Tag Archives: single-dad

All of the White Horses Have Already Been Taken

Today is my son’s 17th birthday.

I am not my son’s hero.

My son needs a hero.

Several days ago my son experienced an existential crisis of some magnitude. Things could’ve gone much worse. I was not there.

When my daughter called it was to let me know him mom was going in the ambulance to the hospital and would I come take her and my son’s girlfriend there. I was now in the loop. We all waited in the hospital together. My son’s girlfriend, my ex-wife, her husband, and my daughter. There was nothing any of us could do but be present, and pray. We shared as much information as we had. We worried about my son’s surgery and mental state. And we waited four hours before we could visit him.

My ex-wife and I stood by his bed. He was scared. He was disoriented and rambling. He reached out and grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. He repeated this mantra several times over the next 20 minutes as we stood vigil over our confused and recovering son. For that minute we were a unit of love, of healing, of caring, and hopeful prayers about the future. And then I went home around 10pm. His mom would stay with him through the night as he continued to come back to lucidity.

I didn’t get to see my son again until several days later when I was bringing him dinner, his favorite dinner, provided by my mom. He’d already eaten but he sat with me and his girlfriend while I ate some of the fried fish. He seemed okay. He felt slightly humbled. But his old cynical self seemed to have re emerged intact.

I will not be the hero in this story. I am playing a bit part. My ex-wife stayed with my son on-and-off for the 72 hours he was in the hospital. I had to work. I was not invited. In fact, for part of that time his visitation was shut down and only she could be there. She kept us, his family, informed via a few hopeful texts. She was always hopeful and positive. And she stayed by his side. There is no substitute for the mother-son bond. I am so grateful for their close relationship.

He and I, while not estranged, don’t have a lot to talk about these days. We share a love of music and occasionally turn each other on to new bands. We’re both into technology, so he will occasionally tell me about some programming project he is working on in a language I don’t know. But it’s great to hear him excited about something. In general, however, he seems kind of pissed off. Not at me. Pissed off at life. Like he got a rotten deal. Oh, and we go to action movies together from time to time. It’s hard to forge a relationship with a 17-year-old boy who has his own car and a girlfriend. There’s nothing that can rival that freedom, and I’ve found my place as a supporter in his life play. That’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Still, I was most connected during those hours in the hospital and the twenty minutes his mom and I spend at his bedside in the ICU.

My future role is to be supportive, available, and as loving as possible. Even when he’s not returning my texts. Even when he’s having trouble. Even when he’s in crisis.

As we move forward as a fractured family, the lion’s share of his time will be spent at school and in his mother’s house. I will have a bit part to play. I will continue reaching out as often as I can think of something to say, as often as I can find an activity we might do together, as often as I can offer to take him to lunch, or breakfast, or dinner. He does like to eat steak and eggs.

While I have not been able to be by his side as much as I would’ve liked in his 17 years of life, I have been consistently available and actively present. I have made sure he knows, and I continue to make sure he knows, that he is loved unconditionally. Of course, I struggle with my own demons. I hope that I am not the cold and distant father that I had. I hope that I have done a better job of staying close even under trying circumstances.

Divorced and playing the single dad is not an easy role. Often decisions are made without my input. And most of their time as a family, the real work of being a family, doesn’t include me. I understand and accept my place. And I work to maintain my own positive attitude so I can continue to be a supremely supportive, if absent, dad.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: gifted hero, creative commons usage

The Positive Single Dad: Year Four in Review

It was Sept. 2013 when I got the idea to write a blog about single parenting with the focus being 100% positive. How can I be a better single dad? I’ve had many ups and downs during these last four years, but for the most part, this blog has helped me keep things on the upside. If I can frame a perspective in a positive light even about things that aren’t so positive, I can feel better about them myself. And that was part of my mission: change the way I was thinking about my divorce and my life as a single dad.

This year I had a very tough time struggling with some relationship issues and a serious bout of depression. And I remember looking at the blog several times and seeing this post. It wasn’t so positive, but I simply could not figure out anything to write about to displace this sad post from the front page.

