When Saturday Night Is Enough

My daughter, Emerson, graduated from 5th grade last Friday. It was a tender, joyful ceremony, as these things are, with applause for every child and a surprisingly well-choreographed group performance of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing. There was a slide show that condensed the past 7 years into just a couple of minutes — round-cheeked preschoolers stretching into 11-year-olds as we watched (which is just how it feels in real life) — and a video of the kids and their teachers dancing and lip synching to Shake It Off.

My husband, Jonathan, and I sat in the back of the school auditorium with my best friend and de facto sister, Lisa, and our recently acquired 26-year-old surrogate son, David Goldberg. David came to us by way of our friend Sheryl. A few years back, when he moved to New York City from LA, she asked if I would take him under my wing. I took him to dinner one night to talk about writing and finding a job, and it quickly became apparent that our family had been waiting for him. That he is the gloriously fun, comic-book writing big brother Emmy has always wanted and the giant-hearted, Jewish, gay son Jon and I didn’t even know we wished for. He joined our family so seamlessly, so completely, that Lisa has him in her phone as “David Gunning,” and I frequently nag him about how he doesn’t visit enough (he already has a Jewish mother in Texas, so I’m sure he really appreciates this).

And so there we were, Mama, Daddy, aunt Lisa, brother David, all cheering for Emmy on this accomplishment, this marker of years gone by and new things to come. I never fail to notice how many we are, that we need a big table at a restaurant, a family joined not by blood but because we choose to belong to each other. It fills me with comfort, to be so many. It still surprises me, sometimes, to be a part of something so solid and real.

I wish that was the whole deal, happiness and celebration, surrounded by loved ones. I wish these sort of days could be simple for me, that I could stop my monkey mind and pain-seeking heart from butting in. But it’s always a wash of complicated feelings, of relief and sadness and happiness and loss, a miasma that leaves me trying to figure out what to do with my face, talking too loud and with too much enthusiasm, or getting weepy in front of near strangers.

I have a habit of searching for what’s missing. Of looking for the empty place in the middle of everything. Of holding myself and my life up to an impossible fantasy of normality and wholeness that is part Atticus Finch and part every TV family that ever laughed over a ruined Thanksgiving turkey or a vacation gone awry. Inside my head  I am nearly always performing a monologue entitled “YOU SUCK,” which goes a little like this:

Does my daughter look happy in that slideshow? Should we have gotten her a math tutor in 4th grade instead of waiting until 5th grade? Did she have someone to sit with on the bus to the field trip? Someone to dance with at the party? I should have volunteered more at school. I definitely should have made more mom friends. It’s been all these years and I still call most of these people “The tall one with the face” and “The one with the boots.” We should eat dinner together every night. Probably she’ll be a drug addict because she eats microwaved mac-n-cheese at least once a week. WHY THE FUCK WON’T SHE READ THOSE HARRY POTTER BOOKS LIKE THE OTHER KIDS? We need to figure out better lunches. I should teach her how to cook. First I should learn how to cook. God, I hate to cook. We should hike more. We need to teach her how to ride a bike. She needs a dog but Jon doesn’t want one.We should buy a country house, for hiking and biking and dog having. I work too much. I don’t take enough pictures. We watch too much TV. We should have had another baby so she’d have a baby brother or a sister.  What does a normal family even look like? How do I know if we’re doing it right? I’m failing her, I know I am, in all the ways I realize I’m failing and in hundreds of ways I don’t even know about because I don’t know how normal people are supposed to act.

When I was growing up, I was my mother’s Saturday night date. She was a single mother who worked crazy hours and traveled a great deal for business, and she also had an active social life (dudes have always dug my mom), but Saturday night was for me (until I decided I was too cool to go out with my mom and wanted to stay home by myself to eat a chicken pot pie and watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island). She took me out like I was a grown up, to PG (sometimes R!) movies and the opera, to the theatre and fancy restaurants, to museum nights and parties where people were flirting and dancing. I loved these nights, loved having my mother as a sort of friend, loved getting dressed up in one of the outfits she would buy for me (I still remember a pair of sky blue pants and a patterned blouse that had gold string woven into the fabric that made me feel like Brooke Shields).

Emmy and I started having Saturday night date by accident. One night when she was around 5 she was very sick, and we sat up on the couch together watching Nickelodeon while she vomited intermittently into a garbage pail lined with a plastic bag, which I would casually tie up and throw away. (This is the definition of motherhood, I think. Being completely at ease with someone else’s effluvia.) I told her about how Grandma and I used to spend Saturday nights together, and she decided then and there that we would have a weekly movie night together, that Saturday night would be ours. We started with Disney, but as she’s grown older we’ve expanded our viewing. She loves movies where friends have fun together and women are badasses, and this has taken us to some fairly inappropriate places, which, just by nature of being out of bounds, has made our weekend ritual even more sacred. (Let’s just say she thought Bridesmaids was HILARIOUS but didn’t love Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.)

On the Saturday after graduation, we watched Dirty Dancing, and because it was a special weekend, I invited Lisa and one of Emmy’s best friends to join us (first checking with her mom to ensure she was on board with this choice of movie, given the abortion storyline and Patrick Swayze’s pelvis).

I really thought I nailed this event. We had a Pinterest-worthy dinner, complete with protein and vegetable, eaten at our table. The girls took pictures of each other carrying a watermelon and posted them to Instagram, then we ate the watermelon while we watched the movie. NOTE MY ADHERENCE TO THEME!

But despite my best efforts at normal mom-ing, the next day Emmy seemed a little out of sorts. I left her alone with it mostly, but did ask her if everything was OK, and reminded her that I was here to talk if she needed me. She said she was fine, that she was sad about school ending, that she was a little nervous about sleep-away camp, that she was a little sleepy. And then finally, as we sat down to lunch, I asked her what we should watch for next week’s Saturday night date, and if we should invite anyone to join us, because wasn’t it fun to have a houseful of people?

“Mama,” she said, tears welling up. “That’s just for us.” And she went on to explain that while she loved having friends with us, we should only do friend movie night on Fridays from now on, because Saturday is ours, Saturday is when we order sushi and eat it on the couch, and sit in the dark and laugh when Melissa McCarthy lets loose a string of profanity, and she asks if she can repeat the line even though it has the F-word and the S-word and the A-word and I say she can but she can’t tell ANYONE I let her watch this movie and now we have a secret, just us.

