For the love of God, get it together, people

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Jesus must be so annoyed, y’all

Collectively, as of late, we Christians have sat silently, not wanting to offend or get too political. And here we are. We are beyond political. We are making moral kingdom decisions every moment we are not helping our neighbor. And who is your neighbor, you ask? If you spent five minutes looking at the gospel, you’d know. And once you know, you can’t un-know.

Jesus the Christ flouted the rules and the expectations of the most pious. He didn’t care about offending anyone. He spent time with the poorest of the poor. He fed the hungry. He provided free healthcare, he invited the little children to come to him. He took a nap on a rock…all while being a brown immigrant. He did not care about man-made borders, or whether or not you are comfortable in your complacency. He calls us away from that. We need to love radically and without regard to which side of an imaginary border you were born on, what color your skin is, who you love, or even what you believe.

Christians are not a law & order people. We never have been. Early Christians were ILLEGAL. They risked life and limb going against the state to follow Jesus the Christ – that’s where the fish symbol came from, a secret message scrawled in the dirt to identify each other. Jesus was in trouble for not washing his hands according to the law, and for working on the Sabbath…also against the law.

This is part of our story – and I for one am proud of it: Love has always trumped the law of the land. How have we forgotten this??

For too long, we happy-go-lucky church folk have allowed our beloved scriptures to be co-opted, hijacked and perverted by selfish leaders, false prophets, and crooked statesmen to further their own repugnant agendas. How do we know they are wrong? Because someone is always hurt by their policies. Period.

And here we sit, not wanting to offend or get political.

Our silence is deafening. If we don’t rise up and do something now, then we shouldn’t step back in the doors of a church, because we are there for the wrong reasons. Jesus called us to be in community – to care for one another and to care for the world.

A church is a body of people not a building. And these bodies were built for action, NOT complacency.

This is the time. We are being tested. What do you believe really, about the Jesus you proclaim?

When you think back to the scene at Calvary….what would you have done When Jesus was carrying his own timber cross? Would you be casting lots to take his possessions? Would you have been yelling “Crucify him!”?

Your actions today, tell you exactly where you would have been that day.

Our Apologies to the Y2K Babies

IMG_1429Do you remember the Y2K babies…the four million+ little ones born into the tail end of the first internet boom?

Like the mysterious cicadas, these equally mysterious young people have emerged from their not-always-comfortable kid cocoons and have started graduating from high school and pouring into the world. They overran the college application process. They’ve taken all the men’s medium t-shirts and women’s size 7 shoes. They have used ALL THE DATA. They’re eating all the frozen yogurt and have taken up every seat on flights to Europe. Dear God, I hope they are finding their way to their polling places.

These kids were just little chubby babies on September 11, 2001, and our perspective and hopes for them changed in an instant, and continued to change again and again with the awful and exciting things that tend to happen through a person’s lifetime. Inventions. Wars. Societal and political shifts. Natural disasters. Personal heartbreak and triumph. Epic movie franchises and broken sports curses.

Our oldest son is one of these former babies/current graduates. He and his cohorts have put up with years of our inspirational chats, and the retelling of cautionary tales – urban legends about kids who didn’t study hard enough for the SAT or only took three years of a foreign language instead of four. They were constantly reminded that every move they made would affect the rest of their lives.  Now that they’re done, and exhausted by all of our help, we’re like, “Oh don’t worry, you’re going to be fine. We just want you to be happy.”

It’s time for them to figure out their way. Our way depends on it.

The options for Y2K babies are different than those of every generation before them. We’re sending them into a weird world – where the possibilities feel infinite and finite, depending on the day. We (I) can’t unload our (my) panic about the mysterious state of the world onto them (him).

These new adults are Post Millennials. And it seems, while we were trying to make things so great, we’ve done everything in our power to make things as difficult as possible for them. As a proud Gen X parent, I feel like we’ve quietly put up with a lot, but we didn’t use any of that experience to help these kids. And so to you adorable group of Y2K baby graduates, I say…sorry, guys!

College admission is insanely competitive, and infinitely more expensive than what we had to deal with…tuition has gone up 260% since 1980, while other consumer goods have only gone up 120%. We’ve made it prohibitive in every way. You’re welcome!

