Who is This A Problem For?

My husband and I stood in the mini mechanized vehicle aisle at Toys r Us debating the purchase of a toddler bed while our son climbed in and out of a pink and purple Frozen-themed jeep. We had been considering something car-shaped because our son, like his father, is a car enthusiast. He saw pictures of various car beds on our phones as we online-shopped and showed his excitement with “Vrrrroooom” noises. We went to Toys r Us that day to check out our options.

My son is not a good sleeper. He never has been. I tried that “put him to sleep drowsy” nonsense and laughed as the kid screamed the second his back hit mattress. Once he learned how to pull himself up to standing, it was all over. Clearly, the crib wasn’t going to work.

I had fashioned a makeshift floor bed during that time for us to snuggle on when he did wake up and I occasionally left him there to nap during the day while I watched him on the baby monitor. He slept so much better on the floor. It gave him plenty of room to roll. So I bought some body pillows to line the outside and a foam mattress topper to give it some squish, and my little nugget started sleeping, pretty peacefully, on the floor at night. He still wakes once or twice and I have to go snuggle him back to sleep but I’ll take once or twice to every 40 minutes.

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Practical. Affordable.

Back in the car aisle at Toys r Us, we eyed the little wooden bed we had just surreptitiously removed from its display to see how our son did climbing in and out. That wasn’t a problem so much as the quarter-length guardrails that certainly wouldn’t prevent our little roller from landing on the floor several times a night. But we could get another guardrail, right? And put the other side up against the wall? Or we could spend a little more on the wooden car bed that had rails all the way across. OR we could spend too much money on the plastic car bed with the built-in toy chest that could be removed as the boy grew to accommodate a twin-size mattress and wouldn’t that solve several problems?

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Sweeeeet ride– I mean bed, man!

Little guy had abandoned the Frozen jeep for a Ferrari and was making his “Vroooom vrooooom” noises as we debated.

“Maybe we should look at it again?” my husband suggested. “That’s a really good price and maybe we could use it with the second kid?”

What prompted this discussion of toddler beds in the first place, even though we have a fully functioning floor bed, was second baby planning. Although, again, if the kid is happy on the floor bed, then the crib is free and clear for the next occupant. So why are we discussing toddler beds?

“Or maybe we pay a really good price for a piece of furniture that never gets used. Because we have a convertible crib that we could try to get him to sleep in. Or we can let him sleep on the floor for a while because it works and he likes it.”

“Shouldn’t he be sleeping in a bed, though?”

“I don’t know. Does it matter as long as he’s safe and getting enough sleep? I mean, let’s think about this for a second. Who is this whole thing a problem for?”

And isn’t that the question every parent should be asking? Who is this really a problem for? Me? My kid? My spouse? Or all those people telling us how things are supposed to be?

Who is formula feeding a problem for? Who is breastfeeding a problem for? Who is toilet training a problem for? Who the hell is telling me what I’m supposed to be doing and what do they care whether or not it works for my family?

We left the store without a bed and more importantly, without the intention of buying one. Our son slept 7 hours on his floor bed that night before waking and 3 more hours after that once I’d snuggled him back to sleep. So I ask again: Who is this bed thing a problem for? Not for my husband because he doesn’t do night duty. Not for me because if I have to snuggle, I’d rather have the space to do so. And certainly not for my son who has never slept anywhere so well as he does on his floor bed.

This bed thing is only a problem for the voices in our heads that tell how things should be. The voice of our moms and our neighbors and our coworkers who all say THIS is what you HAVE TO DO with children. This is the only way to raise them right. If he doesn’t sleep in a big boy bed now, then he never will.

I call bullshit. On all of it. Let the kid sleep where he sleeps, let the parents make the best decisions for their children, and for God’s sake, let’s all stop insisting that there is only one right way to raise children. It’s not true. It never was. So let’s Let It Goooooo!

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The One Above the One

I fell victim to too late coffee the other night inconveniently on the same night my son fell asleep 90 minutes early. Sure, I could have done some serious writing in that amount of time but I watched The Matrix instead. I’m not unhappy with my choice.