Just us.

I look for what’s missing.

My daughter sees what’s there.

I worry so much that nothing I give her is enough, that I don’t measure up, that I’m lacking and failing because our life doesn’t look like Little Women or Father of the Bride or Family Ties or Modern Family, and yet somehow, she doesn’t realize that we should send out Holiday cards and go to the library and and throw more parties and I’ve never had a mom’s group and I always feel like there’s some secret code for being the right kind of grown up, the right kind of mother, and no one gave me the rule book so I’m just winging it. Because I’m only now starting to realize that there is no right way to be a mother, no pinnacle of normal to strive for. There is only being the mother your child needs, whatever that is.

And Emmy needs me.

And so I will keep showing up, every Saturday night for as long as she’ll have me, with my encyclopedic knowledge of movie musicals and my worship of Sigourney Weaver. Insisting that the only way to make popcorn is in a pot with oil. Understanding that bedtime on Saturday is merely a suggestion. And knowing that having someone next to you on the couch is one of the truest ways to feel loved.

Next week, Working Girl.

Just us.






Heart of the Matter

The night before Valentine’s Day was going to be celebrated at my daughter’s school, I received the following text from my husband, Jonathan:

Emmy bought God cards. Won’t give them up. Crying. Help.

To translate our married shorthand, he was telling me that our 9-year-old, Emerson, had somehow selected religious Valentine’s Day cards, and now that he had discovered the fact he was trying to explain why she simply couldn’t hand them out to her friends, and she was very upset.

I called the house and he answered on the first ring. “How bad?” I asked.


“Like ‘Jesus died for you have some candy’ bad?”

“Like, one puppy telling another puppy that God wants us to be friends.”


“Also, there’s a Bible verse.”

He felt terrible about it, but in all honesty, those cards were sneaky:


Awww. Puppies! I’m glad we’re friends too, puppies!


Wait, hold up a sec…

In the grand scheme of things, one animal baby telling another animal baby that God brought them together in friendship is no tragedy. But there are several factors operating here that made this a Threat Level Red, Zero Card Thirty, codename God Cardgate situation.

First, there is the fact that we live in the kind of neighborhood where trying to find the owner of a lost blue hat can turn into a culture war. I just want to write my check to the PTO and bring my pie to the annual pie-related fundraiser, not set off a debate about the imposition of religious values on a multicultural community through the distribution of propaganda with a kitten on it.

More significantly, we’re Jewish! Sort of. I’m Jewish, culturally at least. Emmy is technically Jewish in the same way I am, because she’s the child of a Jewish mother. Jonathan was raised Catholic. We’re both Buddhist. And yet, in the sprit of Candy is Delicious and Everyone Loves Presents, we celebrate all the things, our Christmas tree glowing in the light of our menorah, Easter candy decorating our Passover table. We leave offerings to our Ganesha statue when faced with an obstacle. We welcome Persephone on the first day of spring. We smudge any new apartment we move into. My point is, if we were going to hand out God Cards, they would not feature the God of 1 John 4:8.

“Put her on the phone,” I said, standing to pull on my coat. It was now 7pm, I was still at work, and the evening suddenly included buying replacement Valentine’s Day cards, bringing them home, helping her to fill them out, and soothing her hurt feelings. Oh, and explaining God to her.

So, a typical Thursday.

“Helllloooo moooooommmmy,” she warbled in a tiny little voice.

“Hello baby,” I said. “I hear you picked out some cards with God in them.”

“Yes,” she said, crying. “I don’t understand. Daddy says I can’t hand them out, but they are just puppies. And I worked so hard on them. And there’s one for my teacher. And why is there anything wrong with God saying we should be friends? That’s nice!”

“I know, sweetheart,” I said. “And I’ll explain everything to you when I get home. But for now, you just need to trust me. I’m going to go to the store and buy you some other cards, and you can give those out.” We negotiated a deal. She would shower and put on her pajamas. I would buy new cards and bring them home. We would fill them out together, and I would try to find a way to tell her about the difference between puppies who love each other under the benevolent gaze of a gentle deity and the centuries-long bloody complexities of organized religion.

I thought about what I could tell her, while I shopped for cards at the CVS and rode the subway home from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I was raised in an atheist home. My mother is so anti-religion, such a disbeliever, that she threw a fit when I wanted to mention heaven in my grandmother’s eulogy. In the house where I grew up, no book was off-limits, no movie inappropriate, no cultural or political topic not worth talking to death, and my boyfriends started sleeping over when I was 16 — but no one talked about religion. I once asked my mother what she thought happened when we died, and she said she thought it was nothing. No heaven, no hell, no ghosts or spirit, no afterlife. Just the power going off in a house about to be demolished. Nothing left but the memories other people had of you, and a pile of paperwork to be attended to.

I met God my freshman year of college, in a Western Civ. class taught by a professor who captured my full attention. More than God, he showed me god in all his forms, and hers. A universe of myth and story stretching from the underworld to Asgard, spanning time from the moment that first prehistoric ancestor looked up at the sky in awe to me in the drugstore buying cards for my good-hearted daughter, and in doing so wrestling with ancient mysteries about what we wish, what we fear, what we stand for. I minored in Religious Studies in college, and while it may have started as a way of flirting with my professor and horrifying my mother, it matured into a genuine fascination with the sacred places of myth and faith, the archetypical stories of heroes and gods, goddesses and monsters. But for all this, I am no true believer. I have no answers. I’m just another traveler. Another curious wanderer. A storyteller who loves a big yarn. Perhaps, I will concede, better read than most.

I arrived home to find Emerson freshly showered, her thick hair combed out, wrapped in a blanket on the couch. I showed her the cards I’d bought. They had gel window clings on them, in the shapes of dragonflies, butterflies, frogs and owls. She thought they were wonderful. And I’d brought a special card for her teacher, too, with Snoopy dancing on it. We sat at the dining table together, me and my sweet girl, and I read her the names of her classmates while she carefully filled out each card, selecting just the right cling for each friend — a butterfly for Sophie, an owl for Gus, a dragonfly for Paloma.

“Mommy,” she said when we were done. “Why were the puppy cards not ok?  They were so cute!”

