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… 

 

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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Cold and Hot

The biggest compliment I ever get is, “Hey, write something again, already.” Actually, it’s not the BIGGEST compliment. That one is awarded to a certain teenager who thinks his charm will be compensated with unlimited egg sandwiches and brownie sundaes. “Britt… have you lost weight?” Sit down, kiddo, I’ve got steaks for dinner. A similar kindness was delivered during Curriculum Night Cocktail Hour, which is a thing… a very good thing. Sweet, funny, cool, brilliant Michelle reminded me that I have this little virtual journal over here that’s been languishing in the back-to-school hubbub. Michelle encouraging me to write was a compliment, indeed… and she’s not even expecting egg sandwiches.

And now I find myself with some time. I’m currently shivering in a Chicago hotel room waiting for my thermostat to win the battle against refrigerated public spaces. I loathe air-conditioning nearly as much as spin class. Even air travel is a dreaded, trapped eternity where we are squeezed into small spaces and kept chilled like Diet Cokes in a Coleman. As I wait for the room temperature to approach room temperature, I’m fondly reminiscing about my last hot yoga class. Yes, exercise and “fondly” in the same sentence. That is how much I love being hot.

Vinyasa flow landing on Yom Kippur meant most of a local high school girls soccer team could trade Trig and turf to downward dog with a room full of moms who take this class for far more frequent, physical atonement. We couldn’t help ourselves from asking them who they were. It’s unusual to see physically perfect teenagers with high ponytails and borrowed mats at the 9:15 class, filling our quiet sanctuary with poorly stifled giggles and chitchat. But goodness, they were beautiful: bursting with youth and vigor and everything-ahead-of-them-ness. It was hard not to stare at them, harder still to not want to be them for just one humidified hour in clingy clothes. Finally, places were found, the room quieted, the yogi said his ridiculous yogi things (fodder for another post), and class began.

And the girls… those toned and tanned and lovely girls… they SUCKED. And it was delightful. They were inflexible and off balance, mock chagrined and truly embarrassed. Their make-fun-of-this stage whispering we could all hear was another bonus. Young pretty soccer girls were flailing and falling and flummoxed by exercises minivan moms and AARP cardholders do regularly, with ease. There was sweet beauty in that. I wondered if the other 9:15 regulars were having similarly ungenerous, stay-in-your-lane thoughts as we toweled off in shared spaces. Or, maybe other people who do yoga aren’t horrible people. But it was my favorite power hour ever… even with the far too many ohms at the end.

I hope all of us went back to closets and mirrors and scales with a little more kindness toward our (older) selves. How odd to look through the eyes of girls in their own physical prime and find ourselves elevated in the comparison, if for only one morning on a hot mat. It’s a big enough compliment to reward yourself with an egg sandwich. Bagel. Extra cheese.

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One of the reasons I do hot yoga…

FREAK US OUT… a message to our awesome teenagers, by Steve Safran

We have heard from our secondary principals that many of our students have reached out to them to collaborate on how best to address the student desire to walk out and express their opinions but do so in a safe manner… We are proud of our student leaders at all levels for the collaborative, thoughtful advocacy they have demonstrated.

This planned walkout, as we see it, is the “lab” experience for the teaching and curriculum we bring to our students. Teaching our students how to lead, think, propose ideas, disagree and take respectful and forceful action on issues is what we do; our students are indicating to us that they have learned and want to take action.

– Massachusetts Town Email to Parents

 

This is nonsense.

As a parent, I don’t want an email from my town explaining– in much longer detail than above– how a school-condoned walkout from classes will be arranged. I don’t want the town organizing with students. I don’t need a “heads up” that my kids are going to walk out of class.

I want them to get up and go.

Where goes youthful rebellion if it’s into the arms of those against whom they are rebelling? This is an angry generation and they have every right to be. They’re being shot at in their schools. We have let them down. We have failed to protect them in what should be a sanctuary. Don’t ask us for permission. The school is on fire and we’re offering you a hall pass for the water fountain? No wonder you’re pissed. (No wonder nothing has changed.)

I’m all for young rebellion. That’s what our country is about; it’s American in the best kind of way. Lobby for change, and let the marketplace of ideas decide. I take no issue with student protest and, in fact, I support it. At Wayland High in the ‘80s, we’d “walk out” in order to demand soda machines. IT’S NO JOKE! WE WANT THE COKE! IT’S OUR RIGHT… TO HAVE A SPRITE! (This may explain why my parents transferred me to private school, where I was once sent home for not having a close enough shave.) As a conservative, wholehearted support of youthful protest might seem out of character. As an anti-gun, pro-choice, anti-religion-in-schools, pro-women’s-rights, free-trade, anti-Trump conservative, however, these days I guess I’m what’s known as a “Democrat.”

But you can’t stick it to the man if the man sends gentle emails with sentences like, “We support this and find it a fine learning experience and we’re going to make it a lab.”

A lab?

