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Some of the subtle and unsettling changes in daily life that you notice 65 days into quasi-quarantine:

Instead of searching through the piles of clean laundry on the couch looking for some underwear or the pants that still fit, you’re mostly looking for a clean mask that fits.

You don’t realize until nighttime when you’re on a zoom call with friends that you haven’t looked in a mirror all day and had no idea that your hair looked like that.

Instead of showering at your convenience, you have to negotiate shower privileges with your spouse because both of you roll out of bed and start the day without bothering to shower until a) your first zoom call of the day or b) you need to leave the house to go to the grocery store or pickup takeout food.

Even though you can’t see it behind the mask, you still put on lipstick before leaving the house. Some habits stick around.

Instead of attempting to clean the house, you engage in micro cleaning. If one kitchen counter is wiped down, or one table cleared, or one shelf tidied, you count it as a victory. It is impossible to clean the whole house when everyone is in it all the time.

You realize that Target brand toilet paper is actually fine. Even though you’ve always been a toilet paper snob, both a Charmin loyalist and disdainful of Scott, when you found shelves filled with Target brand you snapped it up and have been pleasantly surprised.

You are grateful to three different friends who generously gave you gifts of dish soap. When you ran out, before your friends came to the rescue, you ordered dish soap online. Then it arrived and now you are blessed with dish soap to last for a while, which is good because your family continues to eat and drink with gusto.

You cannot concentrate on anything for mire than 30 seconds except when you are alone, which typically happens only after midnight or before 9am if you are able to wake up at 8. You seldom use these hours wisely, but that’s nothing new. Occasionally you meditate or write, and that has to be good enough.

On Saturdays we become feral. While our pre-pandemic weekends were packed with activities and outings, Saturdays especially are now anarchy. When each of us is sleeping or eating or dressed is anyone’s guess. By Saturday I have no energy left to organize anyone or anything.

Yesterday evening, Zoe and I went for a masked walk around the neighborhood. we walked almost the same exact route we had walked 24 hours earlier, but somehow noticed new houses and different flowers along the way. We saw fewer people out, perhaps because it had been drizzling. Walking is nice and it’s a relief to be out of the house, but wearing a mask and detouring to avoid other people, few of whom make eye contact or say hello, remains uncomfortable and disorienting.

Meanwhile, Randy and Zeke had not left the house all day. The effect of this on Randy was an attack of lethargy at 8pm and Zeke was running laps around the first floor of our house. I suggested they do a workout, and soon they were both on our puzzle piece mats in front of the tv doing squats and burpees and planks in 30-second intervals.

At this point everyone had gotten their second wind. I had been trying for several days to figure out how to play games using the Houseparty app or Jackbox games. Neither of these things are all that complicated, but my brain power has been compromised by the new normal.

So the kids and I played a few rounds of a drawing game with Zoe’s ukulele teacher, and after Randy dragged Zeke to bed, the three of us played some trivia games and something called chips and guac which is basically like Apples to Apples. I was reminded that I am old because the games included slang I’d never heard of, but there are also words Zoe doesn’t know so I guess we’re even.

I don’t even remember what time I attempted to go to sleep, only that by 3am I had not achieved success, so I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of the call to worship for next Sunday’s church service. I have always loved helping lead worship, but I haven’t done it in a while because of my ministerial search committee duties. Next Sunday, however, is (hopefully) the culmination of our search odyssey, as our candidate gives her second candidating sermon and the congregation votes on whether to call her as our next senior minister. So I was asked to serve as worship associate for the service. I feel a wee bit of pressure to perform, but it’s all self-imposed. I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Rev. Amanda and see what happens.

Sundays are less lethargic days, at least for me, because I make myself get out of bed to watch church. Also today I had many zoom meetings to host—both related to church and for family and friends. While there is something to be said for the convenience of video calls, they are just never going to beat being in the same room with people. I miss people! And hugs! Have I mentioned how I miss hugging people?

Monday and its accompanying structure—however erratic—is coming soon enough.

I’ve been pretty grumpy the past couple days. Migraines, the sorry state of our government, and the needless suffering of so many humans, especially those who have already been systematically oppressed for centuries.

An occupational hazard of working with organizations that are trying to heal the world is that I spend a lot of time reading and writing about all the brokenness. I’ve been editing a lot of documents lately about the lasting effects of institutional racism, such as dramatic health and educational disparities. I learn over and over again about systems and policies based in selfishness, greed, and so many people’s inability to walk in someone else’s shoes, or even believe that someone else wears a different kind of shoes. Why are we so arrogant?

