The Escalator

I have great sympathy for people who have toddlers. And when I’m out and about in the world, if I see one of these teeny, crumb-encrusted humans, I’ll smile and cluck and then thank my lucky stars I’m not pushing that Pseudomonas-slimed grocery cart fire truck. Anyone who has attempted it knows that shopping with these moody, unpredictable people extends the errand by four-and-a-half hours. I’ve written it before, and three sentences attest, that I prefer to avoid small children. I assert that miniature, pre-verbal people spend the entire day trying to die, and it is the unlucky responsibility of the attending adult to thwart their efforts. Luckily, we’re largely successful… and then after they’re asleep (and the adult has consumed four glasses of wine) it’s all cute and hilarious.

Yesterday I watched a mother of two little (suicidal) boys tempt the fates in a moment of desperation. Blinded by desire to get the hell out of the grocery store, she shouldered eight overflowing, reusable totes and let her sons brave the escalator without handholding. I’d give the four year old an 8.2 on his dismount. Mom managed to hold onto her bundles as she quickly pivoted to offer her tiny toddler encouragement: “Come on, honey… just step off!” which he translated as “sit down and back away from the finger-eating edge.” Riding behind this trio, I saw how this would unfold, so had already freed up a hand to rescue the snow-suited, supine child from a certain trip to the emergency room.

My reward for saving the fingertips of this adorable towheaded boy? Screams. Red-faced wailing. Of course, I thought, he’s scared and a weird lady just picked him up. But that really wasn’t it… because toddlers are insane. “He doesn’t like to be ‘helped,’” his mother explained (still holding her groceries). Utterly embarrassed, she enters Responsible Public Mom Mode wherein she’s trying to urge the irrational screamer to say, “thank you.” Now I’m trapped in her parenting moment. And as my frozens soften, we’re all stuck in the grocery store vestibule in a ridiculous toddler tango:

“Say thank you to the nice lady.”

“NO!”

“It’s OK, really, happy to help.”

“She was so nice to help you.”

“WAAAAAHHHH!”

“I have two boys… and at this age, they’re always trying to die. It’s exhausting.”

“SAY THANK YOU!”

“NO!”

“Um… he’s so cute… bye!”

My now 9-year-old was just like that kid. Bull-headed as Bill Maher on religion, he hated any sort of change, or moments without Mommy, or help (“I do it! Self!”). Brodie’s moods were controlled by a switch operated by the Devil. I rationalized it as a “phase,” but the ugly truth was that I was scared of my own child. And though I always adored, loved, and worshipped him, at the time, I didn’t really like him that much. Enter Zealot Sister. Paige observed the pattern I had cowered into (avoid, deflect, ignore, appease) and with big-sisterly authority, told me I was losing a war to a three-year-old, and ruining him in the process. Within a few days she had enacted strict punishments for parental defiance, more restricted access to Mommy as she forced him into small moments of independence, and a sticker system for “good days.” Wouldn’t it be a lovely story if that worked? Well, it did… but so did locking him in a cold garage with the threat of spiders. I’m not kidding. For some children, three minutes on the stairs isn’t going to cut it.

Now that they’re older (and saner) I enjoy my kids much, much more. But now I’m faced with tween-ager insubordination that requires a different sort of parental beat-down that I haven’t practiced. There’s no more red-faced wailing to discourage, but tiny moments of sneaky rebellion where I think They Ought to Know Better. Teddy’s become a total asshole in the classroom… loudly complaining that the math is “ugh… sooooo easy.” Granted, if your kid is going to get in trouble at school, this is the Asian way to do it. (A Ma tells me Bernie used to correct his teachers all the time.) Wailing escalator boy reminded me that though I smugly sashay through stores unencumbered by sticky succubusses, I’ve got so much more work to do to make sure Brodie and Teddy don’t grow up to be insufferable. Wailing escalator boy reminded me it takes friends (and sometimes strangers) to encourage me to remain vigilant. Wailing escalator boy made me miss Zealot Sister.

Combing the internet I cannot find a single depiction of a little BOY riding safely…

**Elevator safety caveat: any plastic surgeon or hand surgeon or ER doc will tell you that the escalator eats baby fingers. Be careful out there.

