Mrs. Garrett

Bow tie pasta with Vidalia onions sautéed with champagne and tomatoes; Marinated grilled chicken; Green salad with avocado and bacon, fresh herb vinaigrette

Beef stroganoff over egg noodles with grilled lemony asparagus

Three cheese tortellini with prosciutto, tomatoes, fresh herbs; Tuscan herb marinated steak tips

Grilled salmon (the good olive oil, S&P); Ina Garten’s corn salad with sherry vinaigrette

Breaded veal cutlets (lemon/egg bath), Linguini with red sauce; Green salad

Flank steak with soy ginger marinade; Pan-fried ramen noodles with shitake mushrooms and sesame caramelized onions; Cucumber salad with rice vinegar soy dressing

Burgers, every fixing, but absolutely pickles and Williams Sonoma Burger Bomb

Garlic ginger soy marinated pork tenderloin; Grilled, garlicky haricot verts and white rice

Chili lime grilled shrimp skewers

Vanilla French toast with cinnamon sugar, berries, syrup

New York crumble coffee cake

Toasted bagel with scrambled egg, pepper jack, honey ham

The best oatmeal cookies on the planet (because white chocolate and butterscotch chips)

Still warm brownies with vanilla ice cream

This is the rotating menu Chez Lee, and I’ve had anywhere from 2 to 9 teenagers in my house for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner and dessert almost daily since the beginning of July. I’m Mrs. Garrett, running a boarding house for boys who are never not hungry.

And it’s awesome.

Summer is ending, as is my seasonal stint as a short order cook. And it is, indeed, short order. I am insufferably boastful about my ability to get a meal onto the table in 17 minutes. But the real gem of it all is the Family Dinner tradition that lends itself to fantastic conversation, often quite unguarded, as these kids break bread together. Something’s lost over a box of pizza. Scooping heaping mounds of bow tie pasta onto plates, fighting over the Asiago, and bargaining for the last steak tip or shrimp skewer is the backdrop for 100 discussions about girls (big time mysteries), horrible math, tennis triumphs and losses, embarrassing anecdotes from years past, and what movies can arguably be considered “classic.” (Not one of them has been on the planet more than 18 years, but they still think they have valid opinions, bless their hearts.)

The other moms have been checking in all summer to ask if I’m cool with them spending another night (and morning) around my dining table, and the answer is always, “Yes!” I love knowing where they are, what they’re doing, what they’re eating, and especially what’s on their minds. It’s a summer tradition that begins Memorial Day Weekend, and wraps up in only a few weeks. It’s already getting darker sooner, it’s chilly when a cloud passes, and the boys have begun talking about school, SATs, college visits, “Honors” this and “AP” that… and all the accompanying stressors.

Very wise (and equally beautiful) Sarah, who was the church school director for a generation of lucky kids, offered this sage advice when my boys were little and I was blissfully unaware of what parenting teens would entail:

Sometimes it’s our job to provide the space where the stress is lifted. Sometimes that meant we told our girls that no one was doing homework, and we were going out to dinner together.

Just because everyone is vying for competitive team spots and Ivy League acceptances doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck for them. I’ve watched an amazing kid with an already incredible SAT score study hours a day all summer in an attempt to inch up to the 99%ile… and no one is telling him not to do this. It’s not surprising that some of these kids are already burned out before they get to the quad. Probably I was a less motivated high school student, or maybe things were easier then, but I’m worried about these kids, these boys around my dining table. I feel protective of their youth.

Here at the Lee’s, summer is for talking and eating and being together. And though the shortening days and faded hydrangeas mean it’s time… there is still time for a bit more grilling, laughing, negotiating for the last brownie, and introducing these kids to Spicoli. There are a few more days to protect the space where the stress is lifted, where meals are shared. Just a few more moments for them to memory bank a time when we require very little of them… before we inevitably ask them to be perfect again.

