singer, songwriter Jamie Leonhart is my first guest MILK podcast guest

Today, we meet Jamie Leonhart, the first guest on my inaugural MILK podcast!

Jamie is truly flawless. She is a singer, songwriter, and mom to Milo. She wrote a beautiful piece of theater with original music called Estuary, all about the trauma and beauty of being a mother and an artist. Then she went on stage with her husband, who is also her musical director, and was honest and funny and real with that crazy voice of hers. 

I ❤️our talk. 

Give it a listen on iTunes and Stitcher. 

personal in public

I’ve always found stadiums and sports arenas fascinating. Like their sadder, more workweek cousins Convention Centers, stadiums are concrete, generic vessels that come alive when people united by a team or a band stream through their entrances. If sports and music are religion to some, then yes, stadiums are churches, and each person shuffling through the restroom line an individual worshipper.

On a Friday night in early July, I stood on the floor of a stadium in Chicago with tens of thousands of other twirling, wrinkled, middle aged people watching The Grateful Dead reunite after 20 years. The following Friday found me at another massive venue in New Jersey with my 8 year-old daughter to see Taylor Swift perform for squads of tween, teen and other variously aged females, plus a few baffled dads and boyfriends.

These two epic summer musical events in the space of one week smacked me in the face with nostalgia, and filled me with a new parental feeling I’ve been struggling to define. I was buoyed by the primal indulgence of entertainment, and felt unironically #blessed for the dual chances to supersize my and my daughter’s joy.

At the Dead show I was with girlfriends from college, and ran into others from all facets of my life. I was giddy and thrilled to be a part of a temporary hippie throwback moment – no matter how constructed. It was a massive party and I was going for it. My pleasure when the music started was both deeply personal and perfectly public. I was free to dance badly with feeling.

I had last seen The Dead in 1995. What struck me as I watched the band and the fans revel 20 years later is how rarely it is that I lose myself in anything these days – and how much I used to take that kind of letting go for granted. Now my energy seems solely focused on solving problems and creating opportunities for my kids and my work. As the band played, I forgot the checklists and lost myself in singing out lyrics and woo-hooing.

My experience was deepened at the Taylor Swift show, as I witnessed my daughter absorb her first concert. Z’s shiny, widened eyes, her fist raised in the air as she mirrored others around her, the adorable poster she and her best bud schlepped to the show – it was all so beautiful and pure. I breathed it in and put a mental photograph in her girlhood scrapbook for both of us. It made me tear up, because I recognized that Z having a formative experience. I was there for this one, and got to share it with her, but I realized as I watched her mouth move and her eyes follow the spectacle of girl power and pop music, that she was already having the kind of interior life I had reconnected with a week before in Chicago.

As I hugged her and we shouted out the words to “Bad Blood,” “Trouble,” and “Style,” all around me I saw girls and women of all ages doing the same. I saw people, thousands of them, standing in their stadium seats with their blinking bracelets and their smiles, looking as happy to be there as we felt. I squeezed her tighter.

A few days later Z left for overnight camp. It is really weird not having her around, which is a non-writerly way to describe her spotless, empty room and the negative space in our home without her loud voice and big personality, but weird is really what it is. Last week she was here but now she’s somewhere in New Hampshire, climbing ropes and making friends and learning archery, and I’m not there for any of it. She is being propelled into the world, but her inner life will always be with her. I hope she nurtures it with lots of music and art and friendship and anything else that reminds her that she is her own person, with her own story, but is always amongst thousands of others right there with her in the stadium.

dead right

A week ago I was headed to Chicago to see the Grateful Dead. I returned from that experience a different person.

I KNOW. How totally absurd and super annoying of me to say that. Like the person who talks about juicing or their dog’s poops or their baby’s personality a little too much, I realize how self-absorbed and trite this sounds. But allow a sister a little hyperbole.

People have been writing all week about the shows in Chicago and in California, and how the 70,000 + crowds each night were lovely and unified and super kind veggie burrito-ish to each other. No pushing, no aggression, just peace, love and sativa. How the music was rich and potent and how time seemed to hover somewhere between 1995 when the Dead played their last show at Soldier Field, and present day, present moment when they took the stage again with a few tweaks to the band lineup and the appearance of the fans. Walking through the streets of Chicago to and from the show was as cozy, crazy, happy and summertime party-down festive as anything I’ve done in years. It brought me back to college and fun and freedom and nothing left to do but smile smile smile. (Sorry).

