My dream today… single motherhood, biological fathers and grown-up choices, oh my.

My son’s dad isn’t the man who made him. This isn’t a secret from anyone who’s known me for longer than five minutes, nor from my son. But it’s one of those life-shaping, world-determining facts. Not something that plagues/rules my days—but something that has definitely steered the course. Like being white and born in a developed nation; I don’t actively think about it, but things would be very different if it weren’t the case.

My son is eight, he’s not stupid, and he’s always been told the truth. So, he’s becoming accordingly curious about his genetic father and threw down a serious load of questions over supper the other night.

“Why didn’t I have a dad before we moved to England?”

Well, buddy, that’s a great question. You know how we’ve talked about your dad is your dad, and another man’s sperm made you a few years before you met him? You had a biological father, that’s different than having a dad. It just took a while for you to meet your dad, that’s all.

“Why didn’t he marry you?”

We barely knew each other when I got pregnant with you, not nearly long enough to consider getting married. People have babies without getting married all the time, one shouldn’t determine the other. You are so very special, and special and important decisions had to be made so that everything worked out best for everyone. Getting married just because his sperm made you wasn’t the best decision.

“How long did you know him before you started… you know?”

Having sex?


Not long. Not the best decision I’ve ever made. A very irresponsible decision actually.

“How long?”

We’d known each other about a month before I got pregnant with you. That was a very thoughtless choice, but one I’m very glad I made because you’re here now.

“Why don’t I remember him? Did I ever meet him?”

My family was halfway across the country when I found out I was pregnant with you. It was best for everyone that I was closer to them, so I moved back. That’s why he wasn’t around. He drove down when you were three days old and stayed for a couple of days. You were an itty bitty newborn and wouldn’t remember that.

“So, he just didn’t want to know me? He didn’t want to marry you?”

Honey, this is a very big set of very wise questions. And I want to give you the best answers possible. Don’t ever be afraid to ask me anything, but please bear with me while I give you what I know to be true… It’s not that he didn’t want to know you. I firmly believe that he did want to know you. It’s just that he was really far away. It’s a big country, you know? I don’t know about marriage, but he would have lived with me if I’d wanted that, I don’t know. It’s not something I wanted, or even considered. I wanted you, I wanted to do what was best for you. And making someone be around, just because their sperm made you, never seemed like the best thing to do. Does that make sense?

Long, thoughtful pause… “Yeah, I think so. Can I see pictures of him again?”

Yeah, buddy. Finish your supper and we’ll look at pictures all you want.

“What’s he like, Mom? Is he nice?”

YES! He’s very nice. He’s very smart and funny. Obviously, since he helped make you, he’s totally awesome. He’s handsome and kind and thoughtful and smart… just like you… just like your dad. How lucky are you? You got the best of both worlds. A great set of sperm made your DNA and then a great man loved you enough to choose to be your dad.

“I love you, mom.”

I love you more, buddy…. To the moon and back, bigger than the whole wide world.

*My dream, today… to do this right.*


when I first met him...

The Dreams of Miguel… and an entire restaurant staff.

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One of my favorite Mexican restaurants has great happy hour drink and appetizer specials. No, I’m not plugging a restaurant. I’m just telling you where I went.

I ponied up to the bar, ordered a margarita and guacamole and sat next to the least socially-warm man I’ve sat next to in ages. But kids, let this be a lesson to you, don’t judge a book by its cover.

The order of guacamole was HUGE, so I offered to share it with Mr. I’m Drinking a Beer and Don’t Want to Talk to You… aka Miguel.

Turns out, Miguel is quite talkative once you get him going, and offer to share your guacamole with him. (To be fair, I think he was just being polite with the guacamole because he left me to eat it all by myself anyway.)

Miguel dreams of a day when “all Mexicanos can come to sit with us at the bar, work and pay taxes and have the same life we are enjoying at this moment.” He hopes “Mr. Obama will give them all the chance to have a drivers license and the right to try” and share my guacamole.