Surprisingly, what got me out of my funk tonight was a ministerial search committee meeting via zoom. Our committee is in the home stretch of our epic two-year mission, and we are all stressed. But we received some wise guidance from our wonderful interim minister and shared some funny stories with each other and I felt a sense of relief being together. Meanwhile, Randy and Zoe made a delicious dinner of maple glazed salmon and maple glazed baby carrots and pearled couscous and spinach salad with strawberries. Zoe brought a plate up to the office for me to eat during my meeting and it was so tasty.

I am thankful for my search committee team members for so many things, but especially because they push me and inspire me to be my best self—to evolve and grow and look at the world in different ways—and to always think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life’s a mess
But I’m having a good time

Paul Simon

This year I received birthday greetings from my neurologist, my dentist, my kids’ dentist, the Red Cross, William and Mary, Michaels, Starbucks, DSW, and District Taco. Oh, and a lot of people who I actually know and who love me!

I would not have guessed that a having a birthday while in quarantine could be so lovely, but it was. My people made me feel special.

A popular thing to do on Facebook is throw a fundraiser for a nonprofit you like. In the midst of a global public health crisis, it’s hard to pick one. The day before my birthday I invited people to do something to help their local food bank, or any organization that is helping people through the pandemic. Scrolling through all the people who listed the organizations where they had volunteered, donated food, or contributed money made me so ecstatic. A few people said they were turning over their stimulus checks to community food pantries, and they would think of me when they made the donation.

I had a Zoom birthday party, which was just as weird and silly as I expected. A Zoom party enables you to introduce people you love to each other, which is one of my favorite things in the world. Everyone said how they knew me, and it was cool to see so many people who were in our wedding on the screen together for the first time since our wedding video. For the party, I made a quiz about myself on Kahoot! which apparently was much more challenging than I thought. My sister won, which was not surprising. I think she won Zoe’s quiz too. She’s a clever one.

Then my parents and clever sister surprised me by appearing for a six-feet-apart sidewalk and parking lot party! My sister, wearing a mask, brought me a Wonder Woman balloon and a bouquet of flowers. My parents brought presents and my dad read a poem by Billy Collins, my favorite poet.

My husband brought home lunch from Pupatella, our favorite pizza place in Arlington. My family made me a delicious and messy cake. Our sweet next door neighbor wrote me a lovely card and gave me a journal covered with almond blossoms, which she stealthily left on our doorstep.

After I took a little nap while my family played Goat Simulator on the Xbox, we went for a hike at Scott’s Run, one of the parks we discovered since quarantine started. Like most of these hikes, it runs along the Potomac, and unlike most of the hikes, features a lovely waterfall. We were all wearing masks, but we didn’t see too many people, and those we passed on the trail stayed respectfully several feet away.

I hadn’t realized how much it had rained since the last time we were there, about a month ago. But clearly, it had, since the fallen trees Zeke climbed on were now separated from the shore by rushing water.

We opted not to swim out to recreate the picture. But we did put in 3.2 miles and, according to my Apple Health app, climbed 22 floors, also known as hills.

At home I took my second shower of the day, because you know I love to be clean, and I enjoyed a SamGram–a little FaceTime with my nine-month-old nephew, watching him grab toys and make noise and roll around and wiggle his little legs. The next best thing to snuggling.

Meanwhile Randy and Zoe made me non-dairy fettuccine alfredo at my request. If it were just me, I’d have the regular kind with cream, but since Randy is allergic to dairy and I think Zoe may be lactose intolerant, I wanted a treat everyone could enjoy. This involved them soaking cashews in water and blending them with some other ingredients. The alfredo sauce was not, perhaps, quite as creamy as what I’ve had before, but it was tasty and the whole thing was delicious because they made it for me.

I would give almost anything for this quarantine to be over–for enough tests to test everyone and a vaccine and leaders who are willing and able to take care of their people. But I wouldn’t have had my birthday any other way. Thanks, guys!

