The Diet

DAY ONE:

6:30am. The alarm buzzes. A schedule indicates it’s time to drink some sort of boosting flushing ionizing nonsense. Blurry eyed and reluctant, I pad over to the ‘fridge to pour a shot of this magic elixir that elicits emoji-gasms from a thousand Facebook moms. It’s still dark. I plow my foot directly into a dining chair with full-stride force. THE DIET begins with sleepy reluctance and a broken toe.

I pour greenish orange-y slop into a shot glass and prepare for my stomach to flatten and aging to reverse. But it’s just Tang. Well, Tang that’s mixed with maybe spinach and algae. I wonder if it’s gone a bit off. But I am RESOLVED. It’s 7am and I’m on an OFFICIAL DIET.

Dad gets up and has sole dibs on the coffee pot. Bravely, I’m going to do this thing without caffeine. I’m waiting for the magic potion to imbue me with ineffable exclamation point energy. Dad watches me assemble my first of 30 sad breakfasts. I scoop a rather large amount of powder into a sippy cup for fat moms and shake up a meal that is supposed to taste like French Vanilla.

But it doesn’t.

It tastes like disappointment, chalky milk, possibly vegetables, and is infused with a vanilla essence intended to trick dieters into thinking “sweet.” I gag through three gulps. Dad is giggling at me. I put it on ice, get a straw, and dry heave through 3 additional, timid sips. The rest gets poured behind the rhododendron, as I have no idea what havoc this might wreck on my delicate kitchen plumbing.

It’s 8am. I’m hungry. I take the horse pill that promises to curb my appetite until TWO ENTIRE ALMONDS are allowed at 9am. It’s going to be a long day. My children wake up and tell me I don’t need to lose weight. I love them. I drink more water.

Lunch allows a near free for all (except for gluten, sugar, alcohol, and other normal and delicious things) and I eat half a roasted chicken and extra vegetable side dishes. I really wanted the other half of the chicken, and I’m still thinking about it. Mmmm, chicken. It was fun to chew for the 7 whole minutes it took me to clear the plate. Tina, our regular waitress, is wondering why I didn’t order my usual mimosa or Sancerre. I tell her. Tina doesn’t mince words: “That sounds stupid.” I agree with her. Mmmm, chicken.

I take another horse pill and begin dreading “dinner.” Uncaffeinated, kind of hungry, and yet STILL RESOLVED, I make this fucking scrumptious dinner for Bernie and the boys that is like penance. I pour more water, elevate my broken toe, and watch Blade Runner. Somehow I’ve never seen the original one– the one where Harrison Ford is gorgeous and manly and kills robots (that don’t seem all that evil) save one that he keeps as a sex slave. In 35 years of listening to boys argue the bold genius that is Blade Runner, no one mentions the sex robot part. Poor Rachel is another #MeToo. Ugh. Bedtime.

I realize I skipped the liquid dinner meal. Honestly, I’m too coffee-deprived, toe-broken, and let’s face it #MeToo world-weary to stomach another sad, shaken meal that makes me gag. I go to bed like a punished child, but STILL RESOLVED. I’m doing this again tomorrow. Tomorrow will be easier.

RIGHT?

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To be fair, I’m the only Facebook mom who is saying these are sad and impossible to drink and, well, gross, and probably improved 1000% with tequila.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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i-Stupid

Saturday morning, I reached for my phone and noticed the battery was at 21%. Though it was plugged in overnight, I sometimes need to wiggle jiggle or flip it—even though lightening cords have no polarity—in order for charging to happen. This is common for me. Electrical stuff just sort of doesn’t work, or stops working, or eludes me. I try to hide this from Bernie and the boys. Whenever I complain about a technological challenge they affect the sort of gaze glaze reserved for doorstep Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’ll shake their tired heads, give me un-followable instructions, and mutter, “blondie.” This never changes the fact that your screen will turn to BLACK the minute you hand it to me. I don’t know why this happens. But it always does.

Lazy Lees often skip breakfast on Saturdays and start throwing out lunch suggestions in the late afternoon. I won a minor victory (no Chinese food!) by installing the Shake Shack app to order the family burgers. Brodie was by my side to ensure I didn’t bungle this, and insisted on reading the app reviews, which were middling at best. Still, I successfully navigated a download (even though I never know the Apple ID password) and pre-ordered lunch that would be ready when they texted.

But they never texted. No call. No email.