His mother and sister are still in Mexico. His mother doesn’t want to come. She wants it for her kids, but she wants to stay. I suppose I can understand that. Home is home, and there comes a point in life when moving somewhere without command of the language… that shit is ridiculous.

I can’t imagine being on one side of a line while my family is stuck on the other. I literally can’t imagine it, or it will make me a little insane. It’s easy to understand why it’s the center of his whole world and his hopes and dreams.

This was the first time I’ve started a dream chat in a social setting. The bartender and hostess ended up in our conversation too. It was awesome. Collective dreaming. Score.

Luis, the bartender, said he wants to get laid once a day, every day. I said, “Just once?” He had the slick-rick charisma of a young latin bartender. The kind that says, “Moms out for a drink at five in the afternoon want to put money in my underwear.” This mom wanted to know what his dreams were instead.

And then he admitted that he wants “to change the world, make it better, one little bit at a time.” He wasn’t sure how. He didn’t have many answers when I probed further. He had something he didn’t say though, something he held back. He started to say it, then didn’t. The liability of the group dream I suppose.

The hostess, whose name I didn’t catch wants to be a pro basketball player. She’s good. She wants to play abroad to get her foot in the door. She had drive and ambition in spades, it was obvious.

Once again, they all asked me about my dreams. They absolutely would not take the truthful answer of I didn’t know. You get a group of friendly Latin folk in one conversation and they will talk you, love you, and push you to death :) . Personal boundaries aren’t really their forte—a dynamic I forgot while living in England.

Two margaritas, one order of guacamole and three new dreamers. That’s some pretty good odds, I’d say. Also? I got invited to some shindig next Saturday at a different Mexican restaurant, by Mr. I’m Drinking a Beer and Don’t Want to Talk to You… aka Miguel (like I said, books and covers are rarely the same). Something with a DJ… and more margaritas. Put that dream in your pipe and smoke it.

Mr. If You Talk to Me I Will Invite You To A Cool Event... aka Miguel

The dreams of Tracy, the mother and teacher.

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I knew I wanted that beach dreamer, sooner rather than later.

I went to the most touristy damn beach in all of Santa Cruz County because, when on vacation, the lines of normal and abnormal are all blurred. It’s easier to open up when you’re on vacation.

She was sitting on a blanket, wearing t-shirt and shorts, her shoes toeing the sand. I just walked up and sat down on her blanket. Bold as brass, it just seemed right.

“Hi, I’m really sorry to bother you. But if I could just talk to you for a minute, I’d really appreciate it. My name’s Lerner, I’m working on a project where I’m talking to strangers about their hopes and dreams,” and I gave her my business card. “Do you mind if I ask you some questions for about fifteen minutes or so? I promise I won’t hijack your whole day.”

She looked at me like I was a little nuts; then I realized she was looking through me, past me. Her kids were in the water. I turned to face the same way she was watching–because staring out into the waves, watching her babies, seemed like a good place to start.

“How are your dreams different now than before you had babies?”

“Different?! I didn’t have any hopes or dreams at all before my kids. None.” Well. Now there’s a starting point.

Tracy’s 36, mother of two, married twelve years, part-time substitute teacher. Full-time awesome.

“I just want everything good for them. I know that’s not possible, so I hope and dream that I can get anywhere close to that. I just don’t want to fail them, you know?” I do know. I so know.

We talked about that for a while, and I promised her that I had to believe that just wanting that in the first place, meant that she hadn’t failed them; that she couldn’t fail them.

Tracy had her own rough start and just wants better for her babies. “I just want them to have better than I did. And then if they have kids, I want those kids to have better than mine had. I like to think that if we keep goin’ like that, somewhere down the line some generation will have it damn near perfect.” Quick, someone call the Nobel Peace Prize people. Someone call the world leaders. Spread the Gospel of Tracy.

She wants her kids to wait until they’re “fully settled within themselves” to get married. She fidgeted with her hands, picked at her cuticles. We didn’t talk about Tracy’s marriage—I saw her choices from her twenties sitting in the lines around her eyes.

