4 Years Later, Still Less Than PerfectIt’s been 4 years since I last posted for this blog and I have very little regrets about being away this long. As I re-read my last blog posts I realized a couple things; I must really like taking hiatus’ when life is chaotic and, our life is chaotic. I won’t set myself up for high expectations here, but I will commit to being honest, and sharing pieces of our lives that I think people can appreciate and relate to. I am certain I will have a lot to vent about, but I will try never to let you sit for too long in the darker corners of our lives.
This time around I will also give my children names to make writing about our family easier; we will call my oldest son Napoleon and my youngest son Coyote. Napoleon is now in 5th Grade and loves to build complex structures, swimming and collects all things unusual, Coyote has entered Kindergarten and loves Taekwondo, skateboarding and cracking the most hilarious jokes.
Since I last wrote, so much has happened…far too much to contain in the words of a single blog post. Life has ranged from absolutely amazing to incredibly dark and uncomfortable. The Coles Notes version sounds like this though: I finished my social work degree and started working for an awesome non-profit organization. I survived something very wicked that caused me PTSD and left me damaged but stable. I lost one of my best friends to a difficult parting of ways. My husband and I celebrated 10 years of enjoying the calms and surviving the storms of life and marriage together. I have gotten to know some of the most amazing moms that I am happy to count as friends. I celebrated 18 years of friendship with two women I call sisters. I have embraced the chaos our family brings to the world and celebrate our differences. I have had to suck up my desire to avoid conflict and fight for my children to have their educational needs met. We officially went from poor to not poor. You can trust me when I say I have spared you many details, but you get the gist of what you missed.
I am so glad to be back writing here. Our life is not perfect but it is never really dull and I enjoy sharing stories and thoughts about what goes on in our family. I will not sell you lollipops and rainbows here. I won’t pretend that we have our lives all sorted out or that we are the best example of how things are done. Our life is chaotic, fantastic and still less than perfect but I look forward to sharing it with you.
Less Than Perfect
As our family life changes and becomes more challenging, I am finding it more and more difficult to write about life. Yet, I’m sure the things we have encountered as a family are not unique. So I am going to push myself to write about them, knowing that as ‘different’ as our family is; we are not alone.
As parents we often start with these expectations of how things are going to be, how our children are going to be and how we are going to be with our children. We enter into parenthood with ideals, pictures and examples of what we want our lives to look like. We buy or do things because they are supposed to help, we avoid things because they may harm, and most of all we stack ourselves up against how other families are doing. Unfortunately, it’s these ideals and expectations that can cause rude awakenings for families who are less-than-perfect.
I’m not exactly sure when my rude awakening to our not-so-perfect family occurred, but I do know it was followed by depression. I never wanted the same struggles for my children as I had, and I certainly didn’t want more challenging ones! When you first discover that the mental pictures you have painted of your family are not quite accurate- disillusionment can ensue. Rude awakenings can occur, crushing parental expectations for many reasons: whether your child has to wear glasses, has anaphylaxis, asthma, juvenile diabetes, acid reflux, still wets the bed, has wicked temper tantrums, a learning disability, adhd, autism and any other type of disability, or even something that makes them just a little more ‘challenging.’
Upon realizing that one’s family is less-than-perfect you begin the process of becoming comfortably uncomfortable. For me, this process started off slowly, beginning with acknowledging that my first born did not like to sleep and that I, in turn, was not rested and losing my footing. Eventually we added more less-than-perfect’s to our lives some of them drastically impacting the way we socialized with others. When you’re forced to ask people who are around your son to not bring snacks or serve food that might have peanuts in it, or asking people to wash their hands before they play with your son’s toys, it often becomes easier to withdrawal than risk being treated as an inconvenience. For me, this fear was further magnified with the emergence of behaviour that didn’t always fit the mould or environment our son was in. We became that family that others stared at in the grocery store because their child was having a meltdown.
The second part of my journey to becoming ‘comfortably uncomfortable’; was accepting that it’s okay to be different. I was a quirky child, my husband was quirky child, we are quirky adults and our children are…that’s right; quirky. It’s not that everything about being quirky is difficult, but the difficult things need to be acknowledged and honoured. For myself, being able to acknowledge the things that were not going well, was made easier by looking at the difficult and amazing parts to being ‘different’ at the same time. For instance, I would say: It is painful when my son has melt downs over pocket lint, but it’s hilarious that he loves to dress as the Undercover Boss. Framing struggles with a bit more context often helps to make things a little less depressing. I love both my sons, and they do not have to be perfect or like everyone else for me to accept and love them.
