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School Daze

Growing up, first in Malibu and later in Santa Monica, I attended a wide variety of both public and private schools. Maybe because I was the first born in my family, my parents never seemed to be satisfied with the preschools I was enrolled in, so they switched me to a bunch of different places.

Ben Lee of Ben Lee Properties in his younger daysFrom Crestwood Hills Co-Op to The First School (where, incidentally all three of my kids attended) and a few in between, I bounced around a lot. Elementary school was kind of the same story. Point Dume Elementary, SMASH and Palisades Village School were just three of the schools I attended in my formative years. For junior high I went to Crossroads and then switched to and graduated from Samo High.

My wife, who also grew up in Los Angeles, went to Kenter Canyon, Paul Revere and Palisades High. For one year she went to Palisades Village School at the same time I was there- we still have friends in common from that time even though we were a grade apart. For all I know, we passed each other in the halls, she in first grade while I was in second which is kind of fun to think about. Today we live in Cheviot Hills and after our boys went to The First School for preschool, we enrolled them first at Castle Heights Elementary and now two are at Mirman.

It feels like we have some knowledge or experience at half of the schools on the Westside. I think about this a lot- was it a help or hindrance to go to so many different schools? I think yes and no. It was probably a little bit similar to what ‘army brats’ (do they hate that term? I think so but I can’t think of a nicer expression to get the point across) experience. I always found myself in the position of being the new kid, needing to meet a whole roomful of people, hoping they’d like me and be nice. I had to pretend to be confident even if I was nervous, learn new systems and rules of the road so-to-speak. I think the qualities I inadvertently picked up through these experiences have served me well.

I certainly didn’t know back then that I’d take many of the skills I learned being the new kid on the block and utilize them in the field of real estate. But every day I’m out there meeting new people, representing myself to them, hoping they’ll be nice(!) and accept me into their lives, even if it’s just for the duration of a business transaction. Having been in so many schools also exposed me to a really wide variety of people. Such that when I meet new people, it’s often a fun game of one or two degrees of separation of who we have in common. The city actually becomes really small when you grow up here and go to so many different schools.

So, how was the experience a negative? Probably just the nerves associated with having to enter those classrooms with all brand new faces staring back at me. At the time, I really dreaded it but now I think it’s made me a stronger person. And when our son switched schools going into 5th grade, those same feelings came right back to me as if I were living it all over again. But, in the end, you do what you think is right for your child and hope he doesn’t blame you too much for it. I think it was scary for Mason to switch schools but now that he’s there, he’s very happy. And maybe that means he’ll be a real estate agent like his dad a few decades from now? Lee and Sons Residential Brokerage has a nice ring to it!


Raising a Middle Child

Unless you have three children or come from a family of three siblings, it’s hard to know what it’s really like to be that middle child. In our family, there are three boys and while (as parents) we know the individual qualities that make each of our children special and unique and perfect and fabulous, ‘the middle’ often feels a little passed over in favor of the spotlight-grabbing bookend brothers. In the interest of convenience and manpower, we were guilty of doing what the parenting books cautioned against: the middle child was often dragged to the classes of the elder or play dates of the younger. His accommodating nature made it easy to justify his lack of activities by making the excuse, “He learns just as much from watching the older kids do it!”
He’d compromise television choices and ice cream flavors to please the other two. Even his bedtime is geared towards when his younger brother (and roommate) goes to sleep. It’s hard to prove to him how special he really is. He even brought it to my attention that these newsletter articles often highlight the foibles of my youngest and oldest sons but not as much is said about Spencer.
While I can’t go back in time and give him more classes or solo play dates, I do have the power to give him this! So last month, our family spent spring break in Hawaii. It was paradise.
I was able to leave the hectic world of westside real estate behind and focus instead on the sand, the sea and spending uninterrupted time with my wife and kids. One day, Lilli recognized a neighbor from Cheviot. They were traveling with another Cheviot family (one we didn’t know) and everyone was staying at the same hotel. Now, to backtrack a bit, at this particular hotel we were given the most amazing upgrade known to man. They had sold out and with nowhere else to put us, they basically handed us the keys to the palace: the Presidential Suite.
So, upon discovering that Cheviot families were in our midst and with an embarrassment of riches with regards to our enormous, ocean-view suite (it had a grand piano for goodness sake!), we decided to have a party and invite these neighborhood families up for cocktails and to watch the sunset.
They accepted our invitation and, amidst the glorious views and uproarious laughter, it struck us all as quite lovely that the bond of being from Cheviot Hills was strong enough to turn one-time strangers into newfound friends. But as fantastic of a night as ‘the party in the presidential suite’ was, it wasn’t the number one highlight of the trip. It wasn’t the whale watching or waterfalls, either. I think, if I had to choose the one memory of our week in paradise that will make me look back and realize that moments of pure happiness exist, it would be when I went out into the ocean with a surfboard and my son, Spencer.
It was just the two of us, enjoying the elements, sharing some laughs and I was able to introduce my great love of surfing to my cherished middle son.
Sometimes we go back to Goldilocks and the Three Bears to remind him that while one bowl of porridge was too hot and one was too cold, the bowl in the middle was just right. Spencer, you are just right and I love you. Surf’s up, dude. Let’s go.