Cool Mom

I don’t blog much in the summer… it being all gorgeous outside and whatnot. Also, I have a July birthday to commemorate with unnecessary shopping and enthusiastic drinking which leaves little time to assemble (coherent) thoughts into silly paragraphs. Also, I have Stevie to pick up the slack with his smartypants hilarity and thoughtful musings. But now that we’ve waved good-bye to visiting family and re-claimed the house to the quieter, lazier place we’re accustomed, I’m drawn to the computer to waste your time with ridiculous stories.

This week, shuttling the boys from the pool to a playdate, an unfamiliar 12 year old was assigned to my car during the divving of children. This is the kind of kid you love instantly: his humor is generous, his charm effortless, and his kind attention to your maybe-sort-of-dorky kids a blessing. His parents certainly could take a fair share of the credit for the likability of their kid, but they wouldn’t. Some things are just God-given.

Do any of you share a family affliction for singing in the car that cannot be cured? The Lees know no shame… nor, on occasion, the correct lyrics. Nonetheless, the situation found us subjecting the unfamiliar 12 year old to booties needing no explanations because that’s what we do. We sing in the car. Them’s the rules.

The tweenager beside me was initially surprised, then happy to sing along, and then this:

“You’re like one of those cool, Capri Sun moms, aren’t you?”

Giggles from the backseat, and then upon dismounting the SUV, my oldest dropped his voice an octave and said,

“Thanks for the lift, mom.”

Less kind friends have since forwarded me the juice pouch commercial wherein I am now likened to a dowdy mom in Capri cargo pants one-upping another for having provided chemical-riddled sugar drinks to a busload of children. (Thanks, STEVE.)

But this is one of those moments where I passed muster as a parent, and because it may never happen again, I knew it was worthy of a few paragraphs, or a tweet, or status update, or whatever.

Been around the world, don’t speak the language… but your booty don’t need explainin’!

Sing loud and often, friends… it’s never wrong. xoxo

All I can hear is my mother's voice saying, "would it kill them to wear a stitch of makeup?"

All I can hear is my mother’s voice saying, “would it kill them to wear a stitch of makeup?”

Willing to Pay, by Steve Safran

What do we still value enough to spend real dollars to acquire? What do we assume we can get for free? Stevie explores knowledge as a commodity in our Google-able world.

 

 “Irony: Telling me $10 is too much to pay for something I worked a year on, while drinking a $5 coffee the barrister spent 30 seconds making.”

Tweet, James S.A. Corey, author, “Cibola Burn”

My God, that’s about the most wonderful quote I’ve ever read about the frustration of being in the creativity business. We’re living in an age when it’s reasonable to slap a 99-cent price tag on an app that, in the very recent past, would have required a calculator, legal pad, un-refoldable map, $15, and hours of your time. People today think it’s a matter of principle that they will not pay for music. A t-shirt featuring my favorite band? Sure, I’ll buy that. Their songs? Screw that.

A good chunk of my career has been spent in the advice business. This is known as “consulting,” or as a Freudian typo I once made and came to embrace, “consluting.” The problem with knowledge being your product is that people are loath to pay for it. Drs. Britt and Bernie surely know this. No, it doesn’t cost me anything to tell you what I think about social media or how it might affect your company. No, it doesn’t cost Britt or Bernie to give you a medical opinion. But if you added up the price of all of that schooling, overnights at work, lost time at home, relationship stresses, ramen noodle meals, missed birthdays, and student loan interest… that sort of advice might be worth a bit more than 99 cents? But, I just have one, super-quick question. We’re friends, after all, right?

Argh. Sure. I’m all ears. I’m also a sucker… and want people to like me.

The Internet has changed expectations. I think it comes down to this: “I paid for this computer. Whatever shows up on it– that should be included.”

The stories of the Internet billionaires that everyone likes to cite?  They’re the outliers. Looking at them and deciding that it’s a good idea to start a website is like looking at a lottery winner and deciding to invest your money in scratch tickets.

Now, I’m not an Internet crank. Not at all. I like that it has changed the equation for so many. I like that it has given platforms whereby the previously voiceless can speak up. I love that new talents have emerged, that record labels no longer decide who should be famous (and then take all their money), that a few newspapers and TV stations get all the ad money and that we don’t need to kneel at the altar of the phone company to communicate with each other. I love that. Even as it put me, a journalist, kind of out of business.