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Dinnertime at the Lee house… 

 

The Cat’s Ass

Those of you who know me have heard me talk about Paddy. I call him The World’s Most Irish Man, but he’s actually my contractor, my can-fix-or-build-anything, filth-talking, manic, fiercely loyal, and endlessly entertaining friend. With three coffees and a full strength Coke on board, he’s unstoppable. Last month his car was stolen, possibly by joy-riding teens, leaving him without transportation or his tools. I asked Father Mike and Zealot Sister for prayers and find no coincidence in the fact that Paddy’s car was located a few days later with minor damage and all of his equipment. But in aftermath of the theft, when the outlook was bleak, we lent our SUV to Paddy, who almost immediately wrecked it. In retrospect, I’m happy he hit the curb instead of the pedestrian backlit with sun glare. In the moment, I couldn’t understand a thing that was happening because voice-to-text cannot translate brogue. Even in person, a caffeinated, pissy, excited, happy, or most often joke-telling Paddy needs subtitles.

“Paddy, my friend Nicole needs help with something.”

“Ya, Monahan? Happy to help a fellow sun-dodger.” (Insert your best accent)

With my car in the shop, and the building permit finally signed by the architect, we’ve embarked on an expensive entryway redesign. Should I be worried that bad things happen in threes and there is something skulking in the shadows after a stolen car and a crashed one? I am. But Paddy assures me that it’s all right and good and the house will look like “the cat’s ass” when completed. Apparently this is an enviable outcome.

Meanwhile, back at the Cape, the boys and I are enjoying days that still feel long. And by “boys” I mean a tangled mess of teenagers that varies from my own 2 up to 8 each night. Because I have known and cooked for them for nearly a decade, possibly because I used to be a doctor type of person and still carry antibiotic ointment and Tegaderms in my beach bag, and mostly because I’ve spent a billion hours with them at this point, they tell me (almost) everything. One of my favorite kids, who could always charm the Dickens out of any minivan mom, has convinced some pretty little thing his own age to be his one and only. In their world of SnapChatting Instagramming nonsense, it’s refreshing to hear that stomach butterflies and actual, in person dates with park walking and car kissing can still be attained.

Watching them grow up and begin dating themselves makes us (ok, just me) ridiculously nostalgic, and this week I recalled the first time I had to make my sort of secret but definitely official relationship with Bernie public. As a 4th year medical student, it wasn’t exactly kosher for the Chief Resident to be dating me. Maybe. We didn’t ask, and back then human resources didn’t bother themselves with the shenanigans of surgical trainees. But one late night on call in the ICU, the very pretty and super smart intern confessed to me that she had a major crush on the boy I would be engaged to 6 months later. My boys and their friends (and oodles of you) have heard the story of how I met Bernie many times, so you already know how goddamn charming Dr. Lee is on the job. I wasn’t surprised when Sarah asked,

“Do you think he’s dating anyone?”

Umm, yeah. Sarah was tall, gorgeous, everyone’s favorite intern, and liked my boyfriend. A more normal person might have felt a bit intimidated. Or jealous. But I’ve always been me, and frankly, it just made me like Bernie more (if that was possible). Sarah manned the guest book at our wedding.

“Wait. So Bernie is dating YOU and this hot doctor girl is into him? We gotta start talking to Bernie more.”

That was Markie’s take from the teen peanut gallery. He’s not wrong. It’s just that if you’ve met Bernie, you know he doesn’t talk. Throngs of friends and patients and teachers and students and residents and neighbors probably feel like they’ve talked to Bernie, like, had an actual discussion with him. But Bernie is a genius of facial expressions and well timed hand gestures. He’ll pour you a drink, but have me tell the story. If you’ve had a heart to heart with Bernie, you’re in a small circle. He’s not giving up trade secrets.

Like Paddy, Bernie needs subtitles… for everyone but me.

Is being around all of these teenagers with their obsession with Love Island and hardly guarded gawking at physically perfect bikini beach teens throwing me into soupy sappy appreciation for my own husband of nearly two decades? Yup. And it’s the cat’s ass.

Happy still summer, friends.

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Missing Teddy

“It’s kinda lonely up there without Teddy.”

No kidding. Blessed with wanderlust, a growing proficiency with Japanese, and an indulgent, adventurous, and spry grandfather, Teddy has embarked on his second “buddy trip” with A Gong. They left over a week ago and I’ve received not one single text. NOT ONE SINGLE TEXT. The scores of pictures uploaded onto Facebook and the LINE group chat for the Lee Clan tell me he’s in some Japanese equivalent of hog heaven. But we miss him.

