Category: Family

When Your Baby Becomes A Real Person, Life and Birthdays Are Never The Same

Having babies is a great idea, until you realize that they are real people. My real people are pretty much grown up now, and this is not where I say “but they will always be my babies.” Of course, in some way, they are still my babies. Big, tall, hairy, manly babies.

My real people were born in different years but all within four weeks of each other, which means every year we have birthday season. We’re in it right now as a matter of fact. For nearly two decades I enjoyed the yin-yang of it – expensive…and celebratory. And I thought this year would be no different.

But the first rule of parenting is to give up the rosy glow, because guess what, real people do what they want to do regardless of their parents hopes, dreams and expectations. We’ve had a lot of years to adjust-abhor-accept that, but it’s still not easy when birthday and holiday season roll around. Why? Because this year my real people made plans of their own. And worse – without even telling me until I had already ordered the cake.

Me to Real Person who is actually permanently moving “home” soon:

“Hey how about you drive down for a long birthday weekend before you move back, and we can celebrate your birthday and get your car registered, get your classes and financial aid all situated, and find you an apartment.”

(The middle child real person is transferring to a college near home to finish his senior year. Hooray! Although I better not have any hopes, dreams or expectations that his being around the corner will grant me free access.)

Real Person:  “Um, no, I can’t. I’m going to a festival.”  

Me:  “What festival?”

Real Person:  Electric Forest.”

Me – while quickly googling Electric Forest festival:

“Oh wow sounds like fun, but how did you get time off from apple?”   Wait… hold up… “It’s half-way across the country?!?”  What?!? (I have to admit it looks pretty cool.)

“Oh yea Mom, it’s in Michigan. Don’t worry, I’m not driving and I’ll only be gone 5 days.”

Ok, the kid is going to be 22 this year, but this is my baby. (Big, tall, hairy, manly baby.) He is going to an outdoor music festival – in the forest – and there’s more – working the festival to get free food and camping space – with a group of his friends.  My son camps?

Wow. I don’t know how I feel about this. Um, Happy Birthday.

My youngest did not utilize the shock and awe factor, he just decided on his 17th he would go out to dinner with friends and afterward to do whatever they wanted until he got home by 11pm. He told me the day before his birthday that this was his plan.

Oh ok. <sigh> Happy birthday.

Not sure what is in store for the oldest yet, we are still only part-way through birthday season. But I bet it will involve his girlfriend, and I don’t know if we’ll be part of the plan. I’m so proud of this kid, he will be 24 and finds his own way every day. I have such a soft-spot for this one that I will be totally fine with whatever he decides. (Can we get that in writing?)

I’m actually proud of all of them, and my soft-spot is pretty big. Like them. Big, real people.

It’s ok, I still ordered the cake. And yep, enjoyed every bite.

 

Anything Is Possible In A “How-To” World

Pretty sure we live in the “How To” era. It’s a virtual world of self-help everywhere we turn. How to feel – sleep – eat better, live longer, save money, fight fat – depression – chronic pain, change our DNA, our life, become happy, aware, creative, organized, joyful…or the biggy –  find peace.

Is it working? Maybe. Maybe not.

My kindred-spirited good friend told me she will never find that zen-like state of peace no matter how hard she tries. Why? Because of what she calls a History of Horribleness.

Yea, I get that. Kind of hard to feel the zen when we’ve endured a lot of crazy and it sometimes still surrounds us. Oh she’s happy, but the undercurrent of inner peace? Forget it.

And it’s not just dealing with whatever is going on inside our own life – family, job, health, finances – all our personal “stuff.” There’s crazy stuff happening in the world right outside our front door. Anybody else notice that the outside world is the same, pretty much every day?

We get so caught up in it – all of it. Why do they do this. What are they thinking. Why are they acting like this. What are they doing. When will they fill in the blank. Doesn’t matter who “they” even is.

Life’s intensity can often define the parameters, and it impacts us. We try to explain, understand, make excuses, deal with whatever is happening – from the world-view all the way down to our bird’s-eye view. But sometimes we can’t figure things out. Or know what is really going on. Or worse, change or fix it.

We can’t always choose the parameters. So, Zen is easily thwarted.