It was special to go with two dear friends who live far away but will always be my true sisters. I was without my husband and kids and felt worry free and light. I was utterly in the moment — running into friends, high-fiving strangers, and dancing the hippy dance – the one where you don’t move your feet and might whack someone with your roving arms. I liked having to explain to several people that sorry, I did not have mushrooms to sell, but was grinning and giggling like a maniac simply because I was happy.

Now it’s a week later in the life of a mom of two youngin’s going to two different camps with lunchboxes and lost water bottles and pajama day and doctor’s appointments and playdates and living in the most non-peaceful construction zone of a neighborhood in the world. A lot of things have gone down this week, but I’m still smiling and thinking in these bumper sticker-y Grateful Dead song lyrics. I’m waiting for it to wear off and to return to the pissed off weirdo mom person who yells at people looking at their phones while crossing the street.

I can’t fully explain the transformative effect that one concert had on my attitude, but I am internally vibrating. Something shifted while I was reveling in those songs that were so much a part of my teens and twenties. I was having this intimate relationship with the band as they sang, while around me everyone else was having their own personal experiences – equally as intense of course. I felt like a vessel for the music and for memory and for love.

I try so hard to get there — I meditate, I self-medicate, I try to be mindful towards the happy times and to equally feel the sadness, the anxiety, the anger and the disappointments. But this was a time where everything was working. And the blissful memory of that weekend will sustain me.

It is bizarre, but I’m running with it. If you see me you’ll know. It must have been the roses.


I’ve been listening to this Taylor Swift song on repeat.


Listening to “22” is a four minute jolt of infectious auto-tuney happy earnestness which bleeds into intense nostalgic yearning. The soundtrack to trying on outfits while wearing a clay facemask. Sitting shotgun driving to get frozen yogurt. Laying out at the pool and not worrying someone will make you get them a graham cracker.

It’s pretty sweet to go inward in that particular way a pop song can free you from your present, even if that present is not exactly unpleasant and you’re cool with where you are in your life. Plus, I get a tiny thrill listening to it on my phone on the train between some skinny hot girl with librarian glasses and a tough thug with his legs spread maximally.

Factors that contribute to happiness in your 20’s are sharply different than those that please you in your 40’s according to an interesting article my husband pointed out to me while constantly reading his iPad. It’s about what motivates you at those specific times of life.

The author of the article, Heidi Grant Halvorson, who is on the cusp of 40, writes:

“Happiness becomes less the high-energy, totally-psyched experience of a teenager partying while his parents are out of town, and more the peaceful, relaxing experience of an overworked mom who’s been dreaming of that hot bath all day. The latter isn’t less “happy” than the former — it’s a different way of understanding what happiness is.

Social psychologists describe this change as a consequence of a gradual shifting from promotion motivation — seeing our goals in terms of what we can gain, or how we can end up better off, to prevention motivation — seeing our goals in terms of avoiding loss and keeping things running smoothly. Everyone, of course, has both motivations. But the relative amounts of each differ from person to person, and can shift with experience as we age.”

I suspect that the place of calm and complacency the author is writing from reflects that she is NOT having a midlife crisis, feeling the need to challenge herself physically by juice cleansing or running a marathon. Or becoming depressed and thinking a drastic career or spousal change will be the answer, or having another kid. This writer, in a vague, non-type A personality kind of way, seems to have what so many of my contemporaries are striving for: some peace and contentment for five minutes. It can be enough that everyone is healthy and safe and playing Junior Monopoly on Saturday nights. So good for her! This is great news and I appreciate the reminder that not everyone is out there being groovy all the time and that as parents we are occasionally allowed to breathe a sigh of relief that things are dull and unremarkable.

I listened to Terry Gross interview Greta Gerwig, 20 something actress and co-writer of “Frances Ha,” where Greta is talking about the moment, shown so beautifully in the film, where a person is a post collegiate mess a bit too long to be charming, and how some people seem to move more gracefully into adulthood than others. This film was excellent at probing that side of being youngish and flailing around, and how murky the experience of driving your life forward can feel. I loved it because it showed a character who couldn’t not be who she was, until she found her unique path, which most of us eventually do.