They were, I told her, they were adorable. But the thing is, those cards were about a specific God, the God that is in the Bible called the New Testament, and not everybody believes in that God. The people that do are called Christians, and not everybody is Christian. Some people are Jewish, and Muslim, and Buddhist. Some people don’t believe in God at all. And if you are a person who doesn’t believe in that Christian God, or any God, it can feel upsetting or confusing to get a card about that God. And anyway, religion is between the religious person and the God they believe in, we don’t impose those kinds of beliefs on other people. And giving out those cards could feel like you expected the person you were giving it to to believe in that Christian God.

She nodded. “Ok,” she said. And then she asked me the real question, the question at the heart of it all. “Mommy, what do you believe?”

What do I believe? I believe that religion is the cause of endless suffering, of war and hatred. That it’s a way to control the rebellious, creative, far-reaching, fierce thing that makes us human to start with. That it is yet a another way of dividing the world into an “us” and a “them,” and we have far too many of those. I am no fan of religion. But I do believe in something bigger than me, something vast and ferocious, made of rage and pain, pleasure and goodness, vengeance and forgiveness, something unknowable and unsolvable. I believe that sometimes god is a lion, with hot breath and a rough mane, and you visit him by sneaking through a wardrobe. Sometimes god is a grey-eyed girl who carries a bow and a quiver of arrows. Sometimes he’s a dangerous swan. Sometimes she’s a demon slayer. Sometimes god is a lightening bolt, a crash of thunder, a flood, or a fire. Sometimes he is a dancing elephant who clears the way forward. Sometimes she is a fierce mother who finds you in the dark and rescues you from the arms of a monster. I believe in the stories we tell, in the kindnesses we do, in the ways we find to love each other. I believe in the mysteries. I believe in what I don’t know. I revel in everything I don’t know.

“You’re so silly mommy,” she said, and she crawled into my lap and hugged me. “God is a lion?”

“Sometimes,” I said. “His name is Aslan, you’ll read about him one day.”

There were several cards left over, and Emerson asked if she could have the clings. She arranged them on her window, a little scene where the dragonflies flitted with the butterflies, and the owls kept company with the frogs. “They’ll be so pretty when the sun shines through,” she said, and she climbed into bed. I kissed her and hugged her, wished her sweet sleep.

I do not know what she dreams about. And I revel in that too.

It’s Called FaceTime for a Reason

This summer, my then 8-year-old daughter, Emerson, experienced two important rites of passage.

First, she became the object of a young man’s affection. This boy, whom we’ll call DG, had it bad for my moppet. So bad, in fact, that he asked if she had email, and told her that if she did NOT have email he’d make an email for her, so they could write during the evenings and over the weekend, when he was bereft of her company.

She told me this matter-of-factly one hot July night after camp, as she shoveled mac-n-cheese into her summer pink face. My baby, who has my pointy chin and round cheeks, her Daddy’s beautiful mouth, and more hair than anyone has a right to. My sweet little girl, who loves dragons and making things out of clay. My precious child, who is the kindest, funniest, and most generous person I have ever known.

“Well, Mama. Do I?” she asked.
“Do you what?”
“Do I have email?”
“Yes, my darling, you do. You have email so you can write to Grandma and Grandpa in Florida, and Grandma in Connecticut, and Yaya.” (That’s her nickname for my best friend, Lisa.)
“Well write it down for me, so I can give it to DG and he can send me an email.”

I didn’t just hand over her email address, of course. First I confirmed that this person was actually another child and not a 40-year-old ice cream vendor who hands out balloons to his “special” customers, but you have to climb into the back of the truck — which is really just a white van that he painted to look like an ice cream truck — to get your balloon (I watched far too many After School Specials growing up). Cue the epic eye rolling as she assured me that YES MAMA he’s a KID! He’s 10! We then had a giggly conversation where she admitted DG had a crush on her, and while she didn’t have a crush on HIM, she liked the fact that he had a crush on HER quite a lot.

I told her that she’s under no obligation to like him just because he likes her, that she doesn’t have to give anyone her email or phone number or smile for them or tell them her name or respond AT ALL just because a boy likes her. But if she IS going to be friends with him, she should understand that he has more-than-friend feelings for her, and be kind to him. And that if he, or anyone else for that matter, ever makes her feel uncomfortable or hurts her feelings or pressures her to be more than friends when she just wants to be friends then she should immediately tell me or her Daddy, and we will kill him. With our bare hands. And make it hurt. Bad.

Maybe I didn’t say that last part.

At the time Emerson didn’t have her own device on which to receive email. No iPad or iPhone or computer to call her own, because she is the most deprived child in all the land of Brooklyn. Her email came through on my iPhone, however, and so I was privy to the besotted musings of this 10-year-old Romeo. Here’s how it worked: He would send a message. I would see it on my phone, but not open it. I’d go home after work and tell her she had email. She’d take my phone and read the message, giggle, and then hand the phone back to me so I could type her dictated response, because I am her secretary. Sometimes she’d get bored and wander away, and I’d go scrambling after her because it is one thing to be transcribing a message from an 8-year-old girl to a 10-year-old boy, and quite another to be texting said 10-year-old boy by myself.

Things got serious when he started in with the emojis.

This went on for quite a few weeks. He even emailed her while we were away on vacation, counting down the days until she returned to camp, pumping out a string of emojis we had to consult a glossary to decipher. And then, sure as winter follows fall, came rite of passage number two: He dumped her. She went to camp one day, and he casually informed her that they were breaking up, but could still stay friends. She shrugged it off — she really hadn’t liked him that way, and was content with his ongoing friendship — but I admit to feeling a little miffed. I’d gotten pretty invested in all those emojis after all.

In August, for her 9th birthday, we got Emerson an iPad. She was so happy she cried. Mostly this iPad has been used for watching Wild Kratts (#TeamChris forever), taking photos of herself using Photo Booth, emailing grandparents, and FaceTiming Yaya.

And about a week ago, she used it to FaceTime DG.

I do not know what her motivation was. I think she was just missing her friend. He gleefully shouted her name when he realized it was her, and they talked for a long time, about school and games they were playing online, about his parents’ divorce and his brother and sister, about her fish. I didn’t eavesdrop – she did it in front of me, sitting on the couch. It was sweet, and tender. He told her he cared about her, and missed her, and was so happy to see her face.

He is a lover, this DG. His vulnerability slays me.

This is just the beginning, of course. The beginning of the boys and men (and perhaps women, who knows?) who will love her, whom she will love. And I want it all for her, all the ecstatic wonders and heart-cracking pain that is loving another person. The lavender-scented joy and the eating a tub of frosting in the bathtub while crying. I wish her everything, all of it, every electric moment of love and passion, eventually, when the time comes.