Advertisements

License to an uncertain future

Like all formerly bald people, I have a standing appointment with the oncologist. Today I arrived for my semiannual weights and measures with the usual amount of dread. Sure these checkups are routine, fairly non-invasive, and perfectly pleasant. But I cannot trick myself out of the actual reason for the visit: has it come back? “Do you have any pain?” is a simple enough question. But any forty-ish mom whose iron has been paying rent to the car and dog for two hours is in agony if she attempts to spring from the floor to fetch a ringing phone.

I'm always iron. If I can't be the iron, I don't really want to play.

I’m always iron. If I can’t be the iron, I don’t really want to play.

Sadly, all of my benign groans and creaks now echo a possibility of metastatic disease. My darling doctor assured me that this paranoia diminishes over time, though that’s difficult to imagine after an hour in a waiting room staring at knit caps pulled over hairless brows. Finding me rather spry and not at all lumpy, I was released from the 9th floor with a hug and a promise: by next year, I might go an entire day without thinking (or writing) about it. I don’t quite believe her, but then again, I have a Cancer blog to maintain and another ten years of quibbling with CVS pharmacists.

You might think it’s impossible to put a fun spin on this, but I’m annoyingly upbeat, and there’s another hour before the bus returns small children to my care. In fact, I have something fabulous on the horizon: getting a new driver’s license picture! Because my inability to be photogenic is at odds with my boundless vanity, I’ve been hiding this picture for the past decade:

Glowing... not in a good way.

Glowing… not in a good way.

Well, sort of hiding it. Actually, not hiding it at all. It is so phenomenally bad, that I enjoy whipping it out and bragging about the unbeatable awfulness of this DMV-immortalized Britt, circa 2003:

“Can you believe Bernie married this girl?”
“Yup, that’s my native nose.”
“Nine months pregnant… and I only gained 60 pounds!”

But the next time I return to the 9th floor, I’ll sashay in with much prettier proof that I am Britt Lee, reporting for TumorWatch. (In my mind, I sashay everywhere as my primary mode of transportation.) It’s unimaginable to think I can’t improve on this expiring license photo, and heartening to think I look better after two kids and Cancer than this swollen, 31-year old gal—even if I still envy her long locks and soccer-free Saturdays.

Today, as I giggled for the umpteenth time at the Uncomfortably Pregnant Girl on my ID, I realized that in spite of it all, I’m happier now. Don’t get me wrong: this is no Cancer-is-a-blessing ditty. I’m just so relieved not to be that sweaty girl looking at four consecutive years of diaper changing. And with odds in my favor (luck-on-my-side?) maybe I’ll have the luxury of analyzing the one-year-out paranoia of 40ish Britt with 50-year-old wisdom. Maybe I’ll admire her unflippable hair with nostalgia, and envy her simpler life before little boys had chin stubble and car keys. Maybe by then I’ll be able to look forward more than a handful of holidays without superstition or fear. Maybe I’ll go a full day without thinking (or writing) about it. Maybe there are so many more licenses to renew.

Atheist Jew Meets Churchy Jesus Girl: a discussion

Steve is a non-religious Jew, and I am an observant Episcopalian, but we both value irreverence. Recently, Stevie wrote this to me in an email:

“As you might guess, the only thing I know about Vestry is that the word ‘rector’ is hilarious. I would love to sit down and discuss religion with you at some point. Religious discussions in this country are all about ‘me versus you, and I’m right.’ People who are religious genuinely fascinate me. I often envy them their beliefs. However I tend to infuriate the believers, with my rampant joke-laden atheism.”

Steve drafted a list of topics, and we both promised not to get all huffy. What follows is a transcript of our virtual “sit down.” I hope we don’t offend, and that maybe you’ll share your take on God, Life, and Whatnot, too.

ON ONE’S RELIGION:

STEVE:
I call myself very Jewish and not religious. That’s what I like about Judaism. It’s à la carte. My Bar Mitzvah was in a Unitarian church because my temple was still under construction. I call myself a “Jewnatarian.” If I were Christian, I’d go with Unitarianism. It’s hip to say “I’d like to be Buddhist,” but that requires meditation, and there’s stuff on TV.

BRITT:
I like Jewnatarian. Unitarians don’t subscribe to a divine Jesus, seeing Him more like a moral Michael Jordan: a bit super-human in his awesomeness, and thus, someone to emulate. Being Jewish is a birthright you cannot escape… but God gifted His chosen people with good bagels, Yiddish-spewing grandparent hilarity, and irrepressibly sexy teenage girls. Adding the “religious” component of Being Jewish with all that Hebrew-learning and rule-following is exhausting, and gets in the way of a good bacon cheeseburger. So although Zealot Sister will balk at your à la carte approach to religion, as… well… not very religious, I understand being choosy. I found all of the beauty and tradition of the Catholic Church over in the pews with the Episcopalians. But this crowd of Christians aims for the broadest interpretation of Scripture to include all of us… especially our fabulous gay friends.

