had one very important thing to ask your Mom:

“Do you want to reach down and take your baby?” she asked. And wordlessly, with a look of wild love mixed with newfound fears and exhaustion your Mom reached down and pulled you out of her. It was the most badass, feminist moment of my life thus far and I was so unbelievably overwhelmed by what I had just seen that I started to cry. I was endlessly proud of your Mom and so happy that you were finally here. We all loved you so much before we even saw you, but seeing you there, covered in uterus cheese and blood and other grime, I have never loved anything or anyone more. You were perfect, and you were new: a tabula rasa, a blank slate- a perfect little human being that would grow up to have wants and dreams and fears and hopes and heartaches, all of them unavoidable and all of them uniquely yours. Your life had begun, and I had watched it happen. I looked up to where your Dad was watching your Mom in her very first moments with you, and he was crying too. Turns out he had been crying since your head had come out, but I was too focused on watching you be born to even notice. Your Momo was crying too and so was your Mom. “He’s so cute,” was the first thing your Mom said about you, and it was true. But then we realized you weren’t crying.

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“Why isn’t he crying,” your Dad asked, sounding a tad (okay, a lot) panicked. “Is he okay?” Esther assured him that he was fine, but she was going to call the NICU anyway, just in case. When anyone says they’re going to call the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit “just in case,” it puts you literally 0% at ease, and so I started to worry again too. I wanted so much in that moment to hear your little cry, the first of many that you’d have throughout your life, but you were silent. And so NICU nurses rushed in and started putting little tubes down your throat, checking your vitals, wiping you off to poke you with strange things.

Your oxygen levels were low, and I could see your Dad freaking out inside as he stood over you, watching the nurses work, watching the first minutes of your life. Seeing your Dad being your Dad, doing Dad things like love and worry and panic and keep loving through it all was so beautiful, Waybob. He loves you so much. Your Dad can be hard to read sometimes, I’ve always thought that. But in the delivery room, caring tenderly for your Mom, worrying for her and for you, watching you come into the world and then watching him silently fear your little life might be over before it really started I could feel the love that he’s capable of and let me tell you something: it’s a lot, it’s endless and it’s unconditional. It was tangible in that moment, and then you started to stabilize. Your Dad got to feel calm for a second before realizing he was a new Dad again, who knew nothing but what books had told him, and it made me happy to see him smiling as you cried your first cries with your baby lungs out in the world. They had been filled with amniotic fluid- your tummy and lungs- and the nurses had worked it out of you, and you were letting the whole city of New Orleans know that you were hungry, you were tired, and you wanted your Mommy.

Your Mommy, meanwhile, had been giving birth yet again. That blobby purple alien that came after you was the placenta that you had been attached to, and I have never seen anything more primordial in my life. It looks like a big blob with veins that shoot out like a tree of life. Your Mom was being patched up, bleeding quite a lot, but really only concerned with what you were up to. She was asking how you were doing and commenting on how cute you were as she was being worked on, and then you were stable and back in her arms. She held you and said, “Hi, my baby. You’re my baby,” with more love in her voice than I’ve ever heard and that was like the movies, only better, because it was real. It was time to let everyone know, but your Momo wouldn’t leave her baby’s side. She was concerned about the amount of blood your Mom had lost in delivering you (your Mom would later pass out while sitting on the toilet attempting to pee), but I knew everything was fine, because the NICU nurses had left, and Esther was smiling, getting ready to go deliver yet another baby (she delivered four more that weekend, if I’m not mistaken).

I snapped a few photos of you covered in goo and rushed out to the waiting room where everyone was lying around, covered in Cane’s boxes and empty cups of lemonade. It was after midnight. You had been born at 11:58 pm on a Saturday night, and now it was time for everyone who had been waiting in that cold, fluorescent room to come see you. I showed them the photos I’d taken, and then excitedly we all walked back to the delivery room, where you were being weighed and measured and cooed over. Everyone couldn’t get enough of you! We took about three thousand pictures and all took turns having you grasp our fingers. Your little reflexes were why you’d grab at our outstretched limbs when we placed a finger onto your little, tiny, wrinkly hand but we took it to mean you loved us too.

