Summary - It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs - Mary Louise Kelly
The author is a journalist and radio host who has struggled to balance the demands of her career with being present for her two sons, James and Alexander, as they grew up.
James, the older son, is about to graduate from high school and leave for college. The author realizes this is her last chance to make different choices and be there for him during this critical transition.
She reflects on the difficulty of managing work and family over the years. Though many books offer advice for young parents, there is little for those facing an empty nest. The tug between work and family remains challenging at every stage.
The author sees life in three acts: Act I is youth and early adulthood, Act II is having and raising children, and Act III is middle age and beyond after kids leave home. Though Act III is uncertain, it offers an opportunity to reflect and determine what comes next.
Two questions arise: What now? What next? The author seems eager to make the most of this new act.
The introduction sets the stage for a memoir reflecting on letting go of her son as he prepares to leave home, finding purpose and meaning in the next phase of life, and learning from experiences of struggle and regret along the way. The central tension revolves around the conflict between career and family, and the wish for more hours and years to do it all.
The author recounts an encounter with Annie, a fellow reporter, while on extended leave from her job to help her young son, Alexander, with speech therapy. The author ran into Annie while pushing Alexander in his stroller and felt embarrassed by her disheveled appearance compared to Annie's professional attire. Annie did not seem to recognize the author at first. After a brief exchange, Annie hurried off to interview someone at the White House, highlighting the contrast between their situations.
The author felt upset after this encounter, feeling like she had given up so much for her family and was not recognizing herself. However, Alexander's speech did improve over time, and the author eventually returned to work covering the Department of Defense for NPR.
Years later, the author and Annie bumped into each other again. Annie revealed that she had cried for hours after their previous encounter because she felt guilty about rushing to work instead of spending time with her child. The author had appeared happy and content, singing to her son, even though she was terrified she had thrown away her career.
The critical takeaway the author has gained is that there is no perfect balance or set of "right" choices regarding career and family. The secret may be learning to live with our choices and accepting that we cannot have it all simultaneously. The encounter highlights how we often perceive others' situations as better or worse than our own when the reality is more nuanced.
The vignette explores motherhood, career ambition, and work-life balance issues. The central message is being gentle with ourselves and accepting imperfections and limitations.
• The author is embarking on writing a book about her year in real time. Unlike her daily work as a broadcast journalist, she wants this year to "stick" and be memorable, unlike her daily work, where stories come and go quickly.
• She interviews her husband, Nick, about this plan. He points out that it is insane to take on a second full-time job writing a book, on top of her demanding day job and family responsibilities. However, the author wants to capture and reflect on this moment in her life.
• The author describes the pros and cons of her work in daily broadcast news. Pros: tight deadlines foster productivity and creativity. Each day feels full of possibility. Cons: the work can feel ephemeral since stories change quickly. It is easy to forget interviews and details from week to week.
• The author shares an anecdote of being asked to re-interview guests she has already interviewed, showing how ephemeral the work can feel. She wants this year, and this book project, to counter that—to create something lasting.
• The author and her son, James, visit the University of Chicago for an official college visit. They attend an information session where the admissions officer touts the school's strengths and opportunities. Parents and students ask questions about double majors, living on campus, dealing with bad roommates, and more.
• At the end of the session, current undergraduates introduce themselves as the walking tour guides. The last woman dramatically introduces herself, pausing before revealing that her favorite juice is fruit punch.
• In summary, the author launches her ambitious book project to capture her year more lastingly. She and her son visit the University of Chicago to start his college search, attending an information session about the school.
The author and her son, James, are visiting the University of Chicago for a college visit. James seems excited about the prospect of attending the school and impressed by the law school acceptance rates statistics. However, the author worries that James and other high school students are too focused on constant achievement and "the next step," rather than enjoying the present moment.
The author reflects on her ambitious nature and tendency to take on more work and responsibility as she succeeds in her journalism career. While rewarding, this treadmill of accomplishment can be exhausting and never-ending. She questions whether the constant drive to succeed is the right message for her children. She wants her son to be happy, find meaningful relationships, and contribute value to the world.