The ideal person to be quarantined with would be my Nana. She was born in 1911, grew up on a farm, survived the Great Depression, and was smart, industrious, patient, thrifty, and a phenomenal baker and cook. My Nana always had two refrigerators and freezers filled with food enough to last forever. She washed clothes in the sink and sometimes in the washing machine, and dried everything on the line. She washed and dried the dishes by hand. Somehow I feel like she wouldn’t have run out of anything or would’ve known how to make what she had on hand last and last. She never learned to drive and would’ve been content to stay at home taking care of her family, reading her devotions, sewing, and playing Scrabble as long as was necessary. She might’ve been sad that Major League Baseball was canceled because she enjoyed watching the Atlanta Braves play. She would’ve missed going to church every Sunday, but she wouldn’t have skipped a single day reading the Bible. She would’ve called to check on the women in her Sunday school class and people from the church who were homebound (of course we’re all homebound now, but the people who were sick or incapacitated). She would’ve made meals and pound cakes and asked my Papa to drive her to deliver them. I am confident that Nana would have remained calm during all this craziness.

Perhaps because I’ve been thinking about my Nana so much lately, I had two terrible dreams last night in which she had just died. In one dream, I was in the house on Chestnut Street in High Point, North Carolina where she and my Papa lived for most of my childhood. I dreamed that she had died and the entire rest of my family had suddenly vanished. I had no one there to talk to or who could console me, except for an acquaintance I didn’t really trust.

In the next dream, I was in another city–maybe Arlington or DC at night and I was hysterical about her death. I was parked very tight between other cars and was trying to figure out how to get my car out of the lot. My friend Elizabeth appeared, along with a guy who sported an unfortunate Prince Valiant style haircut. Elizabeth asked if I could give her and Prince Valiant a ride somewhere because it was raining. I said I would, but then I was driving up absurdly steep walls, like in a skate park, and I couldn’t seem to get anywhere. I was crying and told Elizabeth I couldn’t drive because I was so upset and she would have to drive, so she did.

When I told Randy about this he suggested the steep walls I was trying to drive up represented the nightmarish graphs we keep seeing in the news, of the rise of coronavirus cases and deaths, and the unbelievable unemployment numbers.

My Nana died in 2005. I wonder if I am suddenly missing her more than usual because in all this terrifying uncertainty, I am longing for her steady, reassuring presence. She would know the right thing to do. I wish she were here so she could meet my kids. And so I could bake her a cake. I think she would like that.

When my kids were in preschool at AUCP one of the concepts that the teachers and staff there reminded us parents all the time was the importance of teaching and allowing our kids to do things on their own even when it would be much faster for us to do it ourselves. If you are a parent or grandparent or older sibling or if you’ve ever cared for or taught a child, you know that it often takes little kids forever to do anything, especially if you are in a hurry.

Of course this is good advice because kids will never learn to be independent if you do everything for them. But also, life. Sometimes it’s really tedious to teach a kid to do something that you could do in five minutes, knowing you’ll have to cajole them to do it and then it will take them half an hour.

Yet there comes a time–perhaps when you are in quarantine–when you are making three meals a day for your family members, that you must teach your first-grader to make a sandwich. For whatever reason, Zeke has never liked peanut butter and jelly. Recently he has changed his mind. He seems to change his mind about a lot of things lately. So I taught him to make a sandwich. He was proud of himself. He added pretzels to the plate. I cut up the apple. I’m wondering when I can give him the sharp knife…

As you can see, some of the strawberries adorning the edge of the cake cascaded down to the bottom between when I decorated the cake and when we served it. The cake was strawberry with fresh strawberries mixed in and a layer of strawberry jam between the layers of cake. The cake plate originally belonged to my Nana.

I know she would never have chosen it herself, but I actually think Zoe’s 13th birthday while in quarantine was more eventful and filled with love from more people than it would’ve been under ordinary circumstances.

I had put a call out on Facebook for people to send video birthday greetings to Zoe, and my wishes were granted. Beginning this morning I air-played the videos for Zoe on our TV and enjoyed seeing her smile. Some of the videos were from friends, some from teachers, some from people she doesn’t even know but who know her through the magic of Facebook. Some of them were from dogs and cats and plastic birds. One video made me cry and another made me laugh so hard I peed.

Last night we made a Kahoot–an online quiz using an app that Zoe has used in school for years–about Zoe. Today we invited family and a few groups of friends to play during Zoom birthday calls. Our first call was with the McCrays, who all sported birthday hats and had put up a happy birthday banner and balloons for Zoe. Later, the Cass family brought their adorable new puppy, Bentley, to visit us. They stayed six feet away while Bentley nibbled bits of turkey out of our hands. Then my parents drove up with some birthday gifts for Zoe, which they handed through the car window. I had just made pasta salad for lunch and I hurried to package some up for them (along with the baby carrots and tortilla chips we always serve with the pasta salad) and passed their bag of lunch back through the car window before they drove off.