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Wayland, your birth was a miracle. You are a miracle of human life. Everything you do fascinates and surprises me. Everything about you is inherently the truth. You are a simple little human right now, only concerned with breast milk and uncomfortable diapers and bouts of gas that you can’t seem to figure out. But you have your whole life ahead of you. You were born six weeks ago. I took notes in my phone the morning after about what had happened so when I wrote this down for you I wouldn’t miss a detail. I want you to know that the night you were born, there were people all over the world who couldn’t wait for your life to start. There will always be those people, Wayland. They come in all forms from family to friends to strangers who barely know you, but love you anyway. Your Mom and Dad can show you your baby outfits from Nepal and Singapore and Peru and Istanbul and the University of Buffalo. They can show you pictures of your baby shower and your boat that you love to nap in and all of the cards your Mommy got to celebrate you. You are so loved, and you always will be as long as I’m alive.

You should know how much you are wanted. You should know that now your parents need your happiness more than they need their own. They want for your successes and triumphs because every bit of love they have to give got put inside of you at 11:58 pm on April 18th, 2015 when your Mom pulled you out from her belly where she’s grown you with milkshakes and hot chocolate and grapefruits. I promise they’d been storing up love before, putting it inside of you little by little, but nothing could compare to the rush of unconditional adoration that came when we all first laid eyes on you. You are, and always will be, the Boy-o. The first one. Your aunties love you so much that sometimes it almost feels like I’m your Mom too. The word for aunt in Nepali translates to “little mother,” and that is truly how I see you. You’re like the firstborn son for all of us, and we didn’t even carry you inside of us, or make you with our great love whose presence shakes us and moves us, the way your parents did. They might love you the most, but I love you with all I’ve got too.

Your mom was really emotional after you were born. She cried a lot and felt overwhelmed. Hormones were leaving her body, making her feel teary and anxious and scared, but never once did she stop loving you. Sometimes she looks at you and just says, “He’s the best,” or “I love him so much it’s really crazy,” or “Seriously, he’s so amazing, he’s perfect, can you even believe it?” and truly, I can’t. I don’t think any of us knew how much we were capable of loving something so tiny and quiet. I don’t think your Mom knew what was in store for her when she first showed me the positive pregnancy test. I don’t think she knew how stressful getting pregnant would be, how anxious staying pregnant would make her, how scary and painful and exhausting birth would be, or how much she could love you. I don’t think she really knew that when you were born her heart would start to live outside of her body. I don’t think your Dad knew either.

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But they know now. And I know that there’s no greater feeling than knowing that just three blocks away, you’re sleeping peacefully, or smiling up at your Mom as she makes funny faces at you, or pooping on your Dad and making a fart so loud we all cheer for you. This might be the only time in your life that everyone in the room cheers for your farts, but I promise you that at the very least your Dad will always cheer, especially when they’re really loud. We love you, Wayland. You are only six weeks old right now, can you believe it? You have your whole entire life ahead of you. You’ll make good decisions and bad ones. You’ll tell your parents you love them and then go through a phase where you hate them. But don’t worry; it’s just a phase. You’ll laugh with your friends, cry over lost loves, get into colleges, and start and stop jobs. You’ll read great books, be moved by sunsets, stare across mountain ranges and rivers and out into the vast ocean. You’ll see the world, you’ll ask the big questions, you’ll fall in and out of love, you’ll lose friends and family to the great beyond, question everything you know, and you’ll figure out who you are. All of these things are coming for you, and you can’t stop them. Nobody can. But you’ll have us. We’re a rag tag group of weirdos, but we’ll be here for you through it all. One day when you’re sixteen and I catch you sneaking beers with your friends I’ll tell you if you’re ever too drunk to drive you can always call me and I won’t tell your parents. One day you’ll join the marching band and get really into anime and maybe even go through a goth stage, and I’ll listen to all of the nerdy things that excite you and love every minute of it. One day maybe I’ll watch you leave to backpack around the world like I did, or open up your own business and pursue what you love like your Mom did, or be fascinated by the stars like your Grandad. One day I’ll be watching you wait for your bride (or groom!) at the end of the aisle and get wine drunk at your wedding. One day I’ll watch you declare that you’re an atheist, or a Jew, or a Christian, or really into radical Islam (never say never). And then one day I’ll get to watch you hold your baby for the first time, because that’s the circle of life, and you’re in it now. And we’re so happy to have you.

