Something We Can Do

I should never have agreed to the playdate. I loathe playdates. And by conveniently dropping two boys onto the planet in such quick succession, I find playdates unnecessary as Pete and Repeat here adequately amuse and abuse each other. But Teddy is goofy, funny, and popular and little Matty wrote him a starring role in his new “show” and had been looking forward to script re-writes and set design for the whole week. Try as I might to pull one of my typical last minute cancels, even I couldn’t disappoint a little boy who writes “shows.”

But then on Friday afternoon, Teddy was headed somewhere else, when all I wanted (needed) to do was squeeze both of my boys and shuttle them safely into our house. On the day when all of us were holding back tears of sadness and rage and fear at bus stops and pick-up lines, feeling relief (and guilt?) over seeing our kids alive and well, and searching for any explanation that could satisfy children with devastating questions, my littlest one was at a fucking playdate.

Of course he was quite safe, and fed delicious food by a doting mom who texted me pictures of unharmed, happy boys (after the frantic messages, emails, and phone calls requesting proof of Teddy’s well-being). That night, like every other parent in the world, we did multiple checks on sleeping kids, feeling so lucky (guilty?) at the privilege of our safe haven in a shattered world.

Last night, it became clear that I would have to explain Newtown to my kids. Teddy reported on the formation of The Security News Team at recess yesterday. Apparently, one of the second graders, with limited access to televised sports on a school night, was able to switch to the news channel when his mom was around the corner, and so had some information to impart to the Team. The fact that these 8 year olds have the wherewithal to know not only that something dreadful has happened, but also that we’re trying to shield them from it, and that they’re looking for answers ON THE NEWS was all at once awful and adorable. Teddy said the Security News Team intended to do its own investigative reporting (apparently by sneaking access to TV and the internet on a school night) and then share intelligence at recess. They are as desperate to make sense of this as we are.

So began the discussion so many of you have had with your own children by now. Brodie hid tears, Teddy wanted to assess his own personal risk, and we all agreed that this is the most awful thing that has happened in our country since 9/11. They took a modicum of comfort in the idea that someone so mentally unwell would have no idea that what he was doing was real—that certainly no one could be evil enough to harm children. But Teddy was stuck on the unfairness of kids “who will never get to grow up and get to be anything.” It was a night that required more than a modicum of red wine.

The boys wanted me to linger in their room at bedtime, needing to hear more explanations, needing to feel safe. Brodie found a prayer book (left by Zealot Sister) and offered to read one aloud that he said was “exactly for today.” Somehow, my little 9 year old boy landed on a Rose Sunday, Advent prayer in honor of Mary. A mother… His Mother. And even with its biblical language asking for intersession and whatnot, I think they got the gist: these moms need prayers, and this is something we can do. Teddy would also like “…for guns to be illegal for everyone but police and people in wars.” But we’ll start with prayer, because it’s something we can do.

 

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Hair

Every day begins as a really bad hair day. (Every day also begins as a really good hair day, as the key to good hair is having it.) But now that I’m in the Hairdo With No Name phase, morning bedhead is alarming enough to start Bernie’s day with a good chuckle. Last night, Brodie noticed that my hair finally resembles the pre-chemo cut, and he giggled while he ran his hands through it because Mommy With Crazy Hair is apparently hilarious. Teddy wants to know when my hair will be long again. Like, exactly-put-it-on-the-calendar when? All of these mane musings remind me that my boys (like me) haven’t entirely put this behind them, and that maybe they’re sensing (like me) the Big Bummer Anniversary.

But instead of waxing maudlin about life changing, terrifying Cancer stories, I’ll share a picture that elicited Bernie’s trademark, Scooby Doo sniggering last night:

What Bernie thinks of my current hairdo.

What Bernie thinks of my current hairdo.

Yup. That’s familiar. And vain as I am, I’m finding it difficult to look chic when I cannot escape the trappings of a teenager in 1961. I should don swirly skirts, sweater sets, cat-eye glasses, and all the spunky cheer of a girl that says, “golly.” And in a few months I will be trying to match an outfit to this hairdo from 1977:

Many hours logged under a hot hairbrush for this look.

Many hours logged under a hot hairbrush for this look.

Over the next year, I’m bound to post many complaints as Britt’s Phylogeny of Hair pauses for a few weeks at every calamitous coiffe I ever sported. Who knew that after the year I’ve had, and the body parts I’ve lost, the thing I’d want most for Christmas is… a ponytail?