When I finally found a human to explain this to me, he couldn’t. They had my phone number and email address and my food was hot and ready… but there was no way to let me know? Apparently. I knew it wouldn’t go smoothly, because, well, it never does. We ate our tepid burgers and limp fries, anyway.

Later that day, Teddy wanted a ride to visit a friend who lives beyond the interstate loop. Driving north on the highway, I was already lamenting a return trip in untold miles of stopped traffic… until I remembered that I had WAZE on my phone. Like some sort of app genius, I entered our home address, saw an alternate route and waved goodbye to Teddy as I planned to outsmart traffic with technology. But she wouldn’t talk to me. I swear I had used her directions before, and she was constantly saying, “Watch out!” for speed traps, stopped cars, and roadkill. WAZE probably has a button to report punch buggies and license plates with uncommon letters. But she remained silent. And now I’m in this weird part of Wellesley without traffic, or verbal directions. Responsibly, I pulled over to see why she was being so coy, but every setting I could find indicated she should be heralding turns at full volume. Distractedly, I drove home snatching furtive glances at my silent phone.

Our devices are designed to make life easier, and yet for me, they are unpredictably unreliable. I have honest to God wondered if I’m imbued with an electromagnetic jamming signal that prohibits device compliance. Could this be a thing? Or maybe I’m just an idiot? Do your iThings always deliver? Or are you like me, clutching a black screen on unfamiliar roads with cold takeout wondering how you can be so smart and yet so iStupid?

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According to the app, Saturday’s lunch for the Lees is still a work in progress.

For Dad, on his 75th birthday

Dad is 75 years old today. This doesn’t mean much, as dad will always be young, and for as long as I can remember says he still feels 19. Naturally, he and mom are spending this weekend with their oldest friends. Dad, Lynn, and Brian went to high school together. To say they’ve known each other for a lifetime is an understatement. They’ve been buddies for three generations, starting in their own magical, Midwestern childhoods and spanning the corporate ladder/baby-making years to the current era with adult children (who are so close we call each other cousins) and grand-spawn (ditto).

Dad never thought he’d see this birthday. At least he didn’t twenty-five years ago, when we were on the screened porch swapping stories and refilling our wine glasses. I was home from college; he had just completed some workshop about financial planning. When asked to estimate his final year on the planet, Dad guessed we’d be arranging a big celebration of life event for him at age 74. (He always says the worst part of dying will be missing the party.)

It sounded far too young to me. But Dad was being practical, and theoretical way-off-in-the-future death is easier to discuss than the realer kind. Still, the idea that he had only another quarter century to do ALL OF THE THINGS had made an impression on him. But anyone who knows John Stockton knows he’ll do all of the things, recognize their importance and impermanence in the very moment, and regale us with the details. Dad has never been able to make a long story short, but excels at the opposite.

As I was thinking about Dad this morning, my phone starting binging with a dozen texts from my cousins.

“Uncle John’s birthday is today!”

“75! Make sure you remind him he’s closer to 80 than 70!”

“Tell him congratulations on his 76th year!”

“Think I can get a Jersey shore liquor store to deliver wine to the house?”

“Sweets on the way!”

Then Facebook reminded me what Joe Burke said about Dad on his birthday three years ago. And as usual, Joe says it better than anyone could:

Your mom raised you best. She just did. She raised you for the long haul. She gave you the dual and mutually supporting gifts of outrageous humor and graceful endurance. She built in you loyalty and integrity. I’ve never known you to equivocate. I’ve never known you to give up on important tasks or people. People may slide but you don’t. You may get exasperated certainly and appropriately — but only to allow for time for things to come around. You are a gifted easy rider with ups and downs. And ride them both with balance and realism and anchored humanity…always with your brand of just barely breath stopping, two feet out in space – appropriately inappropriate humor. You are stunning John Stockton. You are the best friend I ever had. And I hate the space and time and life details that have separated us. Happy Birthday.

I agree with Joe. Grandma Mid raised you best, Dad. (Kinda fun to imagine heaven with those two in it.) I know that the warmth, hospitality, and humor that was classic “Mid” was inherited and even amplified by you. So when my walkway is a tangle of bicycles, our wine rack is depleted, our guest rooms are rarely empty, and the ‘fridge is full of bacon just in case… that’s you. When I can’t tell a story without all of the funny details, that’s you, too. From my oddly-firm-handshake-for-a-girl to a tendency to stay up too late without switching to alternative beverages (which led to a no uncorking after 2am rule), I’ve learned from the best.

