How to Unveil the True Definition of Mother’s Day

by | May 10, 2020 | Holidays/Holy Days/Seasons | 34 comments

Much of my work is devoted to exploding the constrictive boundaries that define our modern life. I explode our definitions of romantic love from the limited understanding that love is only “a feeling” or “a knowing” into a much broader conceptualization that understands love as a choice, an act of will, and a continual work-in-progress.

I explode our definition of attraction from the superficial and widespread way our culture defines it in terms of physical appearance to a more compassionate definition that teaches people to see essence instead of image.

I challenge our dominant parenting and educational models to assess how they stunt instead of support the development of a sense of Self.

I expose the truth about transitions, how days like a wedding, that the culture upholds as the happiest day of a person’s life, is actually a profound a life-altering transition that includes death and loss at its core.

Our cultures also squeezes holidays into narrow definitions that make almost everyone feel badly. Let’s take Valentine’s Day, for example. It’s a day to celebrate love, but the culture says it’s only about celebrating people who are in intimate relationships. And it doesn’t stop there: the culture places expectations onto people in intimate relationships to shower each other with “romantic” gifts that prove their love. It’s too much pressure, too much narrow thinking for anyone to shine.

What I see with more clarity every day in my life a counselor, a friend, a wife, a woman, and a mother to two boys is that nobody can shine when we’re asked to contort ourselves into the boxes our culture sets out for us. These boxes have the same two words written on them: normal and should. You should feel madly in love and wildly attracted to your partner all the time. You should celebrate Valentine’s Day with roses and chocolates. You should love every moment of parenting. And if you don’t have children, you’re not normal and you don’t deserve to celebrate Mother’s Day. 

It’s like the popularity club we were all exposed to in school extends into the rest of our lives, often in much more subtle and insidious ways. The covert message is that you’re not complete unless you’re part of the club, and that fulfillment and happiness can only occur when you attain all of the externals our culture equates to happiness: the degree, the job, the partner, the body, the face, the clothes, the car, the house, the paycheck, the recognition, the baby. These expectations and injunctions leave much shame in their wake.

So today I want to explode open our limited conception of Mother’s Day.

The cultural definition says that Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate literal mothers, meaning someone who has children. And it seems our culture even wants to squeeze this definition into the tightest possible corset: a mother is someone who has given birth to biological children or raised a baby from birth. It doesn’t allow room to celebrate step-children, foster children, or adult children that someone has chosen to mother later in life. It doesn’t allow room for all manifestations of mother, both literal and metaphorical.

For we are all mothers. We mother friends, siblings, animals, creative projects, nieces/nephews and the Earth. We mother patients, clients, employees, readers, and course members. We mother ourselves as we learn, with time, to become our own loving inner mother. And the divine feminine lives in all of us, both male and female. It’s the slow, creative, receptive energy that pulses like a great moon through the invisible veins of our lives. She need us and we need her, now more than ever.

For today, let’s acknowledge some of the ways that we mother and are mothered; the ways the sacred feminine informs our lives. I’ll begin:

I am mother to my little cat, reveling in the great purrs that emanate through my chest as she sleeps on me at night, and she is mother to me.

I am mother to this land, caring for it as I would for any precious living thing, and she mothers me.

I am mother to my circle of soul-sisters, holding them through all of their sorrows and joys, just as they hold and mother me.

I am mother to my work, to the creative spirit that enters the channel of my being on wings of inspiration and asks only one thing: that I open, trust, and release it back into the world.

I am mother to my clients, seeing them through eyes of love and wholeness that, over time, help them to see themselves the same way.

I mother my two boys, a privilege for which I’m grateful daily.

I mother my husband, nurturing his true nature just as he mothers and nurtures mine.

For today, see if you can let go of the “shoulds”. Let go of everything the culture says this day is about and seek to find your own meaning, your own definition, and your own way of celebrating. It can be challenging, yes, when we’ve been conditioned to see it through one lens and that way is reinforced everywhere, but it’s a lot easier when you turn off your computer, log off of social media, and turn inward to find your own center of Self.

Then, emanating outward from inwardness, celebrate the ways the feminine lives inside of you: your creativity; your places of being, stillness, and silence; the slow, mercurial, moonlike place of timeless wisdom that can only be met when you spiral into the labyrinth of Self and meet the you of you sitting in the center in serenity.

Celebrate each way that the Great Mother manifests in your life: from the sacred temple of your body to your connection to loved ones. And consider how you are both mother and are mothered. Write them down, share them in the comments, and embrace this day as an opportunity to name and connect to the divine Mother that lives inside of you and all life.