Through your successes and failures just know that I love you. I will always love you, deeply and fully and with everything that I have. I’m one more person on your team. I watched you come into this world, quite literally, and I will watch you make it a better place. You already have just by being here. You’re going to do great things with your life, Wayland. But for right now, I’m happy to just cheer for all of your farts.

I love you, and I’m so glad you were born.

Forever your family,

Aunt Erin

June 2015

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I almost didn’t renew this blog.

But then I did.

I got an email a few months back saying my domain name for this blog was going to expire. I felt a little pang of sadness in my heart, but I deleted it.

Then I got another one.

And another one.

And a few weeks went by and this morning it tells me my domain is going to expire. And someone is going to buy it. And then my blog will be obsolete. Dead to the world. Dead to me.

There’s just something about the idea of it all that I couldn’t wrap my head around, even though I’m not traveling anymore. Not because I don’t want to. Not because I don’t dream about it all the time. It’s because I can’t afford it, and it just seems so distant from me now, like a part of myself that I’ve lived and loved, but now it’s gone, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back.

But what is it? What is lost to me?

After lots of thinking, lots of reading adventure blogs and travel books and pinning to dream vacation boards and watching my friends take off for long term travel, jet setting around the globe as I did, I’m realizing it’s that feeling of absolute freedom. Living rent free, eating Oreos for breakfast on a train, spending money on bungee jumping instead of utility bills.

I’m living a different life now, and it’s not bad. It’s actually really great. It’s just different.  I’m still on earth, I’m still quite happy, quite often. I’d actually say I’m happier than I was when I was traveling for one big reason:  I have a wonderful boyfriend who lights candles in our little house before I get home so it’s nice for me when I walk through to door and kisses me when I am snotty nosed crying and makes me tea all the time just because he knows I love it; and I have a little dog who snuggles me so hard at night I can barely move for fear of waking his little sleepy eyes to watch him crawl down to the foot of the bed, no longer my living hot water bottle. They make me feel so lucky, like nothing could ever really be that bad because I have them. Life is great, it’s just full of responsibilities.

All the time I’m writing check after check for bills I can barely pay thinking, “Who let me adult!? I can’t adult!”

But here I am. Being an adult. Paying bills. Doing my taxes tomorrow. Shit, man.

With my life as day-to-day as it is, not boring, but not as exciting to read as whirlwind around-the-world backpacking, why keep writing about it?

And I guess I don’t know why. Writing feeds my soul. I’ve always loved it. I love reading because I love writing. Reading passages that soothe my worried thoughts, bring joy to my heart, make me feel hopeful that someone I’ve never met could write something that I connect with so deeply is a gift. The written word is so special, whether on the tangible page or a webpage out in cyber space.

So I’m going to keep writing.

And I hope you’ll keep reading.

Life, no matter how you live it, is an adventure. Whether you’re reading by a fire in your home with your dog curled around your legs, writing frantically on a train careening through the Alps, stamping your passport at customs offices around the world, or just trying to pay your bills this month with a little extra thrown in for a bag of weed (ie me), it is a life- an experience- a human connection with people and places and things. And isn’t that what we are here to do? Connect to nature, to each other, to ourselves? I’ve started to loathe money, looking down my nose at it and making it just to get it all out of my life as fast as I can. I hate my dependence on it. I hate that it rules so many lives and oppresses and fills people with greed and hate and worry.