I was wounded. And things were not going well in my own relationship at the moment. And for a long period I was mute. Waiting. Searching for the strength to write again and the courage to write about what was happening, that wasn’t so positive.

Then it broke.

And I found myself back in the dating and seeking game.

And as I felt stronger in my own purpose I began to uncover more of what had gone wrong in my seemingly perfect relationship.

I started looking at some of the deeper issues of dating again. And what I wanted in my *next* relationship.

And I kept returning to my single parent role as something that defines me and defines my future desires.

After four years I am more positive and more prepared for what comes next. I am working to be closer to my teenaged kids. And I am preparing for the next great relationship of my life. I have my eyes a bit more open and my heart a bit more clear on what I’m looking for.

Most of all, I’m happy. Really, core-happy. Alone, yes, but happy and optimistic about the future.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Divorced with Children: It Does Get Better

I’m pretty sure I thought I was going to die when I found out my wife had been to see a divorce attorney. The worst possible outcome for my life was coming at me like a freight train down a one-lane tunnel. I was afraid, I was sad, I was angry. But most of all I was scared to death of what my life would look like alone. Truly alone again, for the first time in 13 years.

And it was hard. It may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but I survived. And on the other side of that loneliness was me. Learning again that I am happy when I’m by myself. I don’t need someone to complete me. Sure, I love being in a relationship, but I don’t need one. Well, I kinda do, but you get what I’m saying. I learned, again, that I can be perfectly happy by myself.

I have my own time schedule. I can go out with friends at any hour for lunch, drinks, or breakfast tacos. I don’t have to check-in with anyone. I just go. And for sure, that’s something I’ve been doing is getting together with lots of friends. Friends I might have neglected a bit in my last relationship.

Well, I’m back to being single again. And I’m discovering a new angle as well. My kids are more important to me than any other relationship. I let that one get away from me in the last 3 years. I was putting my desire and devotion to this new woman, above time with my kids. And it wasn’t really a conscious decision. But I kept opting towards my girlfriend and away from being dad. Of course, as teenagers, mostly what your kids want is transportation. And they are busy making friends and being teenagers, so they “need” us a lot less. But I was not actively showing up, not actively asking for “dates” with them.

I’ve changed that since this last break up. I now have regular tennis dates with my daughter. I call her for lunch randomly. And while we haven’t made it yet, I’ve been talking to her about going to my favorite church on Sunday. As I am alone again, I have a lot of time to reprioritize my life. And my kids come first. I forgot that idea for a while, that was my fault. But I won’t forget it again.

A year ago I exchanged this text with my daughter while she was at her mom’s. house.


screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-13-29-am

She was letting me know she saw my activity on her Netflix account. I was sharing with her until my ex-wife found out. Oops.screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-12-38-amAnd as we begin to exchange more notes and texts she is reaching out for rides and coffees. I’m happier now than I have been since the divorce. My current living situation is not ideal, but my mental, physical, and spiritual programs are running in high gear.

So, what I’ve learned in the last seven years since my divorce, is that yes, things get better. My last relationship really showed me what authentic, non-judgemental love felt like. And while it didn’t work out, she gave me a new benchmark for what a good relationship looks like.

I am blessed with two great kids. It’s up to me to make dates, set boundaries, and show up as a fully empowered dad. I’m working my program, and life is about as good as it gets.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: dad with kids, creative commons usage

Teenaged Kids? Hard to Reach or Open to New Opportunities?

My daughter is 14 and entering high school today. My son is 16 and has his own car. Trying to get them to a sit down dinner once every two weeks can be tough. They’ve got so many things going on, and things, that to them, are more important than seeing me. But it’s my opportunity to let them know there is nothing more important to me than them. And I’m forced to do a better job of expressing this as we all grow older and more independent.

Today they are going back to school. And I’m taking them Starbucks to mom’s house for the launch. It’s a fun and big event. And they roll their eyes. But they will appreciate the photos later in life.

