'It goes so fast': NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on her life as journalist and mother
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NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly has reported from around the world. From war zones to Washington.
In her new book, she looks back on the choices she made as a reporter and a mother.
Today, On Point: A conversation with Mary Louise Kelly.
Mary Louise Kelly, All Things Considered co-host. Author of the new memoir ‘It. Goes. So. Fast. The Year of No Do-Overs.’
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: You know Mary Louise Kelly as the smart, insightful, tough co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered. She’s reported from Iran, North Korea, Ukraine, Pakistan and elsewhere, bringing urgent stories from around the world closer to home for listeners in the U.S. And she’s done all that while also raising two boys, one of whom is soon off to college. And until recently, she always thought she’d have time later to make good on promises to her boys.
But in her new book, It. Goes. So. Fast. The Year of No Do-Overs, Mary Louise faces a reckoning that there are no more years ahead, just quote, months, weeks and minutes. So she asks herself, what would she do if she had to decide all over again? I recently sat down with Mary Louise Kelly in front of a live audience at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And today, we’re sharing that conversation with you.
So, Mary Louise, I actually want to start with a story that you start with early in the book about the Blackhawk helicopter and the phone call you got. Can you tell us that story?
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Yes. This was when my kids were four and six, and I was working as NPR’s Pentagon correspondent. And on this trip, we had flown in. It was a big sandstorm. And I remember landing in Baghdad, and there was a swarm of Blackhawk helicopters to take us on to the first meetings of the day. And so we’re inside the Green Zone. But even there, you’re wearing full body armor and helmet and everything. And I’m about to board the helicopters and my phone rings. And it is the school nurse back in Washington calling to tell me that my four-year-old is sick and can I come. Like, where am I? And I think my reaction was like, lady, you know, that’s not happening if you can see where I am.
And she started speaking more loudly and said, I don’t mean to bring him home. I mean, he’s really sick. He’s struggling to breathe. Where are you? We need to get him to a hospital. But I have to get into this helicopter. And as soon as we take off, I lose signal. And I do remember being up in the air and looking down and thinking, What the hell am I doing with my life? Why am I here? So maybe career Plan B is in order. And I, on the way home from that trip, started writing what became my first book. And walked away from the newsroom. Like not as a leave or sabbatical, but flat out quit. And spent five or six years out away from the newsroom writing, trying to keep my foot in the door a little bit, but choosing a very different path.
CHAKRABARTI: You used the word choice just then, and I wanted to start with the story because I think it’s an example of how women don’t have a choice. Because several years ago, after your first novel came out, you actually came and did an interview with WBUR. And you spoke with my colleague Anthony Brooks. … I remember you telling this story. And what hit me at that time was the school had called you.
… So in a sense, you were feeling this guilt for not being able to be there instantaneously and respond to the urgent needs of your son. But you were put in that impossible position. They didn’t call your husband first. There was a presumption that Mom is the first call.
KELLY: Moms are the default. I will say they called my husband next after it became clear I was not going to answer the phone. And he got there and all was fine. And my son is now a thriving, happy 17-year-old. It is true that the demands on mothers are just different. They just flat out are. From the biological facts at the beginning of it, that we’re the ones giving birth. And if we choose and are able to, doing the breastfeeding and all the rest.
On the other hand, I was able to step away. I mean, I was working, I was writing, but I was able to step away and spend my mornings on the playground. And that was praised by our society. And there was space for me to do that and there was support for me to do that. And in some ways, I wonder if women of our generation are fortunate and that we do have choices. There are still, and this is really, really frustrating, only 24 hours in a day, despite my best efforts. So you cannot be in the Blackhawk helicopter and on the playground, or as the case may be, in the emergency room all at the same time. It doesn’t happen.
But I will say I have been surprised, since this book published, and I’ve been doing interviews. I have gotten at least 50% of the people who’ve written or tweeted or called or emailed have been men saying, Hey, we’re wrestling with this, too. And the last thing I will say on that is I was picking up my younger son from soccer practice last week, story of my life. And one of his friends walked past my car and waved and said hi and stopped for a moment. This is a 17-year-old teenage soccer jock.