Here at the Cape, Brodie still shares a room with his slightly smaller, definitely stinkier, late-sleeping, Kanji work-booking little brother. And because Teddy is not here, but also living 13 hours into the future, we feel like he’s on another planet. His absence feels big. Last night the whole gang of Cape kids landed in my family room and we made fun of him and missed him together.

When Teddy was in 5th grade, he had a math assignment wherein he was given a mock budget of $5000 to plan a trip with a fictional friend. His travel plans included an 80-year-old travel pal named Jerry.

“Teddy, who is Jerry?

“He’s my travel friend.”

“Who is he?”

“I made him up.”

“Why is he 80?”

“For the senior discounts!”

Teddy sourced the seediest hotels and hostels and blew almost the whole budget on tickets to Hamilton. Money well spent.

According to my AmEx records, Teddy recently checked out of their hotel in Tokyo to spend a few more days in hot baths eating food that looks deliciously adorable. Next stop: Taipei. 22 more days without Teddy on this side of the world, 22 more days with his 80-year-old travel buddy over there.

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Parenting 2.0… the hyperventilating torture of the teen years

Little kids, little problems… big kids, big problems. The sage parents of teenagers told us this. While we wondered if our little ones would ever wipe their own butts or fall asleep without 10 stories, 3 drinks of water, and the theme song to Pepa Pig, they had bigger fish in the fry pan. Those parents had sympathy for us, sure. But there was a wistful nostalgia for these sorts of complaints. I wrote plenty about the sweet spot of parenting when I was in it. And though I love these budding bursting embarrassing distracted delusional occasionally noble and often lying humans, they’re exhausting.

We’re taking the radical honesty approach to parenting. My own parents put forth hard rules and likely knew we were lying to them. How often does the movie reel “break?” I wonder why they let us keep throwing good money at a theater that couldn’t get us home before curfew. But while our own teens dip toes in the deep end of teenage shenanigans, we prefer they tell us what is happening. But they won’t. Not entirely. Who does?

The smaller sins are merely annoying. Anyone who has let more than a handful of high schoolers into the basement knows the tell tale stench of vaping. Their burgeoning nicotine addiction means that any room they leave smells like grape bubble gum, stale cupcakes, or sickly sweet mint (that they swear is from chewing gum).

“Ugh, at least we looked COOL smoking actual cigarettes,” I tell them. I’ll call them out for spewing toxic vapor into our shared spaces, make them turn on the air filters, and remind them that they’re not fooling anybody. They’ll give me the usual deflections and excuses like I wasn’t at least 43% naughtier at their ages. I recall how my sister and I got away with murder, but our younger brother (likely smarter than the two of us together) was wildly incompetent at subterfuge and got caught all of the time. Odds are (hopes are?) my own teens are taking after Uncle Patrick.

“Did you ever sneak out of the house?” Brodie asked. You bet. Back in the ‘80s, few parents in the ‘burbs set up elaborate house alarms with doors and windows that beep beep beep. I met up with my girlfriends to share a furtive Marlboro Light, or made romantic plans to rendezvous with my boyfriend under a moonlit sky. Those were magical moments of borrowed time in the peak of youth. Looking back with the lens of a teenage parent, I see a too young girl risking lung and Lyme disease and sexual assault. How lucky that cigarettes are gross and took a substantial commitment to yield real addiction, and that my boyfriend was probably more scared than I was to make any sort of mileage on the old baseball metaphor.

Keeping me up at night are the larger mistakes with huge, life altering consequences. We’re excitedly reluctant to let our kids drive. Are we really giving large machine operating privileges to half formed people that still spill and leave doors unlocked and socks everywhere? Though we (okay, mostly I am) constantly harping about consent and the role of boys to protect all girls everywhere, in the moment does a teenage libido override all sense (and their mother’s voice)? Is the sharing of salacious gossip (or videos!) too tempting? Will they begin to, or ever, weigh risks and outcomes before actions? Am I expecting far, far too much from their mushy frontal lobes? SHOULD WE START HOMESCHOOLING. Raise your hand if you considered locking up your teens until they turn 21.

