Category Archives: Parenting

Abandonment

“I don’t feel good enough as a person because I don’t HAVE what I need to feel good enough about myself. If only I HAD…”
“I feel lonely because I don’t HAVE someone who intimately knows me. If only I HAD…”

When we do not feel “good” emotionally, many of us, highly sensitive people or not, are quick to think in this manner. We think that our negative emotions have to do with something outside of ourselves that is not quite right. As we look outside, we identify possible external problems and work hard on trying to fix or control them. This is our natural human tendency, a built-in survival mechanism that arises no matter what negative emotions we get struck by. One of those negative emotions that all people experience in some point in their life is the feeling of abandonment from one’s own parents.

The feeling of abandonment from one’s own parents is an entire emotion of its own out of the many that make up the whole human inner experience.

abandonment

Just as sadness is an unavoidable negative emotion that all humans are bound to experience in some point in life, no matter how “perfect” life is, the feeling of abandonment from one’s own parents is also an unavoidable negative emotion. This emotion says, “I am not equipped enough to be independent in this area of my life because you (parents) weren’t there for me,” “Where were you when I needed you?” “I have to be my own parent and look out for myself.”

Like the examples listed at the beginning of this blogpost, many people look outside of themselves as they experience this difficult emotion. So who ends up getting the blame? Most often the parents do. Parents make the easiest target for the root cause of this difficult emotion that is within every human being.

Upset children will do a variety of different things to cope with this difficult feeling. Many people use psychological strategies to make themselves feel better: “I guess I have it better than that other family does,” “At least I was not sexually abused by my parents,” “Considering the rough life my parents have had, I guess it’s only inevitable that they’d raise me the way that they did,” “Well, considering they didn’t have Google back then, I guess I can’t blame them for not knowing what to do.” Although these excuses that people make for their parents deliver momentary comfort, they cause other problems down the line. As you continue to invalidate your own real feelings, you will most likely feel that others, including your own children, are not allowed to struggle with these feelings either. In their times of darkness in this area, you will most likely lack empathy. It is exactly this lack of empathy which causes many parents to shut their children up and put them in their place when they express this “forbidden” emotion. If you respond to your children in this way, you may also be teaching them to carry guilt in possessing an emotion that simply is a part of every human being. Deep inside of you, you will also develop an expectation to be excused in the same manner once you become a parent. This expectation will most likely be passed down to your own children.

Some people try to fix their parents (I am guilty of this one). I criticized my parents’ parenting techniques. I tried to teach my stoic parents how to be there for my emotional needs. Hopeless, I tell you. In the end, I just got so frustrated with them. Frustration is the inevitable end result for all of those who try to fix their parents.

When this difficult emotion of feeling abandoned by one’s own parents is not dealt with in a healthy manner, resentment is very likely to develop. Highly sensitive people who feel their emotions very intensely are at a much higher risk of developing this kind resentment towards their parents.

So how do you handle this difficult emotion in a healthy manner?

Like I suggest in every one of my self-help blogposts about handling difficult emotions, go ahead and FEEL it. Do not run from it. Next, meditate on positive thoughts: “I will be ok,” “Though I may not be equipped enough to be independent in this area of my life right now, I will manage, I will learn.” Then, perhaps most importantly, forgive your parents in your heart. Do not keep track of how they have failed you but continue to wipe their slate clean again and again. If you have already built up a lot of resentment towards your parents, start forgiving them now. As much as you forgive your own parents, you will be able to forgive yourself for all your imperfections as a parent.

Lastly, for those who may be interested in a more spiritual explanation, I will also share my religious beliefs. I believe that, just like the emotions of joy and intimacy, our human heart was designed with the capacity to feel the wonderful sensation of having a perfect parent-figure. The Church happens to call this feeling “sonship” or “daughtership.” But when we attempt to find that joy, that intimacy, that wonderful sensation of having a perfect parent-figure in imperfect things, like our parents, we are likely to end up feeling disappointed and cheated. So I try to place my faith in something perfect (God) for those things and release my earthly parents from the burden of having to provide me with that emotion that I crave so much.

SO WHAT NOW?