The third part of this process that I really needed to go through, was to accept help when things were beyond me. It does not make you a bad parent to admit you don’t know how to deal with something. Once you are able to acknowledge the ‘differences’ in your family; it becomes easier to embrace support when the difficult parts of these differences interfere with your family functioning. Whether the help comes through family, friends, counselling, occupational therapy, specialists, medication, etc., there is no shame in admitting the challenges may be a bit bigger than you thought. It’s scary to get help, because sometimes getting help means being judged or giving a label to a struggle; As much as this potentially opens the door to a lifetime of preconceived notions and criticism from others, it is important to push through until you have the support needed to improve things. One of the things I want for my children as they grow up, is to become the most well-adjusted adults they can be, but to do this we may need help along the way.
The part of the journey to becoming a comfortably uncomfortable parent that I am currently at is where I am learning to embrace people who cherish my children for who they are. We are so lucky to have people in our lives that understand what being different is like and get a kick out of it. Usually these people can take the difficult parts to being different in stride. They don’t talk about how awful your child(ren) are behind your back, or about how you as a parent have failed or are doing things wrong. These people are the ones who find joy in playing a role in your child’s life, and who don’t treat your child as a half human due to their differences. I feel so fortunate to have these people in our lives; they make it easier for us to embrace both the good and bad parts to being different.
In this journey, my children have been my main teachers as I learn to be comfortably uncomfortable. They have shown me that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Sometimes all it takes is the simple pleasures and small victories to bring us joy. I accept and expect that there will be many bad days to come, which I suppose makes it easier to be grateful for the good ones. I embrace that our family and my children are not what I imagined them to be- and I am okay with that. I acknowledge that for me, parenthood will be an ongoing challenge, but for now I will remain a comfortably uncomfortable parent in my less-than-perfect family.
P.S. If you feel alone because of what makes you different, remember; different is the new normal.
Like many bloggers before me, I have been on a bit of a hiatus. I hate to do this “since the last time I wrote…” business, but seriously since the last time I wrote…
About a month after the passing of our beloved GG, my husband was in an accident at work. Without getting into too many details he had a serious fall that could have left him paralyzed or worse, but instead he amazingly landed on his feet and left hand after falling from over 17 feet. While the last three months have consisted of Physio Therapy and Doctor Appointments, I am very aware that things could have looked much differently and not a day goes by that I don’t know it. While having my partner home has been difficult at times, it has indeed made us stronger. He has healed up quite nicely and has recently returned to work. He would credit his cat like reflexes or skateboarding skills for landing on his feet, but we both know that things could have turned out much worse!
As the famous Dr. Seuss has written, “that is not all. Oh, no. That is not all…”
We took advantage of my husband’s time off over Christmas and drove out to visit my dad’s side of the family. It was great to see my grandmother, my aunt, uncles, many cousins, and cousin’s children! While out there, the kids caught some crazy super cold that was filled with puking and coughing. Since our youngest son’s bout with Pertussis (whooping cough) he has become a germ magnet and gets sick very easily. So while on our 14 hour journey home, his crazy super cold got much worse. By the time we got home, he had a really bad fever and was coughing up junk. We took him to the hospital and chest x-rays confirmed that he had developed pneumonia. Now the kicker in all this was that it was right over our oldest son’s 5th birthday. Thankfully he didn’t notice this fact until only a couple weeks ago, after he went to another child’s birthday party. Our youngest has since recovered (though he has another cold and an ear infection right now) and our oldest has been spoiled enough to make up for the lack of presents or party on his birthday.
Two weeks following our oldest son’s birthday, our youngest son turned 1! Lately we have kept all birthday’s low key and I have been able to let go of my guilt and replace it with appreciation for my family’s existence! Looking back at our youngest son’s life I amazed that while being sick with all the many illnesses he’s experienced, he has been able to hit all his milestones! He was walking (and I mean WALKING!) shortly prior to 8 months, he was climbing weeks later and has been a happy little boy that doesn’t let much interfere with his play time. I have been inspired by his resiliency and tried embracing it in my own life. This is the boy that I would wake with many, many times a night pounding on his back as he stopped breathing due to pertussis, this is the boy that would cough and choke on his own phlegm several times a night because of pneumonia; I remember holding my breath in until I would hear him take his first breath in. It is amazing that such a little person can have so much strength; his illnesses have made teething seem like a mosquito bite.