I haven’t been paid at my yoga teaching job since December. Not because they can’t afford to pay me, but because I keep forgetting to ask for my measly little paycheck that comes from guiding people through 90 minutes of yogic bliss. I claw for my paycheck at my retail job where I stress and cry and get angry and annoyed. I wait with baited breath for that money because I need it to just pay my basic needs. But it doesn’t make me happy. Money doesn’t make me happy. Selling people things they don’t need- trying to get people to consume and consume and consume so I can put food on my table with a commission check feels so awful to me. I’m horrified by the way people treat me at my job: like I don’t matter, like I have no feelings or wants or needs, like I am there to serve them and give them anything and everything they want because they PAID for it.

I’m looking for a new path. There has to be a better way. That seems to be my great journey right now and the journey of many twenty somethings like me. Why doesn’t anyone talk about how HARD your twenties are? Though I wake up in the same bed next to the same wonderful person every day (so amazing) instead of a hostel dorm bunk bed with my iPad under my pillow (v. uncomfortable) I am still on a perilous yet exciting and evolving journey in an attempt to better the path I am carving out for myself, and my little family in our little house in our big city.

I know it’s not as exciting as riding elephants and camping in the desert. But it’s just as important. And I love it more than I’ve ever loved anything else.

So I’m going to keep writing.

And I hope you’ll keep reading.

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New Orleans, I love you.

Sometimes I feel like I take New Orleans for granted.

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But I really shouldn’t, because it’s one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.

 

I remember the first time I came here I was a kid, and as we drove up and down St Charles Avenue all I could think was how haunted this city is. My sister had just gotten into Loyola University and we were all there for her orientation. Mom took us to eat beignets, have baked ham and roast beef po’ boys at Mothers, and watch the streetcar roll down past the huge mansions that lined the oak peppered streets of the Avenue. And I was completely enchanted, but worried for my older sister.

 

I was not worried that she would get mugged, or hit by a massive Hurricane (Katrina hit one week after she moved into her dorm), or even that she would just simply get diabetes from all the crawfish bread and gumbo and fried green tomatoes. No, I was worried she would get murdered by a ghost or a vampire, which I was more sure existed here than I had ever been of anything.

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That was in 2005. The year the storm hit and washed away some of New Olreans’ memories. But nothing can take the spirit of the Big Easy, and so it was only a matter of time, and a few too many lemondrop martinis on the porch of the Columns Hotel before I, too, became as enchanted with this city as my mother had been living here in the 70s, and now, as enraptured as my older sister was at her apartment on Dante and Freret.

 

I longed to be a local. I brought my friends from college for Mardi Gras. I navigated them around the French Quarter, I fed them beignets and hurricanes and daiquris. And just a year later, I could no longer keep myself from this beautiful city, and so I packed up my car and drove here, and moved into a shotgun double right next to my sister. And New Orleans was suddenly mine. And I had never felt more magic in my life.

 

Some mornings I would put on a sweater, grab my coffee and bagel, and walk down underneath the oak trees to class. The streetcar would roll by with its familiar dull roar and I had never felt more at home. Some nights I would sit on my back porch in the balmy air, letting my hair frizz with the humidity, smelling the smoke lingering on my clothes from a late night out the previous evening, and drink a glass of wine and just feel more enchanted by just the smell of the air here than I had by anything I’d known before. New Orleans is magic.

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Of course, a lot of cities have magic. Paris has a haunting beauty that mirrors that of my NOLA. Mumbai’s smells and sounds and energy are glorious and confusing and scary and beautiful. London and Dublin and Glasgow have old school bars and bookshops and teahouses that take you back in time. And even Los Angeles has it’s own mysterious glamour.

 

The magic of New Orleans comes from its age. It is old. It is worn down. It is haunted and unfortunate and wracked by America’s rampant need for consumerism and modernity. But despite Canal Street’s T Shirt shops and Bourbon Street’s sugar stained streets New Orleans maintains it’s soul. It’s like a grandma who hops on the dance floor to do the Cupid Shuffle with the kids. It’s got heart. It’s not going anywhere. It’s kicking.