We’ve re-wired your brains with our own lack of self control with technology – forcing our own addiction on you, then we get frustrated with how much you look at your little screen.

We shrug and turn to you – firmly resting our collective future onto your young shoulders. You’ll need to fix the environment and health care and race relations because it’s too hard and we can’t do it.

You’ll have to fix education – good luck since we messed that up pretty good (see above re: prohibitive)! We’ve known for a long time what keeps you healthy, but sorry – we’ve put sugar and garbage in everything you consume.

We haven’t fixed equity or equality of any kind. Sorry! We have only anecdotally modeled volunteerism, civic engagement, patience, kindness, generosity, and creative freedom. We haven’t let you explore your neighborhood, goofy hobbies, free time, play time or diversity.

You need to overcome a lot – us – to get to where you need to go….and not just where you need to go, but where you want to go. Because, let’s face it, we don’t know what you need.  If we did, you sure wouldn’t be in this pickle! However, I do know that WE NEED YOU!

You’ve gone from being the children entrusted to us, to being our new co-workers, team members, fellow citizens and allies.

When you moved your tassel to the other side of your fancy flat hat, that’s what you got…a graduation party, and a seat at the table that should have been occupied by you all along.

Thank God for us, it looks like you nerds know what you are doing.

You’re smart, in spite of us, kind in spite of us, connected in spite of us. And yes, though you may not want our help anymore, we are in it together. We obviously can’t do it for you, but maybe if we work together, we can move the needle.

Hope you enjoyed your two days of sleeping in, you’re needed on the floor.

 

 

 

 

Imagine This

 

 

I KNOW IT’S BEEN A VERY LONG TIME since I’ve written anything here. My return has the potential to be like walking into the gym after a year’s absence, arms raised in triumph, proclaiming “I’m back! Sorry to keep you guys hanging!” But the people at the front desk are new, and your favorite gym characters like the grunting guy in the shorty shorts or the lady who lounges on whatever machine you need while checking her email, have been replaced by new characters in unfamiliar shorty shorts. Nobody knows who you are or how long you have been gone, and they really truly do not care that you are back.

However, in case you are curious and have a couple of minutes, there have been some interesting developments over the past year. Our family added a second dog, Minnie, to our menagerie. I posted here long ago about how I did not want a dog, but as my oldest son prepares for high school graduation, and the youngest is entrenched in middle school, I see why people in our particular stage of life get dogs. Dogs – unlike your children and the people at the gym – are excited to see you, and you realize you’ve forgotten what that feels like.

I’ve toned down the highlights and my hair is a little browner.

I’ve found I don’t like sushi as much as I used to and I’ve miraculously fulfilled my goal of regularly making pasta from scratch.

I’ve become more serious about my skincare routine and I’ve started listening to news radio and podcasts…all natural outcomes of turning 43.

Oh, and hot darn, I wrote a book.

Released in September, “The IFs” is my first novel, and the entire experience has freaked me out in very good and very scary ways. But mostly it’s been great…fun, exciting… a dream come true, that has allowed me the coolest opportunities to talk with people about not just the process, but the story itself.

If this is the first you’re hearing about it, “The IFs” is about otherwise fully functioning adults forced by the demise of social media to create imaginary friends in order to battle their loneliness and survive a foreign social landscape. It just so happens, in real life, I’m the mom of a Y2K baby and the book takes a speculative peek into the future, when the Y2K babies are venturing out into the world as new adults. I regularly categorize “The IFs” as a quirky beach read, but at its core, the book is about friendship and human connection and what might happen if we’re suddenly deprived of both.

So through a three-plus-year process with the book, I thought a lot about loneliness, isolation, friendship and our reliance on staying electronically tethered to each other. I often stared at my phone and wondered if the thing was making me happy or miserable. I stared at my children and their friends, and wondered if they were happy or miserable as they sat silently together staring into their phones. I sat on our local commuter train staring at people as they stared into their phones, startling them when they looked up to find me, a strange psycho offering uninterrupted eye contact from afar.