On their walk back from the law school, the author wonders if the visit has stressed James out or caused him to worry about future applications and tests. However, James reveals that he was thinking about his social plans for the evening and asks if he can leave their dinner reservation early. The author had hoped for one-on-one time with her son, a rare occasion, but understands his desire to connect with new friends. She recognizes that college is a time for learning independence and bonding with a diverse range of people. Overall, the author seems to grapple with bittersweet emotions about her son growing up and moving on to his next life stage.
The narrator wakes up in the middle of the night during a severe thunderstorm and tornado watch. She goes downstairs to check on her teenage son Alexander and their dog Shadow. Shadow is terrified of thunder and has been whimpering for over an hour. Alexander has tried to comfort the dog but has been unsuccessful.
The narrator reveals that she and her husband never wanted a dog and are not dog people. However, Alexander begged for a dog for years and eventually convinced them to get Shadow as a puppy when Alexander was nine. Although Alexander has taken good care of Shadow, tonight he seems overwhelmed trying to soothe the frightened dog during the storm.
The narrator brings Alexander and Shadow into Alexander's bedroom. It takes a long time, but she can eventually get Shadow to sit on her lap. She sits with one hand on Shadow's head and one hand on Alexander's head, comforting them both.
She reflects on how she tucked them into bed when her sons were younger and toldld them stories. Although they always demanded action-packed stories about superheroes, her favorite part was after their eyes grew heavy, when she would stroke their hair and tell them how much she loved them and how special they were.
The key elements are the thunderstorm frightening the dog, the history of how the family came to get the dog despite the parents not wanting one, the mother comforting her son and the dog during the storm, and her memory of tucking her young sons into bed and praising them.
The narrator is a working mother who traveled overseas for her job covering the U.S. Secretary of Defense. On a trip to Baghdad, Iraq, she receives a call from her son Alexander's school nurse saying he is very ill and having trouble breathing. The narrator is about to board a helicopter for a press event and cannot immediately leave to get her son. She feels torn between her responsibilities as a mother and her duties for her job.
The author was a correspondent for NPR with two young sons. While on a work trip to Iraq, she received a call that her sickly infant son needed to go to the hospital. This made her realize she could no longer juggle the demands of her job with being a mother.
She resigned from NPR and became a full-time novelist, writing spy thrillers from home so she could care for her kids. While she enjoyed writing books, she missed journalism. When the Paris terror attacks happened in 2015, she felt a strong pull to report on the story. She called her old managers at NPR and asked to come back.
She returned to NPR as a national security correspondent in 2016. Her sons were now older, so she felt it was the right time, though the work-life balance was still challenging, especially with the turbulent Trump era and news cycle. She loves the thrill of the newsroom, though admits it is hard to keep up with the real-world plots unfolding.
The author has learned to warn interview subjects that they only have a limited time left so she can end segments on time. She likens this to realizing your children are growing up fast—you must savor the moments you have left before they are gone. Overall, the passage is about the struggles of balancing an all-consuming career with the demands of motherhood, and learning to navigate the twists and turns.
Here is a summary of the key points:
The author acknowledges that as she has gotten older, there are fewer outward signs of interest or acknowledgement from the wider world. She misses some aspects of this, like appreciative glances or compliments on her appearance, even as she knows catcalling and inappropriate behavior are not okay.
She points out three instances that highlight she is aging and becoming "invisible": a supermarket clerk not asking for her ID when buying wine, her hairdresser gently discouraging her from making a significant change to her hairstyle, and a shop assistant asking if she was "still okay" showing her upper arms.
The author says that while she is okay with aging and looking her age, she has been surprised by how uninterested the world seems in her now that she is in her 50s. She says women of her age can feel very unseen.
She shares a story from a friend who had a similar experience, realizing a group of men was admiring her teenage daughter, not her, for the first time. Her friend said "It is like I have lost a language I once spoke fluently."
