Mia lives with her husband Seth Levin in Saint Anthony Park, where they are raising sons Aaron, who is currently at Grinnell, and Ethan, who will be starting at Macalester next fall, where he hopes to continue playing football as he begins his college life.
She works as a psychologist in the student counseling center at Macalester, where we met recently, and where this photo was taken. As it turns out, I sat in the same seat that her student clients sit in during their counseling sessions.
Leaving the waiting room of her office suite, I grabbed what I thought were a couple brightly wrapped candies from the wicker basket by the door. Based on our discussion, I should have realized that it’s a different age from when I was last on campus. As I discovered walking down the hall, in full view of the students nearby – the brightly colored treats were condoms.
OK, so just to be clear, you’ll have a chance to look at this before anything gets posted, so don’t worry about what you might say.
I’m not worried. I don’t have anything to hide. You’re not going to get to my deepest darkest secrets.
So tell me about your deepest darkest secrets. Let’s start there. Or otherwise, just your life growing up.
I was born while my parents were living in Amsterdam, Holland. My dad was doing his post doc there, in low temperature theoretical physics, and I came along. After Holland, we lived for a bit in Southern California, and then New Jersey, but then we moved here when I was three, when my dad came to the U. Coincidentally, my mom is a playwright and the theater department at the U in the 60s and 70s was an amazing fit for her.
So for several years growing up my dad was in the Physics Department at the U with Allen Goldman from our synagogue.
Oh sure I know Allen, though there’s no relation. He and I are actually closer in our home phone numbers than we are in genealogy. Our numbers were so close that for years we would each get calls intended for the other Goldman.
So your mom is a playwright?
Her name is Barbara Field, which was her maiden name. She was one of the founders of the Playwrights’ Center, and she wrote the original adaptation of the Christmas Carol that played at the Guthrie for over 30 years.
Do they both still live in Minnesota?
My mom does. My dad is in Irvine, California. And my younger brother is a pop music writer and producer in LA, who goes by the name James Harry. Harry was his middle name because both of my grandfathers were named Harry.
Did you know your grandparents?
I knew three out of the four of them. My dad is from Philadelphia and my mom is from Atlantic City, so we would see them at least once a year when we would visit both families.
What do you remember about them?
My grandma Pearl was my dad’s mom and she was very lady like, and very organized and precise. She was famous for her baking – she baked sugar spritz cookies where you punch them out of a cookie press, and hers were all just beautifully regular, and she had special kinds of sprinkles for each shape. Very detailed. And she made a roll up cake with a whipped cream filling, and a delicious coffee cake that I still make, and people love it.
What was your Jewish life like growing up?
Neither of my parents were very religious, so I’m kind of the black sheep, which is probably opposite from most families. I grew up in Saint Louis Park, but because we didn’t belong to a temple we weren’t really part of the Jewish community, and I didn’t connect with that much.
Did you consider yourself Jewish?
Very much so! But instead, while I was growing up I went to the Minnesota Dance Theater, and I took dance classes every day. So that was my place. I grew up in an alternative, arts environment, that was really very strong.
Were you active in high school?
My senior year I was in My Fair Lady, I was one of the featured dancers, but I spent all my time with the dance theater.
What kind of dance?
Ballet and modern. For hours and hours. When I went to Carleton, they didn’t have a dance major then, so I was an English major, but I danced enough that it would be considered a dance minor. I danced and did some choreography.
Where did you go from college?
In 1981, I moved to the Cities, where I wrote dance reviews and a lot of little blurbs for the Twin Cities Reader. And from there I moved to New York City because my then boyfriend was there, and I got a job in children’s book publishing. Children’s books have always been an interest of mine. I worked there a couple of years but it wasn’t the right fit for me. So I came back here again.
Without the boyfriend?
Oh yeah! Thank goodness. And I started doing different things in media, first at Film in the Cities, and then I went to Channel 2, where Seth Levin – thank God – was working. He had gone to Carleton too so we knew each other, but we weren’t really close friends. And then we got together while we were working there.
What did you do at Channel 2?
We were both in the arts programming department. I was programming music shows, I worked on the 1989 Saint Olaf Christmas show, and I produced the four minute documentary that was used to lead into that show. That was very exciting. But I got burned out on that and knew that wasn’t where I was meant to be.
During that time Seth and I got married. And then we went to Israel, because he was feeling that he needed a career change too. And we learned Hebrew at an Ulpan, and lived on Kibbutz Na’an where I worked in the baby house, and Seth worked in the ofanaim, helping to repair bicycles, which if you know Seth you would know is not really him. But he liked it. It was fine.
What came after Israel?
When we came back to the states, I went to graduate school at the U and got my Masters degree in counseling psychology. Part of what led me to that, was when we were in Israel. Seth and I were a little older than the others, and the college kids would come talk to me. And I thought, this is interesting. Then I thought back to my career at Channel 2 and the part that I really felt good about was when I was mentoring the interns, who were college age. So I began to think that I might be good with this age group, where there is a lot of transition. And I was right. In my application to the U, where it asked what your goals are, and I actually wrote ‘to work at Macalester or Carleton’. So I am one of the few people who met my goal, and I’ve been working here since 2001.
How about your family today.
Aaron just turned 21. He is a junior at Grinnell College and is majoring in music composition. And Ethan is a senior at Central High School and will be coming to Macalester next year. He applied early decision. He is a football player as well as a lot of other things. They have a wonderful football program here, very nurturing. He likes computer science, and economics, and he’s good at math. And he’s a great writer, he could be a creative writer.
Tell me about your wedding.
We’ve been married 25 years. We were not affiliated, so we talked with a lot of rabbis here in the Cities, but we just didn’t click with any at the time. So we followed Jewish law and exchanged gold rings in the witness of ten Jews, and married ourselves. Well, 80 people were there. You don’t need a rabbi to be married in our tradition, but that does make it legal in the civil sense. So the day before our wedding we went down to the courthouse with our parents and were legally married.