And he said, Hi, Mrs. Kelley, nice to see you. I know your book is coming out. I’m really looking forward to reading it because I think it’s really going to resonate. And I was like, Really? The emotional turmoil of a middle-aged mom is hitting home for, I mean, I didn’t say that, but I must have had a look on my face because he said, Yeah, because you’re writing about choices that we make and years of no do overs and the end of high school. And I’m kind of living that, too. And I thought, Yeah, you are.
CHAKRABARTI: So you’re going to have to forgive me because I’m going to model myself after Mary Louise Kelly and not quite let go of this point just yet. Okay. … But there’s another scene in the book where you are, I believe, in the Donbas, and you’re talking about how, you know, you’re in this war zone and you’re obviously sending a lot of messages back to the newsroom and doing your job. But at the same time, your duties as a mother are still front and center and very present. Like, I think you tell a story about you having to send texts to your son, reminding him about the dog.
LOUISE KELLY: The doggy day care grooming. Yeah. I was literally texting the dog groomer from the Donbas … can you make sure to trim the nails.
CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. So the reason why I bring that up, and you can tell me that I’m just on the wrong track. But have you ever witnessed any of your male colleagues having to do that?
KELLY: As Pentagon correspondent, every military plane I’ve ever been on, the men are passing around photos. Are they organizing carpool and figuring out what’s for dinner from Baghdad or from eastern Ukraine? I have not seen that. You know, when I was earlier in my career and my kids were really little, I felt so self-conscious about being mommy tracked or seen as being less ambitious or less hardworking if I asked for any kind of accommodation.
And so I did … I would be needing to take one of my children to the pediatrician or the orthodontist or whatever it was. And I would tell my bosses, I’m going to be a couple hours late because there’s a doctor’s appointment, not quite making clear whose doctor’s appointment. And I now, and it’s partly I’m more senior in my career, but I also think this is part of life. And I’m going to put, we have a calendar … I have my personal calendar where I’m keeping track of my own oldest appointments, but those are actually on a big calendar that dozens of people can see. I go out of my way to say, you know, taking teenager to pediatrician or whatever it is. Because I want that to be public and out there and model it for, you know, the 20, 30-something colleagues who are coming up behind me to show like, you got to ask for this.
It needs to be respected and this is how we do it. And I go out of my way if I don’t see the men doing it. … You need to put your daycare obligation on that calendar. And they’re like, My wife’s got that. I’m like, okay, now we’re going to talk because that needs to be on your calendar too.
CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, I mean, the reason why I bring this up is because, look, the book is a beautiful reflection. A self-exploration, a reckoning, as you call it. But as I was reading it, I just couldn’t let go of this feeling of, well, Mary Louise Kelly feels like she has to go through this reckoning because of choices that she believes she made. But I don’t think she had a choice a lot of the time.
Like … most people wouldn’t even blink until someone like you writes it down, that here’s a mom top of her game as a foreign correspondent who still has to like text back about doggy day care. That’s not a choice, I don’t think.
KELLY: … That’s life, isn’t it?
CHAKRABARTI: … You’re not making the choice. We have a society right now that prevents you and women like you from perhaps making other choices that you might have wanted to make.
KELLY: … What I was trying to reckon with was I have laid down for myself a few hard, bright lines and trying to be, I hope, a good mom and I hope, good at my job. One of them is when the job and the kids collide. The kids come first. You know, I have stood up from Studio 31, which is our main broadcast studio at NPR headquarters, in the middle of a live national broadcast of All Things Considered. And I looked at Ari Shapiro and said, I’ve got to go. And he’s like, What? Like what? We’re on air. I know, but I’m looking at the text coming in from the babysitter, and it starts with, I’m in the emergency room and I got to go.
And to his credit, he’s like, okay, go. The ones that I have had to wrestle with that I think all of us maybe wrestle with are the, I call it the vast gray space that accumulates. And it’s the everyday little things. And what prompted me to start thinking about writing the book was this very specific decision that I had made over and over. My son’s love soccer. I love soccer. My oldest, James, he last year was the starting striker on his high school varsity team in Washington. And their games, which he lived for, are weekdays at 4:00.