The key takeaway is that as women age, the way society and the more expansive world views and interacts with them changes in ways they may not expect or be fully prepared for. The author and her friend grapple with becoming less visible and losing an aspect of the once-established identity.
The summary highlights the primary reflections and experiences described in the passage to give the key takeaways, leaving out the most details and asides. The assistant picks out the most central themes and points to convey concisely yet compellingly to the reader.
The passage describes the author's difficulty writing about her son Alexander's birth. Specifically, Alexander was born "not alive." The author has an unopened envelope in Alexander's medical file that contains the details of his birth, but she has avoided opening it for 15 years.
When she finally opens the envelope, the account starts by describing an uneventful pregnancy and the author being admitted to the hospital in labor. However, the delivery then becomes difficult, with Alexander presenting shoulder-first. After attempts to rotate him fail, an emergency C-section is performed. Alexander is born "limp, pale, and not breathing." Resuscitation efforts eventually establish a pulse, but Alexander has suffered a stroke. He spends ten days in the NICU before coming home.
The author says she knew Alexander had had a stroke, but she and her husband had wanted to focus on his recovery and treatment rather than revisiting the trauma of his birth. However, searching for old records related to Alexander's speech therapy, she came across the unopened envelope containing the medical details of his birth. Though she thought she would quickly look through and dispose of the envelope's contents, the details of Alexander's traumatic birth and early medical struggles proved challenging to confront.
In summary, the passage reveals that Alexander was born struggling for life after a stroke during a traumatic delivery. However, he ultimately survived and came home from an extended NICU stay. His mother had avoided facing the grim details of his birth for 15 years before stumbling upon them in his medical records.
The author discovered medical records from her son Alexander's difficult birth. He was in a breech position, with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck twice. During the emergency C-section, Alexander had no pulse for several minutes.
Alexander was in the NICU for days. The author was not allowed to hold or breastfeed him. Tests could not determine the cause of Alexander's stroke, though it is unclear if it was before, during, or after birth. The stroke caused delayed speech, but Alexander recovered.
The author reflects on how close she came to losing Alexander. She wants to hold him close now. If she had read these records years ago, she wonders if she would have rarely left his side.
For example, in 2006 the author reported from Pakistan, a dangerous place. She interviewed intelligence officials who denied problems. Outside the capital, her female interpreter had to cover herself for safety. They visited a radical madrassa and refugee camps in dangerous tribal areas without security.
As a new mother, the author now recognizes how risky that Pakistan reporting trip was. Despite the dangers, valuable reporting shaped her understanding of U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Overall, the passage conveys the author's reflections on motherhood, her son's harrowing birth, her dedication to reporting even in dangerous places, and how her perspectives have evolved. The medical records and Pakistan trip example highlight her complex journey as a mother and a journalist.
The author interviewed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January 2020. She wanted to focus the conversation on Iran, given that the U.S. had recently assassinated a top Iranian general, and tensions were high. Pompeo's staff pushed for the interview to focus solely on Iran. The author refused, saying she would start with Iran but wanted the freedom to ask about other topics, like Ukraine.
Pompeo was evasive in discussing how exactly the U.S. would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. When pressed, he said "we will stop them" but provided no details.
The interview came at a time when Pompeo and the State Department were also embroiled in the Trump impeachment saga, given their roles in the Ukraine events that led to the impeachment charges. Despite his staff's objections, the author also wanted to reserve the right to ask Pompeo about Ukraine.
Overall, the summary depicts Pompeo as dodging questions and trying to control the scope of the interview. At the same time, the author pushed back to having a meaningful discussion addressing the range of important foreign policy issues the secretary of state was confronting.
The journalist Mary Louise Kelly interviewed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Iran. After six minutes, she asked about Ukraine and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Pompeo said he would not comment but then did, avoiding directly answering the questions.