A few days ago, as I was parking my car, news radio cranked and thumping from my speakers, I sat just a little longer because one non-traffic story caught my attention. The UK has just introduced the Minister of Loneliness. Named for Jo Cox, the late, dynamic British politician who established the UK’s Commission on Loneliness, the position is designed to address the issues caused by social isolation. Loneliness is a recognized epidemic in the UK, and here in the US even though we don’t yet have a minister for it. (Find out more about it here and here)

This is what I thought about and wrote about and dreamt about for years. Not the minister part, and spoiler alert, I didn’t come up with a widespread solution for how the world should deal with our connection problem. But seriously, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?  WHAT WOULD HAPPEN if we experienced a radical shift in our surroundings that once again changed how we formed our relationships? Would our collectively deteriorating social acumen be enough to help us find our way?

We don’t know how the world will change next, or what we humans will have to do to adapt. But we’ve all had, at our luckiest, glimpses of loneliness and isolation. For those surrounded by people most of the time, an evening of solitude sounds ok, because you can eat a baguette for dinner and binge watch true crime shows. Soon enough though, you feel gross about the baguette and paranoid from the true crime shows and solitude loses whatever weird appeal it may have momentarily held.

Writing is the perfect way to repeatedly plunge into a messed up kind of solitude. You have to take yourself out of social media or you won’t write a word. You stare into space. You think about what snack you will have next and why your thumbs bend the way that they do. You look at your cat as nothing less than co-author of your work. One day, you think what you’ve written doesn’t completely suck, the next day, you’re ready to throw in the towel and never write again, not even your name. You’re operating in a vacuum. Giddy, depressed, numb, repeat.

And then, when the dang thing finally goes out into the world, you physically can’t sit there wondering if people are reading and liking it or maybe hating it so you occupy your brain and hands by reorganizing every nook and cranny of your house, trying on every piece of clothing you own to see if it brings you joy. Oh, and people…you find where the people are, and you go there.

Have you noticed a change in the nature of your relationships? What you seek in a friendship? These aren’t hypotheticals – I’m truly asking you, yeah YOU.

We need to ignore each others’ ill-fitting shorty shorts and connect. The future of the planet depends on it.

If you’re interested in the book – you can find it here or here. If you’ve read it, thank you! And if you liked it, could you like mention it to a friend who’s looking for a quirky beach read? 

That photo up there on the left is me and my book club. I was terrified for them to read it, because they are all so smart and well-read and discerning. But they were incredibly gracious and supportive and amazing.

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And allow me to introduce you to Moe and Minnie

present tense


Since October 4, 2016, I’ve written the occasional Facebook update, Instagram caption, email, tweet, journal entry, and Christmas card. However, I have been unable to write write. Well, more accurately, I have chosen not to write write. But with 2016 mercifully making way for 2017, I feel like it’s time to stop avoiding the unavoidable. I simply can’t write about anything, until I write about this.

My mom died on October 4; the very same mom I was able to write about here in present tense, just this spring. Back then, ten lifetimes ago, she was still working and laughing and sassy and loving and generous and wise and wonderful. As I wrote about her, I was acutely aware of just how present tense she was. I cried the first time I read the essay out loud, fully aware that the things I had written were usually saved for eulogies. The essay was better than a eulogy, I reasoned, because she was able to read it and see how much I admired her. And she did read it, and she loved it, and she printed it out and showed her friends.

Then without warning, I was including parts of that essay in her actual eulogy, reading it with my brother at my side, next to her casket, in front of my dad, family, friends, and strangers in a church that was built on the site of the school where my mother served as the last school secretary, and where my husband the preacher was orchestrating a tender, beautiful, perfect-for-Mom service.

Mom’s passing was sudden and wildly unexpected, which of course made for a total nightmare.

(I’m not using “you” to creep you out, but because “I” sounds as if I think I’m the only person this has ever happened to. I’m using the big common “you,” that selfishly provides some comfort from having shared in the universal human experience of life and death, but, really, don’t worry, the “you” here is really me.)

You immediately lament the goodbyes you never had. So many other people get goodbyes, why didn’t you? Then you realize that in order to get the goodbye, your loved one needs to be dying, and that is the last thing in the world you would want. So instead, your jealousy turned to gratitude, and then immediately to disbelief tinged with a teensy bit of resentment that you are in the position of having to be grateful for such a terrible thing. But you are…you are so thankful this woman you loved was fully in the present tense to the very end. And she would have hated being sick; she was good at a lot of things, but being sick was not one of them.