Recently, a pair of wise physicians of kids on the “other side” of parenting spoke with candor of the random drug tests and mandatory meetings with the Discipline Committee invoked by the actions of their then high schoolers. (God bless the parents who share these stories.) Another mom described her delightful, accomplished adult daughter like this: “She was unlikeable and awful from age 14 until last year.” I’m full of dread and anxiety about what comes next. Or maybe that’s just the pseudoephedrine coupled with the pot of coffee I swallowed while in full Mom Mode dropping wisdom on my teen that is likely landing on deaf ears and against a please-let-this-be-over closed door. If my boys are going to make mistakes (and they will), it will not be because I didn’t lay down the knowledge. Aside from locking them up and homeschooling, it’s all I’ve got.

Brodie has never been more excited to exit the house and go to tennis practice. I don’t blame him. Mom advice is invasive, embarrassing, obvious, unhelpful, trite, and irritating. Once a carefree Marlboro Light puffing teen swapping spit with boys on golf courses, I became the happy go lucky mom who enjoyed her sons’ adorable idiosyncrasies as they earned As and navigated nothing worse than the inevitable heartbreak of team sports and fickle friendships. Now all I can think about is Father Mike Dangelo’s motto for caring for these almost adults: “No life lost or created on my watch.”

In the end, I’ll need to trust my kids. They’re good kids, and if we paved the path and put up clear signage, certainly they’ll go in the right direction? (I can actually hear the snort laughs of seasoned parents just writing that.) As we navigate this next phase of parenting– the teen years– we’re also grappling with how tremendously stupid we were at that very age, how incredibly uncool our harpy warnings are to unsuccessfully thwart inevitable mistakes, how old this makes us feel in a way that crows feet and creaking joints cannot. As my kids stumble into adulthood, I admit that I thought this would be easier. Blaming an Internet-obsessed world for the shortcomings of our children feels like a cop out, and tolerating transgressions and exercising forgiveness are action verbs harder than any spin class. When once I wanted to fast forward to years when they wouldn’t need post poo help and could sleep until noon, now I’m wishing away the years until they can (legally) share a glass of Prosecco with me and confess all of the (minor) sins we never caught. Until then… no life lost or created on our watch… we pray.

 

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How do you clean a sex robot… and other dinner table discussions with teens

“Let me just stop you right there with your shaming of sex workers…” was how the Facebook rebuttal thread began. I normally avoid anything even approaching politics on social media. Honestly, the only time I’ve been “called out” on line was for admitting I still make the boys’ beds. (Mom-shaming on Facebook is a thing, people). Clapback for admitting dismay to discuss the latest news cycle with my kids was interpreted as a judgment of women engaged in “the world’s oldest profession.” But I have two teenage boys. As the only woman in the house, as a mom, as a feminist, as a human being, I cannot let it go. These boys are gonna know my FEELINGS around this. And none of them concern women who freely choose this profession.

A few years back when the kids were gifted with old gen iPhones and there were many rules associated with them, it hadn’t occurred to me to strictly disavow porn. But one morning accessing one of their devices to check the weather—these were the salad days of knowing their passwords—I found evidence that they had stumbled into it. When they got home, I made them come clean.

I met their I’ll-never-do-it-again, don’t-tell-dad, and am-I-grounded pleas with calm assurances that they weren’t actually in any trouble. The only thing they had to do was discuss it with me. Given the choice, they would have happily handed over their phones. But there was no choice. Instead, three truths and some questions:

  1. We pay for the phones: my phone, my rules, no porn.
  2. Pornography makes me… sad. Don’t make your mother sad.
  3. You will never know if the women in these videos were coerced, bribed, threatened, cajoled, terrified, or even compensated. You will never know if they are under age.

Q. If there is even the smallest chance of #3 being the case, is pornography less enjoyable to watch? If #3 is more the rule than the exception, is pornography… ethical?

Finally, I wanted them to consider that no little girl imagines this life for herself. No parent dreams of this vocational future for her child. Nearly 85% of the women in this world enter it from foster care or homelessness… and that statistic doesn’t include the women trafficked from foreign countries into a world of prostitution.

“Let me just stop you right there with your shaming of sex workers…” was one woman’s response to Truth #2. I hadn’t been shaming anyone, merely expressing regret over having to discuss prostitution with my boys. They know my feelings around pornography, but we hadn’t discussed massage parlor culture. Not yet. And I guess it needs to be said: I’m sure there are sex workers who are employed legally, safely, and with proper pay and, just as important, joy for the work. I just also think they are the extreme exception. Trotting out that example now does a disservice to thousands of marginalized women and is not useful when trying to frame this topic for teenage boys. I’d love to know how your dining table discussions are going.

