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.

 

 

 

 

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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?

 

 

 

Lee Family Goes East: Part 1

It was never going to be Spring in New England. The dashboard thermostat read 47 degrees at 5am as I packed the car for the Lee Family trip to Taiwan. I could see my breath as I lugged four roller boards into the SUV to brave all of the morning traffic from Boston to JFK on a workday. We Lees are very talented packers, get to airports early, can navigate a foreign city, and even barter with its weird coins. But travel planning? We suck at that.

Drive from Boston to fly to Taipei from NYC all in one day? Somehow we landed on that plan. It might have had something to do with trying to find seats with AMa and AGong and arranging return travel that could accommodate my sister-in-law’s family who would be joining the gang in July. It took hours of swearing at screens to figure out how to coordinate everyone. I lamented the good old days when people hired some gum-smacking gal in a glass cubicle on Main Street to arrange the whole thing with click clacking shellacked nails and bossy phone calls to the airport. (Not sure if that’s a fair assessment of 80’s era travel planners, or something I totally just made up.)

I had been warned it was going to be… hot. I couldn’t wait. Those who live in these parts know that Memorial Day Weekend was too chilly for any pool, and last day of school parties were thwarted by frigid temps and threatening skies. I had to remember to turn off the goddamn heat before we left. On June 8th. It was dinnertime the following day by the time we got to the Grand Hotel and unloaded into gigantic rooms with huge terraces that we quickly learned should NOT be used. Opening the doors to the elements on a summery eve in Taipei we met a wall of unbreathable heat and subsequently invited every blood-sucking insect into our sleeping spaces. Future panoramic pics were taken through the glass.

Nearly everyone in Taipei knew some English. Bernie spent 5th and 6th grade there learning Mandarin while his classmates were dutifully slogging through our impossible English verb conjugations. The locals were all sweet enough to brave a few sentences before my in laws took over in Mandarin or Taiwanese to make sure we got the spinach-y greens with garlic (NOT TOO SALTY!). I know y’all want the skinny on White Girl in the Orient. Some of you sent private messages to wonder how I was handling the immersion. It would be just like me to start making fun of everything right now. But my biggest take home from travel to see the people we (!) call family was this: it’s all about the food.

After we got married, Bernie and I lived in Manhattan, just a jog away from his parents in Flushing. If our schedules aligned and we weren’t on call, we often went to dinner with them. Over the years, these meals have been very similar… for me. To them, it’s possible the variety of restaurants we frequented were as vast as Chipotle to Peter Lugar’s. But I always experienced the same sort of Lazy Susan evening of shared dishes, many pots of tea, and a meal that started and ended with soup.

Those who have known me forever are familiar with a life long peccadillo I’ve never truly shaken: I don’t like sharing food. Clearly, this was going to be an issue going forward as a Lee. Before I became accustomed to the cold, fatty chicken appetizer, the mini fish with the heads still on, the bony knuckles of pork, or the occasional plate of jellyfish or liver or tongue, I would sit through these meals and pray for noodles. Oh, please let there be noodles– or those medallions of soy marinated fried pork. I always wanted to snatch a whole plate of recognizable food off of the spinning tray and gobble it up myself. But that’s not how it’s done.

“Have you eaten?”

This is how aunties and mothers and grandmothers often greet their (grown) children. It baffled me as a newly married. Finally I asked Bernie why his mother would call at 11pm and ask if we had had dinner. Did she think we’d forgotten to eat? Was it a late night invitation? He laughed and said that is the equivalent of “hello.” And now I get it. Like it is in many cultures, I suppose, food is love.

To be honest, I always thought my in laws were a bit exasperating with restaurant wait staff. I mean, if we were essentially ordering the same kinds of things every time (one chicken, two or more vegetables, a beef, a seafood, noodles or rice, never both) why was there so much discussion? It was always happening in another language, so I didn’t see that they were trying to curate a beautiful, coordinated meal. Didn’t matter if it was lunch on a Tuesday or AGong’s retirement dinner. When you assemble with people at that Lazy Susan there is an endearing respect for the process. And those choices were made like this could be our last meal together… or at all. I endlessly made fun of it in my head. But now I see it differently. And I love them for knowing all of these amazing foods and remembering which ones I like, ordering extra portions of those, and spinning them my way.