Because I’ve mentioned it a million times, you know that I am the Christmas Market co-chair at the Church of the Redeemer (insert link to mass schedules, Lessons and Carols, and other sneaky evangelism). My main job is to recruit local jewelers, clothiers, toy makers, chocolate bakers, fancy towel embroiderers, and the like to peddle their wares in our undercroft… and pocket 15% of their sales to distribute to wonderful causes. Many of the returning vendors were aware of my Big Crappy Year, and so when they arrived for the 2012 Market, did what any loving, caring salesperson would do: they gave me free stuff. I left with chocolate Santas, a preppy tie, heavily discounted cashmere, a gorgeous breast-cancer-pink pearl necklace, and… a hat.

You might think I’d welcome a new hat, having grown quite tired of mine, and enduring a series of unwelcome hairstyles for the foreseeable future. But you’d be wrong. I’ll never wear a hat again. I’m hoping for another mild winter so that the freezing bus stop will not require this woolen reminder of fear, ugliness, and death. But when my sweet, darling mohair purveyor urged me to choose between a beanie and a beret, I was flummoxed. I should have admitted then and there my aversion to this accessory, but I didn’t want to answer her sweet gesture with a lecture from an ingrate with more post-traumatic stress than hair. Instead, I chose politeness over cancer-y gift suggestions, and I ended up with this:

Does this hat make me look cancerous?

Does this hat make me look cancerous?

Try as I might to snap a grumpy picture of me at my Marge Simpson best, I cannot pretend for even one iPhoto second that this thing doesn’t make me laugh. And though I don’t recommend this as a freebie to any pink be-ribboned girl, it has provided more than a few giggles during Big Bummer Anniversary week when we’re all a bit fixated on last year. Also, this fuzzy blue abomination does a wonderful job of making my hair seem quite fabulous in comparison. And for his Scooby Doo sniggering last night as he uploaded this Parent Trap still to poke fun at my not-quite-Hamill-hair… payback will be a pic of Bernie in this beanie.

 

 

Girlfriends

Another entry from Steve Safran, whose honesty and humor just make for good writing. As you’ll read below, there was a recent reunion of old college friends. One topic we discussed at some length was Divorce (affecting two of us). I maintain that (my) Cancer is easier. I got medicine, love, and support… and better. Divorce is a Death. And unfortunately, Stevie has no band of churchy ladies making him casseroles. But what he does have is Friends… and now, probably more than one short-skirted reader wanting to join his harem of gal pals.

THE FEMALE FRIEND HITCH, by Steve Safran

My female-to-male friend ratio has always been askew. Many hours have been devoted to this topic, as well as many jealous and defensive exchanges between me and the wife/girlfriend/dinner date who questioned my fondness for an evening of estrogen fueled conversations with the smart, funny gal pals in my life. I fail to see anything wrong with it– I desperately love my friends and don’t really care which naughty bits they happen to be wearing.

My appeal to the ladies began in high school, when I became that guy—the one that girls went to for advice. At first, this was an honor. Surely they are asking me for guidance for I, Steve, am the keeper of all knowledge about men! I am hairy chested and can drink a beer! I, dear girl, will tell you how to snare that guy who treats you so very… badly.

Once would have been a mere data point. Twice, a coincidence. But, as we say in news, three times is a trend. (Four is a special series and Five is a terrible, prime-time documentary.) By the time I had worked my way into Ken Burns-length territory, I started to suspect other motives were at play. Those girls thought I was… safe. Which as all men know, is the ultimate foil for any sort of back of the Honda action.

I’m a drama geek who loves Sondheim. I was in Gilbert & Sullivan. Never the romantic lead, I still embraced my comic relief roles with silly costume and goofy accent aplomb. But this was the ’80s, people. A weakness for the high school stage was code for “queer.” Now, I am pleased to see openly gay students with their own, acronymed clubs at my daughter’s high school. Suddenly, gay is…hip? But in Wayland, Mass., in 1984, it most surely was not. In fact, it was so not hip that I was fag-bashed despite my best efforts to be cool. A musical theater dork with no, real girlfriend? FAG! Close enough.

But this isn’t about any of that.

It’s been a bad two weeks in Depression Land, Population Me, though my friends have rallied like crazy. (Crazy being a terrible choice of words for a man with depression.) Britt, Debbie, Chris, Jason and Tony all came by for a “Let’s dress nicely and have cocktails party.” It was a fun night: all of us dressing up, eating fancy cheeses, re-hashing the past, and drunk dialing Britt’s ex-boyfriends. The guys are cool, but Deb and Britt are equally suited to the task of hanging out. And honestly, they look a little better in short skirts than Bruce Willis-channeling Tony, or Jason: everyone’s favorite Orthodox Jew. Lately, as I stew around in what Britt calls my Big Boo Hoo Disease, I welcome both perspectives.

Well-meaning email from female friend: “I am here for you forever and always. Please always remember that. You are so so so wonderful, caring and kind hearted.”