But as teenagers, they are going through a very specific development staged: separation. They don’t need to be with me. They don’t really need me for much, my money flows through their mom into their wallets. They don’t need my home-cooked meals every other week. They are in the process of individuation. They are becoming their own little humans, with agendas and circles that don’t involve me. It’s okay. I hear they come back to you as the grow a bit older.

I’m not waiting around for them to get it. I’m making dates with both of them to do engaging things. With my daughter it’s easy, we’re playing tennis. My son is a bit more of a challenge. His girlfriend is older and is going to a local college this year. So he’s always got something he’d rather be doing. And that’s the way it should be. Dear old dad is second priority. And still I miss them.

In fact, I’ve missed more of them since they were 4 and 6 when my then wife decided for all of us that a separate future would be better for us all around. The unfortunate thing is, in divorce only one partner has to make the decision to leave and there’s not much that can be done to stop it. I’m sure we both lost a lot. But she only lost two weekends a month. She got them 100% of the rest of the time. And their relationship with their mom is much closer. It’s more complete. She’s done everything for them. I’m a little sad about this abscense. But there’s not much I could’ve done about it. I got what I got in the settlement even though I asked and fought for 50/50 parenting. She knew what she would get if we went to court, so she asked for that.

Dads do get the short end of the deal most of the time in divorce. Wives get the house, the kids, and the lion’s share of the money. Dad’s… Well, we get a hefty child-support payment and if we’re successful, we can afford a small enough place that can still hold our kids and ourselves. But it’s been a hard 7 years for me. I’m still struggling to get above the debt that has incurred while I’ve been looking for work. And that debt, owed, for sure, is now enforced by the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Texas. Woohoo. Yep, she went there. And unapologetically keeps the boot of their “enforcement” on my neck everyday. And that’s a challenge. I wake up and have to forgive her for being so mean. It’s not like I wasn’t paying her from every paycheck I got. I was, am, and will.

If you can avoid divorce and keep from destroying your life, I would advise to try to work things out. I still think I could love her. Well, not like being in a relationship again, after all that has happened, but in the divorce I did not want out. I was still the hopeful one ready to fight for my family. But you can’t fight alone. She was gone. She’d been gone for over a year.

Today as I bring coffee to my kids at my old house, I’ll have feelings of regret and feelings of pride, side by side. And I’ll see my ex-wife and wish her well. And for a few minutes we’ll be that family we could’ve been. And we’re not. And the kids are not “kids” any more. They’ve moved on. And in many ways, so have I. But in missing them now, as teenagers I have to take action to make sure I’m still a big part of their lives. It’s up to me. No one else is concerned with getting together.

Single parenting is hard. But the good thing is you get to do it 100% your own way.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: back to school, creative commons usage

The WholeParent Mission: Positive Single Parenting Year Four

Here’s the starting mission statement written back in Sept. 2013.

My unwavering and immutable mission:

1. 100% positive
2. Kids first
3. Honest feelings

I thought I would give pause and reflect, update, muse, on what’s been going on here and in my single-parenting life.

One way I’ve wavered from the original missions, is the 100% positive part. I realised that not letting any of the anger, conflict, and struggles out was not painting a very accurate picture of being a single dad. So, while I try to keep the focus on myself and not others, I am sure I have let a zinger or two fly here. I think it’s more important to be real.

I do believe that my kids come first. The marriage is over, but my parenting never ends. If I can stay focused on their wellbeing I can get over any frustrations I have with their mom. I am committed to being the best dad I can be, in spite of troubles, depression, anger, flights of fancy.

And the final mission, “honest feelings” is the glue that makes this entire adventure work. I think that’s what keeps this blog going even when I’m not contributing to it. I went on a year or more hiatus from writing here and the blog was still getting 100 – 200 reads per day. That’s pretty exciting. So, it seems like my voice is resonating with some folks. I’ll do my best to continue, even in the hard times, even in the blissful times when I don’t feel like writing. Most of all I will continue to be the best single dad I can be. And if I can give you a glimpse of what my life is like, struggles and all, then I have done my best for you as well.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  recent pic of me, creative commons usage allowed

The Single Dad and His Teenaged Kids

Well, it’s official. My kids are both in the separation phase of growing up. My son, 16, is driving, has a girlfriend and it not responding to my texts about 75% of the time. Get used to it. It’s not about you. My daughter, 14, is a true social butterfly and stays over at friend’s houses every night in the summer, and on the weekends during the school year. She’s better at responding to texts. And always responds to SnapChats.