Zoe and I played speed, her favorite card game, at which I am usually terrible, and I beat her. I told her now that she was a woman I wasn’t holding back anymore. Which is nonsense, because I never held back before I just wasn’t good at the game and it was lucky that I won today. Then the four of us played Not Parent Approved and ate pasta salad.

Next we had our family celebration, during which Aunt Susannah aced the Zoe quiz, and our littlest family member Sam did a little birthday dance for Zoe. Susannah and Aaron and Charlie and Sam made the best birthday video ever–their rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Me,” which featured Susannah in a bridesmaid dress and Charlie popping out of unexpected places including the fridge. Also Sam doing baby pushups.

Eager to get back on her bike, Zoe asked me to take her back to the field where she and Zeke rode Friday and Saturday. The field just so happens to be located near her best friend’s house. After riding a few laps around the track, Zoe was suddenly serenaded (from a safe distance) by a vaguely familiar group including a unicorn, Wolverine, a poop emoji, a hot dog, a windsock guy, and a Slytherin. Strangers stopped to take photos and videos.

Back home Zoe got back on Zoom with her squad from school, a happy reunion that lasted more than two hours, until our delivery arrived from Bangkok54. While we ate we watched the Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana, which Zoe had already watched five times, but it was my first. The movie was excellent and gave me a newfound respect for Taylor.

Of course Zoe received some presents, and some will be arriving in the mail pending coronavirus delays. But the best thing about this birthday was her just hearing from people in Arlington and all over the country that they are thinking of her and wishing good things for her and sending her love. And now that she’s 13 I think she understands how much that matters.

In 2020 I want to figure out how to

  1. Use my Instant Pot that everyone swears will change my life but I’ve thus far been scared to operate
  2. Not take it personally when my kids are in terrible moods
  3. Cultivate a daily meditation practice
  4. Read tarot
  5. Handle it when people serving our family in stores or restaurants refer to my daughter as “he” because she has short hair
  6. Make any money from my crazy art
  7. Get rid of a TON of the stuff in my house
  8. Get my children to ride their bicycles
  9. Eat out less while magically discovering what foods everyone in my family will eat without me having to cook everything
  10. Say no

You know how much I love to shower. My showers are quick and I prefer them cool–especially in the summer, I shower early and often. Growing up, I usually showered every day, but when I moved into my un-air conditioned dorm my freshman year in steamy August Williamsburg, I made multiple showers a day my way of life.

Twenty-seven summers later, even when I had to walk across a woodsy clearing, wearing my Adidas slides to protect my feet from sticks and rocks, and carry my soap and shampoo and towel and clothes with me, each of my three showers a day at family camp was bliss.

Of course, family camp was much more than a chance to bathe with bugs, but when it was 97 degrees every day and we were kayaking, climbing, dancing by the lake and simply walking across camp from one activity to another, I earned those showers. Not to mention that sometimes I was carrying my 50-pound child on my back when he alleged that he was too tired to move.

(For those of you who know me and have made fun of my affinity for showers for years, please note that I did not shower first thing in the morning any of the days we were at family camp. I brushed my teeth and put my clothes on and went to breakfast without showering, like a good camper. I only showered after I did something that got me really sweaty. Which, of course, is almost anything.)

Driving home yesterday some of those muscles I didn’t know I had were sore, but in the best possible way. Most of our stinky clothes are now clean again and most of our gear is unpacked, and we are already talking about what we will do next year when we go back.

This summer was Zoe’s fifth at Camp Friendship, but our first at Camp Friendship’s family camp, held for a week at the end of the summer when regular camp sessions are over. Family camp includes a lot of the same activities that the kids do during the summer, but with fewer counselors and rules and more flexibility.

Zoe loves Camp Friendship fiercely. She counts down the days until she can go each summer and it takes a while when she comes home for her to come out of her post-camp funk. She has made deep connections each year with campers and counselors and she has challenged herself to try new things every year and push herself . This summer during her second week at camp, she was named Camper of the Week in the Junior Girls Village, voted unanimously by the Junior Girls supervisor and all the counselors because of her enthusiasm and willingness to help out and because she was a friend to everyone. Zoe was modest about it when she told us, but when I talked with Kerry, the Junior Girls supervisor, she said Camper of the Week is a big deal. I was very proud.