But first, this girl and I had some business to take care of.

I found her curled up on her bed, reading one of the BONE books. “Hey Emmy,” I said. “Can we have a conversation?” She put her book to one side and turned her open, sweet face to me.

“Sure. Am I in trouble?”
“Of course not. Why would you think you’re in trouble?”
“Well, what do you want to have a conversation about?”
“I want to have a conversation about FaceTime.”

I nude modeled in college, for sketch classes, and painting classes. I loved it. During breaks I would slip into a white robe, light a cigarette, and wander through the rows of easels, looking at the canvases and seeing myself the way others saw me. It completely changed the way I thought and felt about my body, made me appreciate the curved landscape of my belly and hips, my neck and breasts, the wild tumble of my unruly hair. I had a lover who photographed me nude, and I trusted him with my life. When we broke up, he gave me the photos, and the negatives.

I didn’t tell my daughter any of that. I will, someday, when my 20-year-old innocence and wildness can serve as a fond anecdote, rather than a model for her own behavior. Instead, I told her that sometimes when people have phones or other devices with cameras they can get a little silly and take pictures of their bodies, like their tushies, and then send them to other people. She laughed at that, thought it was ridiculous. And it is, I told her, it is very silly, but it is also sort of serious, because the Internet is an endless place, where nothing ever truly goes away. And even if you just send a photo like that as a joke, to someone you trust, once it leaves your Photos it might go anywhere. So we struck a deal. She will never take a photo, or video, or FaceTime of any part of herself below the neck. In a nervous spurt of creativity, I even made up a cheerful rhyme, to help her remember:

If it is not of your face, do not send it anyplace.

I also told her that if anyone sends her a photo of anything but their face she’s to show me or her Daddy immediately, and we’ll help her take the right next steps. If they show her any non-face parts on FaceTime, she’s to shut it down and come tell us.

I’m almost completely certain this was the right thing to do. She’s young, she’s so exquisitely young, but if you’re old enough to have your own iPad, know how to shoot photos and use FaceTime, and have a romantic boy to FaceTime with, then I think you’re old enough for this conversation. I think this conversation is required.

The world is so wide and full, so delicious and riotous. And I want her to have all of it. But for now, only from the neck up.

Unexpectedly Expecting

About two years ago I performed at The Jukebox, a storytelling/karaoke series run by my good friends Steve JacobsMargaret Lyons, and Steve Heisler. The topic of the evening was parenthood, and while the story I told isn’t the kind of thing Hallmark cards are made of, it is a love letter to my daughter, and so I thought I’d share it today.

Happy Mother’s Day, no matter how you got there.

*   *   *

I found out I was pregnant in a bathroom stall at Nickelodeon. And I was FURIOUS.

And shocked. The word “gobsmacked” comes to mind. But mostly furious.

Here’s why: I was 35, I was a newlywed, and I was madly in love. At my recent annual gynecologist appointment, my doctor had told me that for a variety of reasons I might have a very tough time getting pregnant. I was a little concerned because I was pretty sure I wanted to have a baby…eventually. Not now, but, you know, later. Eventually. When I told my doctor this, she said, quite gently, “You do realize that 35 is considered ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE.”

WTF? Apparently I had run out of “eventually” and if I had any intention of having a baby ever, we had to get the ball rolling. So even though I had absolutely no interest in getting pregnant right now, she pulled me off the pill with the idea that she’d run tests and check my hormones, and I would feel my mucous (totally gross) and we would see what my cycle was like when I was off the pill. And then maybe I would get pregnant in a year or two.

The other thing you need to know is that I was about to quit my job. Yes. I had a great big job then, with an office on the 38th floor of 1515 Broadway overlooking Times Square and an assistant and a bonus every year…and I despised it. I was a contract negotiator, which is an exciting job if you’re into that kind of thing, which I was decidedly not. I’m not a lawyer. I don’t have a business degree. In fact, I have a degree in Theatre, and a minor in Religious Studies. What was I doing negotiating contracts, you ask?

I came to New York City after college to be a stage director. And I had a job at Manhattan Theatre Club I adored, but it paid almost nothing and then I ran out of credit cards. So I took this job at MTV Networks in the Business and Legal Affairs department when I was 25, thinking I’d work there for a year and then I would go to grad school. And it never happened, because every year they promoted me, and the salary got bigger, and the bonus got bigger, and then I started thinking, who quits a job like this, I have such good benefits. And every year I died a little more inside.

On the day I found out I was pregnant in the bathroom, I had finally gotten to a place where I was ready to quit. I was going to quit big. I was going to quit my full time job, and take a $30,000 pay cut, and I was going to work as a freelance writer. It wasn’t as completely crazy as it sounds, because I had a permalance gig lined up to be the editorial director for tvland.com and nickatnite.com, but even so, I wasn’t flying out of the nest so much as I was flinging myself out of it… blindfolded…while on fire.

I should also mention that my husband, Jonathan, was working at EMS (an outdoor store sort of like REI) but his real focus was on finishing and selling a screenplay. So we got a fantastic discount on fleece, and every night at our house was like a scene out of Shakespeare in Lovebut when it came to our income, it was all pretty much on me.

But we had talked about this, and he was completely supportive of me quitting. I mean he was all, “You quit that job! You quit it hard! Full steam ahead on the quitting!”

And now I was pregnant.

So there I am in the bathroom stall with my pee stick and all I can think is, I don’t want to have this baby. Never mind it’s basically a miracle I got pregnant without trying, totally by accident, WHILE using a diaphragm (and I put spermicide in that thing EVERY TIME, just saying) after all the talk of advanced maternal age and checking the mucous.

Nope. No thank you. Because if I had this baby, there was no way in hell I could quit my job, with the paid maternity leave and the sweet benefits and the big paycheck. No way in hell. I would have to stay there, negotiating contracts forever, until I was just a shell of the person I once was, and then I’d retire, and then I’d die. And my tombstone would read, “She had amazing benefits.”

You guys, I came up with this awesome plan. The plan was, I was going to hide my pee stick in the trash and then march back to my desk and call my doctor and tell her I needed an abortion. Right now. Immediately. I wasn’t even going to tell anyone. I was just going go and quietly have an abortion and never tell anyone and then quit my job. A stealth abortion. A Stabortion. And then, in a year or so, when things had settled down a little, we’d have a baby. Maybe. Probably. Whatever. I don’t know. Abortion. Right now.