So what will you do if your child expresses his or her emotional pain in this area? Will you let your ego shut your child up, put your child in his or her place, make your child feel guilty for possessing such emotions, and then leave your child alone to find rest in psychological strategies? What will you do?

It was only this morning that all of these things that I have written above were revealed to me. Before this morning, I was unable to fully grasp this difficult, confusing emotion. As soon as I figured that the root problem was not my parents, I immediately apologized to them for being so unforgiving and hard on them for so many years.

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Raising Patient Children

The quickest way to stop the crying of a child who is upset for not getting what he or she wants is to just give in and hand over the desired object to him or her. Although this may be the quickest solution, it is by far one of the worst solutions in the long-run. Instant gratification robs your child of the opportunity to learn some very important lessons: (1) we will not always get everything that we want so immediately; (2) our imperfect world can never be set in a way that it perpetually provides whatever it is that we want; (3) the difficult feelings associated with not getting what we want are a normal part of the human experience and they will eventually go away with mindful acceptance and positivity.

Mindfulness and delayed gratification build patience.

Patient Child

Let’s start off by exploring a scenario that all parents are familiar with. You and your daughter are in a toy store. She wants a toy. You say no. She cries because she is overwhelmed by some unfamiliar feeling of discomfort in her heart. What do you do? You help her identify and express her thoughts and emotions by getting her to think about what she is thinking in her head and feeling in her heart. She may be feeling betrayal and rejection because her thoughts are saying, “All this time I thought you loved me. How could you betray me like this by denying me of what I understand to be love?” After she puts these thoughts and emotions into words to the best of her ability, you deliver comfort, not by handing over the toy, but by giving her comforting words of truth and physical affection. You assure her that you love her. You teach her your more mature definition of love. You explain to her that, although it is ok for her to communicate to others what she wants, she cannot expect to always get that from them. You also explain that, in the context of generosity and gift giving, she is not entitled to a reason when others do not give her what she wants. Therefore, in most cases, you too do not give her a reason. Help her then to accept and feel her difficult emotions. Assure her that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help her practice delayed gratification by getting her to wait for some time before she gets that toy. Ideally, you do not want to choose birthdays or special occasions as that will just transfer the sense of entitlement to those specific days of the year (I am not sure if there is any way to avoid that). All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing a sense of entitlement in his or her later years.

The next scenario is one that is not as obviously connected with instant gratification and I see a lot of parents, especially in the past recent years, just “giving in.” You decide to take your family out for dinner at a restaurant. Your son gets bored. He cannot stand the waiting time for the food to arrive and the time after he finishes his own meal. He becomes restless and starts to make a scene as an attempt to create more stimulation for himself. What is the quickest way to calm him down? I see a lot of parents these days just hand over their iPhone or iPad (full of games) to their children. It works like a charm!

Child with iPad

This quick fix, however, robs your son of the opportunity to learn how to recognize and cope with the difficult feeling of boredom and understimulation. So what do you do instead? Like the example above, you get your son to identify and express in words his feelings of discomfort. You validate his experience by showing empathy. You let him know that he will be ok and then challenge him to accept and feel his difficult emotions. Assure him that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help him practice delayed gratification by getting him to wait for some time before he gets his chance to play. All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with inattention, impulsivity, addiction, and escapism in his or her later years. Many gifted people struggle with these problems because, growing up, no one really stopped them from utilizing their instantly gratifying coping methods to their intense feelings of boredom and understimulation.

Finally, the last scenario is one that is least likely to be recognized by parents as instant gratification because it is often confused with something else that is very positive. Your child looks upon the condition of his own work or the work of somebody else. He sees the gap between how things are and how excellent they could be. This gap causes him intense frustration inside. In attempt to remove this difficult feeling, your child takes immediate action and tries to close that gap. From the outside, the closing of this gap just looks like your child has great work ethic. What parent would not feel even slightly proud about his or her child having this from such an early age? What you fail to notice, though, is that your child is removing his own opportunity to develop patience in this area. After years and years of taking immediate action whenever this difficult feeling of frustration arises, your child grows up to be an adult who is incapable of being OK with this gap. The most painful part of it is… this person sees this gap everywhere and all the time. This is one of the main challenges of people with OCPD. So how do you prevent this? You stay close while your child is at work. You examine his motives. Is he doing it out of pure love, joy, and curiosity or is he doing it out of frustration? If it is out of frustration, just like all the examples above, teach him how to recognize, express, accept, and feel this difficult emotion. All of this will reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with obsessive compulsivity, workaholism, and perfectionism in his or her later years.

