My sons and I park at a closed Sam’s Club.  Despite the dark and locked glass doors, its parking lot is 90% full.  Everyone is using the lot to ditch their car and walk across the road to the sister store which is very much open and glowing like the mother ship. We exit our car and step out into the unusually warm air.  I note we parked near an out-of-service semi-truck, the sky is clear and the constellation Orion is especially obvious this time of year. There is something dangerous and exciting about being out past bedtime.  My boys walk swiftly with nervous energy. We join the stream of ants moving toward the giant sandhill of deals. We enter Walmart at approximately 10:15P.M.  The store had been open all day so there is no stampede at the automatic doors but the beehive parking lot and electrically charged atmosphere make it obvious that this is no ordinary visit to the box store.  It’s Black Friday.

We make a game-plan before we become engulfed in over-stuffed aisles.  Where will we meet if we get separated?  The Lego section in the toy department. What are we looking for? Shoulder shrugs and a weak, Toys maybe.  Truthfully, we are here because they started the big discounts at 10pm and Target starts at midnight. I think about what I might want that could be on sale.  Mostly, I draw a blank until I remember an inexpensive little desktop fountain I purchased here a few months ago that was a big hit with the family.  I originally purchased it to go in my home-office but it never left the kitchen.  I could buy one for my office tonight.  We wander toward the housewares and toy aisles. I consider gifts for other people on my shopping list.  Nothing really comes to mind.  I slowly begin to realize that I don’t want any THING.

I just want the experience of being out late with my boys in a zany, never-know-what-might-happen environment.

I think my boys envisioned leaving the store with cartloads of $5 video games or half-priced Nerf guns.  At the very least, Walmart employees would be handing out free packs of socks and cans of mixed nuts.  Instead we become conscious of the fact that we are the minority in the store. A situation rarely presented in our normal lives. We note the different hairstyles, different smells and different languages spoken into ubiquitous cell phones. We witness humans steadfastly clinging to over-sized televisions whose boxes hang over the edges of carts meant for groceries.  We see tempers flare (You can’t park your cart there and just sit. Jesus!) and manners dwindle ((Excuse me, excuse me!, EXCUSE ME!!)  as aisles become impassable and check-out lines extend from the front to the back of the store. I get the impression we are surrounded by throat-growling dogs guarding food dishes. The boys point out a woman who is smoking two cigarettes at one time near the exit door.

We realize all we want is to get out of here, leave the dogs alone while they feed. Even that freedom must be earned.  Bryce (my oldest son) climbs over a woman’s cart in order to escape the madness of the Christmas candy aisle, which sounds kind of horrible but is really rather funny. The exit doors with their gaping black openings never looked so good.  We leave empty-handed but grateful to breathe in the refreshing and abundant night air. We walk-run back to the van, chatting and laughing about the scene we just witnessed.

As I drive to our next stop,Target, I diddle with the question of what I want. I slowly put strings of desires together.  None of it can be bought in a box store.

I want– Uninterrupted and unplanned time with my kids.  No To Do lists looming.  Time to just be together.  To share an experience.  Make a memory.  To let them know I am by their side.  To show I love an adventure.  To prove I can listen with my whole being when they speak.

I want to teach my children -We can have fun without spending money.  How to be grateful for space and freedom. It’s OK to color outside the lines and stay out past your bedtime occasionally.  Living is about exploring and witnessing.  Some people smoke. How to accept other ways of living.  Some people’s coats smell like curry and cumin. We are not the only race who matters.

Perhaps what I want is to dance under the night sky.  To see things differently if only for a few hours.  An escape.  To be care-free and spontaneous for a while.

With Christmas music on the radio and the excitement of what awaits at Target, we drive in an atmosphere of light-heartedness and listening.  We hash over Walmart’s crowd and how it felt to be surrounded by a mix of races and socioeconomic levels.  We know we’ll be telling stories about the experience for years.

We arrive at Target to find a line that wraps around the building and back to where the dumpsters dwell.  It’s as if The Who is playing at our local Target store. We are a little early so we are able to get a decent parking spot.  We get out and join the scene. The line gives us time to talk and connect without interruptions.

I could go home now because my wish list is complete but I stay with the boys. Bryce is able to buy an iPod Touch and receive a $40 gift card.  He is thrilled with his savvy purchase.  We drive home in a slightly sleepy but joy-filled atmosphere.

I don’t feel greedy and materialistic about shopping on Black Friday.  I feel content.

What do you want?  Have you ever found peace in an unlikely place?