At 75, you’re officially off the clock, Dad. The party at the Jersey shore has already started and you’re not missing a single minute of it. Can’t wait for the stories.

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Dad and me, circa 1978

Ten Questions, or stuff we want you to know about breast cancer

Nancy’s Point is a blog I’ve followed for years. Her summer challenge is a call to share. So I did. And if you’re so inclined (as a cancer veteran from the front or sidelines), please join in!

  1. Share anything you want about your cancer diagnosis. Share your age, cancer type, stage, when you were diagnosed, family history (if any), your reaction, how you learned the news, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing. 

I was 40. It was my first mammogram. They never said, “Hey, looks good! The radiologist will send the report in a few days.” In retrospect, I think I knew then. My husband, Bernie (a plastic surgeon who has treated over a thousand women like me) looked at my films before the radiologist ever called. I had a diagnosis of invasive cancer by the end of that week: stage 1, high grade, scary family history, but no damning genes. My maternal grandmother had had a radical mastectomy at my age; one of her sisters died from breast cancer before age 40. Mom and her twin sister always assumed it would be one of them. It wasn’t. It was me.

 

  1. What is the most outrageous thing someone has said to you about your cancer?

Probably we’ve all gotten the “Well, at least you got a boob job out of this! Ha ha ha! I hate my boobs. I would LOVE to have them done! Amiright?” But maybe not many of us have gotten this from her own primary care doctor.

 

  1. What is your biggest cancer pet peeve? I know it’s hard to choose, as there are many to pick from, right? But what irks you the most?

It’s the Facebook memes that drive me bonkers. The single heart emoji posted as a status IS AN AFFRONT TO ALL WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD BREAST CANCER. The latest one was a classic cut-and-paster message claiming that it was Breast Cancer Prevention Week, which was four months ago, and I’m not really sure is a thing. These often are accompanied by private messages to “feel your boobies” which is wildly insensitive when delivered to women who no longer have them. Otherwise lovely, supportive friends feel bullied to post these things and pass them along or… what… they don’t care about cancer? I wonder who starts these.

 

  1. What is something you want others to know specifically about breast cancer?

First, another truth about those fucking memes: they can be a jarring reminder. Occasionally, we’ll have entirely cancer-free moments. Maybe we’re still in jammies and didn’t shower so haven’t revisited our scars; maybe we haven’t taken the Tamoxifen yet and are still doing the normal things normal people do, like yelling at children that the bus is coming or cutting crusts off of sandwiches. Then… WHAM. Your fucking heart emoji. Oh yeah, cancer. Thanks for the reminder. We live with it on our minds and bodies every single day and have all of October to endure. Unless that heart is a link to donating money toward metastatic disease research, it isn’t doing a single thing for us but providing a bit of posttraumatic stress.

Most people also do not realize that there is no “remission” for breast cancer, only NED (no evidence of disease). Asking us if we are “in remission” or “all good now” or if it’s “all over” forces us to lie to you, or get into uncomfortable discussions about how we’re secretly sure this is the thing that is going to kill us. I know what you mean when you sort of quietly ask, “How are you?” And when I say, “Fine, thank you so much,” we’re good. When you ask a breast cancer veteran if it’s “all over,” we assume you need it to be “over” and that really isn’t about us, at all.

 

  1. If applicable, do you worry about recurrence rarely, from time to time or a lot? What is your biggest worry today, right now, this minute?

I worry about it all of the time, but in the past five years I’ve had only one, true freak-out that landed me in the scanner. I’m fine. I tell myself I’m fine. I remind myself of the statistics for Stage 1 and how grandma lived to 83 after her radical mastectomy and how long some of us are living with Stage 4 disease. But it’s the pink ribbon monster under the bed.

 

  1. Do you feel cancer has made you a better person? Yes, I know this a loaded question.

It has made me a different person, for sure. I already assumed I was pretty awesome before The Diagnosis. I think I care about little things even less than I did before. Just last week a gaggle of teen boys had a wrestling match in my guest bedroom and ran the doorknob right through the drywall. And I thought, “It’s just a wall.” I honestly could not muster any feeling other than, “ugh, boys.” Sometimes I think cancer contributed to that kind of nonchalance about non-life-threatening things like holes in walls.

 

  1. What is your favorite cancer book?

For sure, Hester Hill Schnipper’s After Breast Cancer. It was like food to me in the aftermath of chemo and surgery. I just kept reading and nodding. I still cannot believe how lucky I am that I could sit on her couch and bask in her wisdom during the scariest times.