LOVE

We believe in One Holy Catholic (meaning everyone) and apostolic Church. It’s right there in The Creed… and I wear a cross to remind me of The Big Picture. Being a responsible “religious” person also means a perpetual auditing of Bible 101. Only by attending Church and Bible study sessions can we learn what God’s teaching means in this world. The Bible was never meant to be studied in isolation. Faith needn’t be blind, and for thoughtful people, “religiousity” will likely wax and wane.

STEVE:
I followed your first paragraph, but you lost me on the second. Why must one attend a given building and the meetings therein to relate to meaning in the world? It’s true, Judaism has the whole Talmudic tradition. But even there, the goal isn’t to find answers – it’s to ask more questions. It’s nice to be part of a faith where a perfectly good “answer” ends with the suffix “-ish.”

BRITT:
I don’t want to lose you. One mustn’t do anything to know God! However, to understand how Bible teachings relate to today (or to your life), that is most responsibly done with some sort of guidance– maybe from someone with a PhD and a snazzy white collar? An example: with sufficient smarts and determination, one could possibly learn everything a medical student learns… but would you go to the “homeschooled” doctor? Why should the study of a religious practice be any different?

ON FAITH:

BRITT:
Faith is the sticky wicket. For those of us who claim to be religious, it would seem that Faith should be as constant as a heartbeat. But, it’s not. The religious people I relate to (drink with) tend to work on this part the hardest. On the other hand, those with the arrogance to dismiss Faith entirely sound sadly unenlightened to me (this article in particular drives me bonkers “Why I Raise My Children Without God“) Those with no Faith at all should be a great deal funnier about it. Also, many of these same people sanction Santa and tooth fairy lies with a near religious zeal. Admittedly, if you think they’re all fiction, you gotta go with the ones that deliver iPhones and cash.

STEVE:
I don’t know if we’re funnier, but we do have more fun. Why is religion so full of rules against fun? Plus they are so anti-women. The Catholic Church won’t allow female priests– or contraception. No premarital sex. And as anyone who has had post-marital sex will tell you, if you can’t have premarital sex, there’s not much left on your horizon. Jews kept the women upstairs in the sanctuary before they realized “Hey– there’s women here. Maybe get them a seat we should?” Then there are the religions that, well, you know, kill the women for behaving like women and… why isn’t Britt making this argument?

BRITT:
The topic here is Faith, not Religious Rules. So, here’s a quote from a rabbi: “Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that there is even the slightest chance that there is a God. Then wouldn’t learning about Him be the most important thing to do?” The key here is learning. That’s why I go to Church: to learn, even if what I take away on any given Sunday is something-ish.

I have little faith in a community that scorns Faith: even a faith-less community is more agreeable one that is all shout-y and against it. Religion attempts to access Truth as much as science does, just with fewer t-tests and, unfortunately, more than a handful of loud, unreliable reviewers.

But please don’t caught up in arbitrary rules of religions you don’t study! The Catholic Church, at times, leans more heavily toward tradition than Scripture. So what? You’re not Catholic. Leave them be to have all of their married sex and gazillion babies. It’s not your religion. In our country, women have the luxury of finding a religion that honors their participation. I cannot explain why Zealot Sister chooses to follow such difficult rules any more than I can explain why Jason (our favorite Orthodox Jew) has two sets of plates. I don’t know enough about any religion to criticize people who follow them, but I have great respect for Zealot Sister and Jason who study their religions and try their best to honor their guidelines.

The rules are easy targets for dismissal of Faith, so let’s be clear: The Bible is not a rule book, but a record of God’s presence and the life of Jesus. Paul offers this regarding strict adherence to dietary guidelines (e.g., arbitrary rules): “eat the food or not, as you please, but give no offense to others and do all for the glory of God.” You do your thing, I’ll do mine, and let there be no quibbling. I like that.

ON LIFE:

STEVE:
A considerable improvement on the alternative, but in need of a rewrite.

BRITT:
Really, Stevie… On Life? All I know is that those Life Is Good products are more irritating than people who can’t shut up about politics. I have no idea why this condescendingly simple message delights the masses… and yet a God is Good coffee mug would have people giving wide berth around your cubicle. And isn’t there all sorts of “life” that is no good at all? Mushy brain on a ventilator? Not so good. No stick figure t-shirt for that.