The spinach-y garlicky dish is so delicious it deserves its own paragraph. So does any gigantic platter of snapper swimming in gingered broth (even though someone always eats the eye). The beef falls apart in salty, fatty mouthfuls. Beans are snappy and spicy. We moaned over the dumplings. A simple chicken soup is a smooth, winy concoction that takes like it cures things. And across all of this wonderful food—a nourishing togetherness. Bernie’s parents came to this country in their early 20s, leaving behind a multitude of cousins and aunties and uncles, parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, and probably a few beloved restaurants. Having grown up with all of those people and logging thousands of hours over shared meals of savory foods, I cannot fathom the homesickness they endured encountering Roy Rogers and Pizza Hut.

During the week we were there, we ate with a multitude of relatives. There are many pictures that look just like this:

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So. Many. Lees.

Some of them were impressed at how very un-American my boys’ stomachs seemed to be. I hope AMa and AGong got the credit for their culinary bravery. We realized that the myriad restaurants they have dragged us to over the years here in the states are the ones that best mimic the classic dishes made in the homeland. The fact that my kids love dow guan (no idea how to spell that) is only slightly less surprising than the fact that their white mom knows how to cook it. Nothing was terribly unusual… except maybe the liver masquerading as “beef.” But the boys gobbled it up even after the menu was translated into English.

Brodie and Teddy were really excited about the famous Night Markets of Taiwan. Many streets are lined with dollar stores that peddle bubble teas, fried squid, horny fruits on sticks, oddly delicious candies, weirdly dusty cakes, and some very unfortunate clothing.

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We begged him not to buy it. And now every travel photo is besmirched with Teddy in a Pikachu hat.

We had been warned by local friends that no matter how much dow guan the boys had eaten in their little lives, their virgin stomachs would not be quite ready for street food. They were right. I’m not writing the paragraph about those moments.

We were absolutely spoiled by every single person we encountered, whether they were old friends or close family. I hope we show visitors to our home a fraction of the generous hospitality we were given. Friends we hadn’t seen since our wedding now had their own children. I’m not sure what they told them about us, but this one climbed into my lap to say hello. We’d only known each other for five minutes before this picture was taken:

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Instant friends.

 

When I asked her if I looked like her Queen Elsa Barbie, she masked a giggle with her tiny, perfect hand. Subsequent pictures have shown Brodie with this cutie on his hip all over town.

After a week, it was time for Bernie and me to leave. The impetus to make the Lee Family Trip East was the World Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery meeting, taking place in Seoul. And so quite bravely and impossibly, we left our children in the very capable and loving care of their AMa and AGong to attend a meeting that deserves its own essay. And then we flew home. To the states. Without the boys. Where it is finally… hot.

More to come, friends. xoxo

 

Payback

I met Tony a quarter century ago in a small class of budding writers who were handpicked by our Trinity professors to become Writing Associates. Class convened around a conference table where we discussed writing, and writing about writing. We were an eclectic group of college kids: a scientist (me), the stunner (Julia), the talent (Lisa), the boy who knew all of the big words (Ran), the comic genius (Nancy), and Tony.

Tony, despite his bespeckled, Philosophy brainiac persona was essentially a jock. A Jock in the Writing Center. Tony regularly threw balls to and snapped towels at boys I would never know. As a rather serious Biology major who divided her time between the library and the lab, my tiny social circle would never overlap with Tony’s. And yet there he was, all fit and baseball-capped and talking and writing in ways that defied my prejudices. We became fast friends.

Today is his birthday, and I’m all wistful about those moments in our early twenties when Tony and I were sure we were the smartest and most interesting people in any room. One of those rooms was the 35th year reunion for the rather infamous Class of ’63. We were on campus for our own 5-year celebration, but Tony was invited to the swanky dinner with the silver foxes as a special guest: Tony was the first Class of ’63 scholar. They were expecting a witty and pithy update on their investment.

Tony and I quit our classmates and headed across campus. Memory fails, but I probably insisted that Tony let me tag along to dine with the titans of industry and lords of Trinity’s yesteryear. I’d always liked men who were older, men who knew things. They were infinitely more interesting than the boys in the tent on the quad who were lying about their jobs or groping drunkenly in the name of nostalgia. We grabbed drinks, Tony introduced me to our tablemates, and the speeches began.

It went something like this:

Tony (whispering): I have no idea what I’m going to say.

Me: You just graduated from an Ivy League law school. I think they’ll be, you know, proud of you.

Tony: Ok. Yeah. I got this.