And I have a conflict weekdays t 4:00. And it’s not the kind of job where you can just slink away early and hope no one will notice. And so I missed his games, like all of them. And I kept thinking, next year I’m going to figure this out. Next year I’ll find a way. And ninth grade slides into 10th as the parents here know. Which slides into 11th. And suddenly your kid is a senior and you’re out of next years. And the games that seemed, you know, who cares if you missed one when there are zillions and suddenly you can count on your own two hands, how many are left?
And I thought, okay, if I’m going to show up, I got to figure this out. And those are the decisions where you say you have no choice, but you do. I mean, I had a choice. Wasn’t an easy one, but I stepped away from the show for six, seven weeks last year. And now I’m trying to figure out if I do it again because my younger one is about to be a senior.
CHAKRABARTI: Today, we’re sharing a conversation I had recently with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly about her book, It. Goes. So. Fast. We spoke before a live audience at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And I asked Mary Louise to tell us more about that reckoning she was going through; about the choices she’d made as a mother. Did her sons ever ask her why she was away for work, often when they were little. And she told us that she asked her boys that very question when she was writing the new book, and we’ll let Mary Louise pick up the story from there.
KELLY: And at one point, I cornered James in the hallway outside his room and said, Has there ever been a moment where you really needed me? And I didn’t come because I was working? And he looked at me and then he looked down for a long, like a very uncomfortably long time. And I thought, Oh, God, he’s about to really let me have it. And he looked back up and said, There probably was. But I can’t actually remember. And could I have 15 bucks for Chipotle? … I just thought, okay. For whatever mistakes I have made as a mom, and my kids would tell you, I have made plenty. If the only restitution, reparations that needed to be made was 15 bucks for Chipotle, we’re doing okay here.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, I’m actually really glad you said that, because that’s something that I had been wondering. As your sons were growing up, did either of them ever say, like, why are you gone so often? Or you know, especially when you’re doing a lot of intense foreign reporting?
KELLY: To be completely honest, no, they never seem to miss me.
CHAKRABARTI: Or maybe they didn’t tell you. I’m pretty sure they probably did.
KELLY: You know, I think part of this has been my realizing this is about me. It’s about my missing things and knowing they’re not coming around again. Like my kids, as long as there were warm brownies after school, I don’t think they cared if the babysitter had made them. It was me who missed those moments. I will say the questions have gotten really interesting as they’ve gotten older, because I have always believed in being pretty honest with them about what I do and where I’m going.
And as they’ve asked questions, you know, I think if a kid is old enough to ask questions, they deserve an answer. So they know when I have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan or North Korea or wherever. My conversation before going to Ukraine last year with James, the oldest one, he had just watched Argo about, you know, the hostage crisis in Iran, which is not a good movie for your teenager to watch if you are going to be traveling to Iran, as I have.
So he wanted to know all about what’s the exit strategy. And that was a really interesting conversation, because the exit strategy from a war zone is not really clear. Like the exit strategy is you’re going to have done hostile environment training before you go in. You’re going to be very careful about where you go. I do not take unnecessary risks. But, you know, I got on a plane to Ukraine. So that’s the bar we’re starting with. I was packing body armor to go. So, you know, my definition of unnecessary risks might not track with other mothers. And I get that. But those conversations have gotten very interesting as the boys have wanted to engage on where I’m going and why.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, I’m going to trust that your sons also know what a badass their mom is. But there’s a story that you tell in the book that, gosh, just really put my heart in my throat. And I also think it sort of puts your thought process about, you know, those gray areas, as you were talking about, in a totally different context. And that is about, it surrounds the birth of your younger son and a document that you found later. Can you tell us that story?
KELLY: Alexander, my healthy, thriving 17-year-old was a perfectly normal pregnancy until he was delivered by emergency caesarean section two weeks early. And it was a very challenging delivery. Even by emergency C-section standards. And I at some point, I never got anesthesia, but at some point, had passed out, I think, from the horror of it. And so I have no direct memory of his birth and knew that he was very sick. And that was very obvious. He was whisked to the NICU, and we weren’t allowed to take him home for a long time. I was very sick afterward.