 

  1. Besides your family, where do you turn for emotional support?

All of you: the cancer veterans. The blogging strangers and friends from real life who have walked this road—I call us the Shitty Sorority– you ladies are a life line. But in the day to day, it’s Steve, my writing partner and testicular cancer veteran who I text with, “Can you believe these fucking memes are going around again?” And he gets it.

 

  1. How many cancer blogs do you read and why do you read them?

 I follow quite a few. Nancy’s has always spoken to me because she heralds science and refuses to give into the Cancer Made Me a Better Person trope. Terri Coutee is doing fabulous work with her diepcfoundation.org and her Facebook group that connects patients with each other and really fabulous microsurgeons. And like many of you, I bet, I still miss Lisa Bonchek Adams.

 

  1. Do you call yourself an advocate? If so, what drives you?

You bet your ass I do. Just writing answers to these prompts is advocacy. Also, I will talk to ANYONE who is going through this. I was a surgical resident many moons ago, and my husband is a world expert in breast reconstruction. We know stuff. I’m happy to share information. Even more importantly, especially in the wee hours, I can text, “I’m here. I get it.”

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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.

Fighting the Nazis… by Steve Safran

“You see Nazis everywhere!” an exasperated friend once told me in college. She had a point. I brought up Nazis a lot, usually joking, sometimes not. I was raised to fear the Nazis, even though they had lost a war more than 20 years before I was born. I had Nazi Nightmares. I would be sitting in my sixth grade class in Wayland, Mass., and the Nazis would come for me.

I was raised to “Never Forget,” starting with Hebrew School in fourth grade. I went to Jewish summer camps beginning in 1977. Even there, amid the summertime fun of swimming, singing and doing plays, we honored the holiday of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. It’s the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. We honored it at summer camp.

I remember being picked up at one of those first days of Hebrew School and saying to Mom: “Did you know about the Holocaust?” Of course she did. Although she was a toddler, she was a child of the war, and my grandfather, a first generation American Jew, helped build the ships that took out the Third Reich.

As the years went by, the Nazis became a punchline. They weren’t vicious genocidal maniacs anymore. They became “Springtime for Hitler” goofballs. Even the word “Nazi” has been defanged. It’s become shorthand for “strict.” There’s the “Soup Nazi” from “Seinfeld.” If you’re a pedant for word usage, you’re a “grammar Nazi.” And there’s Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.” Or, the longer a thread, the more likely someone will call someone else a Nazi.

But Nazis are real, they’re not a joke, and there’s nothing funny about this group of young, mostly male, Hitler-worshippers who have come out from the shadows. They have always been there, but now feel emboldened to take to the streets and foment violence. They can call themselves the alt-right, but that’s just rebranding. They want anyone who isn’t a “White American” gone. Stop calling them the “alt-right.” They’re white supremacists. And if they march under a swastika, they’re Nazis.

I believe—and this is very difficult to type– that the Nazis had a minor victory in Charlottesville. Yes, I believe love and compassion will win. But they want anger and hate, and they got it. They could have had their sick little demonstration, screamed about how life isn’t fair for white guys in America, and dispersed with little notice. Instead, we are left with three people dead. Chaos, death, fear means a win for the Nazis.

I spend a little time reporting these people to Twitter. This breed of hate-mongers are in violation of Twitter’s rules regarding abusive behavior. I search for racists with the biggest following, and I report them. It works. They get shut down. Often they’ll have the audacity to call being kicked off Twitter as getting “Shoah-ed.” The “Shoah” is another word for The Holocaust. That’s right– these people compare losing access to a social media site to being tortured and slaughtered for their religious beliefs. They are even sicker than you know. And, of course, they jump right back on Twitter with a new account. But I take a little pleasure knowing I’ve made it a tiny bit more difficult for them to spread their hate.

You can take the same action. Search the racist words they use and you’ll find no shortage of terrifying accounts. (Seriously: Twitter? You can’t crack this nut?) Report these people. They need social media to organize and spread their hate. We can stop them together. They act like it doesn’t bother them, but it’s a small delight to watch a Twitter user with 8,000 followers pop up again and have 10. Then I report him again. It’s not exactly “Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi-Hunter,” territory, but it matters.

We can fight the Nazis together, on line. Today’s Nazis thrive on social media. Let’s cut off their supply.