As a result of all the instant gratification I grew up with, I am not the best at giving 100% of my attention to anything that I am not hyper-passionate about. It all began in elementary school when I experienced the frustration of having to sit still and listen to the teacher. I noticed that, out of all of the words that came out of the teacher’s mouth, only a fraction of them were relevant and interesting to me. I figured that it was pointless for me to give 100% of my attention when I could just get the meat of the lesson with only 30% of my attention. I would then allocate the remaining 70% of my attention on some other activity, usually finishing my homework (to maximize my playtime once school was over). This continued all the way into my later years. But in university, I had a laptop computer instead. During all my business classes, I could now simultaneously work on other exciting activities like video editing. Having always participated in some other stimulating activity in these times of frustration, I now cannot help but feel intensely irritated when I have no way out of others’ communication that is long-winded, uninteresting, and disorganized. One of the most excruciating settings for me is group sharing circles where it is considered very rude to do anything other than give full attention to whoever is speaking. When I share, I make the extra effort to deliver my message in a concise manner by prioritizing the juicy parts of my story and minimizing the irrelevant “filler” parts of my story. But why doesn’t everyone else do this? My frustration then turns into anger and my mind gets bombarded with extremely negative and judgemental thoughts. “Why is it that the least interesting member of this group, who ironically begins her exhausting monologue with ‘I don’t have much to say,’ takes up the most time sharing about her bland life!?” The agony gets so bad for me that my heart rate goes up, I start to sweat, my nervous ticks and compulsions (cracking my knuckles, scratching my neck, touching my face, digging my nails into my head, shaking my legs, blinking my eyes) go on hyperdrive, and I feel sick in my stomach. I feel like running full speed into a brick wall. There have been numerous times when my pain got so bad that I had to excuse myself out of the room to cool down by stepping on patterns on the floor (one of my obsessive-compulsive cooling down strategies). Although this looks very much like ADHD, it is not (ADHD is actually the most common misdiagnosis of gifted people). Nevertheless, it is an area that I really need to work on building my patience in.

Are you that child who grew up with too much instant gratification and now you have very little patience in one or more areas in your life? No problem. There is a solution! It certainly does not come in the form of a small pill that you just convenient pop into your mouth (come on now, that would just be another form of instant gratification!). The solution is to accept and experience the difficult feelings that arise every time you do not get what you want. This may be very painful at first but it will get easier with time.

MORE READING

FOR YOU: “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Henepola Gunaratana
FOR CHILDREN: “A Boy and a Bear: the Children’s Relaxation Book” by Lori Lite

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The Most Important Thing about Raising Gifted Children

It can be very exciting for parents to discover that their child is “gifted.” Often what follows this excitement is a keen interest in creating a stimulating educational environment for the child. Parents, however, can easily get so wrapped up in trying to maximize the potentiality of their child that they neglect to develop the very thing that he or she needs most.

The most valuable lesson that parents can teach gifted children is that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform.

Baby Einstein

Sufficiently stimulating the minds of gifted children should be the least of parents’ worries. Even without their parents’ help, gifted children will find creative ways to keep themselves entertained and intellectually stimulated. Parents may try to implement incentives to help their children maximize their motivation to learn, but there really is nothing that can do a better job at that than the deep curiosity that is already within every gifted child.

Regardless of the kind of educational environment they grow up with, gifted children are born to excel. They will inevitably outperform their peers in one or more areas in their life and attract a lot of attention and praise from others. While this might sound quite promising, the constant highlighting of their performance is likely to cause gifted children to build their identity and self-worth on their outcomes, results, and achievements, all highly fallible external qualities. This is no good.

The self-esteem of models suffers in a very similar fashion. Model Cameron Russell shares in her TED talk that, despite having won a “genetic lottery” (2:50), she and many other models are some of the “most physically insecure women probably on the planet” (8:27).

