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  • Writer's pictureAmy Stein-Milford

Dinner with Friend, Doula, Filmmaker Meema Spadola

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

Meema Spadola and I met nearly 25 years ago at a dinner party for a mutual friend. She was holding court, regaling the table with story after story, and I thought, who is this fabulous woman? I have to get to know her better!

Fortunately, Meema felt the same way, and I now count her as one of my closest friends. Over time, I discovered she is not only a gifted raconteur, but a sage listener. I have shared things with her that I would not tell anyone else and she listens without judgment, offering her thoughts at just the right moment.

Those concurrent qualities of storytelling and empathy have served Meema well in her personal life and professionally, now as a postpartum doula and earlier as a documentary filmmaker. I am sure Meema is the most reassuring presence for new parents, or in the words of The New York Times, “a modern Mary Poppins: a combination friend, teacher and spirit guide…” Spirit guide!

When I first met Meema, she was a filmmaker, soon to work on Red Hook Justice, a one-hour documentary that explores a bold new approach to justice reform through the lens of an experimental criminal court in Brooklyn – a piece that remains incredibly timely. Her gift for empathetic storytelling comes through in all of her award-winning films and radio pieces for PBS, HBO, This American Life and more.

Meema is the kind of smart, tough, fun, can-do-it person that you would want if you could pick just one friend to be stranded with on a desert island. She’s also a strong social justice advocate – in her son’s school, her local Brooklyn community, and nationally. In 2004, we were political comrades in arms plotting the overthrow of the Bush II administration through a NY to Bush campaign that was to be timed with the Republican Convention in New York (it didn’t work). However, through our fundraisers, together we raised tens of thousands of dollars for progressive democratic candidates and get-out-the-vote efforts, something I am very proud of.

For our All Dressed date, Meema took my mandate to dress fabulously to the max! On her bed she laid out the most splendiferous vintage dresses from the 1960s and 70s gifted to her from her friend Risa Mickenberg, writer, filmmaker, and co-creator of The Djoodie. For our romp in her garden, she chose the colorful, ankle-length hostess gown, which in her words is “very Mrs. Robinson.” With the buttoned-up neckline, there is the suggestion of propriety, but that is clearly just a ruse. My loaned dress, with plunging neckline, recalls the desperate 1970s suburban housewife friend who throws herself at the muscled gardener. Later in the evening we may go to a key party and exchange husbands.

I also must point out the golden sunglasses which add to the aura of superstardom. Is Meema a red-carpet celebrity or a superheroine with searing laser vision à la Marvel’s Cyclops? I don’t know. Completing the ensemble: navy Crocs.

Meema’s thirteen-year-old son Django also joined in the fun. He wore an item that is very meaningful to me, one of my father’s bow ties. When my father passed away, I gifted a few ties to Django as he has always been a dashing dresser. He’s known how to knot a bow tie since the age of 10 and often wore ties to elementary school.

Meema recently read and provided feedback on 100 pages of my memoir-in-progress, and this All Dressed visit included my making a home-cooked meal in her home as a small way of thanking her. (She herself is a great chef.) We drank wine, hung out in her garden, and then I made my famous Potato Chip Chicken (originally named Garlic Chicken for the single clove of garlic the recipe called for). Meema had noticed that Potato Chip Chicken was something of a leitmotif in my memoir. I try to mention it most every chapter, kind of like the mouse that crops up on every page of Goodnight Moon.

During our visit, I realized that in these All Dressed stories I always try to find the silver lining in this Covid year, focusing on the things that are getting people through this challenging time. This year, though, has been tough and it’s important not to gloss over that. For Meema, the challenges began immediately – she got Covid just at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and is one of those “long-haulers” who continues to have symptoms a year later, including fatigue. As someone who is full of creativity and action, I think that has been particularly hard. Meema did talk about the community of support around her, and in particular neighbors and friends who shopped for groceries and brought over other essentials. She also said that, despite her usual extrovert tendencies, she has enjoyed spending the bulk of her time at home with her husband Jack Stoller and Django.

Over dinner that evening, no keys were exchanged; instead, all adults fully vaccinated, we shared food, stories and laughter.

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