But life itself seems to be paradoxical. It’s the ultimate bliss and torture, beauty and heinousness. And we’re supposed to somehow both manage and accept the paradoxes to obtain a sense of peace. How do we choose the parameters?

From the unlimited supply of “how to’s.” And thank goodness there are plenty to choose from. Key word? Choose.

We can choose to see things differently, feel differently and act accordingly no matter who around us doesn’t. We can choose to flow through it all as if the horribleness is just part of it. We can choose to infuse moments of sucky reality with acceptance. We can stay focused on our personal intentions, hopes and dreams in spite of “them” or “it.”

We can “create” with whatever we “choose.” It takes some serious commitment, especially after a history of horribleness. But it’s true. Choosing changes everything. 

Loving that How To.

Spare Me Your Toxicity, I’ll Take Insight and Kindness Instead

This is the little story that caught my eye on social media the morning after Thanksgiving.

Thinking of the young woman walking in a dress and high heels on the cold Thanksgiving day; the young man that had the nerve to leave her at the gas station when she was in the bathroom; all of the people who passed her by; and my brother and niece who picked her up and went way out of their way to take her home.

Wow. Hmmm.

Until the heartfelt kindness shown by someone’s brother, it’s safe to assume there was no Thanksgiving spirit going on for that woman in the dress and high heels. No feasting on good food, family togetherness or reasons to feel gratitude, seems more like pain and cruelty. There are a good amount of people who don’t enjoy a Normal Rockwell family portrait no matter how much they want it or how hard they wish for it, or even pretend they have it.

shoesThere’s always one, or maybe a few, sitting or standing next to you who make you stop and wonder. You are just trying to live your life happily, peacefully, you know – the way you are entitled to by the simple fact you are alive. But like the noxious smell of gasoline, there are some who make you feel sick.

You ask yourself if it’s you. You look in the mirror again and again, maybe even for years, you have tried to understand why some people don’t see how they come across – or more like won’t see. Because to them it’s you, it’s always you not them. You are the problem no matter what.

But you know deep down in your heart of hearts that just isn’t the case. You’ve worked hard, learned, evolved, grown, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will likely keep living from their own little closed-up space that prevents them from valuable soul-inspired insight.

It takes work – insight – it’s hard and uncomfortable, it’s so much easier to blame instead of waking up and really seeing who we are and what we are putting out there into the world. It becomes a right-wrong thing. You were wrong so I left you at the gas station. No you were wrong to leave me there.

A few minutes after I saw that little story, I heard a news report that statistics show more and more young people are having heart attacks and strokes. They didn’t say it was due to one particular thing because there are so many thingspeople…situations… that create stress. These physical repercussions, including illnesses like cancer, are sometimes referred to as “wake up calls” to living better – more healthily, more clean, less stress, less toxic whatever it is.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the wake up call came before our life was threatened? How do we feel better in spite of things or people who make us feel sick, who have no interest in addressing their own poison?

We’ll never really know what happened with the woman in the dress and high heels. But when you really think about it, truthfully it’s our journey and ours alone. Thank goodness for kind strangers who stop to lend a hand along the way.

do-what-is-right-for-yourself

 

Everybody’s Got A Story, And We Sure Stick To It

Story of my life. Everybody’s got one. Anybody want a do-over? Like hitting stop on a Netflix movie and watching something else? Not so easy to do when it’s the story of our life.

It’s usually built on our past, made of memories, and what perplexes me is why people stick to it like glue. It’s our personal narrative that defines us. But why? Who says we have to live by our story like it’s written in stone? And why are we so invested in it, especially if we don’t like it?

everyones-storyI noticed this about my own life when a few years ago someone whispered in my ear that she was tired of hearing me moan and groan day in and day out. It was like I had my unhappy story on instant replay. I constantly focused on the same miserable theme over and over, no matter what was going on. I had a good reason for it, my friend didn’t deny that, but she told me if I didn’t start to re-think my story I would never feel better about my life.

I got what she was saying, intellectually. It’s the whole change your thoughts, change your life thing. But that’s huge. I mean how do you even do that? First of all most of us don’t even recognize it – we’re just living our life, doing the best we can. When she pointed it out to me I was a little defensive. It felt natural to just be me – however I was being.

never-too-lateNot to mention, it seemed impossible to just let go of my history, let go of the unhappy happenings and the situations that were part of my day-in and day-out existence. Was I just supposed to pretend that things were not as they seemed or appeared or felt, or in all actuality, were?

