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Jasper in Joshua Tree National Park, aged 13 mos. Photo by Author.

A father helps his son replace the boob with the road.
1. The Plan

When young Jasper, our first, came to that remarkable, frightening, and eminently enviable age of thirteen months, his manual dexterity having nearly reached a par with his appetite—and my wife too frequently finding her blouse unbuttoned (or rather de-buttoned) in public—I took it upon myself to cure the boy of his once-happy relationship with his mother’s glands. Thereby to introduce him to the wide world beyond. And to liberate us all.

Anytime after a year, said the pediatrician.

He’d successfully weathered his first slabs of dark-chocolate cake, had begun to stand on his own stubby feet for seconds on end, had shown a precocious interest in beer bottles and off-width crack climbing. Now seemed as good a time as any. Why drag it out? I remarked to him one evening while changing his diaper. All good things come to an end.

How is a boy to give this up?
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

But how to get it done? The experts are split on the subject. Today’s online chat community will generally recommend doing it gradually—taking away one feeding at a time over the course of weeks, or even months—the idea being: (1) to ease the physical transition for the mother; and (2) to limit emotional stress for both parties.

As for the first part, I can’t claim any expertise (it seems mothers over the centuries have developed ways of dealing either way—ask my wife: I know it wasn’t easy, but somehow she worked it out).

As for the second part, I’m not so sure: how can one gauge the relative stress on all parties resulting from the ongoing power struggles, the screaming child in one room, in the other the mother with her head beneath a pillow?

Versus, say, just cutting it short, using the whole episode as an excuse for the boy’s first real road trip.

The Zulu are said to dispense with weaning their children in a single day. A pair of researchers in 1956 observed 19 Zulu children “before, during, and after” what seemed to them a shockingly abrupt process. They expected all manner of trauma and other nasty Freudian complications. Instead, they found that the children quickly moved on to bigger and better things.

The plan was simple enough: a two- or three-day road trip in the desert, father and son, with plenty of distractions—and a copious supply of organic whole cow’s milk. Death Valley maybe. Or Baja. While Mommy got to stay up late with the breast pump, drink martinis with her friends, and sleep as late as she could.

A friend mentioned the Joshua Tree Music Festival. Perfect, I thought. He loves music. He’d been thoroughly pleasant at Coachella a week earlier. He’d been impressed with Los Amigos Invisibles, had enjoyed picking up cigarette butts in 100+ degree heat and crawling around the polo field amongst the empty plastic cups.

Even when the security forces wouldn’t let him into the beer garden, he’d kept his cool. It wasn’t until the Madonna set that he’d wanted to go home.

I hitched up the old aluminum fuselage: a 1954 Silver Streak Clipper, built by one of the Wright Brothers, and packed the truck with all the necessary safari equipment: canvas awning, solar panel, propane, Afghan rugs, rope, headlamps, firewood, multiple five-gallon jerry cans filled with water, red wagon, jogging stroller, beach towels, buckets, shovels, folding chairs, soccer ball, pack-n-play, sunblock, inflatable pool, beer, milk…

The fuselage in California’s High Desert. Photo by Author.

2. The Road

We snuck out before dawn. It was mid-May. The AC in the Land Cruiser had been out of commission since the latter days of the Reagan era.

The Department of Transportation’s Changeable Message Signs gave no indication of impediments to travel. Instead, they warned of a child abduction in progress: Amber Alert. Someone had made off with an 18-month-old boy and his aunt, who happened to be “the suspect’s estranged wife.”

Strapped into his torture chair, with the blue air of morning gusting through the cab at seventy miles an hour, my own boy slept—like a baby, they say (they who do not know better)—while I set a direct course for sunrise in the Mojave.

At Rancho Cucamonga, just before the 15, we hit a bottleneck. Jasper woke with a start, only to find the breeze stopped dead, the heat coming up faster than the sun. Ever since his inaugural automobile journey—the one from Cedars-Sinai east across town on Beverly—he’s had an aversion to traffic. He wanted to be moving. He wanted out. And he was not pleased to see the last curds of breast milk already long drained from his bottle.

He began to cry (like a baby, they say).

All around us sat suspicious commuters in enormous aerodynamically-shaped vessels worth more than perfectly habitable two-bedroom houses in Oklahoma. He began to scream. People looked. He began to make shrieking noises. One might have imagined I was peeling back his toenails. I rolled up the windows.

