You know the saying: When the cat’s away, the mice will play? Well we are experiencing a bit of that in our house this week but by ‘cat,’ I mean Ben and ‘play’ really translates to me handling the April newsletter while he’s in Hawaii with our eldest son, Mason. So, I hope you enjoy this month’s batch of articles… just think of it as those Vogues that get guest edited by someone cool and famous. But instead of Kate Hudson or Michelle Obama, you are stuck with me: Lilli Lee- wife of Westside real estate superstar Ben Lee. I’m reporting for duty from Cheviot Hills, selflessly caring for two of our three sons while Ben’s sipping mai-tais with Mason, having adventures tailor made for two crazy guys on the town. I hope this isn’t already coming off as bitter. Or at least not VERY bitter. To be perfectly honest, I’m actually happy holding down the fort. Happy may be too strong a word- it’s more that I’m OK sitting this trip out and truth be told, it’s Ben’s turn and here’s why. We have a tradition in our family that started when Mason was about to turn 10 and I was antsy to go to New York City. Spencer was 7 and Vinnie not quite 5 and I needed a break from the rigors of being a stay-at-home mom of three young sons. So, I had the idea to take Mason to New York for the weekend, just the two of us. He has always been super easy and a go-with-the-flow kind of fellow and I was excited to spend some alone time with him after being so distracted by the wants and needs of the other boys. We jetted away, leaving Ben to care for the younger brothers for a few days. We enjoyed all the best tourist attractions New York had to offer: Broadway shows, views from the tops of tall buildings, steak dinners, rock climbing in Central Park, the giant Lego store and so much more. The highlight of the weekend was being able to give the gift of autonomy to a sweet 10 year old boy who had spent the last decade having to compromise and share his mom with the siblings who followed him. In New York he was afforded the rare gift of getting to do what he wanted, not what was an agreed upon activity between brothers. This was a novel concept for him and he was thrilled!

You might wonder how I was able to squire Mason away without suffering the guilt and protests of the three men we left behind. That part was surprisingly easy! I told the other two brothers they’d get their turn with me when they each turned 10. And to a despondent Ben who was not only jealous that Mason and I were off on an adventure, but slightly terrified at having to take over duties for the other two, I promised: “If I can do this with them when they’re 10—you can have ‘em at 15! Take them wherever you want!” and WHOOSH! With that we were out the door and on our way to a fun filled weekend away.

Fast forward five years and the other boys indeed got their NYC weekend with me and each trip could not have been better or more meaningful. But somewhere in there Mason turned 15 and that promised solo trip with dad didn’t materialize. It wasn’t for lack of trying but between camp commitments and family trips taken all together, the summer of 2019 came and went without time for them to do anything alone. Then 2020 hit and the pandemic/lockdown/quarantine that came with it made travel an impossibility. Mason’s 16th birthday coincided with a summer in which everything became too stressful and tense and scary to break away for a guys’ adventure trip. But as we were rounding the bend of January 2021, Ben was more than ready to get out of dodge (Cheviot Hills) for a bit. He had been surfing every couple of days here in town and was anxious to hit the shores of Hawaii for a challenge and much needed change of scenery. With airline miles about to expire and the assurance that Covid precautions were plentiful, he booked all five of us on a trip to coincide with Mason’s spring break from school, thinking we would all be excited to get away. I am not ashamed to admit that I panicked. Thanks to the threat of Covid, this past year has thoroughly terrified me. The thought of being on an airplane, in an airport, having to constantly worry that one of the boys would touch something or forget their masks or someone might cough in our vicinity sent me into a tailspin of dread. This trip looming on the calendar not only filled me with anxiety but it also magnified how differently our ideas of relaxation have changed since the onset of the pandemic. In order for Ben to fully decompress, he needs to be out of town (although something tells me he’s already ran into somebody he knows on some remote Hawaiian beach!). When he’s in his office, which for all intents and purposes has become home, or out walking around the neighborhood, he is unable to fully escape the world of residential real estate. I, on the other hand, am able to take a break from the toils of my day-to-day life by ordering take out and ignoring school surveys and zoom sessions for a while. Under normal circumstances I love getting out of town as much as anyone—I truly do! But for me, the thought of staying home- safely ensconced in our boring, Covid-free bubble was infinitely more relaxing than traveling. Beyond that, the other boys who were not on Spring Break would’ve had to log-on to school at 5am Hawaiian time every morning. That small detail sounded pretty miserable for everyone.

And, as much as it kills me to miss an adventure, a deal is a deal and it was Ben’s turn. I wanted him to experience with Mason at 16 what I was lucky enough to enjoy with each of our boys at 10. Spending one on one time together is a gift that is only ours for such a short amount of time. They missed the chance at 15 and he won’t be 16 for much longer. Then it’s really just a blink-of-an-eye before he’s off to college and wanting to spend vacations with friends over his parents (I hope not but who are we kidding?!). There’s also the other important lesson this past year has taught us: don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today. You just never know when a whole year will be gone without the chance to do what you once took for granted.

So while those two are off snorkeling, sipping smoothies and sunning themselves silly- I’m fairly happy to be home. The other brothers are zooming into school at a decent hour and we are trying to make our staycation fun in its own way. And if they get too jealous of what they’re missing, I can promise them that they’ll each get their turn with dad when they’re around 15 or 16, too.

And here’s a little surprise they don’t know yet— primarily because I just thought of it: when they each turn 21, no more solo trips. It’ll be Vegas, we’re all going and you are invited. It will be the biggest, craziest adventure of all. Because what would a kid on his 21st birthday want more than to party in Las Vegas with his parents, brothers and all of you? See you there and gear up because the first few rounds are on Ben Lee! (See what I did there? This is what happens when he goes to Hawaii and leaves me behind with two kids and free reign over the newsletter. It’s really the least he can do!)