I guess these pieces of art, this pop song and this film, are two halves of a whole. The Taylor Swift song paints a condensed and uncomplicated version of events, feeling free and happy because things are in front of you and who knows where the night will take you? And the film, “Frances Ha,” is a more lengthy, more intellectual take on this exciting and awkward time of life, more probing, more squeamish and more mortifying in its execution. Both young, female protagonists are searching for answers, hoping vaguely for the future and trying to find the joy in the journey.

I do love when a study in a magazine validates a feeling I’ve been having, which is that getting older, raising kids while watching parents age, and feeling overwhelmed with responsibility at times, can and does have its moments of relaxation and self acceptance, where your happiness can be found in staring into space and listening/watching/saying/doing whatever you want.

We need to congratulate ourselves for the work we’ve done to get to this boring-ish place.

Cue Taylor Swift, and whoever the hell else I want to listen to.

kids musicians: rock star wannabes?

I was looking to hire a musician to play guitar at my son’s first birthday party. I figured it would be fun to have someone sing a Twinkle Twinkle/Wheels on the Bus/Yellow Submarine medley before we plied the kids with cake and got everyone the hell out of our house so that I could take a nap.

First I asked the teacher from the little music class baby M. goes to if she’d be interested. It’s a brand name here in Brooklyn, one of the “cool music classes” with original songs about living in the city, taking cabs, tall buildings. After many inquiries, the lead performer finally gave me a quote: 300 clams. And that just really gave me pause. Sorry, but are you Linda Evangelista, the supermodel who famously claimed not to get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day? I’m talking 12 kids under five, maracas, maybe some scarves. Forty-five minutes.

One of the great things about living in New York City is that there are artists everywhere. Creative people who are shrewd and resourceful; they’re figuring out how to play music, act, write, paint – all while surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Many of these folks have realized that parents will spend a ridiculous amount of money on their kids in the name of “enrichment.” That means they can ask a lot for lessons and birthday parties and people will pay it. And then they can afford to play their own music at night, go on auditions between gigs or pay rents on their studios.

If you care about music, you’re aware of how overly cheery and precious some kids’ music can be. And how smart and hilarious and deep the great stuff can be (They Might Be Giants and Gustafer Yellowgold are two bands we love listening to and watching on DVD over and over again). It’s thrilling to see the specific genius of art and music created for a young audience, how elegantly these artists get into the brains of our babies.

Our Brooklyn neighborhood is home to hipsters who project their carefully curated culture onto their kids. These are people who insist that their infants really enjoy The Clash and that their 2-year-olds prefer artisanal popsicles to those freeze pops you can buy at the drugstore. So if your toddlers dance like mad to Yo Gabba Gabba, it reinforces the fact that you, too, are still cool (all bands are excited to be booked on that show).

I am not taking myself out of this phenomenon. I took my kids to Yo Gabba Gabba Live, where I overpaid for tickets and an official Yo Gabba Gabba light stick and watched at intermission as the sponsor of the event (Kia) did a live commercial for a captive audience (of children!). To me, it was an example of Good Indie Cool Thing Gone Bad. Which happens. There’s that line when something is lovely and entertaining and then it crosses into being cheesy and compromised. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but I’d rather not overpay for it.

The irony, of course, is that kids are the most opened-minded listeners out there, especially the younger ones. My daughter could not get enough of this damned Elmo potty video when she was aged two to three, and it mortified me to death. We often think we’re providing them with this awesome, homegrown goodness when really, you could stick them in front of a video for Who Let The Dogs Out? and they would go bananas.

Thing is, I probably would have booked the $300-per-hour musician – mostly because I know the music is solid and that the people who write and teach it actually care about their product being quality. But it took two weeks for them to get back to me, likely because they were busy booking gigs. Or hate doing birthday parties. And by then, I had hired an old friend to come and entertain baby M. and friends – a super talented singer-songwriter who is now working his way up the children’s musician world ladder. He was awesome. And cheaper, almost by half. We sang Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens and some other songs I don’t remember, and clapped and then had cake. And then everyone went home, and we all took a nap.