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Maybe we can stop using “Nazi” as an umbrella term for those who do not agree with us… and save it for the actual ones in our midst.

 

Meet Dan

Meet Dan.

I’m obsessing about the pureness of his words and his honesty. Dan is learning to walk again, after a year of scary scans and is-this-cancer? scares, and now he is rebounding from Guillain–Barré syndrome. This devastating neurological disease put Dan in a wheelchair, but his words have become dancers. And he’s learning to walk again. He honors me with permission to share some of his words. Here’s my favorite: “…sometimes it’s more fun to build the fort than to play in it.” Devour this now like the first slice of pizza, or treat his mini essays like the bag of Halloween candy. And as you do, send Dan your best prayers or mantras or good juju for healing, or maybe, a therapy dog “that doesn’t have to be walked, doesn’t poop, and will never die.”

 

Social Media:

Sometimes I feel like I’m being a bit narcissistic and a little selfish but Facebook is kind of like a modern-day ‘Message in a Bottle.’ I’m alone on a island and I’m scribbling words on a page, putting them in my bottle, throwing them into a vast ocean and hoping one person gets it and sends help. But I guess what I’ve learned is that this note is being read by more than one person and help is sent instantaneously and it’s beautiful.

And I don’t write on purpose.

Things just come to me in the moment and I jot them down before I forget them because with a neurological illness I tend to forget a lot. And sometimes I have a thought that I want to put in that bottle and throw it into that ocean. And I know some think it’s mildly annoying and I should keep a lot of this to myself. But sometimes I can’t. So if the moment is right and that spark hits me, maybe I’ll jot some words down and throw them in the ocean. And if they’re worth sharing, please share. But I’m not special. I’m just one man going through something hard, alone on an island, and finding a way to deal with it.

And this helps.

The ocean, unfortunately, is filled with bottles that no one is opening and people are forever stuck on that island. I’m just lucky someone is opening mine.

 

So, I’m learning to stand up without using my hands to pull me up. While I do it, I press the back of my legs against the chair for help. But that’s cheating. But I’m standing. So do I enjoy the view from up here or dwell on what it took to get there? Life is funny like that.

 

Music is magic:

Where do you find it? Where does it come from? The lift. The strength. When it seems unattainable you get desperate. The mind starts playing tricks on you. If only you had ‘this’ you’d be fine. It’s easy to assume what you don’t have is what you need. And then one day I realize it’s right there, it always has been. During those dark, horrible, lonely nights in the hospital it was there. On the path to reconstruction it was there.

Today was rough. My body quit. My spirit was draining fast. But I’m in the crowded gym of the Wellness Center. Hold it together man. Nobody’s watching, but everybody knows. I’m about to lose my shit. And like that. Boom. Like the whisper of the love of your life in your ear….music.

That song.

A song buried in a playlist appearing like magic during shuffle play in my headphones. And suddenly I found the strength. I found the will. And it’s always been there. So I finished my physical therapy. I struggled to my feet, took a deep breath, smiled, and walked the fuck out of there.

And nobody was watching. But everyone knew.

Find your magic. Find your strength. Find your will. And although I can’t fix your problems, I can promise you won’t have to face them alone.

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The Scanner:

Breathe. Hold your breath.

The voice of the CT scanner. Although I’ve had a bunch of these this past year, I haven’t gotten used to that voice. It’s better than the riot-noise and claustrophobia of the MRI machine. But that voice. And I breathe. And I hold my breath. And I close my eyes, even though I know it’s not going to hurt. The 10-minute exercise of looking for a vein in both arms while eventually settling on a vein in my hand, well, that hurt. But still, I close my eyes.

Breathe. Hold your breath.

And it’s over. Do you need help getting up? No, I’m ok. She wheels my Rolator over and I get up. Can you get back to the lobby OK? I think so. Go down this hallway, make a left, a quick right, down the hall to the lobby. Got it. And I’m off. I’ve heard descriptions of the ‘runners- high.’ But not the low of the ‘long-lonely-slow-walk of a strangely-empty-bright-shiny-hospital-hallway behind a blue Rolator-low’. And I’m feeling it.

And then I see someone coming the other way.

I instinctively move to side, head down, embarrassed, trying to not be noticed or to get in her way. As she passes, I look up, and she smiles. As if to say, it’s ok, you’re doing great, keep going. I smile back, as if to say, you’re right, thank you. No words, a simple smile. So, I continue. I’m almost there. The light from the glass lobby is in sight. And like stepping off a plane into a crowded airport after a long hard journey, I stop to look around. And as I reach for my phone to text my ride, I hear a better voice.

