My mother is pretty much fearless. Only 5'2", Lisa is easily everyone's favorite once she enters a room. When my brother and I were growing up, she sported a haircut like Meg Ryan's in Sleepless in Seattle, frequently volunteered to be my class's Room Mom, and wore Michael Simon sweaters. You might imagine her as a parallel to Wendi McLendon-Covey's portrayal of Beverly Goldberg in ABC's The Goldbergs, which, I admit, we watch as a family. But Lisa is even cooler than that.
If you were to judge her based on one act of her whole life, most would say that this story is among her best moments, if not her very best.
As an eighth-grader in 2010, we were very fortunate to attend the 52nd Grammy Awards with my family, by some stroke of luck. We could barely get through the weekend as the anticipation for Sunday evening built up. It was easily one of the best nights of my life! (Maybe I peaked at age 14, but only time will tell.) In the midst of the sea of limousines, my dad dropped us off a block from the entrance of the Staples Center so he could park our tiny rental car. The rest of the attendees walked the red carpet before entering the venue, but we were just as happy to walk in through a side door.
At that one event, we saw P!nk's acrobatic "Glitter in the Air" performance, Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy," and even Stevie Nicks and Taylor Swift's duet of "You Belong With Me." Like gawkers in living rooms across America, the celebrities use the commercial breaks for trips to bathroom and conversation. I found myself checking my hair next to Katie White, half of The Ting Tings. To top it off, Andy Samberg, who had been nominated for his work with The Lonely Island, winked at my friend Caroline and me, followed by a casual "Hey, ladies" before walking back into the auditorium. At that moment, my upcoming social studies exam seemed irrelevant, to say the least.
But this story didn't take place in or even outside a bathroom. The best part of this story occurs after the Grammy's, when our group ate dinner at The Palm. During our meal, we heard whispers that The Palm was one of Taylor Swift's stops of the night to celebrate her win for Album of the Year. As if our eyes hadn't already been as wide as grapefruits the whole night, we were amazed at the mere possibility that we might be in the same restaurant as Taylor Swift. I can't even count how many times I must have listened to "Love Story" thinking, Wow, she knows everything about everything.
As promised, Taylor entered The Palm halfway through our meal and a hush came over the restaurant before the crowd erupted into admiring applause. Everyone rushed to the landing to see her waltz through the entrance, wearing the most magnificent, glittering, navy blue gown the world had ever seen. I'm no fangirl, but I can appreciate a catchy tune performed by a girl with self-confidence and a sweet smile.
Some of the other girls our age started fidgeting and giggling loudly, but my mom coolly put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Farish, I know you want to meet Taylor, but if you act like that, no one will let you past the door of her party. Just follow my lead when I say it's time."
I didn't know what to say, but who was I to deny such a promise? My mom, Master of the Casserole and Mall Trip Chaperone, was going to be my ticket to meet (not just see) Taylor freakin' Swift. I was surprised and skeptical as my friend and I waited for her to initiate the mission.
Lisa turned to me and nodded to communicate that it was time. She determinedly escorted us up the stairs, and it didn't appear to be the star-studded event I had anticipated. (I later learned those are nearly impossible to enter and occur way past my eighth-grade bedtime.) The people around us did the work behind the scenes: record executives, producers, heads of PR, managers, and other jobs overshadowed by the fame of the celebrities they work with. We headed toward the center of the room, dodging one attendee after another. After spending a rough 10 minutes trying to navigate the crowd, we finally reached Taylor Swift.
I immediately thought, She is SO tall. She towered over the three of us and smiled, ready to greet anyone and everyone about to approach her. At that moment, one of her handlers tried to usher her out of the room to another event, but she insisted she on talking to the ordinary adolescents waiting expectantly in front of her.
Her handler looked peeved, but my mom explained, "I'm so sorry. We'll be quick. We just wanted to say hello and congratulate you on your award."
She warmly exclaimed, "Hi there! Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. Were you all at the show?"
Caroline and I nervously nodded and my mom spoke up: "We loved your performance. You know, these girls are big fans of yours. We wanted to know if they could take a picture with you." She gestured with my clunky hand-me-down digital camera. "Do you think that would be okay?"
Taylor said, "Of course!" We stood on either side of her and she put her arms around us. (In case you were wondering, she smells like flowers, and it was great.) My mom was prepared to get us back to the table after she snapped a quick photo, but Taylor grabbed the camera and said, "Oh no, there wasn't any flash!" She fiddled with the buttons. "There, that should be better! Let's do it again."
After the second take, she grinned down at us while our hearts were about to pop out of our chests. She asked our ages and where we lived, and it was refreshing to meet an accomplished musician who seemed to take a genuine and polite interest in two young fans. She was extremely kind and reflected humility.
Needless to say, we immediately framed that photo and hung it proudly in my bedroom after we got back home. We were the talk of our middle school during the week following the Grammy's.
I'm not sure how Taylor comports herself these days, but I hope she hasn't changed her attitude towards others outside of her industry. She made us feel comfortable and wanted in an environment that would have otherwise felt terrifying.
I know none of this story would have been possible without my firecracker of a mother, though. I share the best memories of my life with her, my tiny suburban rebel and the most incredible woman I know.