So I’ve adapted. I recently became a partner in a video production company. I decided to get back to what I know best. There’s still a need for good storytelling done well by professionals. There’s a big demand for video online. People crave high-quality information they can receive quickly…

… and for free.

Lucy knew her value...

Even Lucy knew the value of her advice resided partly in the payment…

Shouting Into the Echo Chamber, by Steve Safran

On Monday night, Steve and I had a late, text-y discussion wherein we commiserated about the Angry Internet in the face of recent Supreme Court decisions. Our fingers typed less about women and their parts and protection than how social media was failing to provide grown-up discourse. My drafts folder holds similar sentiments, but Stevie’s here are smarter. And he’s braver than I am.

Shouting Into the Echo Chamber, by Steve Safran

One of the many wonderful things about the Internet is that it gives a forum for focused debate on issues of importance. It allows earnest and sincere people to have a platform from which to share their beliefs and learn from others. So, of course, we don’t use it that way.

Here is a sampling of the thoughtful statements and rejoinders that spewed forth from this past week’s Supreme Court rulings:

(SCOTUS) Wants to enslave women— all of us. How can they be so hateful. #ImpeachTheFilthyFive

(SCOTUS IS) Disgusting misogynistic racist scumbags. #WarOnWomen.

(The ruling is) against Hobby Lobby and now (the Supreme Court) hates the country. Laughable. F@UCKING LEAVE. (The ruling was in favor of Hobby Lobby. I hope he’ll F@CKING STAY.)

Oh– I should mention something. All of these were aimed at @SCOTUSblog – which isn’t the Supreme Court’s Twitter feed. How do I know? Two reasons. 1. It says so, right there at the top of the feed and 2. The Supreme Court doesn’t have a Twitter feed. I mean, come on. Does anyone think the Supremes would Tweet?

@RuthBG: h8 Scalia but <3 Bieber 2 much 2 deport.

But these comments are from just a handful of anonymous hatebags, right? Nope. Look at your Facebook feed, and you will see your perfectly rational friends get into reductionist lathers.

Here is my disclaimer: My opinion on the Supreme Court decisions this past week has no bearing on this column. I am not going to get into a debate over right and wrong, because the very idea that decisions are “right” or “wrong” is exactly the problem. We have opinions and biases. Too many of us seek information that supports our biases (“Confirmation Bias”) and reject information that does not.

That’s a shame, because within the lengthy Supreme Court rulings are some pretty remarkable works of legal prose. A dissent can often be the most compelling part of the debate. Witness Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s withering and wonderful 36-page dissent in the Hobby Lobby ruling. If you supported the outcome and aren’t interested in the dissent, you’re missing a master class in Constitutional Law. Taking a 40-page ruling and reducing it to “The Supreme Court Hates Woman” is like saying Moby Dick is about a guy who hates a whale. You can’t fit a ruling on a bumper sticker or a Tweet or an insult plastered over a picture of John Roberts. Even if he’s got that Mona Lisa smile thing going on and you can’t decide if he’s proud or just got the last donut in the chambers.

When the Supreme Court rules against us, they are fascists (“They’re in Bush’s pocket!”) and when they rule in favor of a cause we hold dear (e.g., gay marriage), they are wise and learned (“The Supreme Court is modern and progressive!”)

There were two especially fascinating rulings this week. I say “fascinating,” because within each the Court gave a remedy. Now that’s really cool. In the Hobby Lobby case, the court ruled that the store could indeed have health insurance that didn’t offer birth control, but offered that the HHS could pick up the tab instead. In the case striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone law, it suggested the state use existing law concerning harassment, intimidation, and obstruction. Massachusetts legislators are going to hammer out a new law that fits the Court’s recommendations.

Think about that. The Massachusetts ruling was a 9-0. This wasn’t an “Old White Guys Hate Women” decision. Every justice concurred that the 35-foot buffer zone was a violation of the First Amendment BUT, they demurred, “If you want to protect the women, here’s how you would do it…”

Compare that to the ruling against Aereo, a company that was– and here I will opine– blatantly ripping off TV stations with mini satellites and rebroadcasting their work via the Internet for a monthly fee. Here, the Court didn’t say “But Aereo could tinker with a couple of things and we’ll be cool, K bro?” When the Court offers a remedy, it’s like your dad saying, “You know I can’t give you permission to drink a beer. So I’m just going to put this can of Bud down and go work in the shop. But remember: I can’t give you permission.”