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Recently I was in Charleston and every time I mentioned that I was from New Orleans I was met with a strange undercurrent of hostility. Of course Southern manners and charm decree that no one may actually outwardly express hate toward another’s town, but the constant comparisons I was met with were unnerving. Charleston is older, more historical, has more soul, a better food scene, kinder people, less crime, etc. etc. Part of me was angry, part of me was hurt, but none of me believed a word they said.

 

Don’t challenge this city. We are resilient. Still we rise, y’all. Ain’t nobody gonna take New Orleans down. Whether it’s floods, or winds, or bullets- we rebuild. Every single time. We come back. And we come back better than ever.

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I feel for the tourists who don’t know better. They come to New Orleans, stay on Bourbon Street and then tell the locals they had a good time and all, but it smells like piss and it’s so dirty. Well, I’ll tell you something- nobody that actually lives in New Orleans is drinking a hand grenade, throwing their cup into the street, and pissing on a wall. We’re at oyster happy hour talking with friends over Chenin Blanc and hot sauce. We’re at a neighbor’s boil drinking Abitas and listening to a marching band practice for Mardi Gras. I hate to be that local- the one that tells you how to be more like a local. Hey, it’s your vacation- if you want to spend all of it eating pizza and drinking sugary vodka that’s your journey, man.

 

And I know New Orleans is dirty- you try cleaning the dirt out of 200 year old cobblestones. You try pulling all the beads off of the power lines and tree branches and out of gutters. We’re doing the best we can. But sometimes, you gotta understand, we have to drop everything to grab our parasols and jump into the second line. Sometimes we don’t have time between rolling in a parade, sitting in traffic on the Westbank Expressway, and you know, occasionally day drinking all day on Sunday in our Saints jerseys. But you don’t need to cut us any slack. This is the way we like to do things. This is how it is. And this is why we have so much soul. So much beauty and tragedy and history. Because we preserve it and we even though we’ll make tweaks here and there, for the most part, we New Orleaneans don’t change. And it’s not because we don’t like change, or that we’re afraid of it. It’s simply cuz things have been pretty great here for awhile. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

 

We have voodoo, vampires, witches, and cemeteries. We have donkeys pulling carriages, drinking in the streets, homeless people masquerading as fortune-tellers (and a few legitimate ones), and parades all year. We have Voodoo Fest, Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, Creole Tomato Fest, Oyster Fest, Strawberry Fest, Po Boy Fest, and alligator cheesecakes. We have the Camellia Grille, magnolia trees, Laurel Street, and Spanish Moss.

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Living in New Orleans has been the best decision I could have made. I’m an old soul. I like a place with a heartbeat. I like a place where I can drink in the street. I like a place where the seafood is fried and comes with a side of more fried. I love New Orleans. And New Orleans loves me back. And I think we’re going to be happy together for a very long time. And even though sometimes I forget to love her and give her the respect she deserves, something always wakes me back up and brings me back to this love affair. The hum the steamboats on the Mississippi, the street musicians or street performers or Miss Ashley Traffic Tranny directing tourists in her whistle and thong. The houses, the statues, the petals of the Japanese Magnolias making me slip all over the sidewalk. The potholes and crawfish and parades. I love you, New Orleans. Don’t you ever change. 

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Classic India: Crossing the Ganges at 5 am

A lot of hilarious and crazy events took place during Kate and I’s week in Rishikesh. We took sitar lessons, I got stopped for a record number of photos with locals, the Ganges flooded (again), and we saw a man slap a cow in the face for eating his chapati. We adopted a dog for a few days with a local shop owner who named it Joy, we made friends with the man we bought water from every day to the point where when we left, he felt so sad he demanded a photo shoot and gave us free Oreos, and once again we spent way too much time drinking chai and talking about things decidedly, un-Indian.

But by far the most undeniably insane and memorable story comes from our first morning in Rishikesh, or rather, our journey there from the train station of Haridwar, when the chain of events that took place was so increasingly unbelievable and stressful the only possible time we could top it was the day Kate got bit by a dog in Jaisalmer and the resulting hospital visits and Googling of “rabies” made for one hell of a four day stay. But we’re not talking about Jaisalmer, we’re talking about Rishikesh. But to get to Rishikesh, we must first journey backward to Varanasi, where Kate and I booked an “overnight” train ride that would take us about 25 hours, in second class sleeper, to the Himalayas we so longed to gaze upon.

