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Being There

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on juggling motherhood and career

The ripping pain that assails a mother with a demanding job is constant. Every day she is away from her children, it hurts, writes Mary Louise Kelly in her book It. Goes. So. Fast. The list of lost moments is long: “All those weekly soccer games when I showed up late, or failed to make it altogether. The playdates I skipped, the pool parties that I missed. The school pickups, the chance to hear the chatter from the back seat. The mornings baking cookies, when it was the nanny in the kitchen instead of me.”

Kelly, a correspondent for NPR and co-host of All Things Considered, gave birth to her second boy in 2006 in a hellish breach delivery. He was momentarily without any signs of life. Thirteen months later NPR sent her to Pakistan, a dangerous assignment half a world away from her husband and children.

Looking back on that decision to go, she asks herself: “Do I regret going?”

The answer is quick and decisive: “God, no … Our children are outgrowing us from the moment they are born … You can let a lot of life pass you by, sitting at home, waiting for people to need you.”

While Kelly laments the days and hours she spent away from her family on assignment in exotic and dangerous locations ranging from war-torn Pakistan to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Washington office, other mothers might have envied her relative freedom thanks to a supportive husband and really good nannies.

And she wryly acknowledges that her sons may have just taken her inexplicable absences for granted. “It stings to admit that the main (the only) person bothered by these absences is me,” she writes.

That said, she took several leaves from her job to be home with her children, taking them for walks in their strollers down Washington’s busy streets with the remnants of breakfast applesauce in her hair. But she was always lured back to the newsroom by the thrill of breaking stories.

She also dives into the angst of turning 50, becoming an aging woman in a still-sexist world.

“Guys used to whistle. And now that they’ve mostly stopped, I miss it,” she writes.

Or the grocery checkout lady who waves Kelly’s driver’s license away when she rings up the wine, saying, “We don’t make seniors show ID. Next in line.”

Ultimately her love of her profession is what sustains her, despite the woes of aging and feeling torn as a mother, especially when she’s reminded that the rest of the family might not share her pain. For example, she was both shocked and liberated when one of her teenaged sons called her cell phone to ask her to bring something home for him. She had been out of the country on assignment for more than a week. He hadn’t even noticed she was gone.

While that may be a comforting memory for Kelly, the one that bites the deepest is a soccer game she missed. She was stuck in foul weather on Nantucket where she had taken a sabbatical to write. She had planned to fly back the day before to be there for this monumental game.

“It was against our archrival high school. They would have home field advantage,” she writes.

But the fates were not kind. The day she was set to fly back home, a wicked northeaster hit the East Coast and the match in D.C. was moved up a day. But Nantucket was already being belted by the same storm and all planes were grounded. She couldn’t get there in time. So instead of being in the stands as promised, she was fed play-by-play texts from her husband of a game for the ages.

“I had promised this year would be different,” she writes. “I had promised I would make different choices, work be damned. I had promised these things. But here we were … I had once again failed to show up.”

Yet the family survived. And that’s ultimately the theme of It. Goes. So. Fast.: In the real world of no do-overs, we do the best we can and hope it’s enough. “It is both a relief and a little disconcerting,” Kelly writes, “to realize that your kids are going to turn out the way they turn out, almost no matter what you do.”

Being There

Lyda Phillips is a former journalist for print and wire service news organizations. She grew up in Memphis and was a longtime Nashville resident. She now lives in New Mexico.