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34 Comments

  1. Thank you so much!!! This is so resonant today as I rediscover beautiful and creative lost parts of my soul and learn to nurture them again 🙂

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  2. Hello Sheryl! Happy Holiday!
    Im so sorry ask so many questions but one that’s been on my mind is it possible for me to love my boyfriend and genuinely like him as a person and still experience boredom or worry that we don’t have enough fun? Is this normal/possible? Is that a good enough reason to stay? People keep questioning me and my decisions:( So many people say that if you are bored you should leave but I love my partner for who he is and I don’t want to let him go….I believe we are great friends but if we were friends how could we feel bored? Could it be I am looking for him to fulfill a source of joy in me and entertainment in me that I shouldn’t be projecting on him? I feel so terrible saying this but now it’s hard for me to feel anything but annoyed when we interact or bored….I love him so much for who he is but I’m so confused if that’s enough or if we have to part ways….I love who he is as a human being we have the same values and no red flags….but I’m worried that if I truly liked him as a human being and if we were really friends I wouldn’t feel bored in our relationship…also I can’t look at pictures of us or anything without being like “oh my gosh why would you be with him he is so this or that”….
    I desperately want to stay with him…

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    • Hi Addison, I’m not Sheryl but I thought I could answer for you. Of course it is both normal and possible to love your boyfriend, have a friendship and still be bored and irritated. Have you ever experienced boredom with your friends or other people in your life? I’m willing to bet that you have 🙂 And I am sure you didn’t think “we shouldn’t be friends anymore since I’m annoyed/irritated/bored.”

      As Sheryl teaches, boredom is one of the many emotions that all humans experience, and it comes up in relationships all the time. It’s so very normal and okay to be bored when you’re with your partner – it happens to me too! You can’t expect to always be having fun or deep conversations, even if thats what society says you “should” be doing.

      Next time you experience boredom or irritation, I encourage you not to attach a story or meaning to the feeling but just sit there and let yourself feel the feelings. You might find that you’re simply bored of life right now and you’re projecting that onto your partner and making him responsible for your aliveness, which is something only YOU are responsible for.

      Have a think about how you can bring more aliveness into your life separate from your partner. For me, that included horseriding lessons, colouring in and game nights with friends.

      Wishing you all the best – you’ve got this xx

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      • Appreciate your kind words more than you know! I can’t tell you how grateful I am!!! All the blessings to you! Again thank you for your truly wise words!

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    • Hey Addison, speaking from experience, it is absolutely possible to love someone deeply and feel bored sometimes. I love my partner with all my heart, but some days, yeah, I feel a little bored. But the boredom isn’t really with him; it’s more of a general boredom and restlessness that I need to resolve within myself. Actually, I think the idea that love should never be boring is one of the “shoulds” Sheryl is talking about in this article–a “should” that makes many people feel bad about their healthy and wonderful relationships. Our culture tells us that love “should” feel a certain way, but, if you’ve been with one person for long enough, you’re going to see each other on your best, your worst, and your “meh” days. It’s really easy to project our need for joy and aliveness onto others but we must find that within ourselves (and again, speaking from experience, sometimes that’s really hard!). Anyway…long story short, it’s not all going to be exciting with any person. But if you love your partner for who he is, you can feel every emotion under the sun towards him and still love him beneath it all. I was so relieved to read Sheryl’s article (“When You Feel Annoyed With Your Partner”) saying that even being annoyed with someone you love is perfectly normal. I highly, highly suggest that article! Hang in there! And know that if you are with someone you love for who he is, that is truly a blessing.

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      • I can’t tell you how much you sharing your kindness means to me! Thank you so much! Lots of well wishes for you!

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    • You’re both so sweet to respond to Addison, and within a minute of each other! Thank you for your wise support. x

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  3. Hi Sheryl! Happy Mother’s Day! I am writing now as I have had a lot of anxiety in regards to my relationship this week and I would more than appreciate your guidance! My partner is amazing and I love who he is as a human being we have the same values and no red flags….but I’m worried that if I truly liked him as a human being and if we were really friends I wouldn’t feel bored in our relationship…also I can’t look at pictures of us or anything without being like “oh my gosh why would you be with him he is so this or that”….I would really just appreciate knowing if these thoughts could be projections or if there is another way I could handle them!

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    • Oops! Sorry for posting twice! It didn’t act like it went through!