Are you ready for some Starbucks?

I look up. And I smile.

Hell yes, Dad.

 

Ten Seconds:

As part of the recovery I’m able to stand at the counter that separates my kitchen and living room and do some basic exercises and stretches. Build strength and balance they tell me. And then it happens. My phone, that’s about 15ft away, starts to ring. Without thinking, assuming it’s the service taking me to therapy tomorrow, I turn and move towards the phone. I get about 4 steps and I freeze.

No walker, no braces, no cane, no counter.

And the phone is still ringing. Eight months of struggle and here I am, standing on my own. But the phone is still ringing. It feels like an eternity. But alas, today I failed the test. I turned, and headed back to the counter. The phone stopped ringing. I initially was really disappointed. I was so close. It was right there. But then I started thinking about all the time and effort many people have put in to getting me to that point. Those 4 steps felt like a mile but for the first time I did it by myself. The phone will ring again and maybe I’ll reach it next time. Cause you never know who may be calling.

A lot can happen in 45 years. A lot happen in 8 months. A lot can happen in 10 seconds.

 

Building the fort:

Do you remember your first kiss? I do. Some of you were there for mine. Unionville High School gym, Fall dance, 1986. I still remember the song that was playing. I think about that now cause it’s like I’m 15 years old all over again. My concerns these days are, can I take care of myself, did my mom do my laundry right, when will I be able to learn how to drive, who will I take to the Fall dance.

There’s a girl.

Let’s call her Abby. She’s smart, beautiful, nice. She likes hockey. So, way out of my league. But at 15, I only have a few things to win her over. My words, and music. So today, rather than be 45 and watch more video of the children gassed to death in Syria, or go through all my medications and make sure they’re up to date, or check on my 401k, blah blah blah, I’m going to be 15, and think about driving, getting that first job, and impressing Abby. So since I can’t leave a note in her locker I’ll make her a mix tape. And my biggest struggles today will be which Smiths song to choose, and does she like that new band INXS, while not choosing a Cure song (yet). And when I’m done, I’ll put that mix tape in a box in my closet with all the other tapes I never had to courage to give.

Cause I’m 15. Quiet, shy, broken, you know– weird.

And Abby likes strong, brave, funny, athletic types (damn you Erik Lee!) But unlike when I was 15, I won’t agonize and worry anymore. I’ll enjoy the process, the journey. Sometimes building the fort is better than playing in it. And who knows, maybe when I learn to drive, get that job, get that mix tape just right I’ll ask Abby to the Fall dance. And I’ll get that first kiss. Maybe I’ll get the courage to ask her.

Or maybe I just did.

 

A message:

Ok. I’ll try to be brief. I’ve been informed my ‘positivity posts’ are ‘a bit much.’ As someone battling a rough illness and spending most of my time alone, unable to do much, I spend a lot of time trying to find something positive to do. I have TV, my phone, my computer, and Spotify. So I can be sad and feel sorry for myself or find the beauty in sports, art, music, and humor. And sometimes I choose to share it. I don’t do it for ‘clicks’ or ‘likes’ but to feel like I might be connecting with someone out there. Ultimately, my goals are to stand on my own, walk out of this apartment on my own, get back to ‘real life’ and maybe find true love.

Fortunately, I have this medium and I have you.

I don’t waste my time praying for miracles. But I do try to live a life worthy of one. And I try to exude love and positivity. This is my life now and I appreciate and love every fucking second of it.

 

I’ve decided I want to get a therapy dog. I just need to find one that doesn’t have to be walked, doesn’t poop, and will never die.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Un-hip in Chicago

Bernie and I went to Chicago last weekend for another meeting (read: cocktails, yummy food, and plastic surgery pow-wow-ing). Ostensibly, these mavens of microsurgery were assembling to discuss research and stuff. Could they have hammered out logistics over a conference call? Maybe. But thing is, these incredible surgeons–the reconstructive geniuses you need when a shark bites you, cancer ravages you, or when you literally fall on your face—is a tight knit group. Over the years, we’ve logged many hours in hotel lobby bars, guzzled gallons of mediocre wine at “gala” dinners, and attended scientific meetings at finer resorts everywhere to keep abreast of an ever-advancing field. The plastic surgeons I know are wicked smart and quite a bit of fun, and I was only too happy to see a handful of my favorites.