The kids I once knew as “kids” are gone. The easy planning has become a stretch for me. If I don’t put plans together (not my strong suit) then plans don’t happen. I’m asking them for more interactive feedback these days, and I’m getting mixed results. At least we’re trying. Well, I’m trying and they are trying to figure out what kind of relationship they want with their dad.

I miss the little kids. I miss the years that I’ve missed by being a single dad. They are much closer to the 75% parent. MUCH. And that’s okay, she’s done a terrific job a parenting them. And she’s been solo up until a year ago. I keep thanking her for the job she’s doing.

You can see it in your kids when they are thriving. They have ideas of their own. They do respond when the offers are made, and they often respond in the “Yes, I will be there on Saturday.” And I’m learning, again, to be alone in a new way. The primary relationship I’m working on at the moment, given recent events, is my relationship with myself.

And to get the elephant out of the room, my kids are very aware and sensitive to my depressive episodes. I’m sure their mom has had numerous chats with them about “What’s happening with your dad.” That kind of makes me sad to think about, but when I’m in a DOWN I’m in no position to try to explain what’s going on. When I’m doing well, like right now, I’m happy to update them with more information. But they’ve learned, from experience, not to fully trust my moods. Heck, even I’m not fully trusting of my own emotions.

I’m getting better at that too.

When you lose your kids to divorce and then to teenagehood, you really have to begin letting them go. It’s only two years before my son will be heading out on his big adventure. What can I do with him in the next two years? How can I show up for both of them?

Those are the challenges ahead for this single dad. I’m up for it. And I’m in a good place to pick up the pieces, again. And fortunately they are resilient. We all are. May you spend as much time as you can with your kids, and find ways to connect in real-time non-phone ways. It’s a journey.

How are you keeping in tune with your kids? Let me know in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: happy family, creative commons usage allowed

A Muse Enters and Leaves

I’m all about having a muse. A romantic ideal that I can project all my needs on. And last week a woman showed up in a big way and became a muse. We met for coffee and she said we couldn’t date but we could be friends. “Fine with me,” I said. “I’m not looking to date anyway.” We made tentative plans to play tennis over the weekend.

She lodged a possibility in my emotional mind. “This is a woman who could challenge and reward me in a new way.”

So I did what the 38 Special song says, “Hold on loosely.” I texted her a few times over the weekend suggesting times and got nothing back. “Hmm,” I thought. “Maybe she’s just not that into me.”

But she did finally respond with a positive text. And we, again, tentatively, made plans to do something during the week. Today’s Thursday and this morning she said. “All those ideas you have are great but they sound like dates. I’m going to pass.”

So like that, before we had our second conversation she was gone.

Her ideal, however, lingers on. It wasn’t about her. It was about my projection of what I want in a relationship. Let me try to define the qualities she had that heated me up.

  • She was very smart, witty, and psychologically deep.
  • She was beautiful in a simple way. Her smile was killer.
  • She was fit and very active.
  • We seemed to hit it off with our conversation.
  • She liked me.

Perhaps she did not see the potential to love me. Maybe she didn’t see the same spark that I did. For whatever reason, she passed. Not what I was anticipating, but okay. I can move on from here with a better idea of what I’m looking for. And a muse is a near miss. A woman who I can see potential and hope with. A woman that meets some unspoken standards, and fits some magical equation in my heart.

Thank you, muse, for giving me something to shoot for in my next friend.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: autumn woman, creative commons usage allowed

relationships, breakups, divorce, single dad

What My Breakup and Recovery Have Felt Like

4 weeks ago I lost my best friend and lover. I moved out of her house and promptly fell apart. But then again, I didn’t fall apart like I thought I would. I was certain that deep depression was in my near future. I was certain that I would give into the pull of isolation and shut everything down and everyone out. That didn’t happen.

