One night a few weeks ago I was standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes when Noah called from the dining room. He was doing homework.
“Mom, there are people on our porch,” he announced.
I groaned. It had been a long day and I wasn’t up for an ambush. I peeked through the window and realized they were just children, a few boys and two girls, probably not Girl Scouts pushing more of those evil cookies.
I decided it was safe to open the door. Turns out they were members of a youth group from the Congregational Church in Batavia.
“We’re playing the ‘bigger or better game,’” one boy, their apparent spokesman, explained. “Bigger or better game?” I couldn’t place it. The boy was holding an attractive green canvas bag.
“Do you have something bigger or better than this bag that we can exchange it for?” he asked.
“I might!” I replied. I really liked the bag. But I was missing something. “What’s your goal?”
“We’re trying to get a dryer,” the smallest girl piped up from the back of the group.
“You wish,” the spokesman said, apparently chagrined. I had to bite my lip to keep from giggling. Shoot, I almost wished I had a spare dryer. But then the game would have ended early and, well, not been as much fun, right?
The kids were hoping to swap their way all the way up to a clothes dryer, which they planned to give to a family who needed one. They had a long way to go, but I was happy to play along. Anything to put off doing the dishes.
“Let me get some help,” I said, and went to find my daughter. I hoped Holly might have some bigger or better ideas.
• • •
“I don’t know,” she sighed, as she trailed me as I jogged around the house pointing out things I was happy to part with. Finally it occurred to me that we had a pile of stuff in the garage, which we’d already collected in anticipation of our garage sale. We headed out there.
“What about the gorilla?” I suggested, pointing at the huge black stuffed gorilla leaning against one wall.
“That’s certainly bigger!” It’s bigger than a third-grader, actually.
“Mom!” OK, not ready to part with the gorilla.
“What about the microwave?”
“Mom, you couldn’t even give that away,” she stated wryly. Right. It still works, but Noah burned popcorn in it a year ago and it hasn’t been the same since. Everything cooked in it smells like burned popcorn. (For the record, the weekend of our garage sale I stuck it on the curb and not five minutes later an older lady happened along and happily took it off my hands. So there.)
“OK,” I tried, “what about this sign?” It was metal, said “Football is life,” and I still remember the look of pure joy on Noah’s face when I gave it to him seven years ago. Football was life, as far as he was concerned. These days it’s soccer, though, hence the sign’s appearance in the garage sale pile.
“OK, Holly replied, “but you have to ask Noah, first.”
“Absolutely,” I promised, stifling another giggle. Who’s the mom, here?
Noah was reluctant to part with the sign, at first, until I reminded him that he’d already decided to let it go for the sale and it would help a good cause. Batavia being a football town, I figured it would help get the kids closer to their dryer – and besides, “Soccer is life, now, right?” I have no shame.
“Fine,” he sighed, before returning his attention to his math homework.
When I offered the sign to the kids I got to see that look of joy all over again. That alone was worth it, as far as I was concerned, but then they gave me the pretty green bag in exchange. I learned later, from a neighbor, that they’d begun their evening with only a small piece of Laffy Taffy candy, which they then exchanged for the neighbor’s puzzle. By the time they wended their way around the neighborhood to my house, they’d worked their way up to the bag. What an awesome game for kids, and what a clever way to gently nudge the neighbors to help someone in need. It appeals to me, on so many levels.
“Ooh, there’s something in it!” Holly exclaimed, as we closed the front door and she grabbed the bag out of my hands. There was something solid inside. She unzipped the pocket and discovered two new feminine hygiene products, still in their wrappers, and a business card for a hair colorist. Traumatized, she dropped the bag like a hot potato and I finally let my giggles fly.
And then I finished the dishes.
I still love my new bag. I wonder if the kids ever got their dryer?
• Jennifer DuBose is a contributor for the Kane County Chronicle. She lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. She can be reached at email@example.com.