So, with our packs stored under our slatted bunks, we happily ate Oreos (the official snack of Kate and Erin in India) and listened to the hustle and bustle of the train car, engaging our bunk mates in talks of arranged marriages and saris and mendhi until they hopped off the train at their stop. New bunk mates joined us, angry, old, man bunk mates, and so Kate and I decided to take turns sleeping so that one of us could alert the other when our trained pulled into the station. Because here’s the thing about Indian trains- they don’t announce what the next stop is. No one tells you when to get off. And 98% of the time there’s not even any labeled signs in the train stations to tell you where you are. This meant Kate and I were (and now that I think back on this the mental image and what the Indian people must have been thinking cracks me up) jumping off the train at every. single. stop., frantically looking around for any sign of where we were, and, if we could not find it, literally just grabbing the closest person and asking, wide eyed, “IS THIS HARIDWAR?! HARIDWAR!?” Most of the time the answer was a resounding, “I don’t speak English”, but after awhile someone would say, “No, it is not,” and we would jump back on the (sometimes already pulling out of the station) train car to wait for the next stop. Cut us some slack, this was our first overnight train ride.

Cut to 3 am. It is my turn to sleep, and I am suddenly awoken by an extremely frantic Kate. “We’re here! Get your stuff, WE GOTTA GO!” So, I throw my backpack on, grab my day pack, pull the iPad out from the thin pillow I’d been hiding it under, and we attempt, unsuccessfully to disembark. Indian men are standing around, drinking chai, not moving from the narrow aisles we need to exit from. We start to ask nicely, then ask sternly, then, as we feel the train start to move again, we start to push. We are screaming, “Move, move, God, how rude!” as we elbow our way off the moving train and into the Haridwar train station.

Another thing about Indian train stations and, really, just India in general: people will sleep anywhere. We were stepping over and around families, all sleeping on the floor of the train station at 3 am, trying to get to the taxi stand. This took about three times as long as it should because when you have a backpack strapped to your back, and a daypack strapped to your front, and are clutching an iPad like an idiot in a third world country, you have a lot of people coming up to you asking if you need a ride, and a lot of people grabbing at you for what seems like inexplicable reasons until you notice the Apple product in your right hand. I quickly stuffed my iPad into my day pack, and we booked it out of there.

We made it off the train, at 3 am, into a strange town, full of people trying to swindle us, and we needed to get 25 miles to Rishikesh by tuk tuk or cab. It seemed like all we needed was to find a decently priced tuk tuk and we’d be home free…and then it started to pour down rain. We argued with a few tuk tuk drivers over what the price should be to Rishikesh, but after a few minutes of standing in the rain we relented and agreed to pay 800 rupees to get to our accommodation, The Green Hotel. So we climbed into the tuk tuk of a seemingly friendly 30-something Pakistani man (read: seemingly), and took off for Rishikesh.

The rain pounded down on the tuk tuk and we passed over bridges, through little towns and villages, and as we drove, we noticed hordes of people in orange shirts, walking along the roads, carrying buckets of milk and river water, flower wreaths, and incense sticks, now put out when the skies opened up to soak us to our bones. “Bolba, Bolba, Bolba,” they chanted. And Kate and I, confused, watched them fade behind us in the distance, but more would always be found walking the roads, barefoot and clad in orange, toward the rushing Ganges.

Our tuk tuk came to a stop. “I can take you no further,” our driver said, “the roads are flooded. Get out here and walk ten minutes that way, then you will be at your hotel”. We looked at each other, wide eyed. It was pouring rain, and we knew we were still in Haridwar. We weren’t even close to our hotel, and this man wanted us to get out and walk…where?

“No,” we blatantly refused, “You have to take us further. The roads aren’t flooded.”