Well-meaning email from male friend: “Alright, you fucking lunatic, CUT THE CRAP.”

Really, they both say love.

I dated a woman recently who rightly asked “Well, isn’t the idea to marry your best friend?” Unfortunately, to me that smacks of saccharine idealism masking the real question, “Why do you need other women in your life besides your wife?” But I never saw it as a one-or-the-other. Women have given me excellent advice over the years made even more persuasive because it came from a chick. Your spouse is your spouse, but your (girl)friends are your consultants, uniquely qualified for all sorts of advice on what makes relationships work– or how you’re screwing them up.

But I’m not that much of an idiot. And I know that my platonic relationships hurt my ex-wife as she wondered what you’re probably wondering: Why not confide in her, instead? And how hot are these “platonic” girlfriends, anyway? I just happen to like getting the woman’s view of things. Guys: well, we’re idiots. We will never go much deeper than the bottle of whiskey. And though there is always time for that kind of bonding here in Depression Land, it’s my “girl” friends that are a bit more helpful in the “remind me how it’s possible I’m not as bad as The Big Boo Hoo Disease tells me I am.”

In The Post Divorce Reboot, I am going to be radically honest from the start. These are my Friends: male, female, cancerous, depressed, bald, short, talented, uncoordinated, drunk, funny, suited up, dressed down, and… Mine. They are who they are; and who they are is also a little part of me. A little bent, a little damaged. Friends.

Tony and Jason at Trinity, circa 1991. Friends... with hair.

Tony and Jason at Trinity, circa 1991. Though our friendships have endured… their awesome hair has not.

Christmas Cards

The Lee Family Christmas cards are in a pile waiting for addresses and Santa stamps and happy little words to sum up an entire year. I relish this task because I never do Christmas cards without a festive musical and champagne bubbly accompaniment. Also, I sort of delight in those moments when I think about the people on my list, the ones in my heart, (and the ones who sent me a card last year). I love holiday cards more than Christmas itself. Birth announcements, children getting cute, then all gawky, then cute again, long-winded essays about medical ailments and grandchild accomplishments, hey-we’re-on-a-boat!/ski-lift!/gondola!, card stock, theme stamps… the whole shebang.

To illustrate how freakishly fond I am of the ritual, I’ll share the fact that I send out 250 of them. I realize that because I am neither popular nor employed nor a Kennedy, this makes me ridiculous. But if I have your address, you’re getting the 2012 version of Brodie Hugs Teddy. And after the year I’ve had, and all of the resulting new friends in the worlds of Medicine, and Cancer, and Church, I’ll be spending more on stamps than Nerf Darts this month. These cards are another opportunity to pen a little thank you to anyone I might have forgotten. But as I look at the gigantic stack of Brodie Hugs Teddy, I’m wondering about the cards that go out to my thesis advisor, or great Aunt Pat, or my lab partner—the people who don’t… KNOW.

Although I love love love love long, single-spaced, tell-all, bragging, and even boring holiday card letter inserts, I am personally opposed to writing one. This is because I feel quite obligated to mock any holly-sprig-bordered form letter that flutters out of a lined envelope. It’s possibly the least Christian thing I do (another lie, I’m perfectly dreadful about plenty of other things), but I am unable to refrain from poking fun at a perfectly pleasant summation of a year. I find it great fun to read what someone deemed holiday-card worthy to share. Last year, great Aunt Pat’s was a dry memo about the inevitability of assisted living; a more distant-than-close acquaintance sent everyone on his list comprehensive beach house renovation details; one year my sister-in-law’s letter had a picture of her pool house, my children, and her uterus; and everyone gets at least one note with lots!! of !!! exclamation!!!! points!!!!! bordered with thirty-eight thumbnail pics of kids-on-holiday in addition to the twenty scanned onto the card, itself. (You know I adore it, Kir.)

But after a lifetime of gleeful giggling over Christmas letters, I’m wondering if Happy Holidays from the Lees! requires my own embarrassing missive on theme paper. It’s quite possible that my old boss (and everyone else who isn’t on Facebook) will just assume that I grew tired of long, awesome hair and chose to embrace a practical mom style. But in the spirit of (over) sharing, maybe these old friends would want to know what happened to us this year? In the end, I’ll err on the side of a simple signature, as every attempt to write one of these things is dreadful. I should really subcontract this out to Steve Safran, because this is what I’ve got:

Merry Christmas! We’re happy to see 2012 pass. Britt was diagnosed with breast cancer and slogged through the usual drill of surgery and poisons, wigs and hats, Holy Spirit shout-outs and blogging. Sending happy, haired messages of thankfulness and love from our home to yours.