I like having my opinions challenged. Over the course of my adult life my position has changed on the following topics: gay marriage, guns, the war in Iraq, the death penalty, and the durability of the music of Billy Joel. Think about the college professor or the TED Talk you saw that changed how you saw something. Remember the joy you felt realizing it was time to rethink your idea on the topic. Honor that memory with a shot. Maybe with a chaser. Remember: Britt runs this blog. (Editor’s note: Britt recommends bubbles, and the general honoring of memories where a noted shift in thought leads to better conversations between us.)

We have to give rulings some time to breathe. And we need real outcomes to judge the prescience of our judges. In the 2010 ruling Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could not be restricted in the size of their donations to political campaigns. The outrage was along the lines of “Corporations will buy elections!” But look what happened last month to Eric Cantor, the Majority Whip from Virginia. He got smoked in the primaries by an unknown, and Cantor had a more than 25:1 cash advantage. Funded by all sorts of interest groups, Cantor spent millions. Dave Brat spent $200,000. Brat won.

The Supreme Court may not always rule the way you want. That presents you with the marvelous opportunity to learn and discuss. Shouting into the echo chamber that “The Supreme Court should do its homework!” won’t change anyone’s mind. Debate. Agree your opponent has valid points. Engage in persuasive argument. These are the real tools of change. They may not change the Supreme Court’s rulings. But they will, occasionally, change the way you think.

Especially about Billy Joel. That stuff just doesn’t hold up. I’m not debating you on this.

 

OPINION

 

Throwback Thursdays

Of all the things that are annoying about social media, Throwback Thursday isn’t one of them. Spare me not one single photo of your moussed bangs, rainbow suspenders, or stone washed jeans diving into gigantic white high tops. I want to see you sunburnt on the Jersey shore in your Bon Jovi fringe t-shirt, sweating in your plastic Halloween mask, posed fireside with siblings in matching sweaters, gawky and proud and acned and feather-haired at your Bar Mitzvah party. These pics are awesome. They’re always, always awesome. Because there are so many selfie, check-in, sharing, linking, uploading opportunities to let The World know how accomplished, funny, lucky, and attractive we are… on Thursdays we post pictures to remind us of our shared, dorky beginnings. I like that. Plus, we’re all adorable.

Stevie, irrepressibly cute.

Stevie, irrepressibly cute.

Also, I’m a junkie for the milestone moments. I go to all of the graduation ceremonies and parties. Every. Single. One. I’m one of the few spouses who continue to attend these three course dinners followed by umpteen speeches where everyone is honored and privileged to be there. (Next year, I may propose a drinking game to my table-mates for every honor-and-privilege uttered.) Bernie and I just wrapped the final party after a month of roast-the-graduates and fish-or-filet evenings in ballrooms and country clubs. Honestly, neither my liver nor patience for hackneyed toasts could endure another fancy dress evening with surgeons. But there are small moments that bring forth a tear or a giggle, and that makes the whole high-heeled night worth witnessing. Truly, the close of a near decade of brutal scheduling, test-taking, presentation-preparing, and paper-writing during the same years of weddings and baby-making and eking out some approximation of life for these graduating residents: this deserves to be witnessed. But when I’m not being Moved by the Moment, I’m also having great fun sitting next to Linda.

Linda is the ageless and stunning wife of arguably the most famous hand surgeon in the world. She’s seen it all… and she’s been to more than her share of these privilege-and-honor laden evenings. Unfailingly kind, Linda will also share sniggers over unfortunate formalwear choices (“Where was her mother when she put that on?”) or strategies to endure monotonous speeches (“Let’s go powder our noses… for a half hour.”) Linda is magical and mindful and has mentored me through some unpleasant, upsetting, and downright bald moments. And so it wasn’t surprising that over arugula salads and between goblet-clinking, Linda asked, “Are you… OK?”