Magic Hour at the JTree Music Fest. Photo by Author.

Which was about the moment my wife called to see how we were doing (just fine, I said, over the howling), and to let me know that I’d forgotten the bag she’d packed (oops)—the one with his diapers, wipes, shoes, and all his clothes.

No problem, I said. We’ll work it out.

And so we did. We purchased some distressingly cheap threads from the sale racks at a department store in Yucca Valley, likely the handiwork of recently-weaned children in Malaysia.

We set up our camp along the barbwire fence at the edge of the campground, as far away from the stages as we could manage, and began to ferry water for the wading pool. By the following morning, with the desert heat rising once again, we awoke to find all manner of glass-eyed and benevolent hippies resting weary heads beneath the fringes of our shade.

After three days and three nights of curdling heat, cold pizza and applesauce, gale-force sandstorms, stinking porta-potties, impromptu drum circles, and all-night high-voltage folk-electronica—one cold six-pack from the trailer fridge traded late in the weekend for an extra gallon of 2%—the thing was done.

When his mother showed up on Sunday (her breasts, alas, still sore), Jasper, for his part, was thrilled to see her—no longer merely as a necessary and friendly appendage to those aching glands, but as a person: someone he could clink bottles with (plastic to glass), dance with, travel the world with. Someone who, for years to come, would be willing to cook him hot dogs and pancakes and Bengali lentils, would occasionally use psychological means to cause him to eat asparagus, and often, when conditions were mostly right, serve him ice cream in a cone.

3. Coda

Home on the road. Photo by Author.

Jasper survived the next three years rather admirably, I thought. He seemed as, er, well-adjusted as any of the other small animals I had met from his generation.

He wore underwear, dressed himself, skied without a leash. He knew his letters cold. And could occasionally be convinced to shovel toys onto shelves, or refrain from trying to squash his little brother’s fragile skull, in exchange for a small dose of sugar, or the promise of an extra story at bedtime (or the threat of one less).

Beckett, on the other hand, was just getting started. And so one day young Jasper and I, busy as each of us happened to be that early December, agreed to commit a full week’s time to introduce the little fellow, on the eve of his first birthday, to the wider world beyond the maternal comforts to which he had always been accustomed. And in the meantime give Mommy a chance to do some real skiing.

The plan: a 32-hour boys-only round-trip train journey from California to New Mexico—riding the old rails along Route 66, across the Great American Desert—for an early-winter visit to his grandfather’s garlic farm.



  • Tom Gates

    Thank you for boobing your way through this one. It was a great read!

  • Bill Page

    You do have a great sense of humor! As well as the humility and timing to deliver it perfectly. So did the plans to rent a 10 X 80 foot RV for Christmas fall through? And you decided to come early winter instead of late December? Great either way! You have to meet John Stiles the Goatman in his new camp here.

    • David Page

      No, I think the RV plan is still on. And yes, look forward to seeing the goat man again!

  • Simone

    One of the best pieces I’ve read on Matador. Thank you!

  • Melissa Beaman

    loved it!!! Can’t wait to share this with other friends and family!

  • Laura Bernhein

    Thanks for sharing this experience.

    I just want to remind the readers that several organizations, including World Health Organization and UNICEF, consider that babies should be breastfed for at least two years. And that the average weaning age in the rest of the world is four years.
    BTW: Pelé, the Brazilian soccer star was nursed for five years!


    Laura, mom of happy Layla, who is still nursing (she’ll be 2 on Monday!) and will be until she’s ready to move on!

  • Laura Bernhein

    I’m reading the article again, and discovered the text of the photo of the Zulu woman. It is very offensive…If your boy gave up something (it sounds to me that you kind of decided that for him), he gave up NURSING from his mom’s breast, he didn’t gave up the pair of boobs you’re showing (and obviously enjoying from your man, machista? point of view).

    • Eva

      Agreed. I think the photo is out of place to say the least. Mixing up children nursing and adult male sexualization of women’s breasts is a big part of the reason why women get so much hassle about breast feeding in public being “obscene,” “inappropriate” etc.