This is so, so wrong... so obviously I think it's oddly funny.

I imagine Jesus is wicked funny, totally has this t-shirt, and looks great in yellow.

I also tend to think a little God infusion wouldn’t hurt when someone’s Life seems empty, sad, broken, ill fated, unfairly difficult, or about to end. I don’t believe prayers are answered, exactly, but moments of real humility on my knees asking for guidance have been instructive to me. And if you feel it, the Holy Spirit is fantastic at reminding you of the beauty and connectivity of the Life in all of us. What makes this worldview palatable (and you and me friends) is admitting that people who talk like this sound utterly insane.

STEVE:
OK, even I should have been less flip. Life is pretty great. Neat stuff. Arrogant to think that we’re the center of it and that we’re the only ones who invented the sandwich. For every billion planets, I bet there are thousand variations on corned beef. Some may be silicon based, but even a, well, sand-based sandwich could work.

There are still religions that insist that you take literally that we are the center of the universe. Or – again – they will kill you. Just try to get corned beef then. Even dry corned beef.

A sandwich-eating alien is only ever one click away.

On her planet, she’s the Queen of Sandwich… and a Lutheran.

ON DEATH:

STEVE:
The end. Game over. Not to happen again. Like being asleep, except without worrying about forgetting about finals. Kind of the ultimate final, actually. Terrible invention. That’s what I mean about needing a rewrite.

BRITT:
Oh, Steve. I hate that I agree with you here. But then my Faith creeps in (and also C.S. Lewis with The Great Divorce) with the slimmest possibility of something more. Scientist Britt can’t argue it well, though.

ON GOD’S LOVE

BRITT:
Cathy George, our rector (hee hee) advised us at Lenten time not fixate on trying to be holy. “You are already holy.” God’s love makes us holy, and God loves all of us. A Ma often cites evidence of God’s love for our family, but I don’t think that way. Good luck is not God’s love. There’s no such thing as circumstantial confirmation that we’re in good with The Big Guy. God’s love is constant, and the proof we’re looking for when our Faith is flagging. For me, it’s something I actually feel. Unfortunately bad writers have been making believers sound stupid and corny for ages (like this nonsense).

STEVE:
I don’t like it when people shoehorn “God” as a metaphor into things. As in “‘God’ is really about the love you feel when…” or “You see God in the face of a newborn child.” I don’t see any such thing. I see beauty, yes. I see something wonderful and amazing. But it seems that calling that “God” is stretching the original description rather than admitting it’s a different concept.

BRITT:
But it’s not entirely different. I’ll admit it’s an easy explanation to a complicated theological question. But as a small child, those giant cloth banners embroidered with God Is Love put an earthly tag on something indescribable. Moments of beauty aren’t God, per se, but they do summon the teeniest essence of Him… and are, thus, divine!

STEVE:
I need to throw this back at you as a question – how do you feel God’s love?

BRITT:
Brace yourself for the crazy, but remember that you know me to be a smarter than average blond girl with all sorts of science degrees and a good degree of skepticism. I also love to make fun of just about everything. But you asked, so here goes. God’s love is unsullied belief in your own worth. For me, ironically, it means getting on my knees and admitting my complete incompetence to understand anything. Regarding God, we’re all idiots. But in those moments of prayer (meditation? begging for impossible things?), God’s love feels warm, calm. Do you know deep down– in spite of school shootings and war and Kardashians– that people are inherently good (that you are inherently good)? That’s God’s love. It’s omnipresent and free, but in our busy, angry world, it’s easy to overlook. Plus, there’s stuff on TV.

ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION

STEVE:
“The wonderful thing about science,” said Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” You may have seen this quote floating around Facebook. He said it on “Real Time with Bill Maher” in response to someone saying he didn’t believe in something scientific. I love this quote and it summarizes my relationship with religion perfectly.

BRITT:
I loathe Bill Maher. He argues so smugly (and so poorly) against religion, and also thinks people like me are loons. Picking through the Bible or highlighting any number of religious beliefs out of context is just poor journalism. Back in college I thought science and religious beliefs were at odds, so I dismissed the latter to embrace what I could see and prove. Now I realize that they can co-exist. And now, I might even put forward this: “The wonderful thing about God, is that He exists whether you believe or not.”

I'm right... you crazy!