I hid my pee stick, and I left the bathroom, but instead of going to my office I took the elevator down to the lobby and I went across 44th street to the Starlight Deli, because as much as I desperately wanted an abortion at that exact moment I wanted a coffee the size of my head and a black & white cookie even more.

The head counterman at the Starlight Deli is this robust, wonderful, gregarious, friendly Egyptian man named Abraham. On the day of the pee stick, he’d been feeding me breakfast every work day for more than a decade. He fed me through my South Beach phase, and half a dozen bad breakups, and then he fed me though all the time I dated Jon, and planning our wedding. We were pals.

I walked into the Starlight and Abraham hollers out, “Hello beautiful! Coffee time! Yes?”

And I said, “Yes. But decaf.”

I don’t know. I mean, I didn’t want this dream-crushing, soul-sucking, scary baby. But I also didn’t want to hurt it.

Meanwhile, Abraham lights up and does an actual double-take. Because ever since I’d come back from my honeymoon he’d designated himself my Jewish mother and had been pestering me about where his babies were.

He points at me, and he says, “Decaf!? You baby?”

And I burst into tears. Wailing. Snotty wailing.

Abraham comes rushing out from behind the counter, and he takes me by the shoulders and he says, “Why you cry? Baby ok?”

I tried to explain about my job and quitting and my dreams and being a husk and my tombstone. And he just shook his head and he said, “You have baby. It’s good. You’ll see.”

And I was like, noooo, you don’t understand. $30,000 pay cut! How in the world can I possibly do this?

He shrugged, and he said, “I have five children. A blessing, every one. Every baby brings its own blessing. You ask me how you do this? You do it. Have your baby. Quit your job. Be brave. You’ll see, your blessings are just starting.”

I stood there with him, crying, and he actually took me in his arms and started to sway with me. He smelled like sugar and salami, which for a Jewish girl from the Bronx is the smell of home. He made it sound so easy. Have the baby. Quit the job. Both. Say yes.

It dawned on me that I had been saying no to myself for so long, I’d forgotten how to say yes that way. All of my choices, from the day I left the job I loved at Manhattan Theatre Club, were based on being safe. All of them. Everything was an “or.” It didn’t even occur to me until that moment I could choose “and.” Have the baby, and quit, and have it be ok.

I pulled myself together finally. Abraham poured me a decaf, bagged me a cookie, and sent me on my way.

And here’s what happened next.

I did call my gynecologist…

…the next morning, after I’d gone home and told Jonathan he was going to be a father, and we called our parents, and I called my best friend.

And then I quit my job.

Our daughter, Emerson, is going to be 9 this summer. She is the image of her daddy, and the love of my life. And every single thing I was scared of that day in the bathroom, they all turned out to be nonsense.

I was afraid I’d be trapped forever in a job I hated. Instead, emboldened by the need to contribute to my family’s wellbeing and motivated by a cellular desire to be the kind of person my daughter can admire, I kept pushing until I found a career that rewards me richly for being an information junkie with a tendency to burst into song.

I was afraid I’d lose myself completely, and instead I rediscovered everything I’d ever taken pleasure in: making up stories, singing songs, living room dance parties, talking in silly voices, themed Halloween costumes, ice cream for dinner, laughing until you pee.

I was afraid I’d resent her, but instead, I am indescribably grateful, for her laughter and sweetness, how she helps me see the world as a place of wonder and goodness. For the ways she’s softened me, made me kinder, slowed me down.

I am absolutely certain that every good thing in my life started the day I said yes to her. As Abraham predicted, she has brought an endless stream of blessings. And they have just started.

There were a lot of people around the day Emmy was born — Jonathan and my best friend, Lisa, were in the delivery room, and our parents were at the hospital also. I didn’t get to be alone with her until about 4 in the morning, when everyone had gone home to rest. And that first night, with her tiny head tucked under my chin, I whispered the most honest thing I have ever said to another person. “I have spent my entire life wondering what I’m supposed to be doing, where I’m supposed to be, what my purpose is. And it’s so clear now. I am here to love you.”

I know it’s corny, but motherhood is a corny business. It is made of promises, of hopes that are larger than everything you fear, of saying yes, and yes, and yes, to the mystery of love, to the surprising hugeness of your own heart, to messes, to the unknown.

It’s also made of lullabies, and that’s what I’m going to sing you for now.

Grown ups

My husband, Jonathan, and I both had the kind of childhoods where we were left to look out for ourselves a lot. Not because we weren’t loved. We were, very much, and also well provided for. But in the houses where we were raised, there were larger issues that needed attention, and those concerns took priority.

When I was a little girl, my mother was consumed with keeping us safe from my father’s selfish cruelty and the repercussions of his philandering. And then later, after she kicked him out, she devoted herself to repairing the damage he’d left behind. She built a career, patched herself back together, paid off the debt he’d accumulated, met my stepfather, fell in love, bought a house, became a success. She was busy, yo. She had business to take care of.

In Jonathan’s house, his sister was fighting a battle with her own personal demons, which I won’t detail here because they are her business and she has been well for a long time. I bring it up only because her difficulties were paramount for many years, the most important thing in his family.

As a result, Jonathan and I both have a sort of patchwork understanding of what it means to be taken care of, to rely on another person to help solve problems. Neither one of us is very good at asking for help, preferring to gut things out on our own. And we share a specific kind of panic when things go awry, a knee-jerk, wide-eyed, deer in the headlights reaction that’s best summed up as, “Oh shit. Now what?” We’ll joke that we need an adult to come help us figure out what to make for dinner, deal with paperwork, make plans. We’re only sort of kidding.

On Christmas morning our heat broke. I’m not  good with mechanical technology, so I’m not sure how best to explain what happened except to tell you it was extremely cold and when I moved the thingy on the thermostat there was no heat. Jonathan and I had one of those conversations where you keep a crazy-eyed smile on your face and pretend everything is fine because your kid is there, opening presents while wearing a parka and a hat, but really you are freaking the hell out because the heat is broken and it’s Christmas day and you need a grown up and that’s supposed to be you but you don’t know what the hell to do because all of a sudden you are 16 again and home alone with a situation that is way out of your league and probably this is going to cost all the money and then you will have to sell your apartment and live in a box. (Living in a box is my worst-case scenario and I tend to go there immediately when the slightest thing goes wrong.)