The interview ended abruptly after about 10 minutes. A few minutes later, Kelly was summoned to Pompeo's living room for an off-the-record meeting. Pompeo shouted at Kelly for about 10 minutes, angry that she had asked about Ukraine after agreeing to focus on Iran. He asked if she could even find Ukraine on a map. When a blank map was brought in, she pointed to Ukraine. Pompeo then left, saying "People will hear about this."
Kelly reported on the interview for NPR's Morning Edition, airing part of the tape and recounting what happened after. NPR editors debated whether to report Pompeo's outburst, ultimately describing the shouting and profanity but keeping other details private. The story gained significant attention, seen as an attempt by Pompeo to intimidate an independent press.
Kelly reflected that as a journalist and a parent, she tried to show her sons principles like never giving up and asking tough questions. She felt she pushed Pompeo on Ukraine and shared the appropriate details with the public. The non-answers and evasions revealed Pompeo's refusal to defend diplomats like Yovanovitch. Kelly hoped her sons would see her determination in speaking truth to power.
The key events are:
Kelly interviews Pompeo, asking about Iran and Ukraine despite his reluctance.
Pompeo shouts at Kelly in an off-the-record follow-up meeting, cursing and questioning her knowledge of Ukraine.
Kelly reports on the interview, describing Pompeo's anger but keeping most details private.
The story highlights Pompeo's hostility to press scrutiny and refusal to defend Yovanovitch.
Kelly reflects on principles like persistence and courage that she tried to demonstrate for her sons.
The summary covers the critical details of the events, interview, aftermath, and Kelly's perspective. Let me know if you want me to clarify or expand the summary further.
• Mary Louise Kelly, a correspondent for NPR, interviewed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his private living room in the State Department. During the interview, Pompeo berated Kelly with obscenities and gave her a pop quiz on identifying Ukraine on an unmarked map.
• Kelly debated whether and how to report Pompeo's behavior. She decided to report the complete account because the interview was on record and Pompeo's actions were newsworthy, providing insights into his leadership of the State Department and view of U.S. foreign relations. NPR notified the State Department, but Pompeo did not deny Kelly's account.
• The next day, Pompeo issued a statement accusing Kelly of lying but did not specify what she lied about. He inferred Kelly had confused Ukraine and Bangladesh. Kelly stood by her reporting. Some media depicted the situation as a feud between Pompeo and NPR.
• Kelly chose not to escalate the conflict. She continued reporting news objectively and avoided mentioning Pompeo. She wanted to focus on journalism rather than become the news. Her experience as a mother helped her remain calm and not dignify Pompeo's behavior with a response.
• Days later, President Trump praised Pompeo for berating Kelly during an event attended by Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, had recently represented Jeffrey Epstein and was set to defend Trump during his first impeachment trial. Upon seeing Dershowitz applaud Pompeo, Kelly felt upset and disappointed in Dershowitz's behavior given their recent civil phone interview.
• Overall, Kelly maintained her journalistic integrity by objectively reporting the newsworthy details of her Pompeo interview while refusing to escalate the conflict or make herself the story. Her restraint and composure amid the situation demonstrated solid journalistic ethics.
The author initially greatly respected Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Harvard law professor who had taught her family members. However, she was disappointed to see him enthusiastically support Mike Pompeo after Pompeo had called her a "liar." In response, the author wrote an op-ed arguing that the real issue was not Pompeo's attack on her, but rather the substance of her interviews with Pompeo and Iran's foreign minister.
The author then reflects on an experience from when her sons were young. Her younger son physically confronted a bully who was tormenting his older brother. While violence should generally be avoided, the author was proud of her son for standing up to a bully. She notes that sometimes tricky choices require us to stand up for what we believe in, even if it conflicts with our usual values.
Finally, the author discusses an interview that NPR's CEO gave regarding Pompeo's comments. The CEO stood by the author and NPR's newsroom, calling Pompeo's statement "blatantly false." He acknowledged that while tension between journalists and government officials is expected, Pompeo's actions amounted to intimidation. However, he affirmed that "We will not be intimidated." The author was reassured and galvanized by her CEO's words.