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  4. How touching receive these words at a tender time. They resonate deeply and soulfully. Thank you

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    • I’m so glad they landed in a tender place in your heart. x

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      • Karlie- I couldn’t agree more. After losing my baby in a late 2nd trimester loss 2 years ago, I have struggled on Mother’s Day. After simple reading the title of Sheryl’s article this morning, my wheels started turning in how I can see Mother’s Day in a different and more inclusive way- I’ve never been much into the “in crowd” “out crowd” idea. On Mother’s Day, I just felt triggered all day- why aren’t ppl acknowledging me today? Why isn’t my husband making this a bigger pomp and circumstance- doesn’t he remember the pain I feel?…yet, I was sending the message leave me alone because all I want to do is lay on the couch. The polarity is fierce. Even though I have 2 wonderful cats to whom I’m a fur-mom, and 2 teenage stepchildren, because I didn’t have that baby born from my body and walking this earth, I am not a “mother.” Then, I remembered…because isn’t life a journey of remembering who we truly are and remembering the Wisdom within? So after honoring my own mother, I remembered…I have learned to mother myself through my anxiety and loss, connect to the divine feminine within me and around me, honor the “mother” energy in a nurturing touch or kind word, honor all the women who came before me to pave this path and broaden the value of what a “woman” is in our society, and ultimately remember my value that has nothing to do with a certain “club”membership. Thank you again, Sheryl.

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  5. Thank you SO much, Sheryl.
    Once again you have offered the exact words I needed to hear. You are so tuned into the archetypal collective it is magic.
    My main spike with my relationship anxiety is actually around motherhood: I’m 25 and my boyfriend is significantly older than me, has two children from a previous relationship and marriage, and does not want any more.
    I never assumed I would have or want children, but the moment he said “what are we going to do if you want kids someday” my anxiety started and has made my life hell for 2 years, even though our relationship is amazing.
    In classic anxiety fashion, if it weren’t for this “one thing” the relationship would be absolutely ‘perfect’ and I’d marry him tomorrow with complete confidence.

    I have agonized over intrusive thoughts and grief about

    ~”What if I choose him and then I DO want kids one day and then I have to leave him?”
    ~”What if I choose him and then I DO want kids but I stay with him and I’m heartbroken and missing out on motherhood the rest of my life, watching him raise kids with someone else?”
    ~”Can I ever truly feel like a woman if I don’t have children?”
    ~”You’re young. Even if you think it could work now, in 10 years you’ll probably want kids”
    ~”I’m kidding myself that an age-gap can work, I will eventually have to find someone closer to my age who I can have a ‘normal’ life with”
    ~”Everyone knows this is a HUGE issue–issues around kids and having kids should be serious dealbreakers”
    ~”How can I ever measure up to his ex’s when they’ve shared ‘the most important, intimate bond you can have’….and I will not” (this one…has almost destroyed me…)

    …and on and on 🙂

    Everything in the world seems to say “motherhood is the most rewarding thing in the world and it’s SOOO hard but you’re missing out if you don’t,” and the only way to have a family is to “start a family” (a phrase that triggers me).

    Needless to say, this blog post was very comforting to read and soothed some of my black and white thinking around the issue and the pit of grief and terror I’ve had in my stomach for 2 years.

    Thank you for the work that you do 🙂

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    • Sophia, I am in the same boat. I never thought much about kids growing up, but somewhere I ended up wanting 4 as I believed if I had a big family it would force me to have a close family. My boyfriend has two teen sons and decided he didn’t want more, even though at the start of our relationship he was on the fence. It’s scary. I almost broke up with him because of it and I worry that the reason I didn’t was because I didn’t want to feel the heartbreak that would endure. But something is making me stay. It’s very confusing. I’m trying to be grateful for what I do have. Two young men that are learning from me so I better show up as my best self for them, be the mother to them that I would be to my own kids (even if that means I get much less recognition) And, I know that what I long for, that close family, might be something that I’m longing for from my parents and sibling. I just want to be loved and accepted… How is that a good reason to leave a loving relationship for people that don’t exist.

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    • I’m so glad the post brought comfort and helped soften the black-and-white thinking that so often creates anxiety. x

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    • Hi Sophia,

      My situation is similar to yours (but a few years down the line!) There is a 22 year age gap between my husband and I. We got together when I was 24. He has two adult children from his first marriage and had the snip before I met him. We had the whole “what if you want children one day” conversation early on and agreed to deal with that as/when/if it happened. Most of the questions you list out above went through my mind in the early days.

      14 years on we are still together, still without children and mostly doing ok. We have our problems but I’ve learnt to accept that problems are normal. I still worry that the age gap will feel more significant as we age (he turns 60 this year ?) but I don’t let it get to me and do my best to embrace what we have now.