And on cue, Tony was asked to stand and share a few words. With a knowing grin that can only mean mischief —which you know well if you know him— Tony stood, probably winked at me, and began:

“I’d like to introduce all of you to my friend Britt…”

The next five minutes he devoted to how we met, my academic accomplishments and accolades and research, his certainty about my bright future, and probably some nod to how pretty I looked. Their first Class of ’63 scholar gave a thorough report about… me. He might have thrown in at the end some little snippet about their support of his college years that led to a law degree and a coveted job at a Boston law firm, but no one would have been surprised if Tony dropped to his knee and pulled out a little box. His very public lauding even made it into their Class Notes, where they wondered, in a very gentlemanly, Class of ’63 way, if Tony’s speech had led to some other action ‘neath the elms.

Though I love Tony madly, we’ve always been buddies. And I’ll always recall that dinner with a giggle. Tony took a moment that should have been all about him, and made it all about someone else because 1. It would make a great story later, and 2. It would be hilarious in the moment, and mostly 3. No one was expecting that. That bizarrely fun evening 20 years ago is a fond memory of a boy who remains a treasured friend. When we’re together, we are still pretty sure we are smartest and most interesting people in any room… and we’re still writing, and talking about writing about writing. In so many fabulous ways, nothing has changed—which is how forever friendships work.

Happy Birthday, to my still sporty, ever-the-jock Tony. I may have embarrassed you the teeniest bit in the very public affirmation of my longstanding affection for all that you are. But payback’s a bitch, old friend, and you’ve enjoyed a 19 year reprieve.

(And if now you want to know more about Tony, go here. It’s fabulous stuff.)

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Tony: lawyer, jock, stud, philosopher, and friend

Social media gaffes… or when Roxane Gay got mad at me

This will be on my can’t-sleep-at-night regret loop for a while. And it’s exactly the sort of fuck up I’m constantly telling my kids can happen. We tell them, “The Internet is INDELIBLE… it’s written with a Sharpie… you can’t take it back… it will haunt you forever. Words are powerful and permanent and can be misinterpreted.” And then we screw up, ourselves.

Well, I did.

Admittedly, I might have been looking for a shout out for my fundraiser. I’ll be honest about that. We had fantasies we could get this SUPER FAMOUS FABULOUS actress/author as our keynote speaker for our annual gala, but she was busy with a book tour. I’d known that for months. But maybe she’d be free next year?

We’re trying to raise big $$ here for a program that is doing great things. Three Steps to Success students got full-ride scholarships this year! I’ll climb the rafters and tweet at celebrities to champion this nonprofit and the accomplishments of the students it serves. When our whole community is involved, this wraparound care of programming begins to feel and function more like family. Spreading the word is how we get more people into our orbit, and social media is supposed to be a useful tool for that. So when I saw that our unavailable book tour babe was going to be speaking with another of my favorite writers, I thought… ooh what fun! But what I wrote was this:

“We were trying to get G for our fundraiser, but looks like it’ll be more fun (for her) with you in LA! Have a great evening!”

Or something like that. Without any context for tone, those parentheses are tragic. It was perceived as snarky: “Y’all suck because instead of headlining my teeny fundraiser, you’re being busy and famous somewhere else!” Which I didn’t intend. And the world famous author called me out for tweeting a manipulative guilt trip. Which is how it sounded to her in that moment. Maybe I need to use more emojis. The only worse response I’ve gotten on social media was when I admitted on Facebook that I don’t make my boys do chores. (They’ll do them wrong.)

Immediately, I was a terrible person– and suddenly there was tweeting proof of it. Disgruntled readers flocked to my “Asian by marriage” Twitter bio and didn’t read that as a silly quip encapsulating 16 years of wedded bliss, but proof of exactly what sort of tone deaf white girl I am. And attempts to clarify my BUT HEY I LOVE YOU GUYS WAIT WAIT WAIT explanations were read as lame and victim-y.

It’s really enough to make a girl want to log off forever. I mean, I’m a writer, dammit. Well, sort of… in that I write stuff and sometimes people read it. I should be able to make my words plain. I’m going to have to ask the teenagers how they navigate this land mine of wordsmith-ing every single day. The very idea that we expect them not to screw up is ludicrous.

An easy remedy is to stop tweeting @ famous people. Or use emojis that convey “Yay, everything!” Either one. Probably I’ll do what I keep telling my boys to do: proofread every email or message as if it were being read aloud to the entire class.

