MONOPOLY SENIOR

Ah, Monopoly, that endless board game. If ever there was a concrete illustration of eternity in the bad place, Monopoly is it. Recurring cycles of debt, running out of money, keeping track of all your property, mortgaging your property, hopelessness, despair, boredom, losing valuable hours of your life. So why am I back in the game these days?

It wasn’t my idea. On a Sunday afternoon, in an attempt to calm down two rambunctious boys after a wild and exhausting Nerf gun battle (in which I was an enthusiastic participant), my husband unearthed our old Monopoly game. Seriously? I asked. These boys are seven and four. The older is just learning to read. The younger is just learning to count to twenty, and has no concept of the value of money.

“Is this Monopoly Junior?” asked the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior apparently has different rules than regular Monopoly, including an actual endpoint.

“Nope,” said Grandpa. “This is Monopoly Senior.” Which thrilled the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior was suddenly passe.

Little did I know the appeal this game would have. Turns out both boys love Monopoly Senior, which feeds the universal love of acquiring money and property, and unmasks the greed in their little hearts. Since that inaugural Sunday, Monopoly has been a regular activity.

Each boy has a different approach to the game. The seven-year-old is all about owning as much property as possible so as to collect as much rent as possible from his opponents. But he has a generous spirit. When I ran out of money (because of paying a lot of rent, mainly to him), he sweetly offered me all of his. I refused, but he insisted. I paid it back when I passed Go.

The four-year-old is all about amassing piles of cash, which he does by refusing to buy any property until well into the game, when he observes the rest of us collecting rent on our properties. He obviously doesn’t understand the principle of spending money to make money. And if he hands the banker a $100 bill to pay the $75 Luxury Tax, and gets a $20 and a $5 as change, he believes he now has more than before he paid the tax. He gave the bank one bill and got two back.

Our emerging reader provides moments of levity, such as the first time he landed on Vermont Avenue and read it as Vomit Adventure. He was tremendously pleased with his error. Gross humor, dear to the heart of a seven-year-old boy. This is mild. I have other gross stories, which I won’t relate here, but one of them ended with two grandsons lying on their backs on the kitchen floor, at my feet, laughing hysterically at their own grossness.

My husband grew up playing Monopoly by throwing all tax money, fees, and fifty dollar bills used to get out of jail onto the middle of the board. The player who lands on Free Parking claims the wad of cash in the middle. This is something all players hope for, but only serves to make eternity even longer. Just when you think the game is mercifully winding down, someone lands on Free Parking and away we go.

But I am a capitalist, and I do believe Monopoly is good practice for the real world of capitalism. Here we learn the consequences of poor management – when you buy more property than you can afford (see greed above) you’re left with nothing to pay your debts and have to start mortgaging said property. When the seven-year-old achieved a monopoly and purchased the coveted hotel, he was smacked in the face with huge property assessments, and later with the realization that nobody could afford his exorbitant rent.

How do you stay in the game, build your assets and still have enough cash to pay your bills? This is Life Skills 101. And the whole idea of playing games, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, is an opportunity to realize that your essential worth as a person is the same whether you end the game with a lot, a little or nothing at all. This is hard to stomach when you’re the loser and the winner is rubbing his hands together, gloating, but it’s still true. Better to learn it early in life.

I’m hoping the Monopoly phase will pass. I find it horribly dull. brightened only by the enthusiasm of two hilarious boys, and the pleasure of spending time in their company. For that I’ll stick it out.

And here’s to Vomit Adventure, which will hereafter replace Vermont Avenue on my Monopoly board.

I SURE HOPE SO

It was an ordinary walk on the nature trail with my seven-year-old grandson and his almost four-year-old brother. I had the younger one by the hand, but his older brother walked untethered, propelling himself in his normal fashion, which means arms swinging like machetes, whacking at the tall grass beside the path. In no time at all he acquired a tiny finger cut, which bled entirely out of proportion to the seriousness of the injury.

Fortunately, I had stuck a band aid behind his ear before leaving the house, to cover an unexplained oozing thing there. The band aid was no longer needed behind his ear, so being out in the wild and all, and having no access to a clean one, I removed it from his ear and applied it to his finger.

“I don’t have any blood,” almost-four announced.

“Actually you do,” I said. “You are full of blood.”

“And if I get a cut, will it come out?”

“It will.”

“What happens if it all comes out?”

“Then you’d be dead,” the seven-year-old offered helpfully. Thought for a moment. “But not really.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He shrugged and said, “Well, you know. Heaven.”

I was impressed with his knowledge. “Right,” I said. “And then someday you’ll get a new body and live forever with Jesus.”

My seven-year-old theologian sighed and said, “Well, I sure hope so.” He was serious, and I’d guess he’s been giving this subject some consideration. But then he was on to something else, so theology class was over.

I had two thoughts. First, you never know when an everyday discussion is going to veer to the eternal, invisible things that are hovering over daily life. You have to pay attention. What you say or don’t say might be important later.

Second, my grandson so perfectly expressed what it’s like to grapple with faith, to hold faith and doubt in the same space. If we’re honest, we adult Christians will admit this isn’t unfamiliar territory. Sometimes we live in deep down, unshakeable certainty, and sometimes we live in “I sure hope so” mode. But if we’ve been hanging around church and other Christians long enough, we end up feeling guilty when we’re in “I sure hope so” mode. We don’t feel free to share our half-baked condition with anyone. What will they think of us if we do?

But here’s the thing. The feelings of tenderness I have for my grandsons have given me a glimpse of God’s tenderness toward his broken, doubting children, who sometimes struggle to line up certainty with theology.