Way to take the fun out of it, grown-ups. I officially protest the administration’s support, and will occupy their building. I will, of course, be alone, as the administrators will be outside, patting themselves on the back for being progressive as they make sure students do not wander outside of the “designated protest area.”

Personal politics aside, I think most of us recognize that this generation is creative in ways we do not understand. They are seriously skilled. I mean it– they really are. They make movies and music better than any big screen scene from the ‘90s… and they make them on a device in their hand. The best these Internet, gaming, and video wizards can do is…  walking out with permission? That might make Grandma and Grandpa Hippie sentimental, but today’s teenagers can do better.

Here’s my message to them: don’t walk out, freak us the fuck out. We’re 50. We get spooked by a 1% drop in our IRA. We’re easily panicked. You’re going to need to scare the status quo out of us. Be creative, make movies, share them with your zillion followers. Show us you’ve got more game than a supervised walkout. Take a page from your ‘60s forefathers and put a tech twist on it. Walking into a field while the principal says “Yes. Good. You get an A in civic engagement studies” sure as hell wouldn’t have ended any war. A VR vision of what it’s like to be helpless as you are slaughtered in your own homeroom, even as you have a gun that’s useless against an attacker’s armor? Now we’re talking. Get coding.

Me? I hate the damn guns. I truly believe this is the generation that will do something about it. Every generation that grows up in fear is the one that brings about change. We hated the day-to-day worry of nuclear annihilation. Anti-nuke protestors took to the streets, while conservatives encouraged Reagan just to spend the Soviets into oblivion. Whatever your macro-political view, it worked. The people who grew up watching their older brothers and classmates die in Vietnam put an end to that. These teens have grown up watching a non-stop war and “Hamilton.” They KNOW they can do something. And they’ll probably make it catchy.

So protest, kids. Skip class, but take the detention. You can’t change the world if you can’t take the hit. Don’t walk into a field and hold a sign. March in the streets. Go to state capitals. Make and share videos that answer the NRA like the Parkland Students did so poignantly and slyly. Be subversive. You have the tools to out-media the media. You can podcast and VR-simulate and disseminate your message virally. You can be so much more creative than we can imagine (we still don’t understand SnapChat stories). Where justified fear and anger meets youthful peak creativity is where change happens. We’re watching. We’re listening.

So go ahead. Freak us out. That’s how you change the world.

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United, they stand. #NeverAgain

Two More Days

TWO MORE DAYS.

That’s it. I can make it. Belated birthday dinner with high school besties tonight, a final Friday to kill with Bernie, and then we will make our way down to JFK to birddog the airport and wait for our not-so-little kids to disembark. I hope my in-laws don’t let them travel in these tees:

 

Boys in Tees

Somehow, these were approved purchases.

The boys asked if we could just drive home to Boston immediately. Even though it will be 11pm on a Saturday night in NYC, they don’t want to waste one minute getting back to their beds and computers and stuff. I don’t blame them. Plus, they’ll feel like it’s lunchtime, so the first stop will be to place a huge order for chicken nuggets and fries. I cannot wait. I CANNOT WAIT.

I’m itching to hear their stories, study their faces, and squeeze their taller bodies. Veteran camper moms have already told me the first blush of reunion affection fades quickly, as boys are always hungry, can’t find anything ever, and have poor aim. But honestly, I haven’t felt I CANNOT WAIT excitement this strongly since I was engaged. These Lee boys have a hold on me.

Darling April invited me over last week, in a sort of typical text exchange for us:

Her: What are you doing now? Want to come over here?

Me: COMING.

I was there in, like, 20 min. Her kids, who have known mine since none of them could do multiplication, ran out of the house to greet me. Will pummeled me with a bear hug, Bryan enveloped the two of us, and it was everything I needed. God, I love them. Also, April’s kids–always sporty and healthy and vibrant—become a bit Greek God-like in the summertime: blond streaks, tan muscles, over-tall and strong and gorgeous. They’re also really interesting, kind, funny humans. Teenagers who are still willing to talk to adults are the absolute best, and possibly the antidote to any world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket feelings.

I’d love to write about her kids more… how one of them is navigating the choppy waters of dating in a heart-warming way that would make you want to pen five paragraphs. But those aren’t my stories to tell. What I can write is this: that evening with those great kids, and the multitude of texts and messages and emails from all of you to tell me you understand how I’m feeling right now… THANK YOU. It helped.

Although I’m missing my kiddos in a they-are-tied-to-my-soul way, I have truly enjoyed life with just Bernie. This preview to a future where our boys have their own lives isn’t so bleak… because Bernie is the best. (I’ll wait while you throw up in your mouth a little bit.) We might have already known this, but we really do still like each other—which is different from love and just as important. We have enjoyed oodles of evenings binge-watching excellent Netflix programming, eating great food, and just, you know, talking.