Well…yes. I don’t know if it’s habit or simply human nature to be invested in our story. We live it, sometimes in such a deep rhythm we actually get lost in it. Then we become a magnet for like-minded storytellers. And if it’s a sad story, we get caught up in that particular vortex. After all, misery loves company.

let-goI knew my friend was right, but I realized after losing most of my happy tribe from my drama and doom I knew I would have to change my thinking and as hard as it felt, invest in joy instead. I had to not only want it, but be willing to give up my story. It was definitely a major task.

I saw on the Today Show that genes determine 50 percent of our happiness and circumstances account for 10 percent, which leaves 40 percent up to us. Whether that’s true or not, what it comes down to is how badly we want to feel better. What we’re willing to give up in order to make gain. Whether we will opt to work with our situation as it is, not the way we wish it was.

Whether feeling joy is worth letting go of the pain.

No need to overthink it. It is.

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Click here for some facts and tips on how to feel the joy.

 

Where Can I Find A Little Peace And Is There Room For It In The Budget

 

black-fridayOnly 17 days until Black Friday, the countdown has begun. There were years when my children were growing up that I had all the gifts purchased, wrapped, and hidden long before this enticing annual event. All it took was a trip to Toys “R” Us filling up back of the old Volvo wagon with the items on their lists, done.

Although it didn’t seem easy at the time, I had the time, energy and budget back then. Time only proved, that while the gifts got physically smaller, the price tags got much bigger. The boys got older, technology got newer, and gift-giving got harder.

vintage-christmasBut no matter our circumstances, my children have wanted for nothing really, despite my incessant frugality. To this very day I still prefer scoring the absolute best bargain on anything from clothing to food to holiday gifts. I’m far from extravagant but always provide a suitable stash for my kids.

This year though, we’re in a bit of a bind. We’ve had to shoulder some hefty unexpected expenses for the boys that required our hard-earned holiday stash. It’s no secret that our lives drastically changed after Mr. Ex revealed his gambling addiction, we ended up nearly homeless with empty bank accounts, retirement and college funds. That was 10 years ago, and he is happily recovered.

But unfortunately the boys and I have been unable to recover from his losses, even to this day. What they say about the lasting domino effect of someone’s addiction is completely true. So when things come up, like college tuition or emergency car repairs, we find ourselves hard-pressed. Sadly Mr. Ex says he can’t assist, so unless I find a way, my boys are on their own.

behaviorNot whining, I totally have their backs. Except, as the most wonderful (and most expensive) time of the year approaches, I am worried about how to manage. Like Charles Dickens writes in A Christmas Carol, it’s not about the gifts. But do kids really buy into that? Will they feel happy waking up on Christmas to a tree with no gifts underneath? Sure it’s about feeling the love – of family, of the season, of life. But how will it really feel this year when our small gift budget went to their emergency expenses instead? Let’s be real, they will be disappointed, and I will feel pretty bad.

Mr. Ex says he is at peace. That’s great, we all could use some peace.

Peace is an interesting concept. It’s easy to imagine, it’s highly desirable and naturally sought-after. We hear about it, read about it, sing about it, talk about it, and we’re even told it’s already there inside, so why, for some of us, is it so hard to really feel?

This is what I want to give my children this year – the feeling of peace – which could possibly be the best gift I could ever give them. First though, I have to believe it’s possible. In order to receive we have to believe, right? Just like in the beautiful story The Polar Express, believing is seeing…and feeling.

It is a special season, full of miracles and magic – and if we believe hard enough – even peace. Beginning of course on Black Friday.

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believe-gold

 

Halloween Is Over, Bring On The In Between

Welcome to the Christmas Season! It’s just two days after Halloween – the official holiday launch. We can tune in to Christmas music on satellite radio now, and we better start shopping for all the popular gifts.

Nah. I’m headed to the store to get a bag of Halloween candy for 50 percent off. We didn’t really get to celebrate Halloween this year, nearly empty-nested for the first time. Our 16-year old wasn’t interested, and we live in a big old house-turned-condos that sits well off the road in the woods, nobody rang the bell here.