In summary, the key points are Speak up against bullies and stand up for what is right, even when it is hard; Difficult choices sometimes require compromising one value to uphold another; and Staying resolute in the face of intimidation and pushback is crucial for journalists and civic institutions. Overall, it is possible to have a substantive discussion even on uncomfortable topics if both sides respectfully approach the conversation.
The author received a call from her son James on a Sunday morning while she was out for a run in Georgia. He asked her to move his father's car because it blocked him in the driveway.
This call prompted two questions for the author. The first was whether James had noticed she was gone for the weekend. It seemed he had not, which was striking given that she had left home three days earlier and only four people were in their household.
The author reflects that she made elaborate charts and signs to show her sons how much she would miss them when she traveled for work. However, those days are over, as evidenced by James not registering her absence. She acknowledges this is a sign of James's independence and self-sufficiency at age 17, but it is still strange to realize she could leave for days and he might not notice.
The author's mother points out the irony that she is writing a book about cherishing time with her sons before they leave home, yet James is oblivious to whether she is even in the same state. The author resolves that while she cannot control whether James notices her absence, she can choose to show up for things that matter to her sons, like James's high school soccer games.
The author explains that James and his younger brother Nick, who has a two-year age gap, have just played on the same soccer team in James's senior year. She wanted to take advantage of seeing them play together, even if it meant leaving work early.
The critical point is that while the author's son may now be independent enough not to notice her absence for a few days, she has resolved not to miss out on meaningful moments with her sons, especially as the older one prepares to leave home. Though they are growing up, she still wants to show up and be present for them when she can.
The author takes six weeks of leave from her job as an anchor to attend her two son's high school soccer games during peak season. After years of splitting up to attend different games and events, she hopes to be present for both. The first few days are lovely, with her sons scoring goals and the family enjoying time together.
However, only some days go well. There are losses, injuries, and discouragement. The evenings become occupied helping her sons with schoolwork and college applications, leaving little time for the author to work on her writing deadlines. To ensure she finishes her book on time, she decides to spend the last week of her leave isolated in their beach house to focus on writing.
During this last week, she has missed a couple of soccer games. Her husband texts her updates from the second game, telling her that their older son, James, scored his best goal of the season, much to her dismay at missing it. She compares this to a past trip she and her husband took to Egypt, where he insisted they take an expensive day trip to see the Abu Simbel temple complex instead of exploring the local town of Aswan like she wanted. She sees her husband's enthusiastic updates about their son's goal as a similar insensitive move, emphasizing what she missed out on.
Overall, the author can achieve her goal of being present for her sons during most of the soccer season, at the cost of falling behind on her work and missing a couple of important moments. Though not an ideal situation, she values the time spent supporting her sons.
The author planned a weeklong writing retreat in Nantucket that aligned perfectly with her son's last soccer game of the regular season. She intended to fly back for the game, hoping to "have it all." However, a big storm caused the soccer game to be rescheduled for the day before she returned. She missed the game where her son James scored the goal in overtime to win the league championship.
The author felt mixed emotions: joy for her son, frustration at herself for missing it, and shame that she had failed to keep her promise to prioritize her family over work. She acknowledges that the soccer season never ends for her, as there is always another game to watch or another milestone to experience. However, she missed this important one, and deeply regrets it.
The key events are:
The author plans a one-week writing retreat timed to end for her son's last soccer game.
A big storm causes the soccer game to be rescheduled one day earlier.
The author gets stuck and ends up missing the rescheduled game.
During the game, her son James scores the winning goal to clinch the league title.
The author feels joy, frustration, and shame over missing this critical milestone.
She reflects that the soccer season never ends for her family, yet she missed out on this crucial moment.
The central theme is regret over missing essential family moments due to work demands. The story highlights the tension between career and family that many parents struggle with.