      • Eva

        I should clarify, there’s nothing wrong with the photo in and of itself – it’s the flippant comment in combination that suggests, “Boobs! Hawt” when we’re supposed to be talking about breastfeeding…

  • Tim Patterson

    I absolutely loved this piece, but agree that the Zulu photo is in poor taste.

  • Laura Bernhein

    Eva, I totally agree. The photo is not wrong. The words are horrible. I have a suggestion: Why don’t you replace the photo for a similar one of the auhor’s wife!! ha ha!

    • David Page

      touché. :-)

  • Agustina

    I did not like this article. In a world where thousands of babies die of hunger every day because women have lost the art of breastfeeding, I don’t find humorous comment about ‘curing’ a baby from breastfeeding are one bit funny. Those little ‘funny’ comments that follow themselves through the article, in combination with the text next to the zulu photo and poor paediatrician advice make this article tasteless, offensive and misinformed. On another note, despite an intensive google search I did not find what two researchers observed the zulu weaning in 1957 in such happy manner, some reference would be appreciated. I did find an article called ‘The effect of sudden weaning on Zulu children’ but it has nothing positive to say on the long term impact of sudden weaning in the zulu baby population, so I don’t think that is the one you read.

  • David Page

    Oh dear. In fact, there’s a link above. See Child Care & Culture: Lessons from Africa, Levine et al. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), p. 45: “They found that some but not all of the children were distressed on the day of weaning and shortly afterward, but that their manifest distress soon disappeared and was replaced by social activity and positive emotional states that indicated no traumatic impact. They conclude that the sudden weaning of Zulu children promotes their social development in general and independence in particular, that it does not overwhelm them or constitute a trauma, and that it is not prognostic of psychological disorder.” But anyway this is not a scientific treatise, nor an effort to preach the “correctness” of one particular method of child rearing (or weaning, specifically) over another (nor of the language to be used, or the reverence of tone, nor to say anything at all about the loss of the fine art of breastfeeding). This is a lighthearted re-telling of a particular personal experience. My own. Anything else, I think (like taking responsibility for the thousands of babies dying of hunger every day), would be presumptuous.

    • Wendy

      I agree David, and thank you for sharing this! I would think it was much easier on the little guy in question and his mother that you were there to distract them both and make this ‘not such a big deal’.

  • Matt S.

    David, enough. Just apologize for killing all those babies already…it wasn’t a very nice thing to do, but if you’re humble and take responsibility for your actions, some of us will forgive you. (Not me.)

    Also, I disagree with Laura B: the caption is not out of place. It’s totally IN PLACE in accompanying this tasteless, inappropriate and misleading re-telling of a man and his wife’s experience weaning their first born off breastfeeding in an honest and good-humored way that has resulted in some constructive discussion. Shame on him, the pig. I mean seriously, this is without a doubt EXTREMELY harmful to the eleven or twelve people who’ve read it because they–these somewhat retarded eleven or twelve–obviously lack any ability to think critically for themselves and are quite easily influenced. (If I were them, I wouldn’t be offended at all at the implied condescension in some of the above posts.)

    Now, like a fifth grade essay, my conclusion: Can’t we just all agree that breasts ARE terrific and lovely and worthy of ALL KINDS of admiration? Personally I love them, and not just because they’re an integral and beautiful part of child rearing. Also, they’re pretty hawt.

    • Eva

      Well this certainly added to the constructive discussion.

  • Allison McDonell Page

    As the woman bearing the glands Jasper was plucked away from, I thought I should add my two cents. I loved breast feeding and had a very easy time of it. No infections, no having to take my pump to work and sneak away on bathroom breaks. In fact, I could easily have gone on longer without a problem. Pediatricians in my part of the world recommend breast feeding for a year. That was my goal. With Jasper, I accomplished that goal plus a month and a half. When Jasper turned a year I thought I would start to wean him slowly, cutting down the number of feedings per day. But he did not make it easy. Suddenly, he was interested in nothing but boob when it came to me. No hugs, no cute showing off of his latest physical feats, only desperate pleadings for my breast. I was having a hard time not giving him what he wanted when it was so easy and decided not to reward the behavior and passed him onto my mammary glandless husband for a few days. I realize that in many parts of the world breast milk is the safest and best product for a baby and child. A five year old is often better off drinking from her mother’s milk then eating the neighborhood food or drinking the neighborhood water. Both my children never had formula and moved from the breast to cow’s milk after they turned one. However, I still have to turn away when I see a four year old in America breast feeding. The thought of my four year old–who is reading, adding, using metaphor, and riding a two-wheeler–sucking at my breast after bath time is not even fathomable to me. I also feel for the mothers who suffer from ongoing breast infections; who pump and pump only to be swollen and bleeding. The pressure is so great to breast feed that even if a mother is suffering for it she feels she cannot stop. For the mother’s sake, I would certainly not suggest going cold turkey. My boobs hurt like hell for two weeks. And I wonder if it made them shrink more, but I don’t dwell.