But as I’m watching the scene where Neo and Morpheus spar in the training program and thinking, how does one achieve that kind of speed? Mouse  says, “Take a look at his neurokinetics, they’re way above normal.”

Is neurokinetics a real thing, by the way? A rudimentary Google search seems to think not.

Anyway, what if Neo is just a genius? What if that’s why he’s the fastest? What if that’s what makes him The One?

And if that’s true, I bet Walter O’Brien (the character) would be faster in the Matrix. Also, I bet he would look exactly as he does in real life except that his shirt would never come untucked. And I bet his hacker name would be WalterOBrien.

This is all just to say that I’m looking forward to the return of Scorpion this fall. And that I really need to regulate my coffee intake.

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Vacation From Your Problems

Whenever I finish a piece I’ve been working on for a while, I go on a little mental vacation. I don’t do it on purpose. It’s actually a little frustrating. But I took this seminar once where the speaker told us that whenever you can, you should let your brain do what it wants. If it wants to sleep and you can take a break from your activity to nap, do it. If it wants to wander and you have nothing pressing that needs your attention, let it.

My brain wants to stop living other people’s lives for a little while. And my own life is so lovely right now, I’m just gonna go ahead and concentrate on that.

I give it about 3 more days before it starts making up stories again.

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Read for Free, Why Not?

How would you like some free reads? Yes?! Well, here you go! I just published my newest short story on the free reader platform Tablo.

Check it out:

Browbeaten cover2Browbeaten, Not Broken
read it here on Tablo

John Frederick is a bulldozer of a man who probably should have been fired long ago. When his dad is diagnosed with cancer, will it change his tune or will he lose his cool?
#workplace bullying, #cancer research, #hate crime

 

And check out my other free-to-read short stories listed on my Home page!

Montage Me a Summer

I enjoy the concept of things more than the actuality of them, which is probably why I’m a writer.

Take the beach, for example. I love the idea of the beach: sand squishing between the toes, sunlight warming the skin, salty sea air! Ahhhh.

But the reality of the beach is stinky salt air, sunburn, and sand EVERYWHERE. No funsies.

This is all to say that I’ve become addicted to Baywatch, not for the clever plot lines or well-developed characters because… there are none of those things. But those montages I previously mocked are actually kind of wonderful. I get to watch other people enjoying the things I can’t stand doing myself: sunning, swimming, skiing, sky-diving, surfing, and other outdoor activities that don’t start with s.

Also, there’s an undeniable 90s nostalgia factor especially with clothing and hairstyles.

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Ruined Childhoods and Inherited Bigotry

I started this blog as shameless self-promotion of my writing but I’m finding myself lecturing a lot lately and I’m not sure how to feel about it. This post is no different. I’ll try to write it well, I guess?

The children and teens I work with are generally the most lovely, thoughtful, intelligent young people I’ve ever known and I delight in speaking with them to the point where we often lose track of the lesson they’re actually there to learn. Just this past week, someone mentioned Ghostbusters and that conversation went on just long enough for me to feel guilty I didn’t move them along sooner. But it was gratifying to see a group of both boys and girls, of different ethnic backgrounds and religions, having a pleasantly respectful conversation about an apparently divisive film.

Some of them said they thought it would be funnier. Some of them said it wasn’t enough like the original. Some of them said it was too much like the original. Most of them said it was really pretty great and they wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

But there was one boy, a white upper middle-class 11-year-old Christian boy who took the discussion to that other place. That place where reason and discourse goes to die. The kid became a walking comments section, regurgitating all of the small-minded, bigoted, hate-filled inanity that has plagued the film from its announcement (without the swearing or the slurs, obviously, because I would have kicked him right the hell out).

The original Ghostbusters came out in 1984. I was elementary-aged and didn’t see it until at least a year later when my dad bought it on VHS. I loved it because it was funny and exciting and different than a lot of what I had seen before. Ghostbusters 2 came out in 1989 as I approached adolescence. That one, I may have actually seen in the theater and loved just as hard, possibly more so than the original because the walking Statue of Liberty and the people of New York banding together to spread lovey peacey thoughts was a simple symbol of hope and inspiration in my young mind.

screen-shot-2016-02-20-at-4-10-12-amThis kid, on the other hand, was born in what? 2005? Almost 20 years after the first came out. The cartoon based on the movie went off air 14 years before he was born. Ectocooler changed its name 8 years before he was born. I can guarantee you that this kid’s childhood was not ruined by adding ovaries to his favorite show. So where, oh where, did the hate come from?