The author's husband and son are named James, continuing a long family tradition of passing down this name.
The author's husband, Nick, also has the middle name James and comes from a family with many James. Nick wanted to honor his family tradition by naming their first son James.
They also gave their son James the middle name Cameron, Nick's mother's maiden name. So their son James's full name comes entirely from Nick's side of the family.
Their second son, Alexander, also shares Nick's last name and was given Nick's first name as his middle name. So two of his three names come from Nick's family.
The author implies that while she went along with using these family names, she might have chosen different names if left entirely up to her. However, honoring family tradition and the family's Scottish heritage was essential to Nick.
Overall, the passage highlights how names are essential for families to pass on their histories and connect the generations. However, this can sometimes mean one side of the family's traditions dominates the naming process.
The author's family has a tradition of passing down names through generations. The men in the family have common first, middle and last names that have been used for generations. Women need to be more methodical about naming and need to have dominant names passed down.
The author kept her maiden name when she got married. She named her son Alexander, the only non-family name they used. After complications from his birth, they were advised not to have more children. This means that, unlike her husband, the author will not have names passed down through generations.
The author was surprised to learn from a stranger on Twitter that a chicken in Kansas City was named after her - Mary Louise Klucky. The author felt touched by this and felt a kinship with the chicken. She wondered if the chicken was raised for eggs or meat.
The author's father, Jim Kelly, had an encyclopedic knowledge of many topics. He loved acquiring knowledge and sharing it with others. He would lecture his children for hours on various topics to try and impart knowledge, even if they were not very interested. Some examples were trips to the Etowah Indian Mounds and lengthy explanations of topics like the Mormon church and Huguenots.
The author believes that if she had asked her father about chickens, he would have explained in detail about raising chickens, building a henhouse, protecting chickens from predators, and the economics of egg farming. Her father loved to share his knowledge, even if it was not always wanted.
The author inherited several traits from her father, including his tendency to drone on when talking, his last name, and his love of running and cocktails. Her father passed away nine months ago, and she still struggles with feelings of grief that emerge unexpectedly. She recently broke down in tears while getting a haircut, realizing her father would never again see her hair or know what she looked like as she aged.
The author also mentions severe hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. Her job as an anchor for NPR requires her to conduct interviews, which can be challenging with her hearing impairment. The high-quality audio equipment in NPR's studios helps accommodate her needs, but reporting from home during the pandemic has made hearing and interviewing guests more difficult. She has requested special arrangements to route audio through NPR's headquarters to hear people properly. Despite the extra work it creates for staff, it allows her to do her job. She also enjoys traveling to report stories from on location, which also presents hearing-related obstacles she must navigate.
In summary, the author reflects on the legacy left by her late father and the impacts of her hearing loss in her career as a broadcast journalist. Both have shaped her profoundly but also continue to present ongoing challenges.
The author has severe hearing loss and has worn hearing aids since 2014. She struggled for years without realizing how much her hearing had deteriorated. She had trouble understanding people in noisy settings and often asked others to speak up or repeat themselves.
A particularly memorable experience was covering anti-government protests in Moscow in 2017. Separated from her producer, she struggled to report live for NPR using only her cell phone. She needed help hearing her anchor in Washington, D.C. and following his unscripted questions and comments.
Getting hearing aids was an adjustment. At first, the author was overwhelmed by sounds she had not heard in years. However, she soon appreciated rediscovering details like song lyrics and sounded while jogging. She also realized how much she had missed her sons' conversations.
The author notes the challenges of communicating with her teenage sons when she is not wearing her hearing aids. Connecting across the generation gap is hard, and her hearing loss compounds the difficulties. Although hearing aids help, they can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods. It also takes time for the brain to relearn how to process sounds after a period without. Some hearing may be permanently lost during the undiagnosed years.
The author's story provides insight into the daily experiences of living with hearing loss and navigating the world with the help of hearing aids. Communication requires extra effort, but modern technology and early diagnosis can help minimize difficulties.