      Not being a mother is hard in a world where it seems every woman of a similar age is reproducing. I’ve found it hard to make and keep friends because I have nothing in common with women whose lives revolve around their kids. But the life I have with my husband is worth it, I don’t regret my choice and I choose to keep showing up for and loving my husband.

      If it feels right then embrace it, enjoy it and go with it. We don’t know what’s around the corner or how we might feel in the future.

      Much love to you x

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    • Hi Sophia, we are in very different situations, but how I understand what you are saying about “motherhood is the most rewarding thing in the world and it’s SOOO hard but you’re missing out if you don’t.”

      I am 36, me and my husband are approx. the same age and I am slowly slowly getting to the understand that I don’t want to have children. At least for now. He is in the same page. But since I am 36, sometimes it triggers me in this way: What if in the future I want to have kids and then I am too old?

      When I am not in this “what if” mood, I can feel with certainty that I don’t want to get pregnant in the next year or to. That maybe in two years I can reconsider. And then we’ll will see.

      But this phrase that you post (“motherhood is the most rewarding thing in the world and it’s SOOO hard but you’re missing out if you don’t.”) is something I keep listen and listen all the time from the media and from my friends who are the same age and have kids. Each year one of my friends gets pregnant, it is the 35ish age, women really starts to make the decision. And I am afraid I’ll miss “the most deep and rewarding relationship one can have”.

      This fear transforms into anger, because I get tired of “mother talk”. I think it is marvelous that motherhood is receiving the attention it needs and a lot of myths are being busted, but for a woman that doesn’t have kids it is really hard to keep listening that motherhood is the ultimate experience.

      So, Sheryl, I really appreciate you pointing out and honoring that we all have mother qualities, creative qualities, caring qualities that we manifest in one or other way.
      However, I am just starting to understand the high level of self-confidence that is demanded to make a choice that goes so much against what the culture endorses and sanctifies, that defies the way our society is organized.

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  6. HI Sheryl, thank you for this. As someone who has battled infertility for several years now mothers day is a joy (as I can still celebrate my own mother) but also one of emptiness and some shame over not not being able to concieve. I realize there are many ways to become a mother which Im exploring but never thought I already am one. This brings me much peace

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  7. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you so much for this post. I am a mother of two, having just given birth to my son 2 months ago. I have been struggling with so many ‘shoulds’ during pregnancy and since his birth- I should feel the love and bond with him the exact way I felt with my daughter, I should be happy all the time (even during a pandemic!), I should find this all easier and more natural the second time. Today on Mother’s Day this anxiety really became heightened, leaving me feeling like a fraud and a ‘bad mother’. Additionally, as I have been quarantining with my own mother, some mixed feelings I have toward her have triggered me to feel like a ‘bad daughter’ and ‘bad granddaughter’ as well, because my feelings don’t fit into a rosy neatly packaged hallmark sentiment.

    Your post just allowed me to take a deep breath and acknowledge my inner capacity to mother that doesn’t fall within the prescribed norms. I mother my dog, my nieces and nephews, the people around me, and myself. And I am mothered by so many people beyond just my own birth mother. I’m mothered by friends, siblings, my husband, my baby nurse, my yoga teacher. Remembering this makes me feel embraced and part of a greater feminine tradition. I’m setting an intention to focus on these strains of motherhood and femininity and to let go of the image of motherhood that I have been imposing so harshly on myself during this transition.

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    • Huge yes to this:

      “Remembering this makes me feel embraced and part of a greater feminine tradition. I’m setting an intention to focus on these strains of motherhood and femininity and to let go of the image of motherhood that I have been imposing so harshly on myself during this transition.”

      Beautiful, soulful, YES.

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  8. I love this. I struggled today. More so than any other Mother’s Day mainly due to my mother and our relationship is almost non existent. She’s been toxic my whole life and I love her, but it’s just better to distance myself. I could go into detail about why, but this isn’t the place for that. It’s worse because we were mending things the past two years now it’s worse than ever. I’ve been longing for years-and especially today for a real mother. One that is a “mom.” I could go on and on about the way my heart hurts about this.
    Also, my husband and I started trying for a baby before we got married, took almost a year break until after we got married and now it’s going on 3 years on infertility…so that part of Mother’s Day was difficult as well.
    We stayed busy working in our garden which helped my mind. That and a good cry.

    I love this post and I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day.