I’m right… and you crazy!

STEVE:
OK, Bill Maher is a dick. Given. Atheist zealots are every bit as irritating as religious door-knockers. But we’re talking proof, not faith. A star cluster exists, demonstrably. Life evolved – and did so over millions of years. This is not up for discussion. I can look in a sky and see such wonders that the founders of religion couldn’t have imagined.

“There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5. Great line, but dammit – he had to put “heaven” in there.

If “God” and his scribes knew all His wonders, surely He would have thought to include them in his teachings: “Not only is man an amazing creation of Mine – but whoa! You have got to see the work I do with galaxy clusters, quasars, collapsing stars, dark matter, and – oh yes – a few planets right near by.” He might have gone on less about fish.

BRITT:
Laughing too hard to comment. And God in quotations is killing me.

ON COMFORT:

STEVE:
I take no comfort from otherworldly things. That’s scary. That’s something I envy in religious people. I can find comfort in my children, loved ones and friends. But I gather it’s not the same comfort.

BRITT:
God isn’t otherworldly. He’s right here.

STEVE:
You’re not mentioning comfort.

BRITT:
The comfort: I’m never, never alone. Strip away Bernie, my kids, my pretty stucco life and ask me if I still have the Comfort of God? I dunno. But last year, when there were moments when I didn’t know if I’d be here to have this discussion, my sole comfort came from God. You can’t knock that.

ON FANATICISM:

BRITT:
Blech. Religious fanaticism always excludes, hurts, even kills.

STEVE:
I love people who have faith and kindness. (Although I don’t see why you need faith to be kind.) I do dislike fanatics – those who say their way is the only way. When you go from belief to fanaticism, that’s when the Holy Hand Grenades tend to come out. Fanaticism also leads to hooligans and tedious, low-scoring soccer games.

In these hats, we trust.

In these hats, we trust.

BRITT:
I completely agree that Faith has little to do with kindness, or even human decency. Faith is a personal matter. Kindness is a public one.

ON THE BEAUTY OF THE UNIVERSE

STEVE:
Oh God, it fucking rocks. Wait – I just invoked God. Maybe there’s something there.

BRITT:
Of course there is. Make fun all you want (I insist!), but there are other Jewnatarians out there just waiting to set up folding chairs with you in some temple basement. In the meantime, I’m going to drag you to the Redeemer. There’s a whole Bible study group of women who have been praying for you. (Can you feel it?)

STEVE:
I like that. Can they pray for me to have less back hair?

Half atheist?

Results may vary.

(DP Challenge)

 

Visitors… by Steve Safran

A brief tour inside the mind of an every-other-weekend Dad.

VISTORS, by Steve Safran

When the kids come to visit… STOP. RIGHT. THERE. When my wife and I separated a year ago, I swore words like “visit” and “my apartment” would never be a part of our collective vocabulary. We don’t visit. These are my children… we see each other, we hang out, we eat and fight and laugh and watch YouTube videos. It’s not my apartment. It’s ours.

Bullshit.

What do you call people who show up at your place with suitcases, who get clean towels, take-out food, and temporary control of the remote? What do you call these people who pack up their suitcases after two days, leaving you to clean up the mess?

Visitors.

And what do they call the big place with their own bedroom, the dog, a backyard, the good computer, the video games… and Mom? That’s their house. My place is the apartment and Mom’s is home and the sensitive language police can’t change that. When I ask these young visitors to call the place they stay every other weekend their “home,” I’m really asking my kids to tell me that all of this is OK. And of all the things we’re asking of these exceptional kids, I can’t insist that they make me feel better about it.

I’ve done what I can to make the apartment feel like a home. There are video games, toys, and other trappings. When I was first looking for an apartment, I imagined a four-bedroom place for the four of us. Absurd. I scaled down, searching for a more reasonable, three-bedroom place. “Let the boys share a room!” I conceded. Ha. We’re in a two bedroom, where my daughter’s “room” is the living room, and a couch bed substitutes for her far more comfortable quarters at, well, home.

Then there’s the “Zoo Dad” conundrum. I don’t want to be a “Zoo Dad.” I don’t want the pressure of taking the kids to ticket-requiring weekend events with all the other Sad Dads. But I don’t want them to have nothing to do, either. If we were all together at “home,” a lazy weekend would be just fine. But a lazy weekend at my apartment feels like lethargic parenting. I only have 40 bi-monthly hours with them, so I should probably be filling those hours with something other than pizza? I don’t know; there’s no pamphlet for this crap. Do they watch Netflix and sleep late at Zoo Dad’s?