At first I didn’t mind the lack of festivities – much to my holiday-loving surprise – the last halloween-04-064-copyoctober-05-010-copytwo decades of hazy Halloween memories were more than enough. No costume quandaries this year, messy pumpkin carving or mad dashes to the front door making idle chit chat with wee fairies and movie characters who aren’t old enough to eat a Skittle. No boys up past their bedtime sitting in a pile of open wrappers in the middle of the floor, no candy coma, no weeks of chocolate sitting around the house. Yea it’s all cute, and I loved it year after year…including raiding their bags when nobody was looking. But they’ve grown up and moved on.

Then the sun started to set on Halloween night…and some sadness crept in.

Halloween was over and it hadn’t even begun. I didn’t miss the hoopla or mess, I missed tradition – the anticipation of the doorbell ringing, trying to keep our hands out of the candy fullsizerenderbowl, pumpkin seeds toasting in the oven, glowing amber candle lights in each window, decorations, black and orange everything. Nope, none of that this year. Just a couple of full-size candy bars that Sir Husband sweetly brought home and placed near our teeny pumpkin. We missed the kids.

But “it’s whatever” as our millennials say. They are able to move forward in time without batting an eye, something I continue to try. I think there is an “in between” phase for parents, when we’re conscious of the big change adjusting to the empty nest. The shift in circumstances is noticeable.

But why do we always try to hurry our way on to the next thing, the next phase, even the next day?

water-restIn between is underrated. Nobody wants to hang out in between anything. Whether it’s between life phases or in between holidays, the world just pushes forward instead of embracing the void in between. What’s so bad about the void? That’s where we can pause, take a breath, and just be for a minute or three.

There’s something cool about being in the gap. Suspended between destinations or phases, hanging out in this space of has-been and will-be. Like when you are looking at a candy bar sitting on your table and you know it’s there and you are psyched about eating it but you don’t go for it. You wait. You anticipate. In between.

That was my favorite part of Halloween back in the day. The part just before the sun set when everything was ready but it was too early for trick or treating. We just hung out in those moments of peaceful readiness for whatever was ahead. We enjoyed the scenery. We enjoyed the pause.

Anyway…in the meantime, Merry Christmas.

charlie-brown

Who Decides Whose Choice It Is? I Do!

good-dayIt’s a good thing I opted to blog weekly instead of daily – some days can certainly prove challenging. We get up, we go about our business, we’re thinking good or not so good depending on our point of reference, then boom. Something happens and our day can totally change.

While I was reveling in an all-good zone last week, I got an emergency call that my mother experienced a life-threatening blip with her serious health issues. Naturally our world came to a roaring halt. From the doctors and nurses on the ICU team, to her family and friends, the seriousness of her situation left a lot of people perplexed. Each person had their own choices to make about how to address her care, and there were plenty of opinions going on.

chill-its-only-chaosDealing with all that entailed wasn’t a choice, but it highlighted the concept of choice itself. I started to wonder if everything in life is a choice. Everything – from choosing how to save a life, to who we vote for in this election, to whether we get cable TV, to where we live, what we wear, drive, eat, focus on, do, work, go, watch, use, think…is everything a choice? Do we really have control over our choices?

Although at different ages we think differently about our ability to choose, I recently realized that I grew up believing my choices were dictated by the world around me, and were out of some kind of obligation to others before self. For my millennial kids of course the reverse is true. Historically, choices were not always a matter of choice, but in each generation the concept of choice seems to subtly shift.

The trend now is toward each of us having authority over our own life, taking care of ourselves. The “put your oxygen mask on first” rule on airplanes now also applies on the take-care-of-yourselfground. We have to help ourselves before we can help anyone else. But I have always been so selfless, I usually run out of air.

Self-care first was a foreign concept to me until this recent universal shift – memes popping up, wisdom gurus all over the Internet and TV, books, conventions, society opening the door for transformation on the concept of choices. From the food we put in our mouths to the way we think – apparently we can make decisions that impact all aspects of our life.

The problem is the emotions that go with choices are complicated and the choice isn’t always clear. We can make any decision we want but then decisions can be laden with guilt or frustration, worry, wonder or fear. Not to mention consequences. If we can learn to manage the emotions, we may be better able to choose.

