The Neighborhood

When the boys were very small and in car seats, I did all of the driving. The boys tortured me daily with the always something demands of toddlers (Help me! Watch this!), but even when they were pre-verbal they knew I was off limits when I was behind the wheel. Driving a half a day in traffic to visit family over holiday weekends was far easier than sitting in the back seat with them and tending to their oscillating requests, meltdowns, and ill timed poops. Similarly, the puppy has learned to take a rest or find a toy when I’m at the laptop. It’s an easy break from the always something demands of a tiny dog (Take me out! Play with me! Rub my belly. Love me love me love me!), but this morning I woke up with a fever of 102 and the only way I can get a respite from this dog is to feign productivity at the keyboard. So here I am. Writing about the puppy. Again.

After one month with this little guy, I’ve gotten to know the neighborhood much better. We’ve lived in this house for 13 years, but I haven’t taken many walks around the block. Now, it’s a twice a day thing and even if I haven’t made fast friends with new neighbors (this is New England and the stereotypes hold), I’m getting to know the Dogs of Princeton Road. Because Hero is a puppy and also THE BEST DOG IN THE WORLD, he wants to say hello hello hello hi hi hi to everybody. But because he isn’t fully immunized yet, he cannot do this with the dogs. This hasn’t stopped me from inventing nicknames and backstories for all of them, anyway.

Barks-a-Lot spends most of the time fenced in outside and based on Hero’s reaction to this fearsome pooch, his woof woof woof roughly translates as, “If I ever get outta here, I’m coming for you first.” There is Prancing Pooper (whose owner does NOT curb her animal) and that haughty bitch won’t even look at us. Yesterday we met a goldendoodle wearing a Patriot’s t-shirt and a tutu and I swear she told Hero, “I hope we can be friends in spite of this outfit.”

There are a lot of regular walkers in these parts, and now that I have become that person, I take a minor and fleeting offence when they won’t pause to pet Hero when he is straining at the leash and pleading with them to love him for a second. Even if they are allergic (as I am) or terrified of dogs (understandable), many don’t even acknowledge that we are sharing a street. Yesterday’s substitute mailman heard Hero whining and yelled from two doors down, “You talkin’ to me little guy? I’m coming over to meet you!” and then did. He’s my kind of people. So are the 9-year-old twins who now live in the Miller’s old house who told me they would “take care of Hero any time… FOR FREE.” I wonder what time they get home from school.

Hero is now a sleepy foyer lump and if I’m really quiet, he won’t notice me transferring from the laptop to the couch. I was a little panicked about spending an entire day alone with an almost but not entirely trained puppy while wondering if I have the flu. But like the boys in car seats on a road trip, I swear this pup senses I need a bit of a break today. Do dogs do that? Who knows. But this one is getting all of the good treats.

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And Hero is his name

The decade has seen us weather the toddler to teen years, from kindergarten to high school. Facebook memories from 2009 portray an exhausted mom who yearned for adult conversation and bubbly. A fairly big chunk of the 2010s included diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and the never-ending aftermath of breast cancer. The past few years, Lees agonized over standardized testing, essay writing, and the sleep-depriving anxiety that accompanies high school admissions. Stevie navigated divorce, dating, neuropathy, migraines, college application stress for three children, and got cancer. More recently (because God is good) he’s experienced the miracle of new love and marriage. Steve wrote about all of these moments candidly and with humor. More often, I just complained about cardio. Our shared bloggy pursuits even went viral twice this decade. As 2020 begins, there is more good than awful in the accounting, but we’ll take “boring” for the next 10 years, please.

Boring, it won’t be. In the dark days surrounding the solstice, the Lees felt keenly bereft of joy. The stress of the holidays piggybacking onto an overly long and expensive home renovation project and three (minor, but still) car accidents and midterm exams plus a brief but serious consideration of a new job and move was enough already. Taking a hard look at all of the hard work all of us were doing—board meetings, conference calls, Latin declensions, concussions and cross country meets, fundraising, editing, international meetings, and too much travel that did not include umbrella drinks– we realized there wasn’t a lot of FUN happening. And so in what appears like the Lee Family’s Most Impulsive Move, we got a dog.

Decidedly not boring.

After years of insisting that I “am allergic” and “refuse to pick up poop” and “will never budge,” we got a puppy. A tiny, sort of hypoallergenic (y’all are really overselling this notion), absolutely adorable mini Bernedoodle is sleeping at my feet right now. Is this just more work? Maybe. But with teenagers doing the lion’s share of puppy play and taking the night shift, so far it seems like we adopted a big dose of joy in the softest, cutest, littlest package. And Hero is his name.

My boys went back to school today. On the 2nd, because their school is totally finger horns metal when it comes to the calendar. When Brodie brought a whimpering puppy to me at 4:30am, asking me sweetly to take over, I did this happily… but I’m still drinking coffee in jammies and have been up for FIVE HOURS. Am I counting the minutes until they get home? Maybe. Is Hero checking couches for napping humans because so far that’s all he’s seen us do? Yup. But those of you who are likening this stage to having another baby never experienced Brodie as a baby. This is hardly the lonely and exhausting time suck that was stay at home parenting with a newborn. And I could probably take Hero with me to get a pedicure. Perspective.

It was thought- and conversation-provoking timing to get a tiny new family member as the decade closed on such a huge portion of my boys’ lives. Will it be so sad to leave Hero when they go to college? Will Hero be alive when they get married? What will life look and be like in 2030? For the first time since my boys began high school, and now a handful of their friends started college visits and dove deep into application stress, we’re looking at the future with more what if/what’s next optimism. As my boys focus less on have-to’s and more on could-be’s, Bernie and I are clearing the calendar of stuff that doesn’t really need to be on it. We have a sleepy, fun, soft, love me love me love me puppy to Instagram. Together. And that makes him a Hero, indeed.

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Please note my utter RESTRAINT in only posting one puppy pic