Lunch with Lena Dunham (the prelude)
This week I got a call from the Hillary Clinton campaign telling me I won a contest to have lunch with Lena Dunham this weekend. After recovering from my initial disbelief-turned-sheepish-giggles, I started thinking about what she will think of me and what I can tell her about myself. So I wrote her a letter.
There is nothing like the opportunity to meet someone you admire to make you think about how unremarkable you are, at least on paper.
You’re less than 7 years younger than me, but it feels like a lifetime. In many ways, my life is mundane. I work for a global nonprofit doing copyright policy, but I live in the middle of Iowa. I spend about 9 hours a day at home alone with my golden retriever. I have a 3.5 year old son and another boy in my belly. My husband works in a cubicle as a government lawyer and comes home at 5:30 every day. We’re a happy family, probably annoyingly so. We eat dinner together every night, and just like my parents who have been married 52 years, my husband and I go to bed at the same time every night. I spend a lot of evenings walking around the house listening to podcasts, trying to hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. This is my life, and it sounds wholly unremarkable on the surface.
But we don’t live on the surface of our lives, we live deep underneath it — where tender everyday moments with your gloriously innocent toddler often feel profound, where an unexpected passing touch from your husband makes your day, and where the knowledge of your dog sleeping on the stairs while you work brings a certain homey feeling of security and joy.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in Iowa, dreaming of a life far from middle America. For many years, I had it. I went to college in Evanston and didn’t come back for 15 years. When I was 21, I moved by myself to Queens for an internship, surrounded by humanity and feeling more alone than ever. When I was 26, I moved to Manhattan with a boyfriend (now husband) who I was madly in love with but had no idea whether to trust. When I was 29, I moved to San Francisco to start a new career path on a coast where I had one close friend, 7 hours away. New lives in unfamiliar surroundings, discomfort before settling into new routines. Time and again, I’ve pushed myself out of familiarity to experience the new.
Then I had a baby and as they say, everything changed.
Before I was a mom, I used to think that was such a depressing thought — that suddenly I might start gravitating toward the familiar because my priorities would change . I was 34 when we moved back to Iowa, and my son was 16 months old. Even though I knew it was the right choice for our family, at the time I had a difficult time fighting back the feeling that I was giving up. The night before we left San Francisco, I took a 2-hour walk down the Embarcadero and cried. I was melodramatic. Okay, let’s be honest, I was depressed.
Two years later, I’m living a relatively quiet and ordinary life just about 2 miles from the house where I was raised. I never wanted a small life. It’s taken me some time to figure it out, but the smallness of my life isn’t something new to our lives here in the Midwest. My world shrunk the day my son Jonah was born. That is parenthood. Suddenly the walls of your apartment contain the most fascinating human in the world, one you love so much your insides can literally hurt when you think about it too much.
Last night, Jonah put on a play for us. He stood on a block, held up a book, and said, “I’m Jonah Hinchliff Pearson, and I’m going to start the show.” At that moment, there was nowhere I would rather be than our oversized living room chair, watching my son perform with a lump in my throat. In moments like those, it doesn’t matter whether we have the Golden Gate Bridge outside our window.
Parenthood is filled with those tiny moments. They are small and unremarkable to everyone on the outside, but they are rich with meaning for us. The most important priority in my life now is being present — not just physically there, but truly present— in those moments. Leaving behind the long commutes and expensive real estate has made that infinitely easier.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss city life sometimes. There is something about the energy of crowds and bright lights that I will always find electrifying. I’m not afraid to admit I feel a certain melancholy nostalgia when I watch Girls. I still think maybe we’ll move back to San Francisco or New York someday. But I know now that you don’t need urban chaos to feel alive. My life here in Iowa is packed with emotion, intellectual curiosity, creativity. I even have the luxury of carving out an hour of personal time to write each day, for god’s sake. Do you know a full-time lawyer mom in Manhattan that can say that?
As long as my cozy little world here in middle America doesn’t turn into a bubble, I’ll be content. My life might not be remarkable, but it’s full.
This is me. I can’t wait to meet you.
Update: Recap of my lunch with Lena written here.