Being total teenagers, this weekend my own kids advanced this devil’s advocate position: “Should a dude buying pot be punished for a drug trafficking ring?” And I let them bat that one around for a minute. That is, until I pointed out that they were comparing a FEMALE HUMAN BEING to a JOINT and I hated all men with a burning fury for about 15 seconds. This led to the discussion of decriminalizing sex work—another argument I loathe because what is happening at over 600 “massage parlors” just here in Massachusetts is not sex work, but some odious crime straddling slavery and rape. In fact, advancing the legalization of all sex work as a panacea in this climate would probably only safeguard the monsters holding power positions in this seedy realm.

Brodie pointed out that many of the men who have been outed are affluent enough to buy SEX ROBOTS. This led to the unsavory discussion about how sex robots are used, and Teddy wondered, cleaned. Questions of improved AI and the ethics of using sex robots with some sort of consciousness were also raised more quickly than the existence of this practice with ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS and I hated all men with the fire of seven suns for another minute. And now you know what it’s like to have dinner at the Lees of late.

The sex-for-money world needs its #MeToo moment, and I’m hoping this recent scandal heralds it. Until we hear their stories, there will be comment threads on Facebook urging you to champion the happy hooker– this mythical, empowered woman safely using her body to make an honest buck. Until we hear their stories, soliciting prostitution is a faceless “misdemeanor” of a crime likened to buying a joint. Until we hear their stories, we will believe customers of Orchids of Asia had no reason to question the wellbeing of its employees. Until massage parlor culture of all ilk stops, our most vulnerable girls and women are not safe from it.

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The kids’ first phones… used to play Angry Birds, text poop emojis, and navigate the titillating world of hotgirlspeeingdotcom

 

Lil Yachty, Aziz Ansari, and Tide Pods

My boys listen to a variety of rap music, the breadth of which I am only recently learning. Last night, Brodie magically connected his phone to the car stereo and DJ’d the ride home. As he and Teddy giggled and guffawed over particularly embarrassing lyrics to endure in front of Mom, I started earnestly listening to them.

Ick. Now my children were literally SUV-trapped in a parenting moment that I couldn’t let go.

“You guys realize how BAD this is, right? You understand misogyny? These lyrics are dismissive and demeaning and maybe a little violent and otherwise terrible. YOU KNOW THIS, right? You cannot possibly SING ALONG to this… right???”

“Yeah yeah yeah… we know. We would never. We just like this beat. It’s sampled by everyone. And mom, the next song is seriously only about it being cold in Minnesota.”

And it was. But between the sophomorically raunchy lyrics (that they totally know), Aziz Ansari (who they love), and Tide pods (WTF), I feel like our kids are being bombarded with troubling examples of intimacy and flagrant stupidity. If teenagers are eating detergent, what other things must we remind them not to do? And though my boys aren’t dating yet, I kind of need them to know that what they’re reading isn’t the norm, except that it is, only it shouldn’t be, and then beleaguer them with definitions of consent and power differentials… ultimately encouraging them to lean on their faith, or at least rely on how they see Bernie treat me. The mortified eye rolling and protestations to please stop ensued.

But I won’t stop. I have no idea how the fuck-the-insecure-girl rap message is playing on their pliant brains. They are also reading an un-nuanced defense of a grown ass man who is so awful at sex, it seems like he’s using these very wretched lyrics as some sort of primer. And when my otherwise lovely, kind child actually uttered, “but she could have left any time,” well, I died a little. And then another trapped-in-the-SUV parenting moment began.

It’s frequently exhausting being the only girl in the house. I mean, even aside from the fact that I’m the only one who ever knows where anything is. Though it is up to both of us to make sure our boys know what it means to be a man, they spend most of their time with me. Dammit if they’re not going to learn what it means to be a feminist, an ally, a chivalrous friend, and whatever the opposite of Aziz Ansari is, dating-wise.