Well, of course I’m OK! I never stop smiling and I have so, so much great hair. I adore my husband, my kids keep getting funnier, and I’m tan. But I knew why she asked. Linda remembers a Thursday exactly two years ago, when she sponsored a Day of Beauty before my wigless debut. Knowing anniversaries are powerful punchers of stomachs, Linda was checking in. And somehow, two years later, I don’t cringe when I see this throwback…

My Sinead Moment

My Sinead Moment

… instead this photo recalls a touching memory of kindness and love. With only an inch of hair and handful of eyelashes, Linda made certain I felt like me.

I think we post #TbT photos with more studied nostalgia than we realize, choosing moments that belie the hilarity of the hairstyles. Perhaps that’s why I love them so much. I mean, look at Debby here with her Daddy:

Debby could still pull off this look.

Debby could still pull off this look.

Ned Gammons is 80 years old today, and what Debby’s picture captures is the preppy perfection of their father-daughter-ness—a love as timeless and enduring and comfy and perfect as blucher mocs and fair isle sweaters. There are hundreds of photos she could have chosen… but when cherry picking the perfect post pic, we unwittingly choose the ones that shout LOVE the loudest. And it shows.

I really could go on and on and on and on about this cutesy social media fad. And I hope it endures… if only so Henry can post this himself in twenty years time:

When mom finds only one little boy bathing suit in the bag, she'll improvise.

When mom finds only one little boy bathing suit in the bag, she’ll improvise.

Summertime

Although the website photos suggested lengthy spa sessions interrupted by warm swims, harbor cruises, and delicious food, it was quite a bit more like Kellerman’s. Dinner was family-style. Accessories for horseshoes and badminton were available. Mosquitoes swarmed and scoffed at the Off. And atop a crumbling staircase perfect for watermelon-carrying… a rustic game room with ping-pong, candlepin bowling, and video games that cost only one quarter. By 10pm, no further amusements or refreshments were provided. So we went… to bed.

It was charming to be so unplugged. Having just completed school, I thought the boys would want to marinate in unscheduled time (read: iPad games). They surprised me by enjoying a nothing-to-see boat tour (boys this age don’t appreciate breathtaking, evergreen-coast-meets-blue-ocean views), taking “polar plunges” into the “sun-warmed” pool, and playing hours and hours and hours of tennis on cracked courts sprouting wildflowers. It was quiet and simple and buggy and a bit shabby and all sorts of Frisbee fun.

Waiting to embark a humble vessel for the 90-minute harbor tour, I exchanged pleasantries and sunscreen with another mom. Her three boys were attached to electronics and she waggishly wondered if those would be sufficient to assuage the torture of forced nature immersion for 90 minutes. Luckily for those kiddos, the cruise was full, and so they toted their iThings back to air-conditioned spaces. But had they boarded, I’ll bet those kids would have abandoned their virtual warring clans to spot a seal or soaring eagle. At least, I hope.

The drive up to Maine was nearly seven hours back and forth in a hot SUV. To supplement the Summer of ’69 weekend atmosphere, the AC wasn’t working; so we opened windows and stuck to the seats and complained and whined and asked how much longer 154 times. Meanwhile, pink-cheeked boys were spied napping in the rearview. A weekend in the Great Outdoors left me with a keen nostalgia for long ago citronella-scented evenings as adults ignored us while we kicked cans and caught fireflies in safe spaces. This rustic resort provided two days of that sort of fun, and reminded me to create more opportunities for my boys to collect memories and mosquito bites exactly this way.

Happy Summer, friends. Go get bitten.

The pool was an algae-studded 60 degrees, but we went in anyway.

The pool was an algae-studded 60 degrees, but we went in anyway.

 

Third Grade

Because I recently wrote about Brodie, my second-born is now desperate to be the topic of a blog post. He won’t let it go, or for that matter, GO TO BED. He insists on reading over my shoulder at this very moment to prove that I am, actually, writing about him.

“OK, mom. I’ll go upstairs now.”

Having read the opening sentences, Teddy is appeased and off he goes… moonwalking to the stairs, then catching a glimpse of himself in the hall mirror, giving quick finger guns to his striped pajammied image. If I stop him now to remind him to brush his teeth, he’ll turn around with a raised eyebrow and say in his best Jackée,

“Gurrl… I was just going.”