So those first few weeks were really difficult, and I knew that. And we knew he had had a stroke and we were focused on trying to get him out of the NICU and get him home and address whatever had happened with the stroke and needed to be, you know, whatever was treatable. … And making all the follow up appointments and deal with his two-year-old brother and all the rest. And did I mention we were moving house and had nowhere to live and we’re living in a hotel. There was a lot.
So when we finally were able to pick him up from the NICU, they handed us this fat envelope of discharge papers which I took home and threw in a drawer because we had plenty going on. And it must have sat there for 15, 16 years unopened. And it was only when I was trying to write a chapter for this book about something else in his childhood and was going to check my memory. To see … if I could find paperwork from the pediatrician that I found this envelope. The first document in his medical files.
And I thought, Well, I’ll open that. And clearly it can’t be … I mean, we’ve lived this long without knowing whatever it’s in there, I’ll, you know, give it a quick look and check it. And I read, and I had not realized, no one had ever told me. And I don’t know that my husband was ever told, that he had been born not alive. He had an Apgar score of zero, which it’s a score used to measure of the health of a newborn. And it’s measuring, you know, respiration and color and reflexes. And you want a ten. A perfect score is ten. And my son was a zero, and he was zero for several minutes, I don’t know how many, after birth.
And it’s hard to talk about even now, even knowing the outcome, that he’s fine. I mean, I know how this story ends. He’s fine. But I think it caused me to go back and think about some of the choices I had made. I traveled when he was a baby. I traveled. I went to Pakistan for two weeks before he could walk and thinking, would I have made those choices? Like, would I ever have let him out of my arms if I had known how close I had came to losing him?
And the answer to that is complicated. Partly, you don’t have a choice. He’s crawling out of your lap whether you try to hold him close or not. And that’s what you want. And partly because I love what I do and I feel being a journalist in my bones. And that was an important story. And I’m glad I got on the plane. I don’t regret it. But if you tweak that question just a little bit. No, I don’t regret it. I don’t regret getting on the plane. Do I regret leaving my baby? Yeah, I do. And I have every time. And I still do.
… The last big international trip I did was in February to Iran. And that moment of turning the key and the lock and walking out and down the steps to get into a taxi and go to the airport to a series of planes that’s going to take you thousands of miles away. Every single time. I have a moment where I think, Can we just call this off? Can I just go back inside, order pizza, build a pillow fort, watch a movie. But I think that those two things can both be true. You can want to do the job that you have worked hard to do and find meaning and purpose in. And you can also want to stay home and build a pillow fort every single night.
CHAKRABARTI: You know, I cannot imagine what that moment was like when you first read that medical report. I mean, did you feel like bodily almost thrust back to that time?
KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. You know, again, we knew he’d had a stroke. We spent his first year in a series of children’s hospitals appointment trying to figure out what had happened. Like, did the stroke cause the difficult delivery? Because the emergency C-section was because they lost his heartbeat. His heart was not beating, and that was for a while before they got him out. And then another several minutes, at least after he was delivered. Did that cause the stroke? And I’ve never had, I never got an answer to that. Nobody could ever answer that.
It felt relevant for a long time, you know, on his medical forms, is there any prior medical history? I’m like, How much time have you got? But over the years, as he thrived and got bigger and stronger, this is the same child who I got the phone call in Baghdad about, which informed part of my particular reaction in that situation. As he got older, I started thinking, does his camp counselor, who’s about to teach him how to, like, build a campfire and paddle a canoe. Do they need to know this? Because he’s seven and he’s fine.
CHAKRABARTI: You said a little earlier that this book is really more about you and your reckoning as a mother and professional journalist. And that story in particular made me feel full of gratitude for you. Because … I hope I’m interpreting this correctly. Your answer about, you can’t go back and change the past. You might ask yourself a question or two about, would you have done something differently?