The first hours after the unimaginable becomes real, are fuzzy and clear all at the same time. You’re numb, but you notice every single thing. The days run together, and you are unsure of what to do about anything, or how to manage your horrible thoughts, or your unwieldy emotions or the weirdness of your surroundings. You notice the tears come at strange intervals, which makes you self-conscious about how you are grieving. You understand you are still in shock, and that the worst part is still to come and you sporadically entertain the thought that this was all just a terrible mix-up, and your mother is perfectly fine somewhere, and just wants to come home. You feel sorry for yourself and think about how life will never be the same, and you’ll never be the same, and why are we even born if we’re just going to die? You and your family swap memories, and you cling to each other because you have to, and because you can, and you haven’t been together in this intense of a way, well, ever.

At the very same time you’re wallowing in the muck, you somehow find yourself on the receiving end of the best things humanity has to offer. The purest love and kindness pour over you from your friends and family, and you muster the strength to pour it right back without obligation. But also somehow, some of your greatest comfort and practical help comes from the strangest places…From the man who keeps his shop open late so he can fit your dad for a suit then offers to press his shirt for free before the memorial. From the neighbors who bring wine and the other neighbors who bring breakfast and the other neighbors who haul out the garbage for you. From the cousin you don’t really remember having who finds you a church to use for the memorial since Mom and Dad’s church is getting renovated. From the endless string of people responsible for coffee cakes and hams and pizzas and flowers and the tiny little lady you’ve never seen before who delivers a pot of chili that’s nearly as big as her. From the diner waitress who saw the obituary and came to the service because your parents were her customers and always so nice to her. From the bank teller and the pharmacist who were crushed to hear about Mom, because she was always so nice to them. From Mom’s teenage co-workers who showed up– one even riding his bicycle all over town to get there– because, guess what, Mom was so nice to them.

When you’re perfectly entitled to disappear into grief, you can’t.  It’s still not about you. You are suddenly connected to the world in a new way through the absence of someone you loved.

You’re thankful against your will again, because you are overwhelmed with evidence that you were justified in loving and admiring this person, because she impacted people throughout her whole life in ways she never even knew. And you got to be her daughter. And you still get to be her daughter. Present tense.

Hey humans, we’re overdue for a remodel. I’ll go first.

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I’ve been blathering on for months, complaining about people who hate. I love love, but I hate hate, and I hate haters, a category I have recently lumped a large number of people into, taking it upon myself to determine they are terrible for hating. When I realized just how much I hated all of these haters, I knew I had a problem. And I knew I wasn’t alone.

I’m not supposed to hate, right? I’m a Christian and a pastor’s wife, but alas, I’ve fallen down on the job.

I feel it both when the police kill innocent people and when people kill the police who put their lives on the line to protect us. I find myself hating action and inaction. I hate what we’ve become, but also what we used to be. Power and the absence of power. Obsessiveness, and ignorance. Braggadocio and spinelessness. I hate racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and fear-mongering and then I find myself hating the people I have determined haven’t hated that same stuff enough. I hate reading the news, but also not reading the news. Don’t even get me started on the comments section of any article about anything – whether it’s politics or the Golden State Warriors. The comments section is where my fury gets a real workout. I hate inequality and injustice which I think we’re supposed to, but I can feel almost the same level of anger towards everyone from Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans to total strangers who disagree with me on anything, which means, I’ve covered every single one of you. Family, friends, everybody.

And that’s just the darkness contained in my heart…the heart of just one white, (almost?) middle-aged, middle-class, usually chipper Christian mom who wants peace and love and unity, and for everybody to be nice to each other. I want equality and justice, and a better world for my children and your children. But, how can a desire for all that good, thrive and produce in a heart that is taken up with so much darkness?

Which makes me the problem.

I can’t see your heart. I don’t know what’s going on in there, or what’s going on in the heart of GoneFishinPhil63 whose comments on news articles have made me think he’s the devil incarnate. Knowing is not my job and it’s not my business. All I can know is what’s happening in my own heart, and it’s not pretty, and it’s not getting me anywhere, and it sure as heck isn’t helping anybody else, so I’m going to start there. Because what I’ve been doing lately, IS NOT WORKING.