In the moment my grandson said, “I sure hope so,” I have never loved him more. I was happy he was going deeper than regurgitating right answers. I hope and pray he’ll come to a bedrock conviction of God’s power and promises, but I loved him no less for his not-quite-sureness. If I, a mere human, feel and act this way toward another human, how much more so does God treat us with us tenderness and understanding in our “I sure hope so” moments?

The Gospel of Mark gives us a shocking, un-churchy, account of this human mixture of belief and unbelief. A desperate dad asks Jesus to heal his demon possessed son. Can you even imagine the desperation of living with a son who regularly rolls on the ground and foams at the mouth, gnashing his teeth? He asks Jesus for help, but the ask is slightly insulting: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Not a stellar proclamation of faith, is it? If you can do anything? We are waiting for the Lord of the universe to tell him to come back when he’s more sure.

Jesus’ answer says there’s no limit to what he can do if the dad has faith. If I was the father, I might have felt in that moment that everything depended on my faith, but I was running short, and now there absolutely was no hope. I might have given up and gone home to figure out how to live with my son rolling on the ground, gnashing his teeth, and foaming at the mouth.

The story takes an interesting turn. The man decides to go for complete honesty. “I do believe,” he tells Jesus. But part of him doesn’t believe. So he adds, “Please help me overcome my unbelief.”

I love that this dad lays his unbelief alongside his belief. He’s brave enough to admit that he has both things going on at once. And I love that Jesus loves and welcomes this desperate dad in exactly the faith condition he’s in. He shows his love by acting decisively, with no partial measures in response to what appears to be partial faith. Jesus blows this one out of the water. Not only is there an exorcism, it comes with a lifetime guarantee. The evil spirit is ordered to leave the boy and never return again.

Bless Mark for including this account, and for reassuring us that there’s room for doubt and struggle and being honest. Our God loves us no less in those times, and in fact rejoices that we are coming to him, no matter how thin the thread of faith. Our desperate dad was, even in his doubt, still looking in the right direction. And Mark shows us that the suffering boy’s healing was dependent on the power of God, not on how much faith his father had. He had faith to ask, and it was enough.

We need to have faith in our incredible, almighty God. Not faith in our faith. Let us welcome the doubters and the questioners, even when they are us, and be open to honest discussion. God gives us the gift of freedom to name the doubt and to work through it. It’s a gift we ought to give each other.

UGLY DRESSES

Dear Fashion Industry,

Why do you hate short women? It seems to me that you despise us, and want us to look like fat little tree stumps, feeling unattractive as much of the time as possible. Here’s why I think you hate us:

1. You don’t make clothes for actual petite women. You seem to design your clothing for a mythical petite woman with a flat chest and a 15-inch waist, which in reality is a 10-year old. Have any of you ever seen a real-life petite woman? (For tall women, the mythical measurements are the same, just taller. They would fit a tall 10-year old).

2. You’re stuck in a Dark Age of ugly dresses. I hoped it would have passed by now, but you keep offering me huge flowery prints that make me look like a curtain on two feet. Also, horizontal stripes are a non-starter for me. I’m trying to look taller, not wider. And the latest ugly dress incarnation – swingy, balloon-like dresses, designed for baby elephants. These styles can be carried off by my tall sisters, but for petites like me, these dresses are demoralizing.

Here are some other things that bug me, and they’re not only petite-woman complaints:

3. Why do you have colors of the year? I suspect that someone in an office somewhere in New York City, or wherever they make these decisions, sticks their hand in a box of various colored fabric samples, pulls out a couple, and announces, “OK everybody, here are the colors of the year.” Let’s say they’re purple and black. Every item of clothing manufactured for that season will be purple or black. I happen to like purple and black, but seriously?

4. And why are there no consistent sizes? If I was a man I could walk into a store, select my clothing by exact measurements, and take it home without even trying it on. A man I know well does this all the time. But not me. I can go from being Extra Small to Large in the space of 10 minutes in the same store. And if, after hours of trying on clothes, I find a purple something that miraculously looks good on me, why does the same-sized item in black fit differently than the purple one? Why, why, why?

5. Rethink your brand labels. The shopping process is already sufficiently horrifying, what with clothes that don’t flatter and yellow lighting that turns my face sickly green. Why then must I be confronted with a clothing label like Sag Harbor? Who thought it was a good marketing strategy to attempt to sell anything to a woman with the word “sag” in it? Certainly there are other harbors? What’s next? Fat Mama and Old Hag?

6. Could you please put more fabric at the necklines of all tops and dresses? I like v-necks, but I want them to end well above my waist. I’m not a Hollywood starlet trying to amp up my career.

7. You have an unhealthy relationship with polyester. You can call it microfiber if you want, but it’s still polyester. It doesn’t breathe and it makes me sweat buckets. So do all of your synthetic fibers. Yes, I know people don’t iron anymore, and synthetics are easy to pack, but in heat and humidity I long for cotton blends. There used to be something called PermaPrest, a blend of cotton and polyester. Where did it go?

8. Before I die I want a white summer blouse that doesn’t look like a men’s dress shirt, isn’t all fluttery and ruffly, and most of all isn’t transparent. I don’t think this is too much to ask, but so far you’ve failed me.

In closing, dear fashion industry, I have some advice for you. Leave your mythical woman on the drafting table and go find some real petite women. Familiarize yourself with the variety of shapes and sizes we come in – thin, not so thin, curvy, straight, and all combinations thereof. Maybe sit down with some of us and ask us what we want to wear.

I promise that if you start designing clothing for actual petite women, I will buy it and tell everyone in my petite tribe. I will love you forever. Until then, I continue my unending safari in the fashion jungle, hunting for Something That Looks Good.