Giftedness and insecurity is a dangerous combination. Gifted people (including models that are, in a way, “gifted” in their appearance) who do not know that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform will feel immense pressure to create their own value and worth in the area that they are gifted in. For those with extreme emotional sensitivity, which pretty much includes the whole gifted population, that pressure to create value and worth magnifies exponentially. So many insecure gifted people are consequently driven to workaholism and perfectionism. Success then becomes a dangerous reward that justifies their unbalanced lifestyle. Broken relationships, broken families and marriages, health complications, disease, insanity, and even early death are all consequences of this unbalanced lifestyle.

HOW TO BUILD STRONG IDENTITY IN GIFTED CHILDREN (PARENTS):
Whether you like it or not, the world will take notice of the greatness within your child. They will compliment your child for his or her performance. If your own compliments and positive words of affirmation do not outweigh and outnumber the compliments given by the world, the world will usurp your position as your child’s primary teacher in building his or her identity. You need to take that position because, unlike the rest of the world, you KNOW your child personally and you know that he or she is not just the sum of his or her talents. There will be a huge competition for your child’s attention as he or she attempts to figure out who he or she is. You as a caring parent need to win that competition. You must teach your child that he or she is amazing, regardless of what he or she does or does not do. When you are just taking a stroll in the park together, when your child is not performing, you need to tell your child that you are so proud of him or her, that you love him or her so much, that he or she fascinates you just for BEING the person that he or she is. If your gifted child performs poorly in some area, sure it is totally ok to admit and accept the reality and consequences of poor performance. But if he or she is thinking, “I am not good enough as a person” because of his or her poor performance, you need to intervene. You must teach your child that his or her performance does not define him or her. You must remind your child of who he or she is: an amazing person with incredible value. If you (parents) do not know your own value apart from how well you perform, it will be very difficult to raise your own children in this manner.

HOW I BUILT MY SELF-ESTEEM:
Despite my many achievements and talents, I was once an over-achieving workaholic who struggled with extremely low self-esteem. Despite being published in newspapers and magazines and broadcasted on TV and radio, I was once so afraid of ending up as a nobody, a worthless loser. It was when I finally decided to stop trusting my own thoughts and opinions about myself and the thoughts and opinions of all the people around me, including my very performance-oriented parents, that things began to change. Ever since mid-2011, I started to care for and listen to only what God thinks about me. Since my own idea of God was so distorted at the time, I depended on other people in my church to accurately share with me His thoughts about me. People I met for the first time that could not have known such personal details about me told me specific character traits in me that God is so pleased with. They continually told me that God loves me so much and is so proud of me, all during a time in my life when I had hit rock bottom and did absolutely nothing. As I began to more accurately understand how big God is and how small humankind is compared to Him, the significance of His opinion about me grew and the significance of humankind’s opinion about me shrank. My self-esteem now is so good! I have learned to love myself and be so proud of myself, not because of how well I perform, but simply because I am a beloved child of the Most High :)

MORE READING

This is one of my favourite Christian children’s books on performance and identity.

“You Are Special” by Max Lucado

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Intellectualization

Emotional pain is not an easy thing to handle for many people, especially emotionally sensitive people. Emotional pain that is too overwhelming often causes people to resort to the use of defence mechanisms. One of those defence mechanisms that people with OCPD are likely to use because of their dominant “left brain” is intellectualization.

People with OCPD primarily use intellectualization to cope with their difficult feelings.

Intellectualization

INTELLECTUALIZATION:

This defensive style is a cousin to “Isolation of Affect.” Feelings are not allowed into consciousness. Instead, issues are discussed in a hyper intellectual manner. Everything is examined from every possible point of view. Everything is taken seriously; humor does not seem possible. A person who intellectualizes seems to rob life of its spontaneity and replaces it with an exaggerated sense of seriousness and microscopic scrutiny. (taken from “The Caller’s Coping Styles“)

Most people with OCPD are so accustomed to using intellectualization to cope with their difficult feelings that they do not realize it is a defence mechanism that is not shared or very well understood by the majority of the world. Consequently, it causes so much disunity and frustration between them and their loved ones.