Two more days. And tonight: a reunion with my best friends from high school—the ones who know all of my stories and secrets. After catching up on the present (and sharing presents—a tradition we’ve never stopped), we’ll certainly bang away at the past. Thirty years of friendship, but we’ll still giggle about stuff that happened in 1988 like it was yesterday. And now my own kids are at the precipice of the whole titillating, scary, weird, awkward, embarrassing, basement-groping, how-far-will-this-go journey of the teenage boy. Eeek! I hope they have friends like these to navigate it.

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I love us. 

Do you also feel like you were 17 just a few years ago? The days are long but the years are short, as they say. Two more days without my kids is an eternity, but vividly rekindled memories from a teenage past prove it all goes really quickly. At this point in life, there is so much to look back on with sighs, smiles, tears, and the occasional face-palm. There’s also a near equivalent amount to look forward to (with the same reactions) for our kids. I think this might be the sweet spot, and I feel guilty for wishing away any of this time instead of savoring it. And I’ll get back to that. In two more days.

I CANNOT WAIT.

 

 

 

 

Lisa’s Birthday

December 16th is Lisa’s birthday. Lisa is my forever friend from age 14. We talked every single day from 1986 when I moved to her school until our graduation day in 1989… and many after that. An early winter birthday meant Lisa was a full half-year older, which was huge in the teenage timeline. When we met on my first day at the new school, I knew she had the skinny on all sorts of things from bangs to boys– possibly even banging boys. Lisa knew stuff.

“No no no, don’t sit next to those guys… come over here,” she waved with a smile and a laugh, and absolutely no concern for “those guys.”

And I knew we’d be close right from the get go. We had both erased “Yaz” into our canvas-covered binders and matched our Mia ballet flats to our sweaters. Her expertly applied Maybelline played up her clear blue eyes that complemented her perfectly permed and scrunched brown locks. Lisa was sexy. (Still is.) Every teenage girl should have a Lisa, unless she is a Lisa, in which case she might need a Britt. Lisa pulled me out of my middle child good girl persona to experiment with rules, limits, beer (blech), boys, and hair products.

One boring day in high school, Lisa convinced Scott (a senior!) to lend us his Jeep and me (with a study hall and easy-to-evade science teacher) to skip. The fact that Scott let two unlicensed girls drive his very cool Jeep off campus during a school day is testament to what boys will risk for the slimmest possibility of nookie. After spritzing ourselves with perfume at the mall and pretending to be college kids at the McDriveThru, I started wondering if we should head back to school. Lisa reminded me that I was a straight A student, would never get caught, that I’d never get into trouble anyway because I was so blonde and smart and good, and then drove directly to the curb at my house and started honking the horn.

See? Your mom isn’t even going to come out of the house. And even if she did, she’d never think it was you in the car. Because you are AT SCHOOL. Can’t be you. Relax.

And so I did. Pulling myself out from under the dashboard and pulling away from my driveway, we opened all of the windows and let out primal screams of joy and youth and freedom. And then we returned Scott’s Jeep, took our respective buses home, and immediately called each other on the phone to re-live the day and discuss how Scott was cute but, like, eww, not like that. Poor Scott.

As I watch my dearest friends’ daughters grow tall and gorgeous, I wonder if they’re a Britt or a Lisa or one of “those guys.” Can I even hope that they have the confidence of Lisa as a high school freshman? Never giving a shit about “those guys” and always completely certain she could sweet talk a boy out of his car, or anything else? This is how I want these girls to sashay through the halls of high school. But who knows this at such a young age? How do we infuse our daughters with an unshakable sense of their worth and power?

Maybe we should share our Lisa stories—the ones that reveal we didn’t always make the best choices, but that they were our own. The scariest and most fragile moments of youth can happen at the whim of thoughtless others when girls do not realize they have superpowers. Friends like Lisa would never let them doubt or forget their smarts and beauty and youth and abilities. Friends like Lisa make sure our co-conspirators for any bit of afternoon naughtiness are the ones who know us best and love us most.

Today is also the dreaded Cancer-versary, but this year I remembered it was Lisa’s Birthday first. It’s a Lisa-versary! Instead of succumbing to the seasonal blues associated with this calendar date, I’m taking a moment to remember how Lisa has always made me feel pretty, powerful, and fun. Years later she also showed me that breast cancer couldn’t take that away, either. Through her own treatment, recovery, and aftermath Lisa still approached life with a joyful passion like few others. With one in eight of us in the Shittiest Sorority, the odds weren’t entirely unlikely that we’d grow up to be cancer-ed in exactly the same way. Fitting somehow that my older, wiser buddy would get the skinny on it first. I was the physician, but Lisa knew stuff. She sent me a box of hats, socks, chocolates, and notes that were a perfect balm to the terror of the time.

Happy Birthday to my kind, crazy, sexy, wise, and hilarious friend. May all of your daughters be blessed with a Lisa—unless she is a Lisa—in which case… lucky you.

Lisa and Britt

Lisa and me… with all of our original parts… prom 1989