So Bernie and I flew to one of my fave cities where they put us up at the tragically hip Virgin Hotels. We knew right away we were two decades too old for this scene. After our eyes adjusted to the nightclub-dark check-in desk, we were greeted by young men with alarming facial hair, giant ear holes, and man buns. The couple in front of us was dressed for Burning Man and had two skittish dogs wary of the funereal foyer. Behind us, another dude with a messy, high ponytail and a large guitar case waited to be greeted with how awesome it was that we were there, no worries, alright, niiiiiice, etc.

Bernie and I giggled the entire wall-to-ceiling carpeted elevator ride to our room. Virgin Hotels beds are ultra modern, white leather creations with a raised lip at one of the corners. Our inner 8 year olds immediately imagined Superfly Snuka. I suggested it was for lounge-reading; Bernie proposed something more… gymnastic. I doubted they ever Chlorox wiped the leather. Moving on…

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After a grown up dinner at Smith & Wollensky’s, we braved the roof deck bar back at the hip hotel. I love chatting up strangers. So I did. Chicago is really the best. Sharing cocktails in an upbeat, cooler-than-us spot with a racially diverse crowd doesn’t really happen in Boston. What struck me the most were the ladies. Oh, the ladies. I’d forgotten what it was like to go to a bar on a Friday night in my 20s: hair up, body perky, the swagger of youth and beauty. Back then I loved chatting up strangers, too. So I did. But these gals? No engagement at all.

“You look gorgeous,” I said to the 14th flawless millennial attempting an identical selfie as her parade of friends at the very same railing. She looked at me like I had just asked her for a tampon. Oh, dear. I’m old, hideous, and embarrassing. But I am me, so that thought didn’t take hold for very long and I continued making more friends out of strangers. We closed that place down.

The next morning, Bernie was off to be bow-tied and collaborative at the meeting, so I grabbed my book and attempted to nurse a minor, but still-needing-hash-browns Prosecco hangover at Miss Ricky’s, which is like a diner that spent one semester at Parsons. Outside, young people sat in actual swings as they ate avocado toast. I ordered coffee. The wait staff couldn’t have been nicer, but were more likely hired for their cool cred and sleeve tattoos than any sort of, you know, wait staff experience. Here’s how it went:

Waitress: Anyone help you yet?
Me: Hi! Nope. But I just want the breakfast sandwich. Scrambled egg.
W: Did you want The Wabash?

*scans menu where there is no such thing*

Me: I don’t know what that is.
W: Oh it’s like the breakfast sandwich but it has this kind of hot sauce.
Me: Got it. It’s not on the menu, though.

*still scanning menu where there is no Wabash but there is a breakfast sandwich*

W: So did you want The Wabash?
Me: I don’t really know what that is.
W: Oh, it must be on the lunch menu or something. Do you want me to get that?

Me: No, it’s alright, I’ll just have the breakfast sandwich that’s on the menu.

W: Ok. With the fried egg?

Me: Scrambled.
W: Oh, right. Should I put the hot sauce on the side?
Me: … sure.

A few minutes later: an oozing fried egg topped with sausage on an enormous hamburger bun. And two bottles of hot sauce. On the side. This would be decadently delicious for most, but I abhor fried eggs. Hated them since I was a kid. Not changing. They’re gross. Giggling, I ordered the check and laughed louder when it arrived:

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I swear, The Wabash is nowhere on the menu. But I paid for it and left a weirdly large tip because sometimes that is fun to do. Moving forward, I’ll probably call any restaurant blunder a “Wabash.” She should get royalties for that. Maybe I’ve already become an odd anecdote in Veronique’s life: the blonde mom who laughed at her uneaten breakfast and left a wad of cash.

Virgin Hotels didn’t really want us to eat. (Maybe most guests are too busy with, um, that bed.) The next morning I ordered oatmeal that said it would arrive with “all the trimmings.” Sadly, “all the trimmings” meant “just raisins” which are only a half step above fried egg on the gross scale. Luckily, Chicago is bursting with incredible restaurants and we never leave there without going to the Slurping Turtle. Only the Lees would go to Chicago to eat sushi and ramen instead of pizza pie. But Slurping Turtle never disappoints. And after slurping, we saw all of the things that make Chicago so fun to visit.

And later… a yummy dinner that wasn’t a total Wabash. Love you, Chicago!

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?