While we have had some of the less then helpful opinions on the causes of our challenges, we have also been very fortunate to have such awesome people in our lives that have helped make our year a good one. I believe that when you live in a supportive community, it becomes easier to be resilient; and our family has had to be resilient. I will abstain from listing all of our struggles of the year, because I’m set on moving forward. I love our family’s capacity to deal with challenges and our resiliency when it comes to struggles. We have not always been able to hold it all together, but we have definitely managed to stay and grow together; which is the best possible outcome in the face of adversity.
So, I will end with this,
To my family: I love you to the moon and back and I am proud of you and proud to be a mom, wife and daughter!
To my friends and community: I have so much appreciation for the way you have supported us in both simple and large ways.
P.S. It’s hard to make supper in the dark; So to make it easier, if you are able, turn on the lights.
Children, Death and Remembrances
We recently said goodbye to Great Grandma (GG) as she left us very suddenly a couple weeks ago. Our oldest son (almost 5 years old) had the opportunity to visit GG in the hospital before she passed away, and her illness gave us opportunity to prepare him for the inevitable loss of our beloved. He had many questions and thoughts on the idea of GG dying. Upon her passing, everyone had their own input to offer him about where GG went and what happens next. At one point my son and I had a long lasting disagreement in the grocery store about whether or not GG was a zombie.
My husband and I struggled with whether or not to include him in the funeral, at one point we were going to bring him until my mom made a really good point. Her thoughts were that instead of trying to fit Ajax into an adult way of saying goodbye at a funeral, we create our own way of helping him say goodbye. What a brilliant idea. So over the next few days we encouraged him to draw some pictures and write some notes of what he would like to say to GG on our Goodbye GG Day. We answered his questions about what will happen to GG’s body now that she was dead and allowed him to express his sadness.
On the day of the Funeral, my parents watched both the boys, so that we could be there for my husband’s family. The funeral was a traditional French Catholic ceremony, at the end I didn’t feel I had the closure I needed in saying goodbye to GG, so I’m not sure why I thought our oldest son would.
The next day we proceeded with plan Goodbye GG Day. Our oldest son asked if he could bring his camera and we agreed. We gathered the pictures that our son had drawn and the messages he had written and loaded the four of us into the van. The destination was the graveyard where GG’s ashes were buried. We made two stops on our way; one to purchase some flowers and another to pick up some balloons in GG’s favorite colour.
At the graveyard we walked around talking about the headstones and why you shouldn’t step or climb on them. He played in the leaves and took some pictures; finally we walked over to where GG was buried. At GG’s headstone we pointed out that Great Grandpa was buried there a long time ago and now GG was too. We talked about how GG’s body turned into dust and would eventually become part of the earth and help plants to grow. We laid the flowers we brought and our oldest left his pictures and “GoodBi GG” note in a plastic bag with some rocks in it. We walked around some more, and visited with a lady and her Theo Dog (daschund) whose property bordered the graveyard; while our oldest played in the thousands of leaves that had collected at the edge of the fence.
Just before it was time to go we took the balloons we had gotten and attached one of our son’s notes that read, “Sorry GG that you died.” Our son let them go and we said good bye as the balloons floated away. On our way home we had some hot chocolate to warm our insides, as it was a chilly day. On the drive home I asked our son if it was good to say goodbye to GG, “Yes Mom,” he said in his sad voice, and then he proceeded to ask if he could watch a movie when we got home.
Everyone grieves differently and children are no different. Early lessons in death are sometimes the hardest ones for children to grasp, but I feel we did right by GG and our family. When it comes to death, it is easy to take ourselves very seriously, but I am grateful for children who have a wonderful way of lightening even the darkest moments with laughter. Whether it’s questions of zombies, why robots are helping Grandma breath, or them wondering why you can’t see someone at their grave site; their innocence can keep us from getting to caught up in the traditions of saying goodbye while forgetting to actually say goodbye.
