Mary Louise Kelly: It. Goes. So. Fast. The Year of No Do-Overs
Famed NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly comes to grips with the reality every parent faces: childhood has a definite expiration date. Peter and Orlando share their thoughts and opinions of Mary Louise Kelly's chronicle of her eldest child’s final year at home. Plus, we'll hear from Mary Louise herself.
Orlando Montoya: Coming up in this episode.
Peter Biello: And the book is basically about her revelation that, whoa, you know, I've got a year to be with my oldest son before he goes to college, and there aren't many of these soccer games left. So I need to be more mindful and spend more time with my kid.
Mary Louise Kelly: A very clear pecking order and reporters are very last in that pecking order. We're sitting there, you know, who if if incoming fire is going to hit somebody, it's going to be the press pool.
Orlando Montoya: I'm not going to put it all out there like that. Don't be expecting a book from me.
Peter Biello: Okay. No tell all memoirs from Orlando Montoya.
Orlando Montoya: This podcast from Georgia Public Broadcasting highlights books with Georgia Connections hosted by two of your favorite public radio book nerds, who also happen to be your hosts of All Things Considered on GPB Radio. I'm Orlando Montoya.
Peter Biello: And I'm Peter Biello. Thanks for joining us as we introduce you to authors, their writings, and the insights behind the stories mixed with our own thoughts and ideas on just what gives these works the Narrative Edge. Hey, Orlando.
Orlando Montoya: All right, Peter, what are we talking about today?
Peter Biello: We're talking about a book by someone who should be pretty familiar to listeners of All Things Considered, the show we host on GPB. It's Mary Louise Kelly. Her book is It. Goes. So. Fast. The Year of No Do-Overs. Now, this podcast, we talk about writers and books with Georgia connections. Mary Louise Kelly is from Atlanta. In fact, she got an early journalism start writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. So her Atlanta roots are solid. And this book is about her oldest son's last year of high school. I mean, let's back up for a minute. You and I know a lot about deadlines.
Orlando Montoya: Every single day. Mary Louise Kelly's got even more.
Peter Biello: Yeah, we've got deadlines. She's got deadlines. They're all super pressing. Of course, we look at the clock — and the clock is unforgiving. Neither of us are parents, however.
Orlando Montoya: We got to put that out of the way.
Peter Biello: Yeah, Yeah. And so we don't have the deadlines on top of, you know, family obligations with children. That's that's an entirely different ballgame. And this is what she's writing about most of the time in this year of no do-overs. Her children are 15 and 17.
Orlando Montoya: That's like the biggest time for kids.
Peter Biello: Yeah. Yeah. And for the longest time, as she writes in this book, she'd be pursuing stories, traveling outside the country sometimes. And her boys would have soccer games and she would have every intention of getting to the next game. But then a story would come up and she'd — she'd have to chase that one, and then she'd miss those games.
Mary Louise Kelly: And then suddenly you look up and I can count on my two hands how many are left. And I think I'd like I'd rather cut off my arm than miss one of these. And those were the ones that, looking back, give me pause. All those places in the gray zone. That didn't seem like a big deal at — at the time. But it's the accumulation of those decisions that add up to the life they're living. They're choosing to live.
Peter Biello: We spoke at an event at a hotel on 14th Street in Atlanta earlier this spring about her book. And the book is basically about her revelation that, "Whoa, you know, I've got a year to be with my oldest son before he goes to college, and there aren't many of these soccer games left. So I need to be more mindful and spend more time with my kid."
Orlando Montoya: So she made this a book project on top of all the things that she's doing already.
Peter Biello: Yeah. And I asked her about that at the event.
Peter Biello (to Kelly): You're now committing yourself to very mindfully living this year with your your oldest. And you are also adding the task of writing a book.
Mary Louise Kelly: Yeah.
Peter Biello: Was that in some ways, you know —
Mary Louise Kelly: Insane? Yes, it was insane.
Peter Biello: You can use that word, but it's a step forward and a step back, right? Because you're, on the one hand, mindfully living this experience, but then also taking time away from your son to to write this.