Sometimes, in the darker hours, I look to the kids for comfort. And sometimes, simply watching them is a relief. Kids this great mean I’ve done OK. Sure, they fight, do strange things, and have odd notions of proper public behavior (they are, after all, my kids). But we’ve done all right. And after untold hours spent comforting them, it is all too easy to look to these too-quickly growing bundles of my own DNA to assure me I’m not fucking them up. I will take unearned credit where I can.

Who will comfort the comforter? (And, for that matter, who will wash the comforter? That thing’s huge and does not fit into an apartment-sized washing machine.) Making sure the home feels like “home” and that Everything Will Be Fine is my job. Putting my kids in that role is scary, and unfair, and weird. Part of being a grownup is artful pretending, and unfortunately, I suck at it. I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve guy. And my own children come and they leave because they are Visitors. Cousin G put it into perspective: “They were going to leave eventually. With you, they just left sooner.”

The child shrink has told me not to indulge myself by showing my pain. Well… screw that. You might as well ask someone passing a kidney stone to sing “When You’re Happy And You Know It.” My youngest son has learned as good a lesson as any: grownups cry, too. Especially mushy, fluffy, squishy grownups whose idea of “being a man” is more Alan Alda than Alec Baldwin. So, yeah, I tear up.

Especially when my visitors go back home.

VISITOR

My Valentine

Before I tell you all about my Valentine, here’s a bit of sweetness to herald the day. Bernie gave me a book with even more adorable cartoons than these:

HAIR WITHOUT DO

If I were a tattoo-getting kind of girl, it would absolutely be “hair without do.” Better than buttercreams or diamonds is this little book of funny drawings, and lovelier than roses or candlelight dinners is a Bernie who knows how much I’d adore them. But here’s another Valentine’s Day Story, which begins (like too many of my evenings) with Prosecco-infused internet trolling.

A few months ago, I entered a silly, online contest to win a serious bag. Fashion Moi Moi is a fun website that instructs women with overstuffed closets how to repurpose their cast offs– and to cast off the things that you should have never bought on purpose. (It sort of reminds me of that time Ginny, the coolest girl in high school, turned a giant sweatshirt upside down and rocked her own Hammer Pants.) Occasionally, Fashion Moi Moi awards faithful readers with fantastically free stuff, and when this orange bag appeared, I knew I could do better than the “me likey!” comments in the contest thread. So after a glass (or five) of bubbly, I wrote something about how a bag this beautiful really belonged on the brave, if not lymph-edematous, arm of a bald lady. Maybe it was heartfelt, or even witty, but the intent of my comment was a desire to pay the purse forward.

A few weeks later, I learned that my Cancer-y comments earned me a Michael Kors large enough to hold five small dogs. But ever since I pulled it from the foam peanuts, I’ve been staring at it with a wigless conscience. I told April that I really wanted to give it to someone more deserving, someone who would appreciate the joy of a giant orange purse, someone I love. We didn’t discuss long. Of course: Maria! Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria! (Say it loud, and there’s music playing!)

Some of you know all about Maria (I compare her to a vacuum cleaner over here). Last year, many doctors in and out of the operating room agreed to join Team B(ritt) Cup despite the inherent awkwardness of it all, but I’m pretty sure no one gave Maria a choice about being my Nurse. In fact, knowing the enormity of Maria’s talent and heart, I was encouraged by all of my caregivers to lean on her when things got shaky. So in addition to hand-holding The Boss’s Wife last year, Maria continued doing all sorts of above-and-beyond things that keep her from sleeping in on Saturdays, or turning off her phone. Last year, Maria earned a Patient Education Award for Excellence and never once cried in front of me… placing her in the top 2% of clinical nurses, and top 0.0002% of Italians.

And then, amidst achievements and accolades, Maria turned some of that life-affirming love and you-can-do-this support toward herself. With willpower, dogged determination, and a gym membership, Maria lost over 60 pounds. Seriously. Just look at her all fabulous and flirty:

Maria then... and now

Maria then… and now

Always gorgeous, Maria now channels this:

Maria is totally skinny Adele.

Google “skinny Adele”… and you get Maria.