Eventually we remembered we have a management company for just this sort of occasion, so we emailed them. And then we remembered we have a building supervisor, so we called him. They both got back to us quickly, the management company offering the names and numbers of emergency plumbers. (Oh dear God, I thought, do you know how much a plumber will charge on Christmas???? We’ll be living in a box by New Year’s. LIVING IN A BOX.) Meanwhile, the Super generously volunteered to come over and see if there was anything he could do to help. But we were due to leave for Jonathan’s parents’ house in Connecticut in a few hours, and so we told the Super we’d call him when we returned on Friday.

We had a lovely, if slightly fretful (NO HEAT LIVING IN A BOX OUR CHILD WILL HAVE BLUE LIPS WHILE SHE SIPS ICY SKIM MILK FROM A TIN CUP WEARING FINGERLESS GLOVES OH GOD MY LIFE IS A DICKENS’ NOVEL), visit with Jonathan’s family, and then we returned to our freezing cold apartment on Friday night. We called the Super, who told us he’d “bled the whole floor” in our absence (I assume this is a heating related thing and not a reference to The Shining) and we should try turning on the heat and see if something happened. Nothing happened. We could hear water gurgling in the pipes but the baseboards stayed cold. We called back the Super and told him what was going on, and he gave us the number for a heating repair company and told us to call them, because it sounded like it might be a pilot light problem.

And that’s when it happened. That’s when I realized there ARE grown ups in our house, and everything was going to be fine.

Because when we bought the apartment I signed up for a service plan with the heating repair company the Super had just told us to call, and I knew where I’d filed the paperwork, and I’d paid the renewal on time, and when I called them they told me that because I’d purchased the cadillac plan, they’d be here first thing in the morning, and the repairs would be covered (by which I mean free, by which I mean there’s no need to pay them any money for this emergency repair service, so no living in a box, for now at least, and, pardon my digression, but this is why you should get the good insurance, everyone who asked my advice about which health plan to choose when we were doing open enrollment at work).

We had a chilly night, but it hardly mattered. I gave Emerson a steamy hot bath, dressed her in two pairs of pajamas and wrapped her in a fleece blanket, slept with my icy feet pressed against Jon’s warm legs all night (he’s part potbellied stove, I swear). This morning the repairman came and it was the pilot light, easily fixed. We gave him an exorbitant tip, what Jonathan calls the “relief tax.” The heat is now blasting and we’re all watching Batman: The Brave and The Bold on Netflix.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, particularly if you grew up in the kind of house where, if the heat went out, someone lit a fire and gave you a mug of hot chocolate to wrap your cold hands around while they made things right again. Where your worries were appropriately sized. But for us, kids who had to figure out grown up things, who had to bandage our own wounds and soothe our own hurts, fix what was broken on our own as best we could and instinctively knew not to ask for much from the exhausted, preoccupied people around us, it is deeply comforting to know that there are finally grown ups at home. Two of them, even. And while we may be watching cartoons and eating cake for breakfast, all is well here. All is safe, and whole, and warm.

Some Thoughts on Father’s Day, and Spelling Tests

My husband, Jonathan, and I joke that our 7-year-old daughter, Emerson, is me in a him package.

In so many ways, it’s true. She’s inherited all of his gorgeousness — the tall, lean, muscular body type, the huge hazel eyes that are mostly green, the creamy skin that turns bronze at the slightest lick of sun, the distractingly full mouth (honestly, I live with such beautiful creatures, I sometimes feel like a dark-eyed, mop-headed, short-legged Hobbit by comparison.)

From me she gets wicked mischief, and a generous, easily wounded heart. Curiousness, friendliness, a ranging sense of adventure. An inability to hold a grudge. The habit of leaping first and looking later. A flirty, wide-eyed charm that we both inherited from my grandmother, Edythe, whom Emerson is named for. Bossiness, the desire to bend things to her will, a need to negotiate everything. Impatience, and an unwillingness to work terribly hard at anything she’s not naturally good at. Also, a love of impromptu dance parties and lazing in bed on Saturday mornings.

That’s how it looks, on the surface. Him on the outside, me on the inside. But there’s a secret experiment going on here, too, one I observe with a mixture of fascination and heartbreak, hopefulness and grief. Because Emerson is just like me, but with one crucial difference.

She’s what I might have been, if I’d had the kind of father she does.


I didn’t marry Jonathan because I thought he’d be a good dad. I married him for a million good reasons, starting with the way he looks at me when he thinks I’m not watching — a mixture of desire, territorial pride and gentle amusement that never fails to melt me like a lit candle — all the way down the list to the way he can calmly find his way through the woods without a compass when we go hiking.

But I’m told this is a thing some women do, when a relationship turns serious. They don’t just consider what kind of a husband this man might be, if they’ll want to drag him into bed and talk to him over breakfast for the rest of their lives. They think about what kind of a father he’ll be; how he’ll treasure a daughter, raise up a son.

Never entered my mind.

For one thing, I was deeply ambivalent about having kids, and dealt with those mixed feelings by not thinking about them. For another, I was in unmapped territory. My mother kicked my father out when I was 6, and even before then he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good daddy. We had a difficult, painful relationship that I finally ended when I was in my early 30s. I was, in short, a John Mayer song.

And here is where I tell you that I have a stepfather I love, who treats me with infinite kindness and affection. That is true. And I am grateful for him. But he didn’t arrive until I was 12, and even then, he couldn’t put himself between me and the destructive storm that was my father. He couldn’t protect me from my father’s abandonment, or his selfishness. That wasn’t how it worked. Not for us.

So I chose Jonathan for all the right reasons, but his potential as a dad wasn’t one of them, mostly because I couldn’t have begun to design criteria for the job even if it had occurred to me to do so. What does a good father do exactly? Not abandon you? Not wound you? Not make you question your own essential lovability? Not leave you with a voracious self-destructive emptiness that nothing can fill, not love, not food, not sex, not accomplishment? Surely there has to be more to it than that.

As it turns out, Jonathan is a magnificent father. Patient and kind. Calm. Inventive. Watchful and protective, but not like a helicopter. More like a submarine. They have private jokes. They build things. He takes her to museums and talks to her about art. He plays her songs and talks to her about music. He sketches her portrait. When she was having trouble learning to read, he took her to the comic book store and introduced her to Wonder Woman. On the playground, he is the father with the Band-Aids, with the snack, with the balloons for making water fight bombs.