Interestingly my mother either in spite of or because of her health issues, has nailed the ability to confidently make choices that are best for her. And she miraculously did it again last week when she pulled through her latest blip.

I still haven’t learned where to draw the line when it comes to who comes first. But maybe I’m overthinking it, because the choice I’ve learned is mine.

 

choices

 

Pleasant Days Are Ahead In Spite Of What We’ve Lived

 

lets be fairiesI’m ready to write about sunny days – this summer we had so many. But when it rains it rains hard. As I drove my youngest to school yesterday in the remnant downpours of the weekend’s hurricane, he sobbed. It’s not comfortable to watch your young-adult teenager cry like a baby. Nor is it the same as when he was a baby because consoling him doesn’t work as well. Or in my case, at all. No matter what I have done (or not done because sometimes we need to back off from our teens,) he has been resistant to our recent move, starting a new school as a junior, and our supporting him through this transition. I get it, I really do.

fineHe’s gone through way too much for his tender young age. It’s heartbreaking on every level. I haven’t done so well myself – sometimes it’s impossible to wrap my brain around our former years of trauma, even as an adult. And my body still reminds me via physical pain every single day.

So I dropped him off then drove home shedding my own tears. This isn’t something I can just “fix,” which is awfully hard. When we can’t fix our child’s upset, what can we do?

hilltopI reached out to his guidance counselors, we are fortunate he actually has two. Both are skilled veterans who know their game, my son is quite lucky to have this built-in support. Because as I tried to cope with his upset, I struggled with nowhere to turn. I can’t go to the guidance office…or keep moaning in my blog…or to friends. After all, I’m grown up, I have to deal with it. I knew that going into this role.

So I scroll through social media, hoping for relief, and instead see all the parents who posted their smiling kids happy on the first day of school. That’s hard – I don’t have that picture to share. I spent most of the day watching the rain out the window, feeling quite a bit of despair.

this too shall pass

But somewhere between dropping him off and afternoon pick up, a miracle must have occurred. He was like a different kid. Oh sure he said school was terrible, but then proceeded to tell me ok things about his day. He wasn’t shut down or miserable, he talked the whole way home. This may be the first time he’s done this in months, or possibly even years.

I noticed the sun had just come out, it was shining through rain clouds. What a difference a day makes, or even a few hours. It’s amazing when there’s a ray of light. He did it…I can too.

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When It Comes To Obligation, The Choice Is Always Ours

On this unofficial last weekend of summer I had plenty of opportunity for mental respite. But did I take it? Not so much. Instead I found myself caught between obligation and choice. When does obligation become a choice?

don't look backWe spent some quality time with Mr. Ex and his Mrs. this weekend, and some may wonder why. We have certainly had our ups and downs. And let’s be real, Mr. Ex and I divorced for a reason, so why make the effort to engage? I think the question really is, why not. There’s no need to get hung up on technicalities or history, although letting go of the past can feel tough to do. When they invited us for a barbecue we opted in. Obligation or choice?

This might be said for any family situation – functional or not. Are we obligated to participate just because we are related? Or even when we’re not?

Mr. Ex’s Mrs. graciously friended my mother on Facebook, which seemed like a big deal to me. We are not related to her, although she is my children’s step mother. But she didn’t bat an eye when it came up in conversation, picked up her iPad and looked for my mother’s profile and within minutes they were friends. Choice or obligation?

no obligationI never realized until now, I’m a perpetual obligator. Whatever seems obligatory, I do it, for  everything. If we are invited somewhere I never go empty handed. Birthday acknowledgments, special occasion commemoration, thank you’s, volunteering, if someone makes any effort to do something for me or my family, I oblige with reciprocation. I usually can’t say no when someone asks something of me, no matter how much I want to – I feel guilty if I don’t say yes. If I get up the courage to say no, I share plenty of legitimate excuses, and hope to receive understanding. Seems a little ridiculous. Why do I feel so obligated?

choiceWhen we recently moved in to our new condo and a neighbor found out I’m unemployed, she offered to help me find work. I was quite grateful but equally surprised when the next thing I knew, opportunities to interview literally dropped in my lap. So I did, in spite of my circumstances that may not allow for these types of jobs. Why? Because I felt obligated. She worked hard to help me, so of course I will follow through. On the off chance I am offered a job, I would obviously have to take it. Wouldn’t I?

no more excusesIt’s not easy to be a perpetual obligator. I know at some point there must be a choice. Is it possible to just say no — and more importantly without excuses or guilt? Mr. Ex said there is always a choice. Period. No matter what. I have a friend who said I never have to make excuses. Ever. Instead I just politely decline. Is the bottom line that our responsibility to ourself comes before anyone else?