Here’s what I did. I put my mind on the next step. Heal. Grieve. Get my shit back together. And move on. I kept my exercise routine in place, every single day. And I found support in Al Anon. I did not isolate. In fact, I was less isolated than I had been in my partner’s house. I kept my chin up and felt the overwhelming sadness and kept going.

I also shut down 100% of the communication between us. This was advice from a brilliant book Getting Past Your Breakup by Susan J. Elliott. They called it NC, no contact and I believe it was essential to push me into the longing and loss I was feeling. I tried to find things to make me cry and I cried. I tried a new therapist along with my current therapist. I knew it was going to take some time for me to even feel normal again, much less able to consider a new relationship. The NC was key for me. Everything I wanted to tell her I wrote in letters I knew I could never send. I found my anger. I found out how much I missed the little things we did together. I dug into the tears and kept saying, “Goodbye” over and over until I believed she was gone.

I’m not saying I’m over her. I’m not. But at least I’m not thinking about her every single day. In fact, deep relationships you may never get over fully, but they take on less weight as time goes by. So in some ways time does heal all wounds. I wasn’t going to take the passive approach. I went after my grief with a vengeance.

And something good came from all this. I no longer felt constant anxiety about losing her. She was gone. I no longer pined for us to be together again. And I started to think about other women in my life. I contacted some old friends, mainly women, just to be around different women. And yes, I got on the online dating sites, but I’m not really looking for a relationship. Too soon. I’m just looking for some ways to talk to and be near women. And it made me feel hopeful that some women seemed to like my profile and want to talk to me too.

In Susan’s work we say “Do the work. Feel the feelings. Make peace with the peace.” And that’s what I’m still doing. I might always feel the prick of a finger every time something reminds me of her, something we did, something we talked about doing, anything really. But the prick doesn’t have to derail my day. Sometimes it only takes about 30-seconds before I redirect my wandering mind back to something more positive.

I’m not saying I’m over it. I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I’m saying I’m happy by myself for the first time in a long time. And I like it this way. I’m exploring new horizons and new options. From here I can go anywhere.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: https://goo.gl/images/DhYpZh, creative commons usage allowed

My Side of the Mountain – Understanding Depression

I can only talk about myself and my experience. And my experience includes some serious lapses into depression. Hard for me to admit, I’ve got an achilles heel, that scares the hell out of me and everyone near me, including my marriage and my last relationship. The disease is hard on everyone. And if you’ve never experienced it, you have no idea what it’s like, but I’m going to try to give you a glimpse into my dark days.

Depression is different from feeling sad or unmotivated. Depression is not laziness, though some of the symptoms may cause your loved ones to think you are just not trying to get better. I can assure you I was doing everything in my power, using all of my tools, to get well. But sometimes, even when things seem to be going well, the meds poop out and the depression grabs me and jerks me back below the surface of the water. Depression feels kind of like the flu. It’s as if your body has no energy for doing things. And nothing, I mean nothing, sounds good. You don’t want sex, you don’t want ice cream, you don’t want conversation, you just want to isolate and be quiet with your dark thoughts. But that’s a bad idea. That’s always a bad idea.

Depressions are usually triggered by some major emotional event. And my variety of depression comes along before your twenties and colors the rest of your life. My first freak out happened when I was sixteen years old and away at prep school. I’ve been touched ever since, with varying degrees of seriousness and duration. And I learned early on that meds were my friends, that I needed the equivalent of a pharmaceutical vitamin to keep me regulated. Over my life, it has been a real struggle to accept that fact, and several of my falls have happened years after I was off all medications and seemingly doing great. But it’s always there in the back of my mind. What if it comes back. And it just did, and probably will, with variations and if I’m diligent with smaller and less severe cycles. But I know that it will be back. This disease once it has been diagnosed doesn’t ever get cured.

I’m not trying to have a pity party here, or get sympathy. What I am trying to get is some clarity on what just happened to my loving relationship as a result of a prolonged bout of depression. They call it treatment resistant depression. That’s when the meds that used to work, just stop working. My free fall into fear and anxiety happened last December. And by January things were tense and unhappy in my relationship. Not just her. But I was deeply unhappy too.