Mary Louise Kelly: Yeah. There were a lot of 4 and 5 a.m. morning alarm calls and a lot of frantic scribbles while sitting in the car at soccer halftime or waiting for them to warm up. And I'm writing and then running out. And my, kind of, decision that I landed on was that I would take leave from All Things Considered, which I did. If you didn't hear me in the fall of 2021, it's because I was on the soccer sidelines and my thinking was that I could write my butt off till 3:30 every day and then stand up and slam my laptop shut and go to the soccer games. And there were some days where that worked absolutely brilliantly and others where it did not. But somehow in the little, you know, snatched 5- and 10-minute intervals here and there a book got written.
Peter Biello: One of the things that stands out to me about this book is the stories that she tells that, you know, I imagine as parents, parents will all — all have stories about getting the emergency call about, oh, no, your kid is sick or oh, no, your kid is injured. Right? She has one that few parents have, I'm sure. Very few. She writes about being in Iraq following the U.S. Secretary of Defense, which was her job at the time and getting one of those calls.
Mary Louise Kelly: So the way they move a cabinet secretary around is their plane comes in, they land it in the Green Zone and there's helicopters circling that are waiting and as soon as the plane touches down, the steps go down. One helicopter touches down and picks up the defense secretary. In this case, it was Bob Gates. And then the next one touches down. They don't want more than one on the ground at a time, because even in the Green Zone, there's incoming fire. So you're in full — I was in, you know, body armor and helmet and all the rest. And as I'm waiting and they keep the helicopters, you know, it's a very clear pecking order and reporters are very last in that pecking order. We're sitting there, you know, who if if incoming fire is going to hit somebody, it's going to be the press pool. As I'm waiting for our helicopter, my phone rang — cellphone — and it was the school nurse back in Washington calling to tell me that my then 4-year-old was sick and where was I? Could I get them?
Peter Biello: We can laugh now?
Mary Louise Kelly: We can. I think I laughed then because I was like, "lady, if you could see" that, like it's not happening today or tomorrow. And she began to yell and said, "I don't mean to bring him home. I mean, he's really sick. He's really struggling to breathe and we need to get him to a doctor or a hospital. Now, where are you?" And I was trying to answer her and think, you know, what's the timezone difference? Where is my husband? Where's the babysitter? And I had to get in a helicopter because they're not waiting on me. And as we took off, I lost the signal and it was hours before I could get a phone call to go through again and find out that he was OK.
Peter Biello: And turns out he was OK. But wow, what an experience.
Orlando Montoya: I mean, she had to go and she had to check on the kid. There's no ... You got to do both.
Peter Biello: Yeah, that's that's one of the the the the things about parenthood that she's trying to highlight here is that, you know, you're pulled in different directions in ordinary life. In that particular situation, you know, she didn't really have a choice, right? Like, she had to contact someone in the States to — to make sure her kid was OK. But stateside, the choices get a little worse. They get — because in some ways they're gray. Like, do I — do I sacrifice this interview in favor of my family or vice versa? It's, it's — and this is something parents can relate to.
Orlando Montoya: And this was a whole year she did this or just like the fall?
Peter Biello: She followed her child for the whole year, the year of no do — basically a school year of no do-overs.
Orlando Montoya: And so after this year of no do-overs, did it work out?
Peter Biello: To some extent, it seems like it did, right? I mean, here's the thing about memoir. You you have to write in such a way that you are being self-deprecating and being honest about all your flaws while also kind of putting your best foot forward so readers — I think, anyway — read your book and say that person was an honest human being doing her best as opposed to, "Wow, what a jerk. What a —"
Orlando Montoya: Yeah.
Peter Biello: You don't walk away from this book feeling like Mary Louise Kelly is a jerk. I don't think that at all.
Orlando Montoya: And what do the kids think?
Peter Biello: Well, this is one thing that she asked her son James. She. She asked her son if there was ever a time when she when he really needed her and she just didn't come because she was working.
Mary Louise Kelly: And he looked hard at me and then he looked down at his shoes for a long time. But I thought, "Oh, no, this is about to be a litany of, you know, all of the harm I have inflicted on this kid." And he finally looked up and said. "There probably were, Mom, but I can't remember. And could I have 15 bucks for Chipotle?" And I thought, okay, like, I can't — it can't have been, I can't have made that many bad choices if that's, you know, the main form of reparations that's going to be — that's going to be required.
Peter Biello: So Chipotle makes all things right.
Orlando Montoya: Yes.
Peter Biello: But I mean, what do you think? I mean, is that — not having read the book, you haven't read the book — is that a kind of justification that you think makes sense? Like, all right, like if all he wants is Chipotle?