But the way you approach it, I feel like you’re allowing yourself a grace even in the face of this, like sort of new, very earthshaking information. And I take that as an example. Like one thing that the book so clearly says, I think, is that parents need to give themselves a little bit of grace.
KELLY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we’re all trying. Yeah, not a single one of us has figured this out. I’ve been asked a couple of times, So what’s the takeaway? What’s the answer? I’m like, hell if I know. If you figured it out, hats off and please write the next book and tell me. There’s so many different ways to be a journalist. You know, there are people who write amazing op-eds, just there are people who go on cable TV news. There’s … all these different, you know, paths. I’m a reporter at heart. I’m in the anchor chair now.
But it’s because I like to ask questions and I’m so curious and I feel way more comfortable asking the questions than answering them. So that’s the way I’ve always approached my career. And in writing the book, I think I kind of knew like, there isn’t an answer to this. You can’t be in two places at once, but I’m going to turn some of these questions on myself and interrogate myself and the deals with myself and the tradeoffs I’ve made that have gotten our family to this point. And do so in as honest and unflinching a way as I can. And I’m going to apply that to myself. And that’s kind of what became the backbone here.
CHAKRABARTI: So a lot of the interviews that you’ve done for this book really focus on, of course, you as a mother. But the other thing that I wanted to ask you about … was about the other major relationship in your life, and that is with your father. Because he passed away. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
KELLY: Thank you. His name was Jim Kelly, and he fought cancer for 17 years. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and he lived for another 17, which tells you a little bit about this man who would not quit. And as you know, part of the exercise of reading a book that touches on being a mother, you’re thinking about what do you pass down? What are they going to remember of anything I’ve been telling them? Like, what lessons are they learning from watching me or not watching me? I don’t know if they’re taking any of this in, but it makes you think about, well, what did you inherit that came down from there? And I see my father in my sons all the time, in ways genetic. My older son looks very like him, is built like him, has the same insane sense of humor, like watching the two of them watch a movie together was the greatest thing ever.
Just their laughter. And it was way more entertaining than whatever was on the screen. So I see that. And I’ve thought about what I took from him, from my father. One of them was just that he never gives up, for better or worse. In ways, like it’s so frustrating to deal with such a stubborn person. And I see that in myself. He was a runner. He taught me to run. It’s where I wrote half the book, was go out for a run and the ideas come and I would put them down on the page. But yeah, as I was thinking about the decisions I’ve made with my children, I was talking with my father in what was clearly the end of his life.
And … I write about what was the very last walk I went on with him. You don’t always know when something’s happening for the last time. But with my father, it was clear he was very, very sick and he asked to go for a walk. And my mother looked at us like, Are you kidding me? Like this? Like, that’s not a good idea. Stay with him. And we went for a walk and he fell. And I helped him back up. And we walked a little bit more. And he fell again and took him longer to get up. And the conversation we were having was he was telling me, you know, the things he thought I should know.
And it was family comes first. You need to look after your boys. They’re such good boys. And then he said, Do you think they need to learn more about carpentry? And I was like, What? And he said, I have some wood in the garage back in Atlanta. I grew up in Georgia. I have some wood in the garage. Maybe I could teach them. I think it’s really important for them to learn how to use power tools. And then he went on a quite long and vivid description. Just from the ground. He’s on the pine stratum.
I’m looking at him. You can see he’s just gray with pain and he’s going through this litany of the power tools that my kids need to learn how to use. And I looked at him and thought the love of a parent is so strong, and I only understand this now that I’m a mother. But what you’re saying to me, you’re talking about power tools and what you’re saying is, I love you.
CHAKRABARTI: I appreciate very much that you shared that story because I lost my father last. … It just resonated very powerfully with me because we talk about ourselves as parents to our children. But of course, we are children to our parents and the sort of reflection and processing and wondering, What are we … and what did we learn about being parents? What effect did they have on us? What are we passing down? I mean, it can become quite, quite overwhelming. But what you just said is the thing that pulled me through. That ultimately, no matter what choices we made, they were made out of love.
KELLY: And if your children, one of these days, can see that, then we’ve done all right.