I find all of this amazing. I feel like an anthropologist in my own house sometimes, observing the way she trusts him, the way he loves her. The ease between them. The way she never doubts he will be there. The way he always is.

It makes me so happy. It makes me so sad.

She is just like me inside, except I got this way by crawling over a field of broken glass, swimming a river of poison, and fighting like hell to put myself back together. I’m a repaired thing. She has never been broken, and while I’m sure she will get dinged and dented by life, Jonathan won’t be the one to do it.

He’ll be the one with the first aid kit.


The other night I came home, and Emerson was hysterical. There was a spelling test the next day, and she’d failed to study. Jonathan had been trying to help her, encouraging her to write the words ten times each, but she was exhausted and overwrought. I pulled her into my lap and held her for a while, murmuring Mommy things. And when she was soothed enough to listen, I talked to her about Batman, and how his father told him we fall down so we can get back up again. That in life, there are going to be things she’s good at, and others  she’ll fail at, and  the most important thing is for her to show up and give it her best. That we make mistakes so we can learn, and the only people who fail are people who try. I told her she should take a shower, and then she and I would climb into bed and practice the words together. She nodded, willing to give it one more shot, always willing to give it one more try, no matter how hopeless it seems. Just like me.

She slid from my lap, I thought to go take her shower, but instead she walked over to Jonathan and crawled into his lap. Neither of them said a word, she simply buried her face in his neck and twined her arms around him while he held her.

He is her safe place. He is the nest she flies to. She has never once doubted her right to his attention and comfort, he has never once failed to give her what she needs. To be that whole, that loved, to feel that surety — in this way she is nothing like me. And it is perhaps the greatest gift she’ll ever get from me.

Then it was back to business, the shower and pajamas and lying in bed, spelling those words out loud until she felt calm enough to sleep.

She thinks she passed, by the way. She thinks she did just fine.


Next Sunday is Father’s Day, and while I am resolutely not a greeting card holiday kind of person, it is a day that used to fill me with melancholy in a very specific way, the way an empty beach in winter will. These days, it fills me with gratitude, and awe, and a lingering sadness.

But there’s something else here too, and that is the reckless courage I feel in telling this out loud. Of outing myself as someone who went unloved by a wounded man, and who believed that was the whole story of myself for a long time. And having survived that, there is a raw solidarity, a coded message I want to whisper to the other girls and women like me. The ones who regard Father’s Day with a visceral mix of weariness and disdain, carelessness and sadness.

Come closer, so I can hold your hands while I tell you this.

It’s not just you. It’s never just been you. I know it feels that way sometimes — my own loneliness in all this is a vast cliff I’m still climbing. But I promise, you’re not the only one who avoids the Father’s Day cards in the drugstore. Who blithely asks an uncle or a family friend to walk you down the aisle, while your heart breaks all over again. Who waits in restaurants, knowing he’s not going to show up this time either. Who wonders what course your life might have taken, who you might have been, had you been loved the way you deserved right from the start.

Whatever disaster he left you to mop up, whatever lies he told you about yourself — that you’re worthless, that no one will ever love you, that you’re not enough, that what you get is what you deserve and you should find a way to be grateful for it — it was never true.

None of it was ever true. Maybe you’ve known that for a long time now, or maybe you’re just starting to figure it out. Maybe you’re charting your own course through these dark, mysterious woods with a good man who adores you, a man who doesn’t need a map to find his way home, who’ll lead you there if you let him.

Maybe you don’t believe me. I understand. I wouldn’t have believed me either, not so long ago.

All I can tell you is that none of it, nothing he said and nothing he did and nothing he left you to sort out was ever the truth. You make your own truth, and then you keep telling it to yourself. And what you deserve is everything my daughter has — a world of love and safety, strong shoulders to rest your head on, a net to catch you should you fall too far. You deserve things that perhaps you don’t even know how to wish for, not yet.

And I hope you get all of them. Every last one.

Emerson and Jonathan, Halloween 2012. She was Catwoman.

Emerson and Jonathan, Halloween 2012. She was Catwoman.

A Petunia By Any Other Name

I don’t have a nickname (unless you count “Stef,” which I do not). I’ve been trying to make “Scully” happen for years now. Alas, just like “fetch,” it’s not going to happen.

But when I was very small, I was my father’s Sweet Petunia. And it suited me then, all chubby cheeks and giggles. I’m pretty open about the fact that my relationship with him was complicated, and this nickname represents a big part of that. Long after he lost any right to call me anything at all, he still persisted in using this nickname, and it infuriated me. When I finally cut off all contact with him, I dumped Petunia, too.

Enter Alice Walker.

This sounds far too hokey to be true, but I first encountered Walker’s poem “Revolutionary Petunia” painted on the wall of a building down the street from the office where I saw my first therapist.

Yes, really.

Painted huge on a brick wall, in purple, the words adorned with flowers:

The nature of this flower is to bloom.
Rebellious. Living.
Against the elemental crush.
A song of color
For deserving eyes.
Blooming gloriously
For its self.

The first time I saw it I stopped dead in the street, gobsmacked, and I thought, “Oh yeah? Fuck you, Alice Walker.”  I gave it the finger every time I passed it, through 2 years of therapy. Then I switched therapists and didn’t have to see it anymore.

I think what made me so angry was that I couldn’t possibly imagine a time when I would bloom gloriously, least of all for myself. My whole life was elemental crush, and I had been lying there taking it for so long, I truly didn’t know that I had it in me to do anything else.

This past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about Sweet Petunia, 6 years old, with a curly mop of hair and tremendous brown eyes. Full of mischief, full of love. I know it has everything to do with Emerson being 6, and coming face-to-face with what 6 knows and feels. She fascinates me, this younger self, in the the same way photos of the Titanic before it sailed do. I want to yell down the years at her, and warn her where the ice is.

But life is full of surprises, and here’s what’s most surprising of all: somewhere along the line, I reclaimed her, this small girl with her heart and hopes intact. She used to be inextricably entwined with my father, but I’ve found a way to pry her out of his arms. She’s mine now, and she’s brought with her a fresh peace, pale green, with sturdy roots and the smell of rich earth.

We Waddle But We Don’t Fall Down

I unwittingly exposed Emmy, and by extension Jon and myself, to the existential nightmare that is Happy Feet.

