New parents are told that their children will always be watching. Most of us heed this warning by cleaning up our acts before the baby even arrives. We try to eat healthier, drive slower, and learn to use a well-modulated indoor voice. As they grow older, our influence is sometimes surprising and harder to gauge. Your daughter will come down the stairs wearing a way too revealing dress that she says belongs to you. Your son shouts an expletive during a football game. Hmm…where did that come from?
By the time they are teenagers, you let your guard down a bit to share experiences you all enjoy. Not like when they were toddlers and you pretended to like making Play-Doh pizzas or listening to Raffi songs (over and over and over again). Now, for example, you can binge-watch TV shows as a family. The ones you missed the year you were in charge of the overly complicated carpool. Lyndsey was always late and Chloe’s cleats made the car smell bad. Really bad. But I digress.
One of the shows we watched as a family was the brilliant Mad Men—a period of time in which I took, shall we say, some interest in the actor Jon Hamm. My sister says I was “obsessed.” Okay, I liked him, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a stalker. Anyway, it’s fair to say that, as we plowed through the series, Jon Hamm’s name came up at the dinner table from time to time.
The concept of a “hall pass” was around long before the Farrelly brother’s movie. I remember laughing with my friends about who their spouse would allow them to pursue. My list had only one name. If the opportunity to be with Jon Hamm ever presented itself, I was all in. Interestingly enough, the kids seemed okay with the idea. We agreed: in the unlikely event something should happen to their dad, Mr. Hamm would be a suitable replacement.
I did eventually meet the congenial and accommodating Jon Hamm at Stand Up to Cancer in Los Angeles, a work event for my husband. Under normal circumstances, I am a model spouse at plus one obligations. Long-term marriages almost always require an interest in your spouse’s occupation and I did not have to fake mine. The show was emotional, as well as entertaining, and afterwards we were funneled into the after-party. My husband likes to say I sought Jon out like a heat-seeking missile—as soon as I saw him across the room, I zoomed in.
Here’s the thing: Jon Hamm fulfilled every expectation and more, short of becoming a step-dad to my teens. He held my hand upon introduction, threw his arm around my back for pictures and, most importantly, we discussed, with very intense eye contact, the loss of our mothers to cancer. For a few all too brief minutes, Jon made me feel like I was the only one in the room. At the same time, he reminded me that cancer sucks and we need to do more to stop it.
When I returned home with my original spouse in tow, it was fun to tell the kids about the entire event, including the big encounter. As I said, you can never be too sure what message your kids are taking in. In this case, I hoped they embraced the idea of supporting a cause. And if your crush supports your cause too, then it’s a win-win.
The following year the entire family had the privilege of accompanying my husband on another business trip — this time to London. When the plane landed, my teenage daughter turned to me after checking her Instagram feed and said, “Mom, Ansel is here in London!” And by Ansel, she meant Ansel Elgort the rising star of The Fault in Our Stars and, more recently, Baby Driver (with Jon Hamm!).
Despite a well-planned day of culture and food, I suspended the schedule after an insider tip from a doorman. Against my better judgment, we ran, jetlagged and starving, through the streets of London to snap a picture of Ansel, who also turned out to be kind and accommodating.
The ability of social media to connect us with celebrities, and in a foreign city at that, still amazes me. But the smile on my daughter’s face is what I will remember the most about that trip. While the reward of this particular day was not a lesson about culture, health or philanthropy, or even supporting a cause. It was about perhaps the most important thing of all: the happiness of our children.