    • Laura Bernhein

      Allison: thanks for sharing your point of view. I’m sure you did what it felt right to you and your family. I have nothing to say about your choices.

      But since you brought the discussion about weaning and extended nursing, I’m also going to add my two cents, according to my very own experience:

      I know that weaning -for the mainstream parenting vision- is all about “replacing” the mom’s breast for something else: pacifier, plastic bottle, glass bottle, Teddy Bears, toys, thumb sucking, and the list goes on…

      For me, breastfeeding is a relationship between my daughter and I. It’s not something that I give to her and/or take it away from her when I feel like doing it. I can’t simply take it away from her because it’s not only mine: It’s ours. My daughter will be 2 tomorrow, and is still nursing.

      Now she’s old enough to understand certain things. For instance: when we all go to bed (in our part of the world we co-sleep, would this be a scandal in your part of the world? ;)) my boos go to bed too, and if she needs me at night I can always hug her. She gets it. There is no hidden anger, it’s just an agreement. In fact, I’m pregnant again and I’m not planning to wean her. We’re just gonna go with the flow. Yes, I’ll be nursing a baby and a toddler, and enjoying it!! :)

      For our family, parenting is not about forcing. We believe that when children are ready to enter into another stage, they will do it. There is no need of trainings or “methods”, no matter how gentle of funny or creative they seem to be. La Madre Naturaleza is pretty wise, righ? And it has been here long before all the parenting books (and looong before all the pediatricians!)

      I don’t know how much travel you have done outside “your part of the world” (as you can tell, I love this expression!), but the average weaning age in the most of the world is four years. I’m sure that among the Matador travelers we can find some great witnesses of this. Extended nursing has nothing to do with how much your child learns at school, or what’s capable to do, or how many languages he speaks…It has to do with his continuum, call it emotional security if you want. I call it “the flow”.

      “I realize that in many parts of the world breast milk is the safest and best product for a baby and child”. Allison: the World Health Organization, UNICEF and even your boys’ pediatrician would agree that breast milk is the best and safest for any baby/child of any part of the world.

      I’m not going to write any longer on extended breastfeeding. I just enjoy it, I think it’s the best I can offer to my child, and she seems to agree! Time flies, and very soon this special time with my Layla will be one of the sweetest memories for both of us. Why don’t enjoy it while it lasts, instead of worrying about when and how it’s gonna end?

      Let me know if you’d like for me to send you some links or documents about some of these topics.

      Peaceful parenting for a peaceful world! And peace to you all,


      Laura, Peaceful parenting for a peaceful world!!

  • Francis Macomber

    My wet nurse was a Zulu! Golly, that Zulu milk is like liquid heroin! How else did Shaka get so mighty?

  • Agustina

    Allison, due to my involvement with La Leche League, I have seen women having a very hard time dealing with the pressure in all kind of situations. Some women want to continue to breastfeed beyond the two years old (minimal age recommended by most health organizations and lactation experts in any part of the world) are treated like freaks by family, friends and drs that think the child is too old, some women didn’t manage to stablish and enjoyable and working breastfeeding relationship and want to quit, but their environment pushes them to stop trying and some women were once very committed to breastfeeding and then didn’t feel comfortable any more and felt a lot of guilt and lack of empathy from their breastfeeding partners. If you breastfeed for too short or not at all, people ask you why you didn’t breastfeed, if you breastfeed too long people ask when you will stop. rarely people ask if your kid eats candy or vegetables, drinks soda or water, but they all feel entitled to ask about your breasts. We live in a breast obsessed culture and something very private becomes veryy public in many uncomfortable ways. Now, if this was a blog, I would have judged it as a private matter and moved on hoping it all worked out well for you all, but because it is not a blog, it was published in a magazine, responsibilities of what is being communicated come to play. Editorial responsibility, and also reader’s responsibility when we feel that something is not being communicated truthfully or seems misinformed.