Teddy’s never seen Jackée, and we have no idea where this half Asian third grader picked up the mannerisms of a sassy black woman… but that’s Teddy.

Yesterday, I eavesdropped on a gaggle of kids watching mine on the tennis court. They were wondering whether my boys were twins or brothers. Just last summer, Ran’s sweet little girl turned her blond-ringlet head toward me and asked in all earnestness, “Mrs. Lee, how can you tell them apart?” It’s true, these two Bernie clones are Pete and Repeat, nearly Irish twins, and often mistaken for each other. But they couldn’t be more different.

While I’ve been worrying about Brodie and the endlessness of Fourth Grade Torture, Teddy is cruising through Third with nary a care. Teddy is a good sport about his athletic shortcomings, knowing he’s destined for greater things: the fame of a multi-platinum rapper/zoologist. He dances without provocation or embarrassment, suddenly channeling Michael Jackson, but really looking more like a frenetic Bill Cosby. Teddy knows all of the words to a catalog of (inappropriate) songs, and few things are funnier than his sultry rendition of Beyoncé, “…surfboardt… surfboardt… grainin’ grainin’ on that wood.” Bernie and I are forever trading those oh, dear head-shaking looks as this skinny kid in a Star Wars t-shirt croons, “Oh, I’m drankin’.”

Teddy has an unquenchable thirst for explanations, and our appetites were curbed at the dinner table last night as he insisted on details about the spaying of animals and particulars of menstruation. Poor Brodie suffers through these embarrassing discussions, but I think benefits from the fearless inquiries of a little brother who Needs to Know. Fully debriefed on monthly female physiology, Teddy turned to me, aghast,

“Ugh, Mom! This happens to you?”

“Well, no… chemo kind of zapped it all out of me.”

“Oh, phew! Hey, high five!”

And then turning to his 22-year-old cousin, with grave alarm:

“You need to get a boyfriend NOW. And get married and have babies so you can stop bleeding.”

We didn’t take a moment to address all of those ideas, still snort-giggling about the inspired High Five for the awesome convenience of chemical menopause.

When asked in polite conversation, “How are your boys?” I light up with uncontainable joy. These are hilarious, touching, soul-warming days with my still-innocents who smell good and love me most and never lie. Teddy is right to insist I capture them now, particularly him of course, in all his glorious nine-year-old-ness. Teddy who doesn’t stop talking from the moment I pull him from warm covers until droopy eyes won’t let him finish just one more page. Teddy who occasionally swings his butt side to side doing his “supermodel walk.” Teddy whose tearful queries about why parents “get un-married” reveals a fear that rattles his belief in a safe world. Teddy who thinks anything below 94% is “failing” and wants to discuss tampons at the dinner table and wore a lion costume every single day for two years. Teddy who wants me to show everyone this ridiculous picture.

Teddy Tut

Teddy Tut

And this one.

This lion costume. Every. Single. Day.

This lion costume. For two years. Every. Single. Day.

And this one.

Lacking neither cuteness, nor confidence...

Lacking neither cuteness, nor confidence…

 

Personalities captured perfectly by http://drewkids.com

Personalities captured perfectly by http://drewkids.com

Delicious moments sit right alongside the heartbreaking ones. Brodie’s soulful introspection contrasts daily with Teddy’s infectious silliness. I’m astutely aware that I’m swinging in the sweet spot of parenting. It’s hard to imagine I could like and love them more than I do right now at these fun ages. And recording their blossoming personalities and peccadilloes and perfections here may be more valuable than what gets banked in my undependable memory.

 

Ode to a dishwasher

Burly, smoky men have arrived to install my new dishwasher. I love capable men who lift shiny, new appliances with ease and prattle on about grounding and drilling and electrical boxes and such. Oh, dearheart, I don’t give one Cascade pellet about all of that. Just get on with your sexy wiring and plumbing feats of wonderment!

Bristling excitement over a new dishwasher says many things about this girl. The first is, evidently, that actual, bristling excitement may be lacking in my everyday. But merely whisper, “Bosch!” to any French toast slinging mom and you’ll hear breathy sounds of encouragement normally reserved for other rooms of the house. And although the chief boast of this appliance is its ability to scrub a load of filthy dishes with all of the racket of a butterfly alighting on a cotton ball, it will just be sort of nice not to have an entire rack of coffee cups land on my toes, or not to be sliced by the jagged edge of the part that wasn’t ever screwed in properly, or not to retrieve the melted wheels that prevent the machine from vomiting pans across the granite floor. These things will be nice, indeed.