The thing about my symptoms is I go off on apocalyptic fantasies about the future that I can’t stop worrying about. And I’m not just talking about some vague concerns about money, or career, or the future of my relationship, I’m talking about wild ass fantasies that consumed my consciousness so that I became forgetful and scattered. And this kind of depression makes it very hard to keep a job in the high-tech sector of marketing. But I couldn’t just get over it. I couldn’t just “man up” and keep going. I almost became mute because I didn’t want to share what was going on in my head with anyone. Fortunately I had a loving therapist who consoled me. Unfortunately there was no one consoling or coaching my then fiancé.

Here’s what’s scary. This same pattern caused the failure of my marriage to the mother of my children seven years ago. And I don’t know if this disease is going to continue to show up, freak out my partner, and end up with me alone and more depressed and hopeless. It’s hard for me to imagine it’s not going to happen again in some car wreck of a breakup. And that’s a way to get hopeless pretty fast.

But there is some good news. My story is going to end on an up. For me, meds work when they work. Unfortunately it may take a lot of tries to get it right, but when they kick in I am my old creative and loving self within weeks. And that’s just what happened two weeks ago. After being on a new med for 45 days I suddenly began to have creative thoughts. And this was after I broke up with my fiancé. So even in the depths of what would cause normal people to be sad, my meds allowed me to get a handle on my mind, put things back into perspective and develop the most critical part of recovery: hope.

Today, even alone, I feel hopeful. I know more about what happened. Perhaps I’ll learn how to get my partner to get a support system that will help her through her own doubts and fears. And here’s the plan: when a med works, stay on that med. So I could have years of good results, with ups and downs like everyone, but no crashes. That’s the goal, and that’s what I believe. When I was 16 my brain shut down on me and brought my sophomore year of high school to a screeching halt. And at several points in my life since then, during some major life crisis, I just give up. Well, I don’t give up, I’m fighting like hell, but my brain gives up and focuses on creating pictures of doom so dark I was afraid to tell my therapist what I was thinking sometimes.

So we start again. I’m alone but hopeful the next relationship will get it right. Of course, the relationship I need to work on most is with myself. Forgiving myself for my part in the demise of a seemingly brilliant relationship, with a committed future. And then, letting go of my best friend enough to imagine myself in a new relationship. I’m not there yet, but I have the clarity and energy to work on it.

Oh, and the funny thing for me, is when I’m starting to feel better my creative drive comes back and I start writing. Yesterday, with my blog post, I was showing myself that I was emerging from one of the longest depressions I’ve been in as an adult. For me creativity and brain health go hand in hand. So I’m happy to be back, still working, but on the up swing.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: john mcelhenney, creative commons usage allowed

What I Wish My Ex-wife Knew

I’m not writing this blog to my ex-wife, but there are times when I wish she would read my words. I still love her, because of our connection and history with children, but she makes it difficult to remain objective sometimes. One of my outlets is to work it out, alone, right here. Again, I’m certain she’s NOT reading me, but these posts could help our relationship. Soften her up a bit, perhaps. And then again, I’ve given up imagining that my words or actions can change her in any way. We’d like to think we can make another person happy, or comfortable, or secure. Unfortunately, we cannot.

If I could give my ex-wife a quick list of posts to read, this would be the shortlist.

As it is, we’re supposed to have moved on from the charged feelings towards our significant, but no longer spousal, other. When the anger and defensiveness is quick to surface there may still be some emotional work to do. Somedays I’d really like to send her a link to my prayer for her. I don’t. Again, I’ve learned it’s not for me to change her, but really learn to love and adapt to her as she is today.

She’s remarried. She’s got money again. She seems to be enjoying her job and the job of parenting, but she still complains a bit too much for me to buy the slick surface. I’m not taking her inventory here, I’m releasing her. I just wish my loving words could reach her some days. And I hope, everyday, that my loving actions will soften her heart enough to give her peace.

“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: red flower, creative commons usage