The author describes how relaxing it feels to remove her hearing aids at the end of a long day, likening it to releasing one's hair from a too-tight ponytail. However, on weekend mornings, she often pads around the house without hearing aids, unable to understand her son James when he comes downstairs and tries to tell her something. She wishes he would speak up, while he wishes she could hear him.
The author reflects that as an interviewer, she is usually adept at getting people to open up by asking follow-up questions like "Why?" and "Can you give me an example?" and allowing silences to encourage the interview subject to keep talking. However, these techniques do not work on her teenage sons, who are perfectly content to sit in stubborn silence when she asks them questions they do not want to answer. She worries that as she loses her hearing and memory as she ages, they can avoid answering her by staying silent until she forgets what she was asking about.
The author shares an old Bulgarian saying she learned from a friend and colleague: "Why should things be easy when they can be difficult?" This saying reflects the challenges of life in Bulgaria over the years. The author and her colleague were in Russia reporting on the 2018 presidential election, which most saw as predetermined to reelect Vladimir Putin. Although they were able to interview many fascinating people with important stories to share, the difficult work of sifting through hours of interviews and translations to meet strict deadlines for radio left her colleague cursing the saying as she struggled to finish in time. The author continues to think of her colleague and this experience when facing difficult work.
The author finds it difficult to communicate with her teenage sons. Her mother jokingly says she did not have that problem because her kids were angels.
The author reflects that recently, she has stopped fighting with her sons over little things like curfews. Her oldest son, James, recently turned 18 and will leave for college soon. Her younger son, Alexander, will follow shortly. She realizes their time living at home is fleeting.
She regrets the times she scolded and talked over them instead of listening. She wants to spend the time she has left listening to them with love and without judgment. Listening requires much effort because she wears hearing aids, but focusing on listening to her sons is important to her.
One day, James calls her while she is on the air at work. He tells her excitedly that he got into his first choice college, the University of Chicago. They celebrate over the phone.
The news comes as she is preparing to interview about the trial of a police officer who shot and killed a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop. The juxtaposition makes her realize how unfair life is. One mother is celebrating her son going to college while another is mourning the loss of her son. She prays for Daunte's mother and hopes her sons remain safe.
The author's reports could air on various NPR shows when her sons were young. Unless a story were fast-changing, she would often report and file the night before so it could air on the early morning show while she and her sons were still sleeping. Her sons grew up listening to her voice on the radio, even when she was not physically present. Her reporting and voice became familiar parts of their lives.
The author's old black trench coat went missing two years ago when she left it behind at the Tehran airport. Though not fashionable, the coat was comfortable and helpful for her work trips.
The author's son, James, was unaffected when she went away on trips. Even as a little boy, he did not miss her much when she was gone for a few days. Looking at old photos of James dressed up in Halloween costumes, the author wonders if even as a four-year-old James would have noticed if she disappeared for three days. She finds comfort in admitting she does not know the answer.
When the author's coat went missing, she blamed Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, because "everything seemed to be his fault that week." There were news reports about Putin's forces shooting down a Malaysian passenger jet over Ukraine and Russian athletes being banned from the Olympics for doping. The author's irritation with losing her coat amid these more significant world events illustrates her first-world frustrations.
The coat's disappearance highlights how much has changed in the two years since. The author's sons have grown up, and she has transitioned to a new job. While sad to lose the coat, a symbol of adventures past, the author recognizes it is unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Life moves fast, and letting go of small regrets is best.
The key themes are the passage of time, growing up and moving on to new stages of life, and maintaining perspective on what matters. The missing coat is a metaphor for how quickly life changes and how we must accept the loss and let go of trivial matters. The anecdote about not knowing if young James would have missed her shows how even our close relationships change in ways we cannot fully grasp or control.
The author traveled to Ukraine to cover rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine. She was exhausted from covering the news round-the-clock and forgot her coat at the airport.
