My youngest daughter was about to turn 5 and days before her birthday, I still had no plans. I searched for ideas online, hoping to find something that would be quick and easy to plan, and found a website that offered pony parties. The ponies could even show up dressed as unicorns. My daughter loves everything magical. A unicorn in the front yard would make her wild with joy.
Feeling tight on time, I booked a pony party online and made a list of last minute errands for a busy weekend. My 8-year-old son and I were running a 5K for a charity and I was hosting a local congressional candidate at my home for a “meet and greet” with the neighbors. My daughter’s birthday party was sandwiched in between and I was on edge about making it all work.
On Wednesday morning, I received an anonymous text:
“Just a friendly reminder about your show. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions..” I re-read it. What show? Could this be someone from the neighborhood? We were in the middle of a contentious congressional race getting nationwide attention. When I emailed those “meet and greet” invitations to my neighbors, I received several notes saying, “We are conservative and would never vote for a Democratic candidate.” The exchanges were all cordial, but could this be a text from an excited neighbor or, worse, an offended one?
Or it could just be about the ponies. “Is this about the ponies?” I asked.
“Great. Just to clarify, will the kids be able to ride the ponies?”
“Yes. Tell me your name.”
At this point, I panicked. What if this was someone “phishing” for information, or worse? The previous night, my husband and I had huddled in the kitchen as he told me, in a hushed voice so the kids wouldn’t hear, about the new security procedures at Jewish community centers, filling me in on a conversation he had with a rabbi in Florida whose synagogue received a bomb threat the day before.
I picked up the phone and called the number in the text message. It rang for a long time and a young woman answered.
“Hi!” I said, with forced nonchalance. “Did you text earlier about a show?”
“Can you tell me what company you are calling from?” I asked, biting my lip.
“I was just texting to confirm your pony show.”
“Right,” I sighed with relief. “You didn’t identify yourself or tell me the name of your company.”
“I just started working for them last week. My job is to text people to confirm their shows.” She sounded confused.
“You keep calling it a show, but it’s a pony ride!” I could feel my cheeks starting to burn.
“I don’t know what it is. We do a lot of different things.”
My panic had subsided, but my confidence about the pony party was waning, and I asked her to have someone call me.” I could feel her eyes roll as she hung up the phone.
Soon I was distracted. My kids had to be picked up from school and I held their sweaty hands as we walked home and chatted about their day.
The next day, my phone rang and the man on the other line introduced himself as the owner of the pony company.
“One of my assistants tells me that you are an unhappy customer,” he sounded annoyed.
“Well, your assistant didn’t identify herself in her text and I got a little concerned.”
“I hire college kids to confirm my company shows because people always get worried that we won’t show up,” he was speaking slowly to diffuse the situation.
“I want to know who the handler will be for the ponies. Do you do background checks for your handlers?”
“It sounds like this isn’t going to work,” he said. He was about to cancel the whole thing. I started biting my lip again. The last thing I wanted was to lose the only party plan I had, just 2 days before my daughter’s birthday.
“I am sure I am not the first parent to have asked about this,” my voice was starting to crack and I felt my hand snaking its way around my neck and throat to hold it together.
“You are! You are the first parent to have asked about background checks,” he was starting to get emotional. “What do you think is going to happen? In full view of all the parents in your front yard?”
“I just want to know who is coming into my home!”
“They are all college kids! I’ve known them for years, lady! They are not coming into your home. They’ll be in your yard!”
I was holding on to the frame of my front door. Tears began running down my face.
“Do you want to know why I am in a panic? Do you want to know, human to human?” It felt absurd to ask a complete stranger to listen to me in this way, but I also had nothing to lose. “You think I am unhinged, don’t you?” words kept tumbling out. “I am Jewish,” I said definitively. “My children go to Jewish schools every day. In the last two weeks, there were 100 bomb threats against my community, mostly delivered by phone.” I closed my eyes and waited. The man on the phone was listening.
After a long pause, he chuckled quietly. “I am probably the only Jewish barn owner in Georgia,” he said. “I live in Atlanta and my family belongs to the Temple, with rabbi… Berg! I heard about the cemetery in St. Louis on the news but I had no idea there were bomb threats,” he stopped as if in mid-sentence. “I am sorry you got scared,” he said. “I’ll bring the ponies myself. My son and I will do the party.”
I felt relieved and ridiculous. I had just exposed the most twisted knots of my being to a stranger, and to my surprise, he understood.