So with that I say goodbye and au revoir GG, we love you and are missing you!
Vaccinations and the September Write Off
I understand this post is going to be somewhat controversial.
When we had our first child, we struggled with whether or no to get him vaccinated. It wasn’t that we believed that vaccinations caused autism or other learning or behavior problems, but rather that we were not satisfied with the amount of research that had gone into vaccinations. We struggled with the idea of adding something into our son’s system that could potentially mess with his tiny little body. We struggled with the idea of giving our son something that may change him before we even got to know him. We never judged other parents for deciding to vaccinate their children, however we always encouraged parents to do their research and know about what they were getting their child vaccinated for.
One of our beliefs was that with better access to clean water, health care, and careful hygiene practices we could take on many of these diseases if our children were ever so unlucky.
As our first son got older it became apparent that he faced some serious illnesses that directly impacted his immune system; Anaphylaxis, Asthma and the much less serious eczema became constants in our lives. Not to mention the occurrence of a seizure, and the chronic diarrhea our son had dealt with from day one. With his emerging hyperactive immune system we believed it better to wait until we had figured out and dealt with some of his health concerns before adding something new and foreign into his body. With our doctor, we decided that we would put him on a delayed schedule for some of the highly encouraged vaccinations, but there were a few we were definitely still uncomfortable with. A few months after his fourth birthday, he received his first set of vaccinations.
When our second son was born, we had the same dialogue, but determined we would not wait as long to get him vaccinated. We could tell right from the beginning that his little body was the different from his brother’s. We still had our major reservations about vaccinations but, we knew that we would be getting his much earlier than we did for his brother.
Now one thing to keep in mind is that children under one, whether vaccinated or not, are at risk of contracting the diseases that vaccinations cover. A child following a regular schedule for vaccinations is not considered fully immune before the age of one and there is still at risk of contracting certain illnesses. For children not vaccinated the risk increases.
If you regularly read my blog you would have noticed that there are no entries for the month of September, this is because of one awful word: PERTUSSIS. Last month our seven months old son contracted Pertussis. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is highly contagious before being treated with a full course of antibiotics. Most of the time infants who contract the disease get it from an adult. Most adults who have received the DTaP vaccinations in childhood are no longer immune to Pertussis as it requires a booster shot in adulthood. As a child, I was vaccinated for Pertussis, but in spite of this I contracted the illness. Pertussis was our first run in with a disease covered by vaccinations.
It took one visit to our family doctor and two visits to children’s emergency before we received a confirmed diagnosis and by then the illness had progressed so far that the only thing antibiotics did was make the Pertussis not contagious. Infants under one year old are most at risk of complications leading to serious implications. If you ever have an infant that contracts Pertussis you will learn the words “spontaneous recovery,” in reference to your baby continually stopping and starting breathing. The fact is that it’s been over 5 weeks and he still has many fits of coughing a day followed by short periods of time when he cannot breath. I wish I could say that things have gotten better, but the fact remains that our son is still quite sick, though his disposition has improved greatly.
With the Pertussis everyone in our family and our neighbors’ family was treated for it with antibiotics, but the complications have been Mike getting Bronchitis, myself getting pneumonia and our entire family getting a virus. It has been a long, expensive and exhausting journey. The reality is that we now have both boys on a schedule for the full course of vaccinations. Our youngest will have to wait until his health has improved, but I am less comfortable with our son stopping breathing than I am the unknowns of vaccinations.
We have received a lot of criticism around not vaccinating our children, I understand the concerns but as a parent you need to be comfortable with what goes into your child and if you’re not you need to understand why. It is not good enough to simply trust your Doctor or the advice of other people. Our first visit to children’s emergency I asked the Doctor if it could be Pertussis, the Doctor told us it was definitely NOT Pertussis. Doctors are well educated, but they are humans just like you and I and it pays to do extra research. However, be aware that in doing this research you may move from being indifferent to becoming more or less comfortable with what you are researching.
With this I will sign off and hope that my time this month is filled with less illness and more writing.
P.S. I wonder what would happen if all people regularly washed their hands, coughed into their elbows and didn’t go out when they were sick.