CHAKRABARTI: Now the final part of my live conversation with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, held recently at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Audience members were eager to ask Mary Louise their own questions. So I turned the microphone over to them.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You’ve talked about what the reckoning that you’ve gone through in having your job and being a mother. And I wondered the part of the reckoning that has to do with the danger, the dangerous part of your job, not just that your job takes you away and how that’s fit into your reckoning.
KELLY: I will say, I’m not a war correspondent. I’ve never been our Baghdad bureau chief, or our Kabul bureau chief. And that is by design. Because while that’s a career path I might have considered before I became a mother, it wasn’t viable once I did become a mother, nor was it, frankly, what I wanted to do. Part of my reckoning. So I mentioned going to Ukraine last year. I was there in early February, right before the start of the war. I have not been back.
My editors have asked me to go back. It was a conversation I really wrestled with around this time last year. Maybe April. Yeah. Late April, early May last year, where my editors were asking, could I go back for another rotation? And every bone in my journalist’s body wanted to get on that plane. And the weeks that they wanted lined up with James’s last weeks of high school and final exams. Like final, final exams. And another of my hard, kind of bright lines has been, there are a lot of journalists who can cover the war in Ukraine. And that sadly, there will always be a war sometime somewhere, and nobody else can be a mom to that kid. And those weeks mattered. And I said, No, and I haven’t been back since.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: … I’m curious to know whether [your sons] take for granted the fact that you’re going all these places or whether they are quizzing you when you return. Whether they want stories from the front line.
KELLY: The lovely thing about teenage children, teenage boys in my case, is they look at me and they see mom, and that’s what they need to see. They’re very, very good at keeping you grounded. They do, as I say, have questions, and they are tremendously helpful. I will say I don’t get scared interviewing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That’s what I do. I’m a policy wonk. That’s my sweet spot.
But interviews about the NFL are absolutely terrifying to me because I do not understand it. And I can read all the articles and prepare them, like I still, I don’t understand that. And I’ll call my teenage son and be like, quick. Like, what are your three questions? You will hear them coming verbatim out of my mouth an hour later. And those they love. And they’ll ask me how it goes.
CHAKRABARTI: You know what I think will happen? First of all, you’re exactly right. They’re teenage boys. You are mom first, Right? And kids keeping us grounded is absolutely the truth and very, very essential. But my guess is that in the future, they’re going to look back and, you know, maybe one day they’ll be flipping through their phones, and they’ll encounter a picture of you doing your work from somewhere.
And the mom that worked in those dangerous reporting assignments, or that spoke every afternoon to 20 million people, That mom, they’ll have a renewed, maybe a first appreciation. … Because we do that as adults for our parents. Because we see them as mom and dad first. But it’s only when we become adults that we’re like, oh, and they were people, too.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: … I heard your interview the other day with Terry Gross when you were talking about, she was asking you about your interview with Mike Pompeo and to me talk about a profile in journalistic courage. That abusive exchange that you had with him. What I’m curious to know is, it’s a two-parter. So, first of all, how did you maintain your calm, your groundedness in what was clearly a misogynistic moment? And then secondly, what did you learn about yourself as a person from having to deal with that situation, with that kind of power asymmetry?
KELLY: The how do you keep your cool question is just I’m there to do a job. I’m there to ask questions. They were good questions, if I may say that. They were questions that needed to be asked. And I always feel in those moments, it’s my mouth opening and asking the questions, but I’m doing it on behalf of all of you. And I’m not saying that with false humility. It’s a huge privilege to get to question someone like that. And it’s not like Mike Pompeo or any other secretary of state owes me any answers.
CHAKRABARTI: I would actually say that they do. … Because they owe answers to the American people.
KELLY: … Exactly. But that’s my point is. … You know, anybody who’s working, collecting a salary from the U.S. government, funded by us, the taxpayers should be accountable for decisions that are being made. And owes answers to the American public and also owes diplomats in that case, answers to all the diplomats who worked for him, who are not going to be able to question their boss and say, what’s going on with the shadow foreign policy and the Senate is in the middle of an impeachment trial for the president of the United States over things to do with Ukraine. And you’re running Ukraine policy, Mike Pompeo. So, what’s the deal? I keep my cool partly understanding, that’s who I am there for.