Also, apologize when we forget to do that. The great writer forgave me… I think. Hard to tell without emojis.

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Traveling with Asians

If you didn’t know me super well, you might think I like to travel. Those of you who know me well already did the spit-take on that idea. Bernie and I are big old crabs on the zodiac and prefer the couch to any castle or cathedral. Air travel is disgusting, and the world is still a bit unprepared for the (gasp) interracial couple. I’m used to being waved away from my family with a chipper offer to extricate me from these Asians: “Ma’am, I’ll take you over here!” But this week, traveling home from a week abroad, a French couple actually inserted themselves between me and my children right there in the security queue.

TSA checks are such an enormous stress bummer. I’ve already written oodles of times how it’s additionally fraught for the cancer-ed as a pseudo-scanner reveals our fake bits to everyone on the other side of it. But no one enjoys being berated for forgetting to take out the laptop or being an idiot with liquids while exposing feet and midriffs to surly uniformed staff and impatient (French) travelers who sigh loudly because you have children or difficult buckles or a watch. I was diligently getting all of my things in order when this over-tall and stylish couple pushed my tray back a few feet and plopped their carry-ons right in front of mine.

“What sort of brazen assholery is this?” I asked with my entire face but, you know, not out loud. TSA was blasé. TSA was probably preoccupied with the single dad ahead whose boys packed every electronic they own to go to Europe. Honest to God, Teddy brought a full size keyboard and a gigantic microphone to Barcelona.

To be fair, I don’t look my children. But it takes only 12 seconds of observation to see that I might be associated with or employed by them. Also, while traveling, Teddy is unrelenting with rhetorical questions and observations that include an introductory so Mom? so Mom? Mom? Mom? followed by a dissertation about European urinals or stage whisper wondering if that guy totally just farted or inexhaustibly explaining why his bracket is winning. You know, the sort of charming chitchat you save for your mère. But even when they are exasperating, I still hug them tight and touch their perfect faces. It should be plain that they are mine mine mine.

In June we’re going to Taiwan and probably Japan and possibly Korea–with the kiddos and my in laws. I need matching travel clothes. In the bottom of drawers all of us have I LOVE TAIWAN t-shirts. (Of course we do.) It might be a bit like wearing the ears to Disney Land, but hey, maybe it’ll keep the French from cutting the line.

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Duh. They’re totally MINE.

 

God’s Plan

Submitted a snippet of this for the Sully Award Competition over at:

https://mikeallegra.com/2017/03/21/sully-award-competition-now-open/

200 words and a bustling community of writing types sure to delight!

Blooms and Bubbles

Recently one of Bernie’s (favorite) patients was diagnosed with recurrent, metastatic breast cancer. He’s been at this job for nearly a decade but this news is always a punch in the stomach. And now, we can’t possibly distance ourselves with a we’ll-keep-her-in-our-prayers-and-now-there’s-laundry-to-fold way. Nancy described it like this:

“It must be surreal for the two of you to be pressed so close to the glass between what man can do and God’s plan.”

I keep returning to Hester Hill Schnipper’s* mantra for those diagnosed with disseminated Cancer: “it’s not curable, but it’s treatable.” While I focus on the hope of that statement—that medicines (poisons) can keep this vibrant, beautiful mom around for a long, long time—Bernie reviews the entire case for reassurances that The Team didn’t fail her. Did the surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists have the best plan? Is her cancer unusual, receptor negative, aggressive, (or in all ways unlike…

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Dumber than the thermostat

Conversations with the “smart” thermostat…

Britt:  I’m always cold. You should know this about me. I’ll grab a sweater for 70 degrees, but let’s just hang out at 72.

Smart Thermostat:   I can be programmed 539 ways! You can adjust me from your PHONE! You’ll save SO MUCH MONEY! I am SO SMART!

Britt:   Why is it 64 degrees in here?

ST:  Well, it’s morning. I turned it back last night. After you went to bed. I didn’t think you really meant 68.

Britt:   I did.

ST:   No biggie. You can always click “manual” and I’ll do whatever you want. YOU CAN DO THIS FROM YOUR PHONE!

Britt:  Great. Why isn’t it 72 degrees now?

ST:   I thought you were “away” and when you are “away” I get sad and return to 64 degrees because you always come running when it’s 64 degrees.

Britt:   That’s sweet, but I’m cold. And I clicked “manual,” so really, I got this.