I explained how it happens, how a woman could feel so gross after a date, she’d publish a play-by-play, effectively shaming him and attempting, I guess, to exonerate her participation in it or even alleviate the ick feelings of being duped. Every woman I know has had an Ansari date—hopefully few of ours involved someone with that much fame, or with all of the fingers in mouths. What do you think we’re talking about when we drink Chardonnay and make horrible paintings together? Why don’t mommy book clubs ever read anything? Bad sex stories can be hilarious.

Except this one wasn’t because of the power, fame, and even age differential between a woman hardly sprung from girlhood and a man acting like a teenage boy with a porn problem. Though few 22 year olds on a date with an actual, award-winning person would be savvy enough to memory bank his fumbling, creepy advances to make fun of them later, I think all of us wish she had had the wherewithal to high tail it outta there. But I know why she didn’t, and every woman I know gets that. But how do I explain that to teenage boys?

Teddy and I were driving home from the orthodontist. The campy fabulous REO Speedwagon just couldn’t fight the feeling anymore. Immediately I was transported back to the roller rink at the mall, where this song was usually designated for the couples skate. Preteens with sweaty hands and back pocket combs would hold hands and make awkward circles and conversation. It was a sweet memory that my children will never know. Teddy is 13 and I’m trying to explain what constitutes sexual assault and why firm lines around consent get blurred when people drink wine and get naked. Apropos of this conversation:

“Did you know Wilt Chamberlain said he had sex with, like, twenty thousand women?”

“I remember that! That was a popular sound bite in the ‘80s. I remember boys trying to figure out if that was even mathematically possible.”

“Yeah. Three times a day for 24 years.”

So, maybe kids really aren’t all that different.

I thought I had a few more years before I was teaching them that casual sex can be super lame, occasionally dangerous, and ironically requires an even higher level of communication than when you’re with someone you know well and love deeply. Thanks, Aziz. And just to be safe, I keep reminding them not to eat Tide pods.

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A more nuanced commentary… 

Applications

My boys are applying to schools. Even though the local public school is award winningly awesome, and even though they are currently thriving at a competitive, wonderful, traditional private school that goes through high school… we’re applying to schools. Sometimes (most times) I think this is bonkers. However, it’s also the only conversation I keep having because everyone else also has kids applying to schools—mostly colleges, but still, it’s all very similar. We’ve bought into the expensive, privileged idea that the “right school” will coax our children into becoming contributing members of society rather than boomeranging back to our basements. And it won’t. Deep down we know this. Yet still… we’re applying to schools.

My first pass at the applications was to make fun of them. You know, just a little. It’s so ridiculous to ask teenagers to write essays about a life changing experience when they really only have a handful of sentient years to draw from. Or asking parents what our short- and long-range academic goals are for our kids. HOW DO YOU NOT MAKE FUN OF THAT PROMPT? Any parent a generation ago would have snort-laughed and groused that the goal was to get the kids outta the house and paying their own way. But I refrained, and Bernie and I gave the usual reasons for applying to their school: reputation, academic vigor, something about “good fit,” and a nod to whatever they bragged about during the tours. To date, I’ve seen 6 art rooms with pottery wheels. The pricier and more exclusive the education, the more likely a kid is to make urns.

Every school is desperate to be the most inclusive and diversity is a religion. Brodie wondered aloud how the white kids were answering all of these We Are the World prompts when he can just bring his mixed DNA into the conversation. And me and Bernie? We can play that up. That is, when they recognize that I’m the mom. Although DIVERSITY gets an entire page in all of the brochures, I was assumed to be the “handler” for Brodie at one school, and at another the interviewer looked right past my outstretched hand for the more likely mom. This happens lots anyway, and it’s fine… but when it happens right alongside a framed mission statement about how inclusive and safe and wonderful and kind and diverse everything is… just calm down, diversity cheerleaders.

I am sure my own college essay stunk worse than a hockey bag, but Brodie devoted three painful days to revising a statement of how he became a better person when something bad happened… to get into high school. And he didn’t even throw down the Cancer card. Tackling these prompts with Teddy was much more fun. He has quick, witty answers for everything. And when he wrote about going to Taiwan, meeting a now favorite uncle, and writing, “the saddest day was when Ah-Bei went back to Shanghai” with actual tears in his eyes… I fell in love with my own kid all over again and preemptively hate anyone who plans to reject him. Asked to provide any additional information, Teddy wrote only one sentence: “I am a skilled dancer and I love musicals.” Love that kid.