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    • Sending you so much love today, Lauren. The mother wound is unbearably painful, as is trying to conceive for three years. The garden, the crying, the naming… these are the medicines. xo

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  9. I’m missing a ‘real mom’ and sometimes I think it’s real hard to be ‘a mom’ to my children. I love them to pieces but sometimes it’s diffucult to embrace motherhood – you know, to it’s core.

    I have a very difficult relationship with my own mother, she’s never supported me etc so sometimes I’m left ‘cold’ When my own two little children Call me ‘mom’. I try so hard to be a mother, but honestly I’m so confused, and don’t know what it’s really about.

    You’ve written so much useful about being in an intimate relationship with a partner – maybe you could say something more about being a parent/a mother which I actually find much more difficult?

    Thank you for your work!

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  11. Beautiful as always! Happy Mother’s Day Sheryl!

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  12. Sheryl, this is beautiful. I have been doing a lot of work with my Inner Parent and thinking about how I can’t turn to others for approval — I must turn within. I’m currently working through your Trust Yourself course and have been trying to journal more every morning or evening. I wanted to share my journal entry from this morning which I wrote after reading this blog post:

    I am mother to my puppy, who looks up at me with innocent brown eyes, unfamiliar with the dangers that lurk outside.

    I am mother to my students, whom I miss dearly as mothering them and caring for them through a computer screen lacks the power of physical touch and comfort.

    I am mother to my friends, as I reach out to check on them and offer my assistance and prayers as they are needed.

    I am mother to my mother, as I care for her as she grows older, checking in on her to make sure she is eating healthy, working out, and getting a good night’s sleep.

    I am mother to my husband, whose life journey is an uncertain as my own, and I hold his hand and provide comfort and encouragement as we figure it out together.

    I am mother to my marriage, as I make the conscious choice to choose love and commitment every day.

    I am mother to my Self, my wounded inner being that has been pushed around, reprimanded, yanked in different directions, and sits in my belly, feeling bruised, torn, and confused. It is my job to mend the wounds until the Self feels whole again.

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    • This is so, so beautiful, Leah. Thank you for sharing with us here. This is exactly what I was hoping to read in the comments section!

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  13. Thank you, I needed this so much today.

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  14. Back in 1992, I lost my first child to miscarriage. Before I got pregnant, it didn’t matter whether or not I would ever have a child. I was OK either way. But after I experienced mothering a child in my womb for 10 weeks, I got those “Mommy Hormones” and I was never the same again. Then in 1994, I started acquiring cats. Not too many of them, just three. The experience of carrying my child opened up something inside of me, a mothering instinct that I had never had before. So now I “mothered” my three cats.
    Along comes 1998 and I find myself pregnant again. After an emotionally difficult pregnancy and a life and death situation I found myself in, while giving birth, my daughter and I made it through, both of us alive. I wish I could say that this story had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. After 21 years, we are now estranged, and even though I gave birth to her, I no longer am a “Mother” to this young woman. As I disengage from that role, I am also disconnecting from all of the pressure to “celebrate” Mother’s Day. I just do what makes me happy, and if it’s just going about business as usual, and I’m having a good day, then that’s fine with me. My husband is supporting me all the way.
    We did go to visit my Mother’s grave at the cemetery yesterday. It was a beautiful day, although bittersweet. At least for now, I think I have found a new ritual that helps me to honor the Mother that I had.

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  15. Love the idea of seeing “mother” as an archetype, not a literal being. Because not all of us can be literal mothers and not all of us were raised by mothers, as it relates to our society’s expectation of what they can provide. We all mother and we all father. And we need that, because we are beings that need more mothering and fathering than any one or two humans can possibly provide to us. And we all desire to mother. Cooking is the act of the mother. Caring for houseplants is the act of the mother. Anytime someone has been lost or in need of love (and we are all always in need of love) – be it a friend or an animal or even an old car that we fix up – we are fulfilling the role of the archetypal mother.

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  16. Thank you so much Sheryl for this wonderful post, which will help me see things in a way to help my mental health. I am not a mother due to being absolutely terrified of childbirth (something never talked about). The pain has increased as I’ve got older, not only missing out on children but grandchildren too. I changed career in my 40’s to become a Teaching Assistant which I now see was the outlet for my mothering instincts. I also mothered my beloved cat, who I had for 20 years & always felt was a substitute child. I can now fully understand why after losing my cat and retiring I fell into a deep, dark pit of depression last year ……. having lost both my mothering roles within the same month. I will now look for other areas of my life where I am mothering. You’re work is such a blessing to so many & brings much needed comfort to troubled minds. Sending you much love for all you do.

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