    i don’t know why you didn’t want to breastfeed any more, it is none of my business and I am not asking, in La Leche League many women many women come looking for support during weaning, they do it for very different reasons and they all get the support they need to make the situation the least hurtful for everybody involved. But at the same time as they get support, there is also honesty about what is going on. In every part of the world (and I suspect we are in the same part) breast milk is the best food a baby can get, when the baby is 1, 2 or 5 years old. There is no other food that equals breast milk in health and nutritional value. Abrupt and unilateral weaning is not possible without a certain degree of trauma and emotional hurt, both for the mother and the child. The mother’s body and mind has to face the fact that there is nobody to eat the food we produce, and that generates stress, whether the mother decided to acknowledge it or not, it is a biological reaction that is inevitable and very real. For the child is even more confusing, every thing he used to get from the breast, that is so much more than milk and that feels so right for him, is denied to him abruptly and he doesn’t understand why what feels so good now has to feel so wrong, I think that any story that denies every element involved, benefits of breastfeeding as well as the hurt of weaning for both parties, even if its done graciously in the form of a father-son trip, is just deceiving and dishonest and sends out a message that is not right. I am not judging your feelings or decision, I am judging the way the story is portrait, i am criticizing the romantic description of a very painful process, that is a true rite of passage that mother and child have to navigate together and go through it together, as best as they can.

  • Amanda


    As a mother of two, first one formula-fed, second one breast-fed but at 6 months I’m ready to switch him to formula too, I have had my share of judgment. Nevermind the fact that I eat and feed my family a very healthy diet that includes freshly juiced greens, sugarless fruit smoothies, whole grains…etc. There were a lot of factors that have played into my decision to formula feed, and it wasn’t an easy choice.

    Given all the comments on this blog I wanted to say one thing I’ve learned…just because you weaned abruptly does not mean your child will suffer long-term. I am sure you are raising a happy, healthy child who has long forgotten the “weaning” experience. Good for you for nursing for a year.

    And seriously, in my experience, in those tough times where your baby is crying whether it be for a breast, to be picked up, teething…sometimes you have to make light humour out of it, because if you don’t laugh, you’ll probably cry. No mother likes to see her child unhappy. It’s stories like this that remind me, I’m not alone. Thanks.

  • Allison McDonell Page

    Hi Amanda,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I am with you. I think we, as mothers, need to start being able to trust ourselves and let go of some of the pressures we have around us. We need to do everything we can to make it the best experience we can. I have dedicated my life to raising my children for 4 1/2 years so far and I have loved, almost every minute of it. Now I find myself getting pressures from friends not to vaccinate when I really believe in it. Doubt is not something that is helpful when mothering and it especially shouldn’t be fostered by the world around. I have one friend who did not breast feed either of her boys. It was just too painful. She was plagued with infections, etc. I don’t think I am one to judge. Neither am I to judge the mothers who work 70 hour weeks. It works for them. Everyone is different. I was formula fed and I came out okay.

    Thanks again,


  • Leigh Shulman


    How is it I’m just finding my way to this piece now.

    It’s fantastic. Both as a piece of writing and how great to hear a father’s point of view of the weaning process.

    When we weaned Lila, I also researched it, figured the best way to do it and all that. We went with gradual weaning, but in both, there has to be some level of separation (which, quite frankly is the normal course of motherhood from the moment of birth).

    What a great experience for Jasper to not only be with his dad during the process but to be seeing and experiencing all new sensations.

    Love it!

  • soultravelers3


    Like Leigh, I just found this by a link from her latest on breastfeeding and I always find the discussions on breastfeeding interesting and important. There are so many ways to do it and thank you for sharing yours. Weaning happens many ways & I love the informative book HOW WEANING HAPPENS by Diane Bengson because of all the case studies.

    Most women decide on how they will feed their babies before they even get pregnant, so it’s natural that your story would bring up other views and experiences. Not to make yours or anyone’s wrong or right, but just to show there are many ways to view this and or do this. Matador Network reaches many people and hopefully impacts them in a positive way. Like most things it is hard to fully understand any choice unless one has walked in those shoes.