We’re nearing the end of this process and probably the most useful aspect is now we’re a bit more prepared for the hellish torture college applications will be. Hats off to you, parents who have suffered through Early Action stress. Because there are always smarter, more athletic, ability-to-build-a-new-library, legacy, politics, and other factors that go into curating a class at these incredible schools, we have no idea what outcome to expect. I keep returning to the only thing that is true: it doesn’t matter. Home schooled, public schooled, boarding schooled, or frankly left to their own devices, Brodie will still be this old soul with an impossibly gorgeous face spouting factoids (did you know there are more chickens in the US than people on the planet?) and Teddy will always know he’s the smartest kid and best dancer in any room (mostly true). Where they go to school and what they do will never be who they are. Never. I can only hope these (stupid) applications captured their zany differences, their deliciously voracious intellects, their uniqueness, their lovable Lee-ness.

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These boys. Lee boys.

 

 

Confessions of a non-sporty mom

In New England most schools don’t begin before Labor Day. It makes for a long, long summer– if you don’t have sporty kids. Those with more coordinated teens are racing them to tryouts (some for spring sports, wtf) or pre-season practices. It was a common conversation thread among the parents I chatted up while watching my own boys play tennis this summer: how sports interrupt everything from family dinners to spring break vacations. And because I’m on an actual sideline watching my kids do sports (this is rare for me), moms who don’t know me well assume I have all of these logistical difficulties, too.

A typical conversation:

“Your boys play squash? Did you know my son recently transferred to Squash University to play Division 1 squash with squash squash squash people?”

“That is great! Love the sport. Love any sport that doesn’t involve a windy sideline or freezing rink. My boys have been playing at a winter clinic since they were little, but we don’t do a lot of matches.”

“Oh, you’ll be right there soon. (knowing nod) They’ll only want to squash with squash squash squash this Club, that Club blah blah blah. You’ll be in your car all of the time. It’s all coming soon. (knowing nod)”

“No. Not my kids. Teddy got beat handily by an 8 year old girl at his last match. My boys play squash, but they’ll never be good at it.”

“How can you say that about your own children?!? I bet they’re great!”

“No. Really. Brodie forfeited his first match because he ran into the wall. They’ll never play at any sort of brag-able level. How do we end this conversation?”

I never say the last line. But I think it. Maybe I should just nod appreciatively and pretend to memory bank all of their sage advice about coaches and clubs and teams and other nonsense. But I don’t. My boys play passable tennis and kind of terrible squash and enjoy basketball in the backyard. And that’s it. I sleep in on Saturdays and there are no muddy cleats or stinky gear in my pristine car. But it excludes me from a very common conversation among parents: how to get multiple children to multiple sports with the added worry over meals and homework and family life. And if you’re a mom who hates Soul Cycle and would never do Barry’s Boot Camp, really, are there any talking points left?

I joke. Pretty soon the conversations will pivot to where the kids will apply to high school or (gasp) the possibility of public school. We’ll revisit applications with entire sections devoted to itemizing a childhood of sporting accomplishments– and leave those blank. Have we done our boys a disservice for not forcing them onto teams to be a middling sort of good at a sport they don’t enjoy? In this world, probably. But when your kid tells you he chose soccer for a fall sport at school “so I can be goalie and just stand there and not run,” well, you see what I’m dealing with here. Acorn and tree and all of that.

Also, I like sleeping in on Saturdays.

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Lees on a Saturday: couch snuggling and Clash Royale. Division 1 level sloth, hit-ball-outta-park level happy.

Ten Days

I’ve been away from my kids for 28 days. 28 days. I’m officially clean and sober from parenting. I’m not obsessively checking laundry bins, Chlorox-wiping toilet seats, wondering about the state of the dishwasher, or cooking many meals at all. I don’t need to tell anyone I am going to the grocery store, or buy gallons of milk or three boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats when I get there. For an entire month I haven’t reminded another human being to eat, shower, or brush his teeth already dammit. The beds are always made. I read two entire books without being interrupted by anyone who is hungry, bored, wants snuggles, needs rides, or has to show me this hilarious YouTube thing right now. My house is neat as a pin, and my days stretch out as unstructured opportunities for lap-swimming or yoga-bending or garden-wandering or the entire Netflix season of GLOW.