Tracy wants better for her babies, and she wants them to wait until they’re older to pick a partner. Got it. I didn’t push any further on that spot, it didn’t feel right.

I asked her about her students. She dreams of a day when the education system can be healed; when learning will begin at home and continue there; when teachers will be valued; when knowledge will be available to everyone, equally. The Gospel of Tracy.

She moved here from the Midwest when she was 22, after college. She just wanted out and figured she’d get a better teaching job here than back home. California… still the land of the gold rush of hopes and dreams.

Eighteen minutes. I spent eighteen minutes with Tracy and I have never hugged anyone so hard in my life as I did that woman when I said goodbye. The world throws what it wants at Tracy, and she says, “Bring it.”

I’m sure it won’t be the last time I head to the waterfront to catch someone relaxed, off-guard and willing to talk, but Tracy will always be a stand-out memory for me.

I love her. I truly, deeply love her with all of me.

Tracy, toeing the sand...


The dreams of Deven, the server.

Today I set out to find my first dreamer. I went to the beach with romantic ideas of sitting, having a heart-to-heart with a stranger, learning the inner depths of their soul while watching the waves crash.

I took one look at the madhouse of a perfect beach day and the overcrowded, kid-infested nightmare and drove on. I thought I’d go to Starbucks, walked in and it was a ghost town. Then I went to a bar, at three in the afternoon.

Every bar I’ve ever been to or worked in, at three in the afternoon, has one sad alcoholic who is holding down the stool closest to the barmaid, staring at a piece of wall while sucking down their drink… what their dreams must be like. I imagined the dirty edges of that guy’s dream, I wanted to talk to that guy.

Instead, the bar was almost empty except for a few couples having lunch and good conversation. Evidently even the alcoholics go to the beach on a beautiful Saturday in Santa Cruz County.

I went out on the patio to enjoy the sunshine myself, ordered some onion rings and hoped someone would come out there and sit by themselves.

I looked over each shoulder, and then there he was. My server was sitting at a table in the corner of the patio, starting to fold napkins and roll silverware. Not what I had in mind, but I didn’t have the luxury of waiting all day for someone to drift in on their own and here was this kid all by himself.

“Hey, I’m working on an installment project where I’m going to talk to strangers about their hopes and dreams. I used to wait tables. If I help you with your side work, can I pick your brain for a while?”

Who’s gonna turn down help with their work, right? So I started getting to know Deven. He’s 19, and that kid works hard.

One of the things that interests me most about this project is to see how people initially answer the question. What does “dream” mean to them?

Deven’s first reaction was what I would expect from a 19 year-old with his whole future ahead of him. He started talking about what he might study in college, what he wants from a career. The answer to that is that he basically isn’t sure yet, “but I don’t wanna do the same thing as everyone else.” Man, do I get that.

I started asking him about his life and his family and what’s important to him every day. I think hopes and dreams lie in the little crevices of life, the ones we sometimes forget to explore.

He had just moved to Santa Cruz, he drove about 20 minutes to wait tables at this bar/restaurant. But here’s where Deven gets complex. Before he moved to Santa Cruz, he lived two hours away… and he still commuted to Santa Cruz to work. Two hours, each way, five days a week; because the tips were so much better than the small town he lived in.

When I asked him about working through high school, he said he’d always worked, even before high school. “I’m not scared of hard work. My mom’s always been an alcoholic and my dad owns a landscaping business. I’ve always helped out my family.” Because Deven is awesome.

He maybe wants to go to culinary school. He wants to start having babies when he’s 27, he wants to have “thousands in the bank” first, and he wants to give everything he has back to God.

His eyes are the color of ambition and he taught me how to origami a napkin like a pro.

Then something happened that I’d never even thought about: he started asking about me. He asked what my hopes and dreams were. I laughed and said that’s the whole reason I’m doing this; I’m not sure I know. He said, “Well thanks for the help! I’ve never rolled silverware this fast in my life. One minute I’m serving you onion rings and the next minute I’m having a cool conversation.”

Exactly, Deven. Exactly.

Deven's hardworking hands with our napkins and silverware.