Nearly Happy Holidays from the Lees. 2012 was a terrifying year for us. Frankly, we’re a little mystified why so many of you shun social networking, thus necessitating a holiday insert about Cancer. You can read all about it at http://www.eastmeetsbreast.com, but realize some of you are too busy/important/cool/retro to read about Britt’s Tragedy online. We hope you enjoy a Cancer Free Christmas.

Happy Holidays from the Lees! Britt had breast cancer! But now she’s fine!! Everything is great!!! Yay!!!!!

So I think I’ll keep Cancer out of the Christmas card.

Today at Bible study (yes, BIBLE STUDY), one lovely lady shared that she prays for each person on her list as she addresses her Christmas card envelopes. I love that image, and hope it’s one that rings with you, too… in whatever form prayer takes as you shovel stacks of letter-pressed and offspring-adorned cards into the post. I’ll be sending out 250 cosmic messages of love along with my Brodie Hugs Teddy. And all I want in return is some truly tell-all, boastful, misspelled missives peppered with alots. As crap 2012 comes to a close, I deserve a good giggle.

One of many Brodie Hugs Teddy captured by www.drewwiedemann.com/family

One of many Brodie Hugs Teddy captured by http://www.drewwiedemann.com/family

The Millers: Part Two

I’m probably too pooped to be amusing. Luckily, there’s Maida. All writers should have a Maida. Endless material.

The Millers returned to their winter home in California last week, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye in person. As the Christmas Market co-chair at my church, I spent the entire week preparing for this annual event, doing the things that churchy do-gooders do for these shoppy fair thingies. But while I was running around the undercroft with good, Christian women, the Millers were packing up to leave the cold weather (and us) behind for good. Stressed with the work of it all and upset about leaving her cherished home, Maida left without her usual excitement about heading west. She left without the comfort of knowing her house would be waiting for her in the spring. She left without her purse.

I wonder how many travelers were delayed behind the Millers as Maida convinced TSA agents that she wasn’t a terrorist using a 1975 passport and her considerable powers of persuasion. Gabbing on the phone like BFFs who ignore all notions of the terminal F, I was treated to the funny details of ancients-in-air that probably weren’t so hilarious to the poor flight attendants. Maida is also so angry with her husband for planning to sell the house that she’s threatening divorce. “But FIRST, Britta, I’m going to need face lift!” I love that age is unable to tame the spunk of that gal. Someday, I hope to be a flirty octogenarian who can get onto the jetway using only my charm and a library card.

Liberal Joe (in a post-election departure from super fabulous, lefty political rants) recently blogged about spending some time with a crowd of extreme elders, and how that sucked in a going-to-be-me-soon kind of way. Glimpsing a relatively imminent and inevitable drooling decrepitude is unsettling. We all want to hold on to our beauty, our dignity, and our bowels. But the Millers consistently remind me of the Powerball fortune of longevity, as my own remains in constant query.

I’ll lead with the very good news that the lump was benign: basic scar tissue with nary a rogue cell in the mix. But just in time to taint Thanksgiving with a touch of terror, Bernie noticed a bump– a bump exactly where my cancer originated. But no matter where I get lumpy, from now until The End, any teeny bulge necessitates a biopsy, and a pathologist decides if I get to keep all of this fabulous hair. Bah. But I’ll happily endure these mini-dramas, these additional little pokes and prods and scars, if it means I can see the boys go to college, or watch them wait nervously at the end of an aisle, or hold their own, fractionally Asian kids. I just want to grow old and fall down stairs with Bernie.

Last night, we unlocked the Miller home and by the light of their 20-watt bulbs, found Maida’s purse where she always puts it after a (failed) attempt to pay me for eggs, or milk, or vodka. There in the dim light, I could almost see the house through Maida’s eyes and felt sad for her loss. And if her style of fierce, loyal love is the key to staying power on this planet, then I’m going to be just fine. We have this in common, me and Maida—a tenacious glass-half-full-ness in spite of scary lumps or removable teeth.

I hope these little saucy broad vignettes might be a bit of a foil to the daunting detection of mortality Joe faced on the arrival of his 70th birthday (still a youngster!). My dad always says, “Dying is really going to piss me off.” He doesn’t want to miss the party. But for people like my Dad, or Joe, and especially Maida, the bar is still open and the band is just getting to the good songs. In her 90th decade, and with nearly 60 years between us, Maida and I became friends. Good stuff lies ahead for those of us with the gift of time. Still grateful about my pathology report, I’d like to think the quality of that gift doesn’t depend on my dependence on Depends®. Let’s just all grow old and fall down the stairs together.

JOE BURKE

Liberal Joe… who will never be old.