Having successfully comforted themselves with the use of this defence mechanism for so long, most people with OCPD cannot think of any other way for their loved ones to comfort them. People with OCPD hope that their loved ones would partner with them in their intellectualization, help them in their logical reasoning and problem solving, and celebrate with them when they figure out the answer. In other words, many people with OCPD want their loved ones to join in on their use of their defence mechanism. This, of course, rarely happens.

What happens instead is that their loved ones give the kind of comfort that usually works on most people. They might say “don’t worry, you’re going to be ok.” To this, those accustomed to intellectualization will feel compelled to ask “how?” and “why?” as those are the questions they always begin with in their attempt to comfort themselves. Their loved ones may then take their best shot at an explanation. But being already ten steps ahead in the identification and analysis of all the different possible explanations (would you expect anything less from those who have been doing that for the majority of their life?), it is likely that people with OCPD have already considered the explanation suggested by their loved ones. In much of the same way that they wrestle with their own reasoning, people with OCPD will then wrestle with the reasoning of their loved ones. Although this just happens to be the OCPD way in which they eventually reach their comforting “truth,” their loved ones most likely take it personally when their reasoning is rejected in the process. The loved ones then conclude that people with OCPD are just too argumentative and impossible to comfort. When it is apparent to people with OCPD that their loved ones have given up trying to comfort them, people with OCPD then revert back to what they have always been used to: they go off on their own, work out their pain in isolation, and tell themselves that the only people they can count on are themselves.

People with OCPD who habitually intellectualize their own feelings often do not know any other way to comfort others as well. Out of genuine care, they may intellectualize their loved ones feelings. This, however, does not bring comfort to most people. The loved ones may wonder, “Why does he seem so disconnected from my emotions?” “Why is he unable to just empathize with me?” “Why does he turn my feelings into some emotionless law case?”

In the end, because of intellectualization, both sides are left feeling sad (or even angry) that the other is so incapable of providing the needed form of comfort.

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OCPD):
Focus on the heart of your loved one. He or she cares about you and his or her intention is to comfort you. Whatever he or she advises, even if the logic is so flawed, accept it with delight. Understand that your loved one will most likely take it personally if you disagree with and rip apart his or her reasoning. Do that in your own head in silence (with a smile on your face) if you are going to do that at all. If your loved one is going through difficult emotions and needs you to comfort him or her, resist your urge to intellectualize his or her feelings. Remember, even though this defence mechanism makes you feel better, it does not make the majority of people feel better. It can make them feel much worse. If your loved one is unable to specify how he or she would like to be comforted, try to comfort him or her in the way that most people would feel comforted by. Show concern, emotion, and empathy. Feel the pain with him or her. Tell him or her that he or she will be ok. Let him or her vent out whatever he or she wants to say (even if it all comes out unstructured, illogical, and imperfect). Do not correct him or her. Hold him or her in your arms. Be there for him or her.

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OTHERS):
If you are going to give your OCPD friend any reasons, explanations, or advice, make sure to give the ones that encourage him or her to experience his or her difficult feelings. Any other reason, explanation, or advice will encourage your OCPD friend to make use of his or her defence mechanism. Whatever reasons, explanations, or advice you give, understand that your OCPD friend’s analysis of your reasoning is simply his or her own unique way of trying to find comfort through working out a final answer. If he or she disagrees with you, do not take it personally – this is just what he or she does in his or her own mind all the time. Try to imagine that his or her disagreement with your reasoning is bringing him or her that much closer to the truth that he or she is trying to figure out through a process of elimination. If it appears that your OCPD friend wants to be comforted by your participation in his or her intellectualization, you can still participate by asking questions and listening. But as soon as you can (probably best idea not to do it while your OCPD friend is experiencing difficult feelings), discuss with your OCPD friend the consequences of intellectualization and have him or her understand the importance of resisting the urge to use this defence mechanism.

HOW TO GRADUALLY ELIMINATE INTELLECTUALIZATION (OCPD):
Completely removing this defence mechanism without replacing it with another one is not recommended if it is the only coping method you have to handle your difficult feelings. In order to soften the blow, you may want to lean on other healthier defence mechanisms (see “Mature Defence Mechanisms“) in the meantime. Choosing to resist the urge to intellectualize your difficult feelings will require you to first recognize the complications it causes on you and your relationships.