“I cannot,” he explained, “but I will take your 800 rupees now.”

It was moments like this I was glad I had Kate as my travel buddy. “No way are we paying you 800 rupees to get dropped in the rain, man. Take us further or we aren’t paying you.”

“I canno-“, he couldn’t even finish before we watched two tuk tuks and a rickety old car speed past us on the road.

“Clearly, you can,” Kate said, and as we watched his face fall, we felt the tuk tuk rev its engine and start back up. We were back on the road, passing more pilgrims in orange, as rain continued to pelt us mercilessly.

About ten minutes later at the edge of Haridwar we came to another stop. “I can take you no further, the roads are flooded,” and this time he meant business. He hopped out of the tuk tuk, grabbed our packs, and threw them out of the tuk tuk and onto the wet, rapidly flooding ground. “Okay, well you’re high if you think we’re paying you 800 rupees,” Kate said, shoving 300 rupees at him.

Furious, the man demanded the price we set. Kate refused to pay, and as I watched them argue it occurred to me I should probably grab the rest of our stuff out of the tuk tuk, as I watched the man’s face grow red with anger. “You said 800 rupees! We agreed!” he was yelling. “I agreed I’d pay you 800 rupees to take us to our hotel. You are dropping us in the middle of nowhere in the rain. You’re lucky I gave you 300,” was Kate’s decidedly awesome response. With both of our 60 L backpacks on me, I handed her my day pack. Then she looked at me and just said, “Run.”

So, with our packs hanging off my weary shoulders and our day packs soaking through with water to destroy any and all electronics, we took off running (well, I was more waddling than anything) as the man yelled at us to come back. But we didn’t even look back, and instead, we disappeared into a huge crowd of orange pilgrims, our blue and grey backpacks the only things differentiating us from the crowd. And just like that, we were free, lost, and wetter than ever.

With absolutely no idea where we were, at 4 am, we began asking people how to get to Rishikesh, how to get to the Green Hotel, how to get some place dry. No one spoke English, and instead, they would grab our arms and lead us forward, chanting “Bolba, Bolba!” until we shook ourselves loose to ask another stranger. Finally, after about half an hour of walking in the rain we found a yoga studio with a man standing outside, and we rushed up to him, begging for help. He let us use his bathroom, dry off with some old rags, and get our rain jackets out to wrap around our day packs. Then, he pointed across the Ganges. “You cross that bridge, you’ll be in Rishikesh.”

Let’s just talk about this bridge: it was small, rickety, swaying in the wind, and absolutely every inch of it was covered in pilgrims. It was a swinging, orange bridge over the massive, rushing, Ganges, which poured at a hundred miles an hour downward from the Himalayas as rain added to it’s mighty flow. We were terrified. It was 4 in the morning. We were wet, cold, and in the middle of the Durga festival. We had no choice. The man told us unless we were going to pay him, we had to go.

So we went. And walked with the pilgrims, chanting Bolba, trying to make light of the day’s events, across the bridge, swinging and swaying and being pushed and prodded and pulled until we reached the other side. The other side, it turns out, was full of cows.

I mean at least fifty cows in a quarter mile radius. All of them horned, and stressed out, and running us into corners. It was still raining, we were still lost, and the sound of “Bolba!” was still ringing in our ears. We asked a police officer where to go and he pointed up a hill. So we walked up the hill only to find a dead end and no Green Hotel. We asked an old man where to go and he pointed left, so we went left, only to find another dead end and no Green Hotel, only more pilgrims, and more cows. We must have looked desperate, because a young man came up to us with his wife and asked if we were okay. We were absolutely not okay, we told him, and we needed to get to the Green Hotel, or be sacrificed to the Ganges, whichever was easier.

The Green Hotel? That was his cousins place! He would take us there right away. And in a moment of weakness, Kate and I trusted yet another stranger to get us there safely. And, in a moment of rare fortune, he and his wife took us to an alley way, and said, at the end of this street, you will be there.

We walked, expecting another dead end, but found, instead, The Green Hotel.

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