"St. Vincent" Premiere - 2014 Toronto International Film FestivalMemes and repetition by biased and/or unreliable parties. The same place too large a chunk of Americans get their news and form their political opinions. Why else would he be preaching the gospel of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd with absolute ignorance of their roles in or praise of the new film? He hadn’t even seen it. And there’s no way he was going to, he asserted, because it’ll just ruin the experience of the original.

As I stood there, listening to him mocking and shaming and mindlessly repeating the opinions of others, I had to make a choice. Do I call him out, this kid who doesn’t even really understand what he’s saying or why or what the connotations are in this room full of girls and POC? It’s not entirely his fault that his role models are dipshits and bigots. I’ve been reminded on more than a few occasions that children don’t always realize they’ve been brainwashed by their family members until they grow up and move out and experience the world for themselves, forming opinions of their own and disregarding the untruths they were conditioned to believe in their youth. But at the same time, isn’t it my job as a role model to provide an alternate perspective? Isn’t it my role as a leader in this small community to inspire positive change and help question negative assumptions? But the whole situation was making me unreasonably angry, which isn’t a good place to teach from at all.

In the end, I was saved from having to make a decision at all as one of the older boys, a Muslim in fact, interrupted my thought process by gushing about Holtzmann which steered the entire conversation in her direction. It’s not hard to get distracted by Holtzmann. And minutes later, I shushed them all and urged them to focus on the task at hand, putting a pin in the conversation until our session ended.

But I’m still thinking about the snarky white kid and his meme-inspired rhetoric. I’m grateful for all of the students who allowed opinions other than their own to be spoken without mockery. I’m even more grateful for the students who seemed to understand that the movie was kind of a big deal in terms of equity (teen girls mostly).

But that one kid. That one kid is the reason stereotypes persist, why sexism is pervasive, and why old hates don’t die: the old bigots hand it down like family heirlooms, insisting on their value despite the rot and rust that holds them together.

Maybe the opportunity will arise again to provide another perspective or at least to challenge him to reconsider what he’s been told. Maybe it doesn’t matter what I say because my voice will never drown out the bigotry that surrounds him at home. Just like the larger issues I have no control over, there’s only so much I can do and that is so very frustrating.

 

The Kind of Fear That Follows You Home

If you are or ever have been a woman, you may know a little something about sexual harassment. You may have seen a little sexual assault. You may have experienced a little Economic, Sexual, Physical, Verbal, Emotional, or Psychological Abuse (list source). And by “may” I mean definitely and by “a little” I mean at minimum a little but more likely a lot.

Not to say that abuse is for women only but I know men who have no idea what I’m talking about. I do not know any women that ignorant of reality.

The point is that it seems having experienced these things can shrink a person. It can make their voices smaller. It can make them try to take up less physical space. It can rob them of ambition. And that’s without having tried to take a stand. A lot of times, the people who try to fight back are beaten down even harder.

I don’t speak for Leslie Jones but girl got a beatdown without even trying. And while I am thoroughly inspired by her response, I’m also scared.

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“Stop letting the ignorant people be the loud ones. … Be louder.” Leslie Jones

 

That doesn’t mean I won’t do anything. It doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my voice–obviously, because I’m here blogging about it–but when I think about the extent to which I want to get involved, a large part of what holds me back is fear. Because as much as I’d hate to lose Twitter followers or derail my efforts to be a writer or bring about some criticism, that’s not the worst that can happen. And women, far more so than men, know that to be true.

I’ve never received a death threat but I imagine it’s terrifying. For famous people, who are so often out in public, in the company of strangers, and often relying on strangers (assistants, interns, pages, production assistants) to do their jobs, the truth is that anyone could get to them if they were truly motivated.