What do you consider your anniversary – the day you went down to the courthouse?
Oh no! The day we got married … spiritually. We were married in the garden of the museum of electricity – the Bakken Museum. It was beautiful that day.
Where did Seth grow up?
Seth was raised in a more traditional Jewish home, in Marengo, Illinois, which is just beyond the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He’s the youngest of six siblings and they belonged to a Reform synagogue – they all went to Sunday School, but only he and his brothers had their bar mitzvahs.
You were not a bat mitzvah growing up?
I was not, until I had baby Aaron, and eventually I had my adult bat mitzvah at Beth Jacob at the age of 35. While we were living in Israel, on the kibbutz, we met the sister of the rabbi of Beth Jacob. So when we got back, we went to Beth Jacob because we had that connection.
When did you come to Mount Zion?
We came here when Aaron started kindergarten, and soon after that Ethan started in the preschool. They went straight through during school, and into high school and were active here throughout. They had beautiful bar mitzvahs, and beautiful confirmations. They got so much out of it. They are both incredible people, and I do give part of the credit to Mount Zion, because of the ethics, and the open talk at the retreats, about things like sexuality. They got to do a lot of good stuff. So Mount Zion was amazing for that.
Are you active at Temple?
I go to the Women’s Spirituality group on Sunday mornings once a month, and I go to Our Bodies Our Souls. And also – I’m not like your wife, but no one is – but I do chant Torah. Maybe three times a year. I usually chant at Our Bodies, and I often do at Purim, and for the last two years I have chanted at Yom Kippur.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like gardening; we have a big garden. And I like reading science fiction. And I like to crochet. I won a ribbon at the State Fair for a bowl of crocheted strawberries. It was a bowl of strawberries, and a bowl of whipped cream, with a spoon, and they were each separate pieces.
Did you travel much growing up?
I traveled a lot on my own because my dad moved away when I was thirteen, so between then and college my brother and I traveled three times a year to see him. And our family lived with him in England for a year, during his sabbatical, and we traveled to France together. So I was sort of the opposite of everyone else when I got to college – I didn’t want to leave Northfield. I loved being there. People wanted to see the world, but I had seen the world.
Though a year ago, we all traveled to Spain and had a wonderful time. And when Aaron studied abroad in Milan, Italy last fall, I went to visit him by myself. I am getting the travel bug again.
What is your job here at Macalester?
I am a mental health counselor and a licensed psychologist, so I do therapy with college students.
Do you specialize in some facet?
We are all generalists. And we are super busy. There is lots of demand. It’s kind of a historic time for college mental health. And it has been for some time now.
Is it historic because of the need for counseling, or the attention that is being paid to it?
What tend to be the concerns; are they things unique to college students?
I could send you some good articles! There are probably several big reasons.
The crash of 2008 affected the fear level for families – how they would make a living – and that has trickled down to the kids.
And I think the fact that college is not affordable for someone that is working a regular job. In our day, we could probably work a couple jobs and be able to pay for college, because it cost a fraction of what it does now. But now that is impossible. You simply cannot work at minimum wage and pay $50,000 or more a year. So that’s a real thing.
And yes, binge drinking has risen.
And the bar has risen for what we expect of kids – straight A’s … lots of extracurriculars. It’s not just get a few A’s and a few B’s and find something you love. That’s not enough any more, it has to be all this other stuff.
We have no idea what social media is doing, but we know that it has to play a part. How do people see me? What’s my online presence? And that’s just one piece of it. The other piece is that people are looking at their screens all the time and they’re not interacting.
There are so many factors. There’s the X factor of nutrition. From how many Doritos and hot dogs can you eat, to what are the micro-nutrients in our soil? There are all sorts of things that we can’t know about.
And two working parents that don’t get home till 6 or 7. I am all for working parents but people don’t have the same communities.
We are so lucky that at Mount Zion we do have that, but we are not the norm. We know that. People are more isolated today. There are just so many reasons that students are much more anxious and depressed than they used to be.
Not to be a bummer, but this is all real stuff.
No, I get it. (pausing) But I’m just trying to find some way to end on a high note.
Well the high note is that the culture is changing and that it’s more OK to come in for counseling. It’s more OK to talk about it. And that’s good.
Do you see a lot of different students all the time, or does it tend to be the same students that you see on an ongoing basis?
With my case load, I have two new cases every week. But for existing clients we allow a ten session limit for the academic year.
What if they need more?
We try to refer them off campus, if they have insurance and can afford to pay. But its rough if you are connected to someone, and you know that they will not go off campus because they cannot afford it.
I assume that this college is a leader in these efforts, as compared to other schools?
I think most colleges make a similar commitment. We do a good job of it, but it’s gotten hard everywhere to meet the demand, and we are trying to figure out more ways to do that.
What did you want to be growing up – what would have been your dream job?
I think I wanted to be a dancer. So I kind of did that.
And I feel like I do have an amazing job, so meaningful. But if there were a way to add more art into it, like maybe being a dance therapist, or a movement therapist. I really like creativity and art, and it would be fun to find a way to combine that with helping people.
Lets wrap up. Do you have a favorite poem?
I do like the poem by Mary Oliver. I think I have it over here; let me see.
Oh my gosh, you keep it at your desk? Can you read a bit?
It is called The Summer Day. And the beginning is about curiosity and seeing the moment, but I’ll read the last two lines. It goes.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I think it’s about appreciating what we have and seeing your uniqueness. I see a lot of students that come in and think they are supposed to be something rather than themselves. And its part of my mission to help them become who they are, and see that they are worthy, in and of itself.