    I think the biocultural perspectives about breastfeeding and breasts are fascinating and any discussion about breastfeeding seems to bring up all kinds of myths, opinions and misinformation. Still, I think it is all valuable. Everyone should do their own research and make their own decision on this and every topic.

    I find it fascinating that in the 1880′s more than 95% of infants in the United States were breastfed & weaned at 2-4 years of age. Until the twentieth century children in China and Japan breastfed until ages of four or five. Culture affects us all on what we view as “normal”. Which I think is funny since there is no such thing as “normal”.

    I’m iconoclastic by nature so haven’t done much the “average” way in my life. For me, I find out-of-the-box thinking works best. ( We’ve been on an open ended world tour as a family since 2006, are monolinguals raising a very fluent trilingual-triliterate from birth, I ran a full 26.2 mile marathon at 36 having never run before and without any training, I got pregnant at 47, we did child led weaning, we are case studies in the 4-Hour Workweek, we don’t believe in schools but child led learning, we’re contrarian investors, we did radical early retirement , we never had a crib or stroller etc etc).

    I love it because it works for me and my family, but we are all so different, so different ways will work for different people and families. Since others have added their experiences with weaning, I thought I’d add ours.

    Child led weaning was fantastic for us and our child and since we let HER decide on the weaning time, there was no crying, no sadness, no pain what so ever involved in our weaning process. Unlike a newborn, most of her extended nursing was done just at wake up cuddling time and at bedtime and was very precious to all of us as we are big fans of attachment parenting and the family bed. It was a very sweet and gradual ending when one day she just decided that she was done with nursing. So tender, precious and peaceful.

    Not every parent will want to choose child led weaning, but it was a special gift that I wanted to give to my child and I also hoped that being fully conscious of how much she loved nursing and the benefits of such, that she will pass it on for generations to come ( despite what ever is the “average” thing to do). Attachment parenting lines up with our green sustainable & spiritual belief system and we think it contributes to creating a more peaceful world for everyone.

    She is almost 10, very happy, very secure, very outgoing and independent, very bright, years ahead of age peers academically ( taught herself to read at 2),plays both the piano & violin well, very active and athletic, almost never gets sick..even colds or flu when she is surrounded by other kids with them, never had a earache, never vomits, heals very quickly, has lots of good friends, never had a “lovey”, “blankie”, pacifier or soft toy addiction, etc. Is it genes, nurture, our choices? Who knows! Like every parent we are happy with our choices and just do the best we can. Parenthood doesn’t come with a just “one way” manual and every child is unique.

    Our child has also always been very slender, so the extended nursing was sooooo wonderful to have as a resource on the rare occasions that she did get sick and would not eat anything. It gave us more confidence in our world travels as well since a child’s immune system is not fully functioning until 6 or 7.

    Since you posted one view of extended nursing, I thought I’d put what I think are better links about the extended nursing choice and the biocultural perspective of nursing and weaning and how that affects us all ( I hope Matador uses these links in their breastfeeding information to give a more complete view):,+being+published+by+Aldine+de+Gruyter.&ots=z_RnGCiaSF&sig=NutpGBwBY9kr-RSTTQpZN2DmBC0#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I know extended breastfeeding is not for everyone and like ANY breastfeeding over a month, will most likely remain the minority option for some time. I was a formula fed baby and understand my mother’s choice in that just as much as my fathers choice to smoke or my bilingual-from-birth in laws choice to raise their kids as monolinguals of the majority culture. As older parents with more time to think about these things and more resources than many, we just wanted to start a new trend in OUR line, based on our beliefs.

    Each family must do what works for them.

  • Keph Senett

    Hi David,

    I reread this this morning (I took my first pass at it a few days ago) and wanted to add my ‘bravo’ to the chorus here. I’m not a parent, and I’ve got almost nothing to say about the rightness or wrongness of weaning, but damn, your brawny prose got me here. Nice balance of playfulness and iteration. Appealing cadence. Vivid descriptions. Yum.

    Also, I came back to this piece for a reread because I am trying to understand the difference between destination piece and personal essay. I get it, now. Thanks.


    • David Page

      Thanks for the kind words, Keph!

  • Milda Ratkelyte

    For monday blues…really good article Loved it!

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