I will also say … as I stood in his private living room and he’s swearing at me, I had one of those little moments where you’re circling above yourself, looking down, because I had just been in Iran right before that. That same month of January 2020. I was thinking, Aren’t I lucky to live in a country that enjoys the First Amendment and a constitutional protection of free press and free speech? Because I have just been in a country, and I’ve reported from a few, where getting into a contentious interview with a senior government official who’s calling you a … liar would land you in jail or worse.
And whatever else happens, that’s not going to happen here. So that’s the answer to that part. What did I learn about myself? I mean, I take this on a little bit in the book. Because I was thinking about how to talk about it with my children and what lessons I wanted them to take from it. One was about standing your ground and not giving up. And in the context of an interview like that, that means if you ask a question and someone doesn’t answer it, you keep asking.
… Another takeaway, I guess, for me is the importance sometimes of standing up to a bully. And I didn’t have anything in my life that had prepared me for being in a situation like that, being sworn out by one of the most powerful people in the world. Watching, you know, from my TV and back in the newsroom a couple of days later, as the president of the United States at the White House praised Pompeo for doing a good job on me. How do I explain that and what possible training do I have for this? And then I thought, I do have training for this. I have been the mother of a toddler.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And you are dealing with another one.
KELLY: In some cases, when a person is behaving unreasonably, the best response is not to dignify it with a response about it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m going to ask a question to the mom of the toddlers there. What would you say to us moms who stayed at home, made a decision to not follow our careers until later, and I’m still experiencing extreme regret and pain at becoming an empty nester, recently. A mother of four boys. And I don’t have a do over and I want a do over. So, is there anything in this book that I’m going to read that’s going to speak to my heart in that way?
KELLY: Oh, I thank you so much for the question. I think I would say, and I can only speak for myself, my experience has been you can’t have it all and all at once. We all make our choices. I hope that you made the one that was right for you and for your family and that gives you satisfaction and joy. I hope that your four boys adore their mama. And that you’re so proud of those years, because you should be. I have cycled in and cycled out and done every permutation from flat out work crazy, around the clock schedule, to not working outside the home at all, to 40 weeks to sabbatical. I’ve done all over the map and none of them are easy.
And yeah, I do think, you know, you cannot have it all and all at once. But I would say to you, who says you’re done? Like, what is your dream? What’s your dream? Not the dream when you were 20 or 25 or whenever you started all this. But what’s your dream now? And maybe that is still being a fully engaged mom, grandmom? If so, like, I’m so proud of you, and that’s great and have permission to enjoy that. But if it’s something else, like go get ’em. Go get ’em. Why not?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have three boys. My oldest went to college last year. I have two more, rounding the bend. I work full time with a job I love, it’s frustrating sometimes, but I love it. And I do feel this sense of it goes so fast. Like I get it. And I love this idea of reckoning because I think that is true. You make decisions and you live with your decisions. What’s next? And kind of how are you thinking about that time after the kids are moving on?
KELLY: … Part of what I wanted to do in writing it was, was to really reckon with it in real time because my day job, the day job that we do, I love what I do. I hope that’s clear. I find it meaningful; I find it energizing. And I love getting up and doing it every day, but it’s so ephemeral. I do a show and you get days where it all goes great and every interview request comes back, Yes. And you have great conversations and you come up with the perfect question out of thin air in real time. And it’s this masterpiece of a show.
And by two weeks later, you’ve forgotten all about it because the news cycle marches on, and you have to keep getting up and redoing it every day. And I do like that, the clean slate every day. However, if you live life like that, and I know I do have a tendency to do the to do lists and race through them as real. But you don’t kind of sit and just think, okay, it is all these little choices that are adding up, that are adding up to the life that I have chosen. And I don’t know. I don’t know if you want to add to that, I have not figured it out. But turning the questions around on myself has been a fascinating experience, and I feel so lucky to have done it and I guess lucky to have to have shared it all with you tonight. Thank you.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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