Last night, to add insult to injury, I realized I’ve been reading Martin Luther King, Jr. all wrong, all this time.

My husband, who cares deeply about social justice, and works tirelessly for it as a pastor in San Francisco, posted an MLK, Jr. quote he’s had to go back to again and again, when societal tensions seem to be rising. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Beautiful, right? I love it. But I’ve been doing it wrong. I’ve been reading it allllllll this time, and thinking, “Yeah, take that, idiots on the other side. I love love and you morons are screwing it up and securing your place on the wrong side of history. Me and Martin Luther King, Jr. are right again!” Nope, the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems to have been talking to me.

I’m not going to stop hating, by hating some more. The darkness I feel inside isn’t going to leave so I can make room for more darkness. Nothing will change with the set-up I have right now.

So after taking a good long look at my own heart, I’ve decided to remodel. I can’t do ANYTHING, until I’ve done that. It’s not going to be easy; it’s close to a total tear-down job, and I know I’ll need the Man Upstairs who’s a specialist in this kind of work. There will be dust and noise and I won’t know where anything is for a while. However, the new place will be light and airy, and there will be tons of space for accepting and entertaining friends and strangers, but by design, no spot to sit and read the comments section.

moms: taking care of business since the beginning of time

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Me and Mary Jo, circa 1985

She was a blur of suntan nylons, pink lipstick, and curly hair tamed into a D.A. that came courtesy of a JC Penney salon stylist that knew “D.A.” stood for “duck’s @$$.”

In our small house, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work.  She click-clacked across our tile in her sling-back pumps; her dozens of keys jingling with a celebratory clatter announcing to the world that all was well, the keys had been located, probably in a side pocket of a 40-pound purse or under the pile of mail on the kitchen counter.

In our tight-knit neighborhood, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work. The echoes of her signature door slam and engine rev, pin-balled between the tract houses. If you were lucky enough to be standing in your yard when she tore out of the driveway, you were on the receiving end of an enthusiastic wave, and had a good view of her careening around the corner in our Chrysler Cordoba…a vehicle so long, my friends thought our family had a limousine.

She was not much older then, than I am now. Like me, she was a mom to two kids constructed of 80% freckles, and 20% defiance; and again like me, married to a great husband/awesome dad who adored her, but wished she could relax, just a little bit.

She made breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, breaking sometimes for Sunday outings to Sizzler or Kentucky Fried Chicken. She ironed every piece of clothing that touched my body. She reminded me often, that she’d won an ironing contest when she was in high school.

I didn’t babysit or mow the lawn. “You don’t need that,” she’d say, “You’ll have to work soon enough.”

She changed Rod Stewart’s sexy lyrics so convincingly, it was years before I realized the words weren’t “If you want my money, and you want my money.”

She let me roller skate in the house.

She fought her speeding ticket in traffic court, and won.

She was concerned, when at 14, I watched a VHS copy of “Heathers” or “Gleaming the Cube” every day after school.

Before there were rules about parents yelling from the sidelines at kids’ sporting events, she yelled from the sidelines…but only because she was my number one fan.

For a while, she told every grocery checker where her kids went to college. These days, she shows those same checkers pictures of her four grandkids, and of the roast my husband cooked on Christmas.

I was 24 when I finally apologized to her for how I acted when I was 18. I was 26, and only weeks into motherhood, when I acknowledged that being a mom was not exactly easy, and it must have been…not exactly easy for her either. I thought of her when I careened out of work to get a kid to baseball practice. And somewhere over the course of my almost 16 years of motherhood so far, there was a precise moment when I realized my children weren’t spending their every waking moment marveling at all that I get done in a day. It was that precise moment when I became Mary Jo’s number one fan.

I always knew her as a working mom. Not a high profile executive. Not a woman bent on dynamiting the glass ceiling… a suburban mom, taking care of business, so her daughter could do whatever she wanted when the time came.

Mary Jo was just a kid when she learned shorthand and bookkeeping. I remember her perched at our kitchen counter working late into the night. Her fingers, strong from years on a manual typewriter, flew over the keys of her Selectric.

She worked for the railroad, a loan company, and an elementary school. Her bosses had mustaches, cowboy boots and long cars, too.

She worked hard and cared hard and she did it all without needing to blog about it or escape into sacred girls’ nights out.