Orlando Montoya: Well, he changed the topic very quickly. And so obviously, it didn't sound like he cared that very much about the question.
Peter Biello: So, yeah. Preoccupied.
Orlando Montoya: Yeah.
Peter Biello: With hunger.
Orlando Montoya: Yeah. Maybe he was just that's his way of saying, yeah, it's all right. Just that maybe that's his way of talking. I don't know.
Peter Biello: If the wounds of childhood do not outweigh the pain of hunger. Then, I suppose —?
Orlando Montoya: Yeah.
Peter Biello: Parent, you've done a good job as a parent.
Orlando Montoya: And also, what about, like, her career during that time? I mean, obviously, NPR let her go for a year.
Peter Biello: You know, she left NPR and went back a couple of times. And in our conversation, I asked her, like, was it — was it scary to leave NPR and come back or what? You know, what would have happened? And she's just she's so grateful that she was able to to go back when she was ready because she — she also describes a scene in this book where she, you know, she's out of NPR, she's out of the journalism game for a while. And she she's — she feels like she's ragged and, you know, she's — she she runs out in public to get a coffee or something. I can't remember exactly what it was. Might have been a coffee. And she runs into a former colleague who is still in the journalism game, and she has a moment of envy, like, Oh, I wish I was still in that. And then later on, she writes in the book, talking to that same person and that person admits, like, I was kind of envious of you because you're — you know, you've got beautiful children and you've got this family and you're fully dedicated to that. So, you know, one of those grass is always greener kind of things that helps to keep in perspective. Also worth noting one more thing, because she writes in her book that — sort of towards the end of the book, she writes that her NPR contract is up for renewal. And she mentions that by way of saying that she doesn't know where she — where she's going in life.
Peter Biello (to Kelly): In this book, you mentioned that your NPR contract is up for renewal. Has there been any movement on that since this went to press?
Mary Louise Kelly: Oh, goodness, yes. Since this went to press, I have just re-upped my contract for another three years and have not yet had the conversation with my editors about what this coming soccer season is going to look like. But that's going to be a conversation for the coming weeks of how I'm going to make it to what really are the last high school soccer games.
Peter Biello: Another thread that if listeners read this book, she raises questions about her marriage falling apart. And I will say that I did not ask her specifically about that. It seemed sort of outside the bounds of where she wanted to go. Very, very personal. She doesn't have a bad thing to say about her husband, I should — I should mention that. At least in the book.
Orlando Montoya: Well, I'm glad that, you know, there are — there are boundaries.
Peter Biello: Yeah. Yeah. And the conversation was, you know, the book is pretty tightly written. I will say what gives this book the Narrative Edge, right? Is that it is — it is written with a radio reporter's kind of precision. I mean, you and I know this, right?
Orlando Montoya: Concise. You know, there's not a lot of wasted words.
Peter Biello: There's no wasted words, right? You have to be efficient with time. And this book, just around 200 pages, tells a concise story of the last year in the life of this mother-child relationship when this — when her son is living with them. And it's it's there's a lot here I feel like parents can relate to. But again, reading as a nonparent, I can still almost see it from from the perspective of of the child because I haven't seen it from the — I haven't seen life from the perspective of a parent. So I could follow that. I could follow what it would be like to, you know, want your parents to be there and to, you know, be grateful when they are.
Orlando Montoya: I would kind of read it as a fan, you know, as a fan of Mary Louise Kelly to find out a little bit more about her life and, you know, her — her, just her life in general. I mean, I'm not going to put it all out there like that. Don't be expecting a book for me.
Peter Biello: Okay. No tell all memoirs from Orlando Montoya.
Orlando Montoya: All right, well, that's the book. It. Goes. So. Fast. That's the name of the book that it goes to. And it's also what happened here.
Peter Biello: It just went so fast.
Orlando Montoya: Went so fast. It. Goes. So. Fast. The Year of No Do-Overs by Mary Louise Kelly. Thanks for telling me about it.
Peter Biello: Happy to.
Orlando Montoya: Thanks for listening to Narrative Edge. We'll be back in two weeks with a brand-new episode. This podcast is a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Find us online at GPB.org/NarrativeEdge.
Peter Biello: You can also catch us on the Daily GPB News podcast Georgia Today for a concise update on the latest news in Georgia. For more on that and all of our podcasts, go to GPB.org/Podcasts.