Maybe it’s nothing but emotional semantics. Obligation – the word itself feels layered, heavy, negative, restrictive. But choice is a word that feels free. Wow! The mental respite is there all the time, we just have to decide to choose.

 

doing my own thing

Home Is Where The Cat Is

This post almost didn’t happen. As I was in the thick of a personal emergency I kept thinking, what will I write in my blog tomorrow?

Sorry, no post today… We had an emergency… Be back soon. If I can function. 

The day started out busy, we sent the teenager on the early train to his friend’s for a long weekend out of state, a locksmith came first thing to change the locks, a painter was on his way to give us an estimate, along with carpet cleaners who were going to remove the film of filth our movers left on it last week.

The new house to-do list is quite long. I am stretching it out, but getting the the upstairs carpets cleaned was a priority – mostly because it’s not our carpet – we rent.

After the arduous task of moving all of the furniture and closet items I possibly could to expose the carpet – the carpet cleaner arrived, giant hoses in hand trailing miles behind him, down two flights of stairs to his running truck outside.

IMG_1517So far this all seems benign. And in the great scheme of things maybe it is. But it also isn’t. Because for a few long hours in the midst of everything I thought my little cat escaped our new home and ran into the big world – gone forever. It nearly killed me.

There are certain beings in our lives who are part of our family as if they are human, who we hold in our hearts and feel profound love. My cats are those beings to me.

Some would say, ridiculous, it’s only a cat, get over it. But that person may not have experienced the unconditional love of a pet. Ever heard the phrase, pets are people too?

I’m not a novice when it comes to protecting my indoor cats from escaping when workmen enter the house. I’m a mama bear – firmly telling them that we have two cats that cannot under any circumstances go outside. I fiercely protect my fur babies because I love and adore them. Maybe unreasonably so. Yes, I’m pretty sure I’m a cat lady.

cat copyBut when we saw her blur of fur race by at lightening speed so fast that we didn’t even see where she went, I panicked. The doors were open because of the big carpet-cleaning hoses. Her unplanned escape was inevitable, while the other cat hid under the bed.

My reaction to her disappearance began as a quiet panic, that quickly escalated into an uncontrollable sobbing – blubbering – whimpering – short of breath kind of crying where you can only get squeak sounds out in between the gasps for air. Not to mention she was stuck under the furnace last week when the movers were here and we thought we lost her then too.

IMG_0809I have had so much heavy, continual trauma in my life and especially over the last few years and even throughout our entire recent move that I just could not emotionally tolerate losing the kitty that snuggles with me night and day, rarely leaves my side, and next to my husband is my mainstay of support. She’s like my secret bestie, my shadow, my sidekick. We are truly bonded.

I’ll spare the conversation about cosmic connection – like maybe my cat is holding the reincarnated soul of someone close to me from lifetimes past – who knows. But I know that we can become quite attached to our pets, and vice versa.

This is about reaction to loss. Everyone responds differently, and I’m not sure there is a way to predict how we will react in any given situation. There are way too many factors – from who or what, how, when, where, why – what our circumstances are or were, what we can or can’t withstand, so many variables contribute to our reactions. Our reaction to loss is organic, it comes from deep inside having a life or span or cycle of its own that we must not only allow, but also honor.

IMG_2251 copyThe carpet cleaner guy and I turned the house upside down looking for her. We lay on the wet carpets to see every low-lying crevice, nook and cranny. We combed the bushes outside, crawled through the mulch to look under porches, searched every nearby open garage. I called the microchip company who activated her search. Animal control was on their way because they can scan a two-mile radius with the microchip technology.

Three hours of deeply intense upset later, I saw my cat’s little head pop up from behind the toaster in the corner of the kitchen. It’s such a tiny space, invisible to the naked eye, I would have never dreamed to look there. That started a whole different kind of crying. Reaction to relief.

We’ll save that post for another day. I’m off to pet my cat.

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