And now, at 81, she’s still a working mom. When she’s tired, I tell her she she should quit her job, and she tells me she’ll quit when she’s good and ready. She’s tougher than I am, and always will be. Chances are your mom’s tougher than you too. They were tough so we wouldn’t have to be.

Motherhood is taking care of business. It’s careening. It’s click-clacking through the house and caring what your kids watch after school. It’s bragging about them to people who don’t care. It’s making sure Taco Tuesdays happen on Tuesdays. It’s wanting to yell from the sidelines, stopping yourself, then yelling just a little bit. It’s deciding only to quit when you’re good and ready. Motherhood is being somebody’s number one fan.

This is just a snapshot of what Mother’s Day means to me…my hard working mom and hard-working mom-in-law Ruthie…two awesome broads who are taking care of business and loving their families fiercely. Mothers Day might be something else to you. A hard day. A sad day. Here’s to everybody out there who’s taking care of someone – showing compassion, working hard, putting on a bandage, listening, loving, praying, feeding, guiding, giving, hugging, bragging, and changing the lyrics when necessary.

My paradise is your prison: a trip to The Container Store

“Please don’t make us go. We’ll be so good starting right now. Please. Please. Please, don’t make us go.”

Where could I have been dragging the children, that was such a nightmare? What on earth could have evoked such desperation and sheer terror?

Not prison. Not a hard labor camp. Not the dentist. It was The Container Store.

While the children begged for clemency, I tried to contain how excited I was to have a perfectly valid, legitimate reason for going to The Container Store…not even one of my usual made-up reasons. I needed a laundry drying rack…. a big industrial-sized model, because I am never not doing laundry. I had nothing but the welfare of our family in mind. My last drying rack had just collapsed in defeat, a stack of plastic knobs and metal pipes, finally done in by the weight of yet another uniform, and another pair of jeans I was trying to preserve for their human occupant who was just going to fall in mud or grow two feet the next day, anyway.

I needed a drying rack because I still haven’t figured out all of the weird sporty, wicking fabrics the males in this house wear. The material of all that gym/basketball/baseball/running stuff feels so delicate, though I could probably dry all of it by running over it with a tractor and it would be fine. I didn’t need a dorm-sized drying rack. I needed the one that professional football teams use. I’m a professional.

They pleaded their case, but it wasn’t enough. We were going to the store whether they liked it or not, which is one of the necessary realities of childhood, and of parenthood, too.

Just that morning, they had already woken up to beautiful sunshine, had been fed pancakes AND hot chocolate, and then suffered through another store where I had unsuccessfully looked for a laundry rack, yet successfully found a new lasagna pan, a pan I would soon use to make them a lasagna. Quelle horreur!

The Container Store contains more containers than I could ever use in my lifetime. They are colorful, lovely boxes and bins and bags stacked to the sky, each representing the hope of what could be…beauty and order harnessing the chaos. I don’t think that’s what my kids see.

And I guess I see something different in the stores they prefer.

Those stores represent the hope of what could be for them…zombies to be pursued, goals to be made, races won. Two months before my drying rack quest, I went into the video game store on the release day of “Some game with Zombies,” and I vowed loudly, “never again.” I’ve waited on the sidewalk when they go in ever since. I go with John to those stores that sells TVs and phone cases and wires of every shape and size, and my eyes glaze over. If I fall behind and lose him, I wonder around, saying “John?” to all the other brown haired guys in khakis and button down shirts.

“Sorry. You’re not John.”

“Yes, I am John.”

“Not my John.”

You can’t make someone love The Container Store, and you can’t make someone love the wire store or the video game store. It turns out a 41-year-old mom is – often, not always – different than a 10-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy and a 42-year-old boy. And that’s fine, and that’s one of the reasons there are Girls Nights Out and Man Caves.

On that day in The Container Store, the boys knew what would happen, even when I didn’t. They knew I wasn’t just running in for an enormous best-drying-rack ever that would fill the car’s trunk. They knew it would be something else too. And there it was, the ultimate container…a huge plastic box designed to hold our artificial Christmas tree. The one they held on their laps without complaint as we drove the six minutes home.

 

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I’ve already vowed to hold the zombie game on my lap the next time we drive home from their store.

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