As a paranoid person, this idea scares the hell out of me. As a fairly newish mother who still can’t bring herself to fully engage world news because it will most assuredly send me into a spiral of anxiety and depression, this idea has been firmly planted in a compartment of my brain that I don’t access unless I’m feeling extra safe. And mind you, I am not so much a public person. I have a short list of the places I go on a regular basis, I talk to very few people I don’t already know, and I always heed Sam Hanna’s advice on tradecraft.

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“What was he thinking? Leaving at the same time every day? Running the same route. Buying coffee at the same store. Every day.”

But the threat of violence from someone who vigorously disagrees with my stand against the isms of the world is REAL to me, not because I’ve experienced it personally but because I’ve seen it happen to others So Many Times.

I love what Leslie said with my whole heart. I want to be louder. I want to shout down the horrible hate-fueled trolls… but I’m scared. I’m scared for my safety, for my family, for my livelihood. Hell, I’m scared for my mental health because after a day like Leslie had, retweeting her hate messages, I would surely crawl into a hole and never come out.

And that’s why the haters win. Because the good people are too scared to expose themselves.

(That’s not so much a problem for the haters since many of them are so very good at hiding behind fake social media accounts.)

So what do we do? What do good people do to help when they’re too scared to make themselves a target? When they feel like they have too much to lose in defending themselves, never mind someone else?

Small acts and diligent effort. That’s my answer to What Can You Do To Make The World Better. I’ve never been a protester so much as an educator. I’ve never been one to yell my opinions to a group when I can have a quiet conversation with an individual. It’s not revolutionary on a large scale but it’s not nothin’ either. It allows me to contribute without risking my safety or sanity. It’s a way for good people to get involved without having to be so scared.

God bless the loudmouths who can stand in front of a crowd (literally or digitally) and call bullshit when they see it. The world needs people like that. But for those of us who can’t do the same, there’s still work to do: small acts and diligent effort to make the world a better place.

 

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good Too

“You know what, though?” my husband said on the way home from seeing Ghostbusters last night. “I think the best thing about the whole movie was Holtzmann. She was funny and weird and smart and badass. I think she’s my new girlfriend.”

“Mine too.”

“I called her first.”

“I call her harder.”

“This is Abbie Mills all over again.”

Little did we know at the time that the entire internet is abuzz with Holtzmann love. Homegirl is a sensation. And Ghostbusters: Lady Balls Be Blowin’ Up is a triumph.

But I don’t want to talk about FILM and analyze FILMMAKING and psychoanalyze and criticize and jazzercise this piece. I want to tell you how it made me feeeeeeel.

I spend a lot of time in introspection because I am an introvert and what I’ve been working on lately is how my upbringing led to some of my not so great decisions, some of my unfortunate delusions, and a lot of misconceptions about confidence, power, and relating to others. Oh and how Ghostbusters could have helped.

I had She-Ra growing up and the original sucky movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but otherwise, most of the women I saw in movies and TV were of the super hot trophy variety and what power they had came almost entirely from their appearance and how the possibility of possessing them (in whichever way was most appropriate to the rating of that show) was a main motivator for the males in the story.

cleo-from-the-catillac-cats-the-80s-26445402-498-376The cartoon Heathcliff was one of my inspirations for this concept of using appearance/sex appeal to control others way back before I knew what sex even was or what “suggestive” meant in relation to my body and the use thereof. It was that poofy-chested, pink leg warmer-wearing bad guy’s girlfriend who made me think all I needed to do was drape myself across a picnic table and wait for a boy to make goo-goo eyes and do whatever I wanted. Because that’s what all the girl cartoons did. Even Bugs Bunny in girl clothes had power in his prettiness. And I got it in my elementary school mind that that’s all I had to do too. In fact, that’s all I thought I could do because there were no Doc McStuffins or Sophia the Firsts or mothereffing badass women Ghostbusters having adventures and effing shizz up without showing off their boobies or midriffs.

She-Ra and Teela and Cheetara and Buffy were all babes in tight clothes. There were no female Transformers. Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite had no power or influence. For a domineering girl in the 80s, the only way I could see to affect the world was through sexy manipulation of males.