My intentions were good, I swear it. One cold Saturday morning earlier this year I took Emmy to be tested for the NYC Department of Education Gifted and Talented program (itself a gnawing abyss of parental self-recrimination), and after her test we went out for donuts and then wandered in the CVS. Awash in relief to have the test over and brimming with optimism for her future, I bought her everything she asked for, including the Happy Feet DVD. What did I know? It won Oscars! Hugh Jackman! Tap dancing! Hugh Jackman! Baby penguins! Hugh Jackman!

Suffice to say I should have read the reviews, and was hard pressed to explain the 2001: A Space Odyssey homage. And the tracking device implanted in Mumble. And his grief-driven psychotic break and hallucinations. Oh, and global warming, overfishing, and the menace of human encroachment.

Because Emmy is 4-years-old, we never watch a movie just once. On repeat viewings, I’ve become more impressed with Savion Glover‘s outrageous talent and more horrified by the film’s darker undertones, but Emmy has clearly been meditating on something else.

For the uninitiated, the movie opens with a colony of Emperor penguins ritually courting, and then the mother penguins go off to sea to forage for food, while the father penguins stay behind to huddle in the bone-splintering cold and incubate the eggs.

During a recent screening, Emmy turned to me and patted me on the arm. “The mommy penguins go to work,” she said.

“Yes,” I answered.

“The daddy penguins stay home and take care of the babies.”

“Yes,” I agreed.

She nodded. “We’re a penguin family,” she said, patting her chest, and turned back to the screen.

I opened my mouth to say something, and then closed it. She’s right, of course. I work full time, and Jon stays home, and while we know we made the right choice for our family, we both struggle with the decision at times. He with the cultural stigma of not being a breadwinner, and the isolation of being a stay-at-home-dad in a landscape populated mostly by moms and female caregivers. Me with the stress of being our sole source of support, my lengthy commute, and with being away from her.

But in this new light, from Emmy’s perspective, it all feels lighter. And it all makes sense. We’re not off-beat or progressive or rule-breakers or modern or brave (all things we have been called by various “supporters” of our arrangement).

We’re just penguins.

Another Saturday Night

Putting aside the few years in my early 30s when I tried to re-create my entire 20s (which was a hell of a lot of fun, until it wasn’t) I am not, I have never been, the girl you call to go out on Saturday night. I’m the girl you call to come fetch you when you wake up in the wrong apartment on Sunday morning missing a shoe and not quite sure how you got there.

When I had my daughter, Emerson, in 2005, my husband, Jonathan, and I settled  into a homey routine — a comfortable rotation of sending out the laundry, calling in for dinner, and switching off night time feedings and early morning wake-ups.

Emmy is almost 5 now, so we’re venturing out into the world more and more. (For the record, she has never been in a bar and won’t be until she sneaks into one using her fake ID. I have my standards.) A couple of weeks ago, we took her to see Mary Poppins, her first Broadway show. I am card-carrying-drama-major-musical-theatre-fangirl, so this was a day I had been waiting for. She behaved like a champ, sitting in her seat, asking questions quietly, clapping her little hands.

We went to the show with a large group of people that included my in-from-Atlanta cousin-in-law Eileen (she’s my step-father’s second cousin . . . I think), her kids, Gillian and Rebecca, and many of her NY friends. Eileen and I are close facebook and email pals, but this was the first time my family was meeting hers. The upshot — I knew Eileen but not her friends, Jon and Emmy knew no one.

When the show ended, our group assembled on the sidewalk in front of the theatre. Eileen and her friends were heading downtown to a restaurant for dinner, while Jon  and I planned to go back to Brooklyn. We’d been invited to join them for the meal, but had declined, feeling out of practice about dinner with a large group of strangers. We started saying our goodbyes, but when I asked Emmy if she wanted to give Eileen a hug, she gave me a fretful look and declared, most emphatically, “I want to go to dinner!”

Jon and I exchanged one of those married looks that encapsulated the following exchange:

Me: Dinner?
Him: I dunno. I guess she wants to go to dinner.
Me: She doesn’t even know these people.
Him: She’s leading her cousin Rebecca down 42nd street towards the A train.
Me: She has her metrocard.
Him: Now she’s giving directions to that group of tourists.
Me: I’ll go to dinner.
Him: Is it OK if I go home and watch Season 4 of The Wire?
Me: Yeah sure. Just don’t finish the ice cream.

He went to Brooklyn, we went to dinner.

We went to a place called Mappamondo, which is owned by a friend of Eileen’s. Utterly charming, it’s tucked into a small, cozy space on Abingdon Square (this is not a commercial, but go and have the spinach flan). The 20 of us pretty much filled the place, and Emmy dined on specially made french fries, a bowl of pasta, and chocolate gelato while playing with her “cousins” (which in her estimation included not just Eileen’s children but all the kids in our group). She also made what looked to be a soul connection with Eileen’s pal Gianni, the restaurant owner, and his gorgeous wife Karla, who owns a paradisiacal resort in Tulum.

Emmy with her new soul mates (from left: Karla, Gillian, Gianni, Emmy)

My daughter may wear toddler-sized pants, but she knows how to party.

Taking a lead from my almost-5-year-old, I relaxed, and ate the most incredible Italian food, and laughed and talked, and handed out my business card to a few of Eileen’s funny and good-hearted friends, who are becoming my friends too.

The party broke up at around 9PM (Emmy goes to bed at 8PM, so this is the equivalent of being out until 3AM for grownups). I was able to get her to leave only after she was CERTAIN that everyone was going, and she hugged Karla like it was the end of a movie about foster care.

I hailed a cab (she also raised her hand — she loves to hail a cab) and she snuggled into me in the back seat. She drowsily gave me her review of the show (“I liked when the little bird flew, and the big umbrella, and when she FLYED over the audience.”) She told me that she’s going to visit Becca and Gilly in Atlanta, that she wants a playdate with Karla, that she loves me. She nodded off as we drove through the dark city, heading back to Brooklyn, to her Daddy and her soft bed and her room with the yellow curtains.

It’s moments like these that always catch me up short, that make my throat hurt and my eyes sting. That somehow, between the things we thought we wanted and the things we lost, Jon and I found each other, and made her, just from loving each other. And not only did she get me out of the house on Saturday night, she showed me how much fun there is to be had, out with strangers in a place you’ve never been.