Now that Mr. Clean is installed and burly men have absconded with my old, reviled torture tank of pot-vomiting terror, I still can’t go anywhere. I have to take a few, flattering photos of this handsome fella, and then find dirty dishes to feed him, and then sit around status updating about how I can’t hear my dishwasher running.

Hello, handsome.

Hello, handsome.

The obvious drawback to the awesomeness of Mr. Clean, here, is that now I want everything shiny and new and cabinets that are that greige color and a ‘fridge that can accommodate both a turkey and a sheet cake whist still promising to crisp kale and delivering me sparkling soda on demand. I want a cooktop without a single can’t-scrape-that-shit-off spot, and knobs that stay on, and one of those giant, decorative islands that house enormous cookbooks and mortars and pestles and other accouterments of culinary glory. Mr. Clean deserves these quality bedfellows. But because Mr. Clean cost as much as a bauble in a blue be-ribboned box, it might be a while before he acquires more sophisticated companions.

In the meantime, Mr. Clean is my saucy saucer washer, my dish-doing devotee, my power-rinsing raison d’être. Happy early Mother’s Day to me! Excuse me now as I dirty all of the plates for the joy of not hearing them get clean. And God bless burly, smoky men everywhere—men who know how to install pluggy-inny things, and who pretend not to notice that I might have no idea how to make Mr. Clean do anything other than sit there looking handsome.

A Quintet of Questions with The Hook

I’ve been Hooked! It’s a delicious compliment… especially when one is called “achingly beautiful.” I’ll be sashaying all over town today. I cannot imagine that you don’t know The Hook… but in addition to these fun 5 x 5’s, he tells stories about Life in the Lobby that will have you slack jawed and giggling.

Here is the fruit of my virtual sit down with this darling (and naughty) man. See you over in his lobby

 

STRONGER THAN EVER… by Steve Safran

For me, the most amazing people at the Boston Marathon are not the winners. To be sure, running 26.2 miles in two hours and change is an astonishing feat. But to my mind, it’s everyone else who runs the Marathon who is the best.

That’s pretty easy sentiment, I know. But consider nearly every marathoner runs knowing he won’t win. Won’t even come close. Can you think of any other sport where that’s the case? Any other event in life? Even lottery ticket buyers hold a small hope for a win. Joe Marathon runs knowing he won’t.

And that’s what’s so great about The Pack. They’re running for the joy of it, for a personal best, in memory of loved ones, to raise money, and for 30,000 other reasons. They run to run.

And man, do they run.

I had the good fortune of covering the Boston Marathon for Boston.com. I reported from the start in Hopkinton and from the finish in the Back Bay. (The media bus with police escorts is the only way you’ll find Stevie “running” the route.) I’ve never seen the rested and carb-loaded athletes at the Start or witnessed their transformation at the Finish. When you see the runners in Natick or Wellesley, they’re still in pretty good shape. By the time they hit Boston, they look like Hell. They also look fantastic. Every quadricep, every ligament, and every other whatever Britt can recall from gross anatomy– they’re on display, steeled for the goal. These aren’t just people who put on a kick to the finish; they kick the finish in the ass.

So yes, I saw the winners race past to triumphant finales. But it was another runner I won’t forget. His fall was dramatic enough, collapsing maybe 50 yards shy of the finish line. And then a fellow runner stopped. He stopped. He likely didn’t know the guy who fell. Maybe he was on pace for a personal best. But he stopped, helped the stumbling runner to his feet, and together, arm-on-shoulder, they finished.

Name another sport where those two “losers” are such winners.

As I write this, I’m in the Back Bay station, waiting for the commuter rail. I feel undeserving of the Gatorade I’m drinking. Runners are here waiting for the train, too. I don’t know why that strikes me– but it does. These champions just ran the freakin’ Boston Marathon, and they’re standing here like any other commuter. They have to go to work tomorrow. They’re just average folks who happen to be the best athletes in the world.

Sportsmanship at its finest.

Sportsmanship at its finest.