Ode to Single Parenthood
In a small capacity, I have recently been humbled by experiencing life as a single parent. Minus the extra income and having to worry about daycare, I have seen what our life without a father and partner would look like. The number one word I would use to sum up this experience is EXHAUSTING. I love my children, but simplest things become a challenge, especially with a newborn; Grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, making supper, bedtime routines, socializing, taking time for oneself, finding constructive ways of dealing with anger all become more complicated and emotionally taxing.
I have so much respect for parents whom are raising their children on their own, for whatever reason. Taking the time to listen to your children is hard when all you feel like doing is locking yourself in the bathroom and crying. I’m sure it gets easier but in cases where parents have limited outside support, the wear and tear to the soul must be immense at times. I love being able to share my parenting joys and frustrations with my partner, and I love hearing his thoughts and feelings on what is happening in our family. In my partners absence, friends and family helped by filling in the gaps in order for me to stay a sane parent.
In my experience, one of the only things that got easier in being a pseudo single parent was the cleaning. It’s no secret that my partner is a clutter bug and in his time away I have found that my housework load decreased substantially. With that said, I would still much rather have his involvement in our family in exchange for a few more messes to clean (I do have my limits though).
To those who are parenting on their own, I pay homage to you! May you find the support you need to breath, the patience you need to listen, the money you need to eat and the time you need to sleep.
P.S. You can wear your baby doing many chores, but draw the line at mowing the lawn.
In the Shadow of a Giant
I have two sons. One I have known for over four years and the other I have only known for six months minus a week. My oldest son was a highly active baby that made himself known all hours of the day and night. He would not fall asleep unless my husband or I rocked him for a good half an hour before bed, and even then he’d wake up ever hour or two. I suffered from intense postpartum, which looking back, was made worse by the overwhelming lack of sleep. Though I wanted more children, we put off having a second for fear of a repeat performance of that first year.
Finally, a month after my thirtieth birthday and over three years after having my first child we went for it; nine months later my youngest son was born. It may sound far fetched, but from in the womb I could tell he was an easy going baby. Unfortunately for him, “easy” has sometimes meant getting lost behind his brother’s larger than life personality. Through no fault of my oldest son, we have sometimes neglected to spend the same “getting to know you time” with our youngest as we did with our first. It’s not that we are ignoring our youngest, I am just aware of the struggle over ensuring that his growing personality does not get overshadowed by his older brother.
Finding the balance in love, time and energy spent is a tough job for most parents, especially when children compete for your time. A good teacher tries to find ways to engage not just the eager to participate but the children who are acutely quiet. As a parent, I want to see both my boys have a platform to express themselves while feeling heard and valued. While my youngest isn’t even talking yet, I am excited to get to know his personality. For now I take comfort in that I am committed to finding a balance for my children as I want them both to have voices in our family.
P.S. If you sit in silence long enough even whisper sounds like yelling.
B-A-D spells BAD and B-O-Y spells BOY
Labels are sometimes the most detrimental ways we can stunt a child from flourishing. How easy is it when we see a child misbehaving in the mall, to turn to a friend or partner and call those children bad or to look at the parents and criticize the way they parent their children. I have been guilty of this many times until I got to know my oldest son.
My eldest son is four years old and just completed preschool. If I was to paint a picture of my son with words I would say he is a curious, creative, goofy, easily excitable, and loud little boy with a love for all things green, floral, robotic or on wheels. He is a free spirit that loves to move from activity to activity on his own time and takes many moments to pause and observe EVERYTHING. He learns when no one is looking, he climbs to highest peaks that will hold him, with very little fear, and challenges most everything.
On the flip side of this larger than life personality is the challenges that come with parenting him. He is easily frustrated, he has big anger, love, hate, sadness and he has no issue with throwing temper tantrums anywhere. One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to get and keep his attention. Unfortunately it is this challenge that has overwhelmed his preschool teacher this year. We recently sat through a meeting with the resource teacher and his homeroom teacher and listened to her express her frustration for spending so much time on our son all year while 26 other students suffered. The guilt you feel as a parent realizing that your child is indeed beyond your control is immense. We set boundaries for our son, we expect him to listen when we give him instruction, there are always consequences for his actions. But how does a child wear out the use of his name and the class time-out spot without some blame given to the parents? We could try to beat our son into submission, but I fear the cost to his person-hood would be too great.