THE COMPLICATIONS OF INTELLECTUALIZATION (OCPD):
This defence mechanism is not helpful to you. It keeps you weak. It steals your opportunity to grow stronger and develop your ability to endure more difficult emotions in the future. It causes you more frustration and anxiety. Who knows when you will be able to figure out your “truth” through the stressful process of reasoning that you take? It may take forever. It keeps you in anguish until you find that answer you are looking for. Is it really worth it all? It also keeps you feeling very lonely. It limits the kind of people that can comfort you. The only people who can comfort you are those who are as good as you or better in logical reasoning. Good luck trying to find them. Do you not want to find refuge in your loved ones? Does it not ache your heart that your loved ones feel hopeless?

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Race and the Obsessive Personality: Jews and Koreans

Are some ethnic groups more anxious than others? I definitely think so. Imagine for a second that each country is a school student and our world is a big locker room. Some students are assigned lockers that are surrounded by the lockers of bullies while other students are fortunate enough to have lockers that are far away from any danger. Who do you think would go to school every day with a higher level of anxiety?

The obsessive personality is more likely to show up in people groups whose ancestors once shared an overwhelming experience that caused their entire race to lose their sense of security.

Jews and Koreans had a very rough past. Both were once under the rule of big bullies who told them that they are inferior. Both suffered through war, poverty, slavery, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, and human experimentation. During these horrific times, they lost much of their sense of security and developed the idea that the world we live in is a very unpredictable, dangerous place.

Sadly, this fear continued on even after all the bullying came to an end. Survivors could not all of a sudden let go of all their defense mechanisms. They continued living in “survival mode,” overreacting to inconsequential mishaps and overemphasizing safety and stability.

To make matters worse, they raised their children to look at the world in the inaccurate way that they do. These anxious parents bred a new generation of smart, but very self-conflicted survivors who would also one day pass their fear down to their own children. The cycle then repeats generation after generation.

What also makes Jews and Koreans similar is their shared method of escape from pain. Although there are many different ways to escape pain (none of which I recommend), both people groups promote work as the most effective method of escape. Workaholism is consequently one of the biggest problems within the Jewish and Korean community.

[ "Work sets you free" slogan on the entrance of Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany ]

Below is a dialogue illustrating how many Jewish and Korean parents teach their children to escape their pain through work:

Jewish and Korean Parents

Perfect Parents

CHILD: Mom/dad, I am experiencing pain and I don’t know what to do.

MOM/DAD: Your pain is nothing compared to what I went through. You have it so easy. You’re just not working hard enough. You need to work harder.

CHILD: Mom/dad, I am experiencing pain and I don’t know what to do.

MOM/DAD: Aww. I’m sorry, child. Come here and let me hug you. *hug* Pain is a normal part of life. Don’t try to avoid it. Just experience it and let it pass. Don’t worry. You’re going to be just fine.

All of this is pure speculation on my part. I have just grown up all my life with Korean people and I happen to notice the anxiety in so many of us. I have also felt oddly so connected to Jewish people by our many similarities. Jewish people also seem to agree that they are an anxious bunch. OCD is so common within their community that it is even jokingly nicknamed “the Jewish disease.”

Anxious ethnic groups have a lot of similarities in the way that they function. Here is a list of some of the things you might find within anxious ethnic groups:

  • parents who worry too much about their children
  • controlling and over-involved parents
  • grandparents that are impossible to impress, like “Yiayia” <- watch this funny 30 second commercial of an unimpressed Greek grandmother :D
  • high standards for health and education
  • competitiveness
  • strong work-ethic, workaholism
  • inability to relax
  • inability to feel satisfied, perfectionism
  • smart use of resources
  • success in business, but inflexible business partners
  • stress

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO BREAK GENERATIONAL FEAR:
Fear is contagious. So before you have children, put an end to your fears by facing them. When you finally have children, be calm around them. Be the secure caretaker that you never had as a child. Teach your children that the world is not a dangerous place.

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