And so, this year Maria is My Valentine and I hope that she is accepts this pretty purse with all the grateful appreciation I have for her talent and beauty (even though a teeny part of me wonders if internet-contest spoils are a tad re-gifty). I’m hoping she carries it with all the love and gratitude of hundreds of patients she keeps in her heart and phone. I hope she carries it knowing I won it for her.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

For you, sweet girl. Delivery included.

For you, sweet girl. Delivery included.

Fat Tuesday

I attended a super swanky event on Monday night. Invited by the tallest, smartest, still-so-in-loviest couple I know, they paired me up with a cologne-ad handsome “date” who was all sorts of charming. I sat three feet away from a star, and our waiter appropriately gauged my enthusiasm for refills. All snowy school weeks should be ushered in with a boozy evening in formalwear.

A particular highlight for me was gaining outfit approval from a drag queen. An Amazonian with astonished eyebrows, a headdress, and much larger falsies than my own gave me the once over and announced, “I love your outfit. I would totally wear that.” I’ve arrived. Mid-twenties Britt with a closet full of Ann Taylor matchables never expected to own anything that would be coveted by a man named Destiny. Of course, mid-twenties Britt would also never have guessed she’d be growing out a head of hair from scratch. But for the first time (in a long, long time) there were no questions about the etiology of my closely cropped cut.

I’m still practicing funnier, deflecting answers to hairdo inquiries. My almost-Diana ‘do is less and less a dead give-away, but still provides the possibility of sneaking the dreaded disease into an otherwise lovely night of fundraising. I never shy from sharing a breezy spiel that ties up a terrifying year with a pretty bow, and deters any utterances of prognosis (blah, never say this word near wig-owning women). Certainly, An Evening Without Cancer is an added bonus to An Evening Without Children. And on Monday night, because no one asked, I was just another shorthaired girl in sequins. Gala Monday was my Fat Tuesday:  bubbly indulgences, Art, movie stars, drag queens, witty whispers, scrumptious little cookies, and truly lovely friends who might not realize how great the gift of glittery gluttony would be for this gal.

Later I plan to get all ashy and serious. Lent has begun and the following forty days will be dry. Britt Without Bubbles. Because a season of sobriety may dampen my usual jokiness, Steve Safran promises to keep drinking in my stead. I am so frequently asked about my grumpy guest blogger, that I commissioned an About Steve page from my funny friend. Much like me alongside any man in size 14 stilettoes, Britt and Stevie make an unexpected pair: Churchy Jesus Cancer Girl and her Snarky Jewish sidekick chiming in as Heeb Meets Breast. I warned the writing might suffer (like Jesus). Lent: forty days of horrible jokes. Apologies in advance.

No higher compliment than outfit accolades from the likes of these ladies.

No higher compliment than outfit accolades from the likes of these ladies.

Snow Day

I can almost feel the children becoming stupider. Shouldn’t we be taking advantage of this time to teach them about electron orbitals and demanding they complete abandoned Lego projects? Grateful for electricity, shouldn’t I be stirring risotto or organizing the messy stack of papers that ought to be at the accountant already? Nope. We’re not even shoveling our own driveway. I’m pouring another glass of wine and re-reading Game of Thrones. The boys are glued to Pixar films when they’re not Minecrafting, or eating Blizzard-sanctioned junk because snowstorm panic makes even the Whole Foodiest moms buy Pringles and Lucky Charms. (I know I’m not alone here, because I got the last box of “whole grain” leprechaun cereal.) All three boys suited up early this morning to stomp around in our 20 plus inches and dive into four footer drifts, but even that became too taxing for the Lazy Lees. We’re pathetic. If we had snowshoes, we’d probably use them as snack trays.

Even that one paragraph took forever to write (and required a refill… Grgich Hills… cheers… clink). After only 24 hours of law-enforced house arrest, the Lees have slid even deeper into sloth. Honestly, we’re not that far from that vice on the sunniest of days. Darling friend April calls it The Lee Family Inertia Problem. Of course, the Family Anderson likely spent the day getting all sorts of fresh air, helping their adorable children shovel pathways for elders, and braving the roads as soon as the governor lifted the ban. Not us. We’re even happy there’s no mail to fetch… the porch is all snowy… one might get a chill.

Today, we did the bare minimum as snow-trapped Bostonians. We took pictures like this:

Snow obscured patio furniture...