My only sleepaway camp experience growing up was two weeks at the Young Writers’ Workshop held at the University of Virginia. While this was a phenomenal and formative experience for me, I stayed in a dorm and took writing classes, so I never experienced the typical sleepaway camp activities. For the past five years I’ve been both impressed and daunted by Zoe’s descriptions of her summer adventures at Camp Friendship.

This year I decided Zeke was old enough that we could go to family camp without him needing to stick by my side all the time, so we signed up for a half-week of camp. After watching the videos that Zoe showed us multiple times, Randy observed that family camp seemed like “an introvert’s nightmare” and opted to stay home. Now that we’ve been, I feel confident that he would enjoy most of the activities and he could easily sneak off for some quiet time when we’re singing cheesy songs or having a dance party. Anyway it was just the kids and me this time around.

Here’s what I LOVED about family camp:

  1. Being away from my phone and computer and all other screens for three days. Devices aren’t prohibited at camp but I decided our family did not need to use any. I used my phone only for the alarm clock so we wouldn’t miss breakfast, and to take occasional photos, but I had it on airplane mode (plus I don’t have any service in Palmyra, Virginia) the whole time and it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t have to check anything for myself or my children or respond to anyone’s requests or even feel the constant buzzing in my pocket. I loved that we could just make a plan and write something down on paper and I didn’t have to text anyone to see where they were or tell them where I was or ANYTHING ELSE. And I didn’t have to bug Zoe to get off her phone. No one was asking for screen time. It was lovely.
  2. Not having to drive anywhere or even carry my keys. The only time we were in a motorized vehicle was when one of the staff members drove a van full of us back to camp after we enjoyed tubing a couple miles down the Rivanna River. We walked everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, there was a heat wave and we were hot and sweaty, but it was such a relief not to have to drive and great exercise. And I wasn’t even counting steps.
  3. We were archers! Zeke and I used a bow and arrow for the first time (Zoe has done archery every year for five years) and I discovered that it’s really fun and not as hard as I expected. I managed to hit the target most of the time. I don’t think Zeke did, but he made a valiant effort. I am eager to find someplace close to home where we can practice.
  4. We kayaked! Randy is a big kayaker and Zoe has kayaked a lot at camp, but I had only been in a kayak once or twice and was intimidated by it. Zeke had never done it at all. We started out in a kayak together but I quickly remembered that two people in a kayak is way harder than one, so I kicked Zeke out and made him get his own kayak. And he did it! And I did it! We paddled around the lake, forward and backward, under a little bridge, through a fountain, and we didn’t fall out!
  5. These are not in order of importance, because one of my absolute favorite things about family camp was that my kids could go wherever they wanted without me and I did not have to worry about them at all. Of course I knew Zoe would be fine on her own since she knows the camp much better than I do, but I wasn’t sure how it would go with Zeke. But he figured things out quickly and easily and I was delighted and relieved. He walked the 100 feet to the bathrooms by himself, even in the dark. He got food and drink for himself in the dining hall. He floated along in his tube down the river. On the night when everyone gathered at the beach by the lake, he explored on his own and built sand castles with some other kids and a counselor while Zoe and I were playing cards and dancing. When we were at friendship bracelet making, Zeke got frustrated and decided to go down to the pottery class instead, where he made a penguin and a Camp Friendship sign. One morning Zeke did kids camp–going on a scavenger hunt across the entire camp, culminating in a swim at the pool–while Zoe and I did other activities. On the night when we were at the lawn party, we played cornhole and volleyball and lawn bowling, and then he decided he wanted to play night tennis. He has been wanting to learn tennis lately, so he told me he was going to the tennis courts, and he left. He met up with us later for ice cream. He also had a lesson with a tennis pro another day we were there. It was wonderful to be in a place where I knew the kids would be safe, there were a million friendly counselors and staff people around in case they needed anything, and whatever they were doing would be something good.
  6. I did not have to cook or buy or order any food for myself or my children or anyone else. They served us three delicious hot meals a day, with plenty of healthy options. They had an ice machine where I filled up my water bottle a million times a day. They had endless lemonade. And they had 24-hour bagels, bread, cereal, and fruit available in case you needed a midnight snack. We only availed ourselves of this the last night we were there, after the dance party. We discovered some teenagers in the dining hall playing Cards Against Humanity and a cluster of kitchen staff watching Netflix on someone’s laptop. For many people, especially parents, or maybe just me but I think it’s many people, figuring out what to feed yourself and your family is a lot of work. It was such a relief to not have to worry about this at all for nine entire mealtimes.
  7. I met counselors and staff from England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and South Africa. There were also American staff, but because many colleges in the US start in mid- to late-August, a lot of the American counselors have to leave before family camp. The international staff often have more flexibility. Everyone who works at the camp was incredibly friendly and kind. Almost every single person knew and loved Zoe. She was like a celebrity there and I was part of her entourage. By the time we left, a lot of them knew Zeke too. This job is an intense one, where you’re on duty nearly 24/7, so it requires a certain kind of commitment that’s different from scooping ice cream or mowing lawns. I talked with several staff members who work there year round, never having expected to make a career out of camp. Some of the counselors are in college or taking a gap year or just graduated, and some of them work in other fields, and some are trying to figure out what to do next, but in the meantime they are having a fabulous time at camp and those kids adore them.
  8. Zeke went fishing. I did not have to participate. Zoe played cards with Kerry while Zeke fished. Zeke did not catch anything but he had fun. And I didn’t have to participate. Did I mention that?
  9. I kinda learned how to make friendship bracelets. This is an extremely popular pastime at Camp Friendship. Every camper and counselor wears several on each wrist. I’ve seen Zoe doing it for years and it always seemed very mysterious. I have yet to complete a perfect bracelet, but I’ve made a couple for Zeke, who is quite forgiving, and I’ve started a couple more. This may not be a skill I will put on my resume, but it’s kind of cool and can be meditative to sit and play with string.
  10. My kids and I had fun together at camp. We were outside most of the time doing all kinds of cool activities. I didn’t have to pitch a tent or cook over a fire (although we did make s’mores, the supplies were provided for us–we just had to find sticks). We made tie-dyed shirts. Zoe and I tried to climb an insanely difficult high ropes obstacle. Zoe and Zeke zip lined across the woods. I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was hot and sweaty and exhausting. We had a great time. And I took plenty of cold showers.