As you can imagine, that kind of understanding of power dynamics made adolescence very difficult, especially since I was not, in fact, a super attractive sexy girl who boys tripped over to do my bidding. Dating was incomprehensible from that point of view and so never worked out well. Friendships with boys were fraught with misunderstanding. And having self-confidence when you don’t look the way you think you need to in order to have any agency was near impossible.

We’ll save all the ways I overcompensated, my family and friends’ contribution to my insecurities, and The College Years for my memoir and how I escaped the cycle for my self-help book. I’ll let you know when they’re available on Amazon. I imagine sometime after I start actually writing them.

I keep trying to imagine my childhood with Rey from The Force Awakens or Holtzmann and the gang as my role models. I’m no gun-licking, ghost-punching genius scientist or anything but even having someone like me now, an adult woman who teaches respect and compassion to the kids in my after school program while building confidence in one’s own strengths and patience and diligence in overcoming one’s weaknesses could have made a major impact.

Instead, I grew up with all those internet trolls who threaten sexual violence on women who challenge the misogynist status quo as my classmates and peers. I was made to feel small and inconsequential by my lack of sex appeal because that’s the only value I was told I could hold. I dated boys who treated me like a third place trophy and suffered condescension from male authority figures who just assumed I’d never amount to much.

Ghostbusters felt like vindication. It felt like who I wanted to be when I grew up: a strong smart woman who could take care of herself and effect change the world without exposing her body. My inner child rejoiced and my outer adult swaggered out of that theater feeling like girlz do rule the world. And also like sex appeal has nothing to do with boobies and bellybuttons and everything to do with being your weird wonderful brilliant badass self.

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On Winning and Losing

I think I won the break up, kids. Sixteen years later. Without even trying. And after a totally amicable separation. But I won it. I’m the winner. And all I had to do was try to have a pleasant exchange.

Don’t worry about my ego expansion just yet though because I definitely lost the youngest baby battle to my husband’s cousin who’s due this winter, ’round about my son’s birthday so I will henceforth also be losing the child birthday supremacy battle.

Right this very moment, I’m winning the child nap battle but I’m losing the weaning battle since that’s how I got him to fall asleep.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately: winning and losing and how it all comes down to control, social constructs of success, and an utter lack of compassion.

What’s brought this on is a coworker of mine at my afterschool kid’s program job who was brought up under the parenting philosophy of TOTAL CONTROL and raised her own son the same way. Lady D, as we will call her, still sees exchanges with children as winning or losing. She does not see shades of gray and she certainly doesn’t see the “special snowflakes” for what they are: children with actual special needs.

We have a child with a sensory issue who is working with a therapist and his parents to learn how to cope with … well, wearing clothes. Part of the uniform for our activity really bothers him to the point where he cannot concentrate on anything but the discomfort he feels wearing it. So we let him take it off. We told his mom it wasn’t a big deal if he didn’t wear it all the time and she said she’d work with the therapist on it and see what could be done, and all everyone was satisfied with that result… except Lady D.

Lady D told us we’re coddling him. She said that as a mother, she knows what kids try to get away with and if we keep letting him get away with it, we’d lose. The best thing to do was make him wear it because that’s the only way he’d get used to it and to keep yelling at him to stop fidgeting because that’s the only way he’d stop the disruptive behavior.

sigh.

I am ALSO a mother, I reminded her, and HER SUPERVISOR b-t-dubs, and what I say is to back the hell off this kid. Our goal as an organization is to help build confidence and self-control, to give these kids the tools and strategies to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, NOT to whip them into one conforming shape. We run our program the way we do specifically for the children who have difficulties to overcome: ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, physical handicaps, even just introversion and incoordination. We’re all about inclusion and individual character building and Lady D has often congratulated us (and herself whether deserved or not) for fostering such a welcoming environment. And yet… as a mother, she knows a little something about coddling and she’s right and we’re wrong and winning is the most important thing.

