It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs, by Mary Louise Kelly, Macmillan, 240pp.
Mary Louise Kelly has reported on national security for NPR for two decades and is now co host of All Things Considered. On the East coast, ATC airs live at 4pm, which happens to be during band practice pick-up in my school district. For the three years before my son could drive, I listened to Kelly report the news as I sat in the school parking lot, waiting for yet another running-late practice to end.
I know her voice well and could hear it as I read her recent memoir about parenting, It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs. Kelly lamented missing out on her own son’s soccer games—which also happened to be at 4pm. Meanwhile, I listened to her as I picked my son up. I was able to be where she wished she could be.
As her son James stands on the cusp of adulthood and leaving home for college, Kelly wrestles with what she’s missed along the way.
Of the early years of parenting, she writes, “I console myself with the knowledge that there will always be another game. That next time I’ll figure out a way to be there…Except that the years slip by. Ninth grade slides into tenth slides into eleventh. James is a senior. I’m out of next times. There are no more do-overs.”
The memoir is ostensibly set during James's senior year, though it includes a lot of flashbacks. A challenge to setting a memoir during this season of life is the fact that at 17, our children are naturally inclined (and able) to spend more time outside of the house. While this is the year Kelly wants to slow down and remember, this also happens to be the year her son is home the least.
So, Kelly’s slim book strays a bit from the promised topics to also include subjects such as her own father’s death and her reporting work, including the war in Ukraine. These are interesting asides but not why I picked up the book. For me, the opening chapters were the most compelling.
In the chapter “Changing Places,” she describes an encounter she had while on leave from work in order to give her two-year-old speech-delayed son her undivided attention. One day, she was out for a walk with Alexander, dressed down and without makeup, when she ran into Annie, a fellow reporter, who was on her way to work, looking as polished and professional as ever.
Kelly felt sure that Annie looked down on her in that moment, only later to discover that Annie was actually jealous of the time Kelly was getting with her child. Later, Kelly found out that Annie left reporting and started a writing consultancy agency that allowed her to work from home.
It’s easy to sympathize with Kelly’s struggle, which is common to many parents: she loves her work, and she’s good at it. She loves her children. But it’s impossible to be in two places at once. And it’s in the professional realm that our good work results only in more work. She writes, “Personally, it’s taken me a while to see that the reward for good work is not that you get to be done. It’s that people notice and ask you to do more of it. The mountain keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it.”
At times over the years, Kelly left NPR for extended periods to have a more flexible, available schedule. She shifted from journalism to novel writing and enjoyed it for a season—though she was always drawn back to journalism.
She writes, “Dare I confess that I felt I was accomplishing something just as meaningful in those years writing novels at home, as when I spent my time scurrying between Pentagon press briefings? I started asking my friends in the business world, ‘Why do we automatically assume the woman running the company is doing more with her life than the woman who was negotiated a three-day week?’”
I’m one of those women. For the first sixteen and a half years of motherhood, my husband's job allowed me the choice to work part-time jobs, which made me available for my own boys. I loved this routine, being there each day when they got home from school, picking my oldest up from band practice, running the Scholastic Book Fair at the middle school.
Then the college bills loomed. My choice to work part-time all those years meant we didn’t have a cushy college savings account. When my oldest was in his junior year, I returned full-time to the workforce, with a hybrid arrangement—in the office three days and work from home the other two.
In the past year, I myself have wrestled with what I’m missing—even only three days a week, even only in this later season of parenting. I read Kelly’s book with great interest, hearing her familiar voice and sympathizing with her feelings. Yet, overwhelmingly, I felt grateful for the time I'd had with them when they were young.
Photo by Matthias88 on Pixabay.