ST:   Awesome. Did I mention I can be programmed 4,923 ways. FROM YOUR PHONE?

Britt:   Yes, I’ve been told. But it’s 68 degrees again.

ST:   I just can’t even with this 72 degrees, Britt. Go get a sweater.

Britt:   Please stop being “smart.” My fingers are numb.

ST:  OK. 72 degrees. FINE. I mean, the tool belt boys must be sweating, but whatever.

Britt:  OH MY GOD WHY IS IT 64 DEGREES AGAIN?

ST:   I’ll only “Hold until 6pm,” Britt. No one keeps the thermostat up that high for that long.

Britt:   I do.

ST:  (Not anymore)

Britt: I HEARD THAT.

*rips thermostat off of wall*

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My thermostat, that refuses to stay at this temperature.

Dear Abby

Frequently this site gets a new visitor who is clicking on the old essays—the ones documenting the scary beginning and slog through a never-ending aftermath. Every week another bing on my phone asks me if I wouldn’t mind making a call, holding a hand, or answering questions for a friend. So I wrote a letter. This is to all of the Kates and Leighs and Laurens… and to Abby.

 

Dear Abby,

I heard. Or I guessed it from the cryptic posts and cried when your status confirmed the damning pathology. Telling people–saying it out loud– makes it more certain than the slides. I hope you had some Ativan for that.

Maybe it’s super early, maybe DCIS, maybe a quick lumpectomy and just-to-be-sure radiation will be curative. Maybe you’re exhausted from all of the tight smiling as people tell you how lucky you are– so lucky to be pushed out of the plane because there is a parachute that opens almost all of the time.

But maybe it’s not the lucky kind.

Maybe it’s the pink ribbon monster hiding under the bed. White-coated well-meaners tell you with practiced concern that it’s not curable but it’s still treatable. Maybe they can tame and starve it for years, turning it into a defeated Voldemort sort of cancer. Maybe they’ll optimistically cite future graduations and weddings and vacations and plans like you’re thinking about a time-share in Orlando right now. As if it didn’t take seven books and umpteen tragedies to turn Voldemort into a fetal worm. As if any of this can have a happy ending.

Maybe it was there all along. Maybe it just came back (why does it fucking come back?). Maybe surgery was years ago and your hair is amazing now but there is still this little hidden part of you that only the other Shitty Sorority members see. Maybe you fucking knew it would come back but didn’t tell anyone because the “lucky” people would whisper that you weren’t being “positive.” Maybe you are scared shitless and praying nonstop or for the first time in your life.

Maybe God is listening and sending warm assurances—not that it’ll be okay, exactly, but that He is there. Maybe it feels like God isn’t listening, or doesn’t bother with things like unrestrained mitosis. Maybe it was just too much begging for impossible things. Maybe prayer doesn’t work like that, or for you, or with any sort of speed… or at all.

Maybe. One thing is certain: no one knows anything. Here’s another: you’re not alone.

Probably you are reading everything you can: the cancer sites, the scary statistics, and the stories of a hundred breastless women, gauging the level of your unluckiness against blogging strangers. Probably one of them is like you. Look, she’s totally like you! Probably you’d be fast friends even if you never spoke a single word to each other. Probably.

No, definitely. Definitely that.

There’s no pledge period for the Shittiest Sorority. Sisterhood is immediate. I have yet to chat up a head-scarfed stranger without finding something to laugh or cry about. Usually both. Our hidden parts–our secret cancer selves–we save each other seats in the bleachers. We’ll watch this peculiar sport of losses and triumphs together. Come sit next to me. I brought snacks.

We have cheerleaders, too. It’s different, but they are absolutely vital. Their pom pom positivity, casserole-toting enthusiasm for health and healing, all that marching in your name for cures– it’s wonderful and adorable. Their cheers are prayers, and their prayers are medicine. They fill in for us when we don’t have the Go! Fight! Win! spunkiness people love to witness in the cancer-ed. But you and me, we know cheerleading is for the healthy. And their prayers are purer than ours with all of the distracted, terror-stricken pleading. Let them pray. Maybe it works. Probably?

I see you, Abby. I’m waving you over here. (I’m still here.) Come sit with me on the bleachers. Get under my blanket. You don’t have to do the wave or cheer the fight song. We’ll just see how this plays out. Together. With snacks. And Ativan. You are not alone.

Definitely. Definitely not alone.

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