Snow obscured patio furniture…

And this…

Obligatory snow-up-to-the-deck railing pic

Obligatory snow-up-to-here pic

Honestly, I love every Holy Crap! Look at the Snow! pictures. I’ve been on Facebook all day to see how deep it got on your deck. Sadly, The Lees fall short in New England Blizzard documentation by failing to provide an adorable-dog-overwhelmed-by-weather picture. But I love yours. If we had a small dog, I’d totally throw it off the porch. With snow this deep, they land like cats. And it’s wicked cute.

Another refill for Mom, and little boys are cuddling with Bernie, watching absolutely dreadful TV. Not a single one of them could summon more than a handful of prime numbers right now. But, what’s this… the Peanuts Valentine’s special? Little Teddy is on his knees begging for another hour of television. “Please, Mommy, if you let me stay up… I’ll give you… extra snuggles!” And if you’ve met this kid, you know no one is strong enough to resist Teddy snuggles. I caved. Blizzard of ’13 has our brains and waistlines softening, but we’re grateful for an excuse (even a government decree!) to hold down the couch and share a family giggle over the hilarity of Snoopy and the romantic notion of a little red headed girl. And it’s cuter than a puppy in a snowdrift.

Teddy in snow... nearly as cute as a something-doodle in a drift.

Teddy in snow… nearly as cute as a something-doodle requiring rescue.

The Accidental New Yorker

Steve Safran takes a break from whoring-his-talents-for-television to explore the heart breaking impossibility of perfect parenting. We can only hope that the bystander trauma of our (mid)-life dramas will make them more compassionate and resilient for having endured ours.

The Accidental New Yorker, by Steve Safran

It’s getting harder and harder for me to tie in my writing to Britt’s Boob Blog. If I am to be a columnist here, you may have to settle for the mundane details of my life without my stretching past credulity any metaphor to Britt’s. (“I had a sandwich today. Britt couldn’t have sandwiches during chemotherapy because they made her throw up. Mine was ham.”) Recently, however, I’ve landed on a legitimate theme for a site that often includes ways we unintentionally traumatize the children:

Change, uncertainty, absence, loss: the inevitable and difficult aspects of life we’d like to shield from the kids until they can afford their own therapist.

A month ago, I was your standard issue, work-from-the-home-office, nap-often kind of guy. I have six years of bedside coffee rings and navel-gazing Facebook status updates that prove my tenure of freelance-ability. But now I’m a New Yorker four days a week, producing a TV show, and suffering the whiplash of mid-life career reinvention. I don’t even have a place to live. I stuff boxers into a backpack, crash on couches and in cheap hotels, ride the rails, and eat meals out of bags.

At 45, I’m a 19-year-old with a Eurail pass.

This is plainly absurd. Yet it is a fine example of “Mixed Blessings Come to Those Who Wait and Wait and Give Up.” It’s great to have work. It’s fun to be back in TV. I’ve been out of the game since 2006 when I was last a news man. Now I’m firmly in entertainment, producing a reality show for Discovery. I’m at once at home in the environs and homeless in the city I’ve cursed all these years as a proper Bostonian. I have, by accident, become One Half New Yorker.

This week’s schedule:  Sunday: Natick, Monday: New York, Wednesday morning: Natick (son’s birthday), Wednesday night: New York, Friday: Natick

At the time of this writing, it’s Thursday. Don’t tell anyone, but I just woke up in an empty NYC office, when I swear I’d dosed off watching Boston local news.

Did I mention I’m 45?

As taxing as this is on the middle-aged body, I’m more worried about what this is doing to the kids. They have a Dad who is unavailable during the week and is exhausted on the weekends. They’re doing OK.  I know they’re OK. (I’m telling myself they’re OK… feel free to chime in and agree.) But it’s not fair. I told my son I had to go where the money is. He said, through tears, “I’d rather you were here and didn’t get the money.”

Me too, kid.

In the last year, these awesome little people have endured their parents’ separation, ongoing divorce, and now their dad is… gone. Here’s where writing for Britt’s Boob Blog becomes no stretch at all. If a child’s greatest fear is his parent’s divorce or death, then Britt and I are doing a bang up job scaring the crap out of them. It’s difficult enough just being a kid, without us getting diseased, and divorcing, and hobo-ing across three states to provide a steady income. Of course, Britt is better and her boys are relieved. But kids’ fears exist in the moment, and between us we have five kids who have had more than their share of scary moments. But we’re OK. (We’re telling ourselves we’re OK… feel free to chime in and agree.)

Shuttling Stevie between Boston and NY. His car will never be the Quiet one.

Shuttling Stevie between Boston and NY. His car isn’t likely to be the Quiet one.