And I cannot wait for them to come home.

I miss them viscerally, as if our shared DNA has reached a sort of magnetic limit, being stretched too long, too far from each other over the span of an entire planet. This is not unique to me. Plenty of you send your kiddos off to camp for weeks on end with nary a text or call, and only an occasional blurry proof of life website pic or smudgy postcard. At least I know that my boys are in the care of actual family, and there’s the added perk of LINE, an international messaging app that lets them send goofy updates with a bevy of emojis. Yesterday they called with a real time Happy Birthday serenade in Mandarin! But they are so… far… away… and the fact that they are living a half day into the future makes that feel even farther.

I think they’re having a good time. There have been homesick moments for sure, exacerbated by the unfortunate results of eating a questionable curry. Also, they are spending lots of time with their younger cousins who are probably also a bit hot, occasionally bored, and exhausted with all of the no-one-speaking-English, tofu-rich meals. A Gong has shared umpteen sheets of Chinese character homework indicating hours of intense tutoring. But in every ‘round the Lazy Susan group shot, my boys look happy. Probably because of the food. Mmmm, the food. I wonder if they’ll want a zillion pizzas and Shake Shack dinners when they get back, or if they’ll request soup dumplings and dow guan even more frequently.

Whatever food want, they’re getting. Whatever they want to do, I’ll let them. I cannot wait to spoil them with French toast, relaxed rules, and unlimited snuggles. Go ahead and snigger at me, veteran camper moms, knowing they’ll do something irritating within hours prompting all of the usual parental regulations and responsibilities to reboot. But right now my fantasies revolve around letting them sleep in and marveling about how tall and different and yet still mine they are.

Ten more days, friends. Ten days has never felt quite so far away.

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That Pikachu hat. It will be the first test for spoiling, relaxed parenting. But they look happy, right?

 

 

 

Traveling with Asians

If you didn’t know me super well, you might think I like to travel. Those of you who know me well already did the spit-take on that idea. Bernie and I are big old crabs on the zodiac and prefer the couch to any castle or cathedral. Air travel is disgusting, and the world is still a bit unprepared for the (gasp) interracial couple. I’m used to being waved away from my family with a chipper offer to extricate me from these Asians: “Ma’am, I’ll take you over here!” But this week, traveling home from a week abroad, a French couple actually inserted themselves between me and my children right there in the security queue.

TSA checks are such an enormous stress bummer. I’ve already written oodles of times how it’s additionally fraught for the cancer-ed as a pseudo-scanner reveals our fake bits to everyone on the other side of it. But no one enjoys being berated for forgetting to take out the laptop or being an idiot with liquids while exposing feet and midriffs to surly uniformed staff and impatient (French) travelers who sigh loudly because you have children or difficult buckles or a watch. I was diligently getting all of my things in order when this over-tall and stylish couple pushed my tray back a few feet and plopped their carry-ons right in front of mine.

“What sort of brazen assholery is this?” I asked with my entire face but, you know, not out loud. TSA was blasé. TSA was probably preoccupied with the single dad ahead whose boys packed every electronic they own to go to Europe. Honest to God, Teddy brought a full size keyboard and a gigantic microphone to Barcelona.

To be fair, I don’t look my children. But it takes only 12 seconds of observation to see that I might be associated with or employed by them. Also, while traveling, Teddy is unrelenting with rhetorical questions and observations that include an introductory so Mom? so Mom? Mom? Mom? followed by a dissertation about European urinals or stage whisper wondering if that guy totally just farted or inexhaustibly explaining why his bracket is winning. You know, the sort of charming chitchat you save for your mère. But even when they are exasperating, I still hug them tight and touch their perfect faces. It should be plain that they are mine mine mine.

In June we’re going to Taiwan and probably Japan and possibly Korea–with the kiddos and my in laws. I need matching travel clothes. In the bottom of drawers all of us have I LOVE TAIWAN t-shirts. (Of course we do.) It might be a bit like wearing the ears to Disney Land, but hey, maybe it’ll keep the French from cutting the line.

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Duh. They’re totally MINE.