I read this article somewhere the other day about raising teens and how sometimes you need to just give in and help out. You need to recognize that being a teen is stressful and that showing your love and support is more important to their mental health and the child/parent relationship than winning an argument or getting the kid to clean his room. It’s the same thing we’re talking about here, but in terms of maintaining customer relationships. I asked Lady D what was more important in running our program: making sure everyone did everything perfectly or making sure we served our customers in the best way possible, thereby keeping them (and yes, their money, because that’s how businesses run) and maintaining our good reputation. She said the latter, of course, but she still thinks the kid should do what he’s told.

As far as winning the battle of Lady D v. compassion, I clearly lost. She thinks what she thinks and she’s not gonna stop thinking it. But what did she actually win? What do we actually win when we manage to control others or beat them at some arbitrary social game? What does that kid learn in being made to wear the uniform piece? What do I get out of being married and having a child before my ex? What does my husband’s cousin win by having the youngest baby in the family or spending the most on birthday parties?

Winning doesn’t make you the better person, I mean, obviously because Lady D is being a total ruler-slapping bad nun, my husband’s cousin is being a sactimommious Kardashian (with whom I’m supposed to keep up), and although unintentionally, I ended up being an obnoxious braggart. Those aren’t worthy goals.

I don’t want to win anymore. I don’t want to feel pressured into thinking that I have to. I just want to be a good person, raise my son to be a good person, and help the kids I work with to feel good about themselves. Compassion is harder than control but isn’t it more important?

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Of Tiny Houses and Catfishing House Hunters

I live in a small shitty city that keeps trying to change its image and failing. The surrounding suburbs are lovely and expensive and with expanding commuter services, can bring its rich residents to the much bigger and more prominent city 40 miles away. This means that a $200,000 house in my city is a $400,000 house in the suburbs. The price difference compensates for things like taxes, school quality, and chances of being stabbed at Honey Farms. Far fewer people get stabbed at convenience stores in the suburbs.

This is all to say that house hunting isn’t going well.

Two more houses were hunted this afternoon, one in the suburbs and one in the city, both comparable in price, bedrooms offered, garage size, land allotted, and freaking lying shamsters pretending that their Zillow ads were accurate.

The ‘burban house purported to be a 3 bedroom, 1 bath, 1 attached garage, mostly ranch-style house with a tiny alley of a backyard and hardwood floor throughout. One or two could easily live a pre-kid or post-kid low-maintenance existence in the openish floorplan, fully renovated kitchen and Fiat compatible garage with a spare room for the college friend/grandkid to stay in for a couple days on a visit. The third “bedroom”, a converted attic space with no storage whatsoever, could be used for… storage or activities that only take place in the center of the room since the angled ceiling sloped at such an extreme that even a tiny woman of barely-above dwarf stature couldn’t walk more than a few inches toward the wall without hitting my head. One would have more headroom in the Fiat than in this “bedroom”. Oh and it was For Sale By Owner which means grumpy older people will follow you around their empty house grunting every time you open a closet door. Which was 4 times. Because there were 4 closets in the whole house and perhaps I mentioned that the third “bedroom” did not have one.

The city house, on the other hand, was new paint on old plasterboard. When will people learn that “paint” does not mean “renovated”? There were some lovely updates: a new back splash, new water heater, new perfectly round dirt patch in the back yard where an above ground pool obviously used to be. The rooms were large and airy except for the paint fume covering mold smell and how charming are those old-fashioned door handles that “lock” with a skeleton key large enough to give away at ceremonies and just as useful. Turn them really hard while holding the plate they’re barely attached to to reveal tiny closets that the midsize plastic buckets I buy at Target are too big for and you’ve got your Master Suite His and Hers Closets just outside a half-bath with paint over water damage decor.

I’m disheartened by today’s expedition and not just because my in-laws tagged along. Where are the nice houses at the price point we can afford? Why were they abundant when we were struggling to pay our bills or before we had the child? Why is the market saturated with murder houses and catfish? And are people effing serious about the tiny houses because those are ridiculous and need to be stopped. I’m not saying we all need mansions but I have literal nightmares about trying to squeeze into the world’s tiniest bathroom amidst a bathroom-type emergency situation and where even do they store more than 2 rolls of toilet paper?

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