Fortunately for us as his parents, we hold enough creativity to try to work with our son, unfortunately for his teacher she did not hold the creativity needed to work with him. It breaks my heart that he has been labelled as a bad kid this year, and that he spent three quarters of most days on time outs at school. I am not blind to my son’s challenges, nor do I blame his behaviour on his teacher. The truth is that even with three Educational Assistants in the classroom 27 preschool students is a lot to work with and help flourish. I merely think we all could have done better.
It’s amazing to think that our son who had so much trouble in school still managed to learn all his letters and their sounds, how to read and spell many three and four letter words, count to 20+ and backwards from 10, the words to Oh Canada, how to write his name, to almost colour in the lines, spell all the basic colours, draw pictures that are fairly recognizable, recite countless poems from memory, and how to zip up his coat. For a bad boy he did pretty well this year, and I will not lose sight of his successes because of someone’s judgements. Onward and forward into kindergarten he goes, I will swallow my shame and exchange it for pride.
P.S Never judge a book by it’s cover.
E is for Emotions
Any given day our emotions can range from joy to sadness and appreciation to anger. If you want to see how easy it is to go from crying to laughing you need only to look to those tiny beings in your household to see just how quick the transformation can be.
Yesterday was rough, my 4 year old is one of those children that experiences big emotions; Big happiness, big frustration, big love, big anger and big sadness. In his moments of big anger he says many things that if I didn’t have a thick skin, I’d be crying all the time. Some of the most common words spoken in his anger and frustration are “You’re not my dad/mom anymore,” “I’m not a part of this family anymore” or “I will never be your friend.” Yesterday was no exception.
What started out as a normal temper tantrum of not wanting to eat digressed into an intense anger that left him out of control. “I don’t need a mom anymore!” I wasn’t really phased by his words as I have been accustom to hearing them before, but this time I decided to entertain the idea with him. Once he had calmed down a little bit I began asking him questions.
“Do you know what it would mean to not have a mom anymore?”
No comment from my son, he just sat on our bed staring at the wall.
“You wouldn’t have me around to read you books or make your snacks for school.”
Silence from my son.
“I wouldn’t be around to cheer you on when you ride your bike or play video games.”
Still more silence.
“I wouldn’t be there to play with you, give you hugs or kisses before bed or listen to your stories.”
I really didn’t think he was getting it until his eyes began to well up with tears.
“Is that what you would really want, no mom to give you hugs and kisses and be around to love you no matter what?”
At this point the silence was broken by a cry so deeply filled with sadness, I was shocked. I was so shocked that I found my own tears streaming down my face. We just looked at each other crying, it was like a cheesy scene from a movie. A couple minutes later he got up and left our room emerging with his stuffed polar bear and my lazy floating birthday balloon. He climbed up onto my bed and without speaking any words handed me his polar bear and my balloon. I looked at him and told him I loved him, and his tears started up again. I pulled him over and gave him a bear hug and we both sobbed in unison. I have never seen him so impacted by an idea, for such a “live in the moment child” he really seemed to be grappling with the idea of loosing mom.
I am incredibly grateful for moments like these that remind me that my son is more than just a child who has troubles listening or gets so angry he leaves a tornado of destruction behind him. I am his mom, no one else can take my place. No grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend will love him the way I do. He may never know or understand how much I love him, but yesterday he got a
glimpse of it.
I am not a perfect parent, but I do have big love for my family.
In The Beginning
Parenthood has changed me. When I first envisioned being a mom, I had this picture in my head of what I would be like and how I would parent. I would share my love for creating things with my children in a light filled studio while listing to Nine Inch Nails or Johnny Cash. I would have the patience of a Kindergarten teacher and my children and I would have an amazing relationship free from discipline. HA! I neglected to take into account that once my first son was born I would loose myself in a sea of anxiety, worried every night that someone was breaking into our house to kidnap my son. I neglected to take into account that I would be the mom of a child who less than perfect, or factor in that I was less than perfect.
In the beginning, I was naive and idealistic, but life happened and I changed.
When most people become parents there is a natural adjustment to taking care of a little life, and as they become more independent we continue to adjust. For every milestone we celebrate, we pack five more into our mental archives until ages one, two and three become distant memories. I have begun this blog to chart some of our family’s moments, excitements, discoveries, struggles, and milestones that I feel are worth sharing. So here is where I begin.