Cleaning-out-the-RefrigeratorPeople can do anything. So why haven’t these things been invented? One would be immensely practical. The other more personally appealing to preserve my mental health.

Electronic Refrigerator Inventory System

There should be an interactive digital display on your fridge door that you can use to see what’s in your fridge and how long it’s been there and when it expires. You could scan all the items as you put them into the fridge, and the device would already be programmed with information about, say, how long strawberries stay fresh. You could also manually enter expiration dates, like on your milk. The device would remember everything you put in, so when you first get it you might have a lot of data entry to do, but after that it would easily recognize what you’re buying. Then when you are wondering what you can have for dinner, all you have to do is look at your display and see that there’s leftover Thai from two nights ago and enough vegetables to make a salad. When you’re getting ready to go to the grocery store, you could print out–or upload to your phone–a list of what you need, based on what you usually need and is missing from or low in the fridge. For bonus points, the device could interact with a cooking app and suggest recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand. Or tell you that you have five ingredients you need for tacos, except the meat, so you should pick some up. Cleaning the fridge would be easy because you’d know exactly how long things had been in there even before the mold starts to grow! There is so much potential here.

NPR (or other news outlet) Warning Lights

Sometimes when you’re in the car with your kids and you turn on NPR and the first words you hear are “mass shootings” or “bodies of children” or “murder” and you have to switch the station very, very fast. Or even if your kids aren’t in the car but it’s 7:30 in the morning and you can’t stomach a report about terrorist attacks, children being sold into slavery, or anyone being shot, and you have to put on the soundtrack to If/Then, which can be kind of wrenching as well but at least you know what’s coming and it’s fictional. Anyway, there should be a little warning light indicator on your radio so you can turn it on with no volume and if there’s a horrifying story including any of the above words or others I could list but won’t because they will make me depressed, a red light would illuminate. If the story may be mildly disturbing but not heart-wrenching, such as unemployment numbers, Congressional ineptitude, or negligent landlords, the light is yellow. And, if you’re really lucky, the light will be green when they’re interviewing singers, athletes, or writers; sharing the triumphant story of someone’s success; or reporting on a breakthrough in medical technology. Not to say that you can never listen to bad news, but sometimes it’s just too much. This would save millions of listeners from potential anguish as they drive.

If you can invent these things, let me know. I’d be happy to brainstorm with you and get in on the ground floor.

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