Her flight was diverted to Dalaman, Turkey due to bad weather in Istanbul. The airport in Dalaman was closed so they had to get Turkish visas to leave the airport. They had a lot of equipment and luggage, including ballistic vests and helmets.
They stayed overnight at the Dalaman Airport Lykia Resort Thermal and Spa Hotel. They were told their flight to Istanbul would depart at 8 am but were told it was canceled without further information.
They bought alternate flights connecting through Ankara to get to Kyiv. After more delays and lost luggage, they finally made it to Kyiv.
The author's mom cared for her two teenage sons while she was away. Her mom volunteered to help despite being very cautious due to the pandemic. The author says her mom makes her want to be a better person.
One of her sons, James, expressed concern about her safety traveling to Ukraine. She tried to reassure him that it would be easy to get there. However, her flight proved to be complicated. She opted not to tell her family about the State Department warning for Americans to leave Ukraine.
Overall, the passage depicts the difficulties of foreign reporting in complicated, fast-changing situations. Despite many obstacles and frustrations, the author shows dedication to getting the story. She also highlights her mother's critical role in her demanding career.
The author and her team travel to Ukraine to report on rising tensions with Russia. After their flight to Kyiv gets canceled due to snow, they go through a difficult journey to eventually make it to Ukraine.
Once in Kyiv, the author interviews Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, the chair of Ukraine's parliamentary committee on EU integration. Klympush-Tsintsadze shares that she has had tough conversations with her 15-year-old daughter, explaining that if war comes, they may have to separate, with her daughter staying with grandparents. Klympush-Tsintsadze says she has a responsibility to defend her country. The author reflects on how scary such a conversation would be with her son.
The author then meets with Hanna Hopko, another member of Ukraine's parliament, who was involved in the 2014 revolution. Hopko shares that while passionate about her work, she stepped down from parliament to spend more time with her 11-year-old daughter. However, Hopko says she is now considering getting her daughter a guinea pig, even though if there were bombs, evacuating with it would be difficult. Hopko blames Putin for creating this stressful situation.
The conversations with these women politicians, who are also mothers, bring home the human stakes of the conflict with Russia in a way that discussions of policy and sanctions do not. Their stories show the effects of geopolitical tensions on ordinary families just trying to live their lives.
The author traveled to eastern Ukraine to report on the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists.
She met an older man named Davydovych, who lived near the front lines. He told her about neighbors who had died and showed her bombed-out houses. He said he was "broken inside" from years of fighting.
The author had to pass military checkpoints to reach the front lines. She wore protective gear like ballistic vests, helmets and eye protection.
Before the trip, the author emailed her mother to let her know where she was going. Her mother replied wishing her safety and prayers. The author's mother then sent news articles about the conflict.
While traveling, the author thought about her kids growing up and moving out of the house in a couple years. She wondered if she would still want to make challenging reporting trips as she got older.
On the way back from the front lines, the author received texts from Hanna Hopko, a Ukrainian leader she had interviewed. Hopko sent photos of her daughter's new guinea pig. The author saw the pet as a sign of hope that the family did not believe fighting would escalate. She also saw it as an act of love, to get her daughter something she wanted.
The author believes she conducts interviews differently as a mother, focusing more on love stories and relationships. Her younger self might have focused only on geopolitical issues—however, the story of the guinea pig stuck with her.
At the end, the author's mother texts her, worried for her safety as she heads back to Kyiv. The author knows her mother wants to ensure she is safe, has her coat and is leaving the conflict area.
The author has a group of 11 close college friends whom she refers to as the Forces of Nature or FONs. Though they were not all technically roommates in college, they have remained very close over the years.
They gather together at least once a year, often for significant life events like weddings, baby showers, or 50th birthday parties. Their last in-person gathering before the pandemic was in February 2020 for Paula's 50th birthday dinner in New York City.
After two years of limited contact due to COVID-19, the group gathered for a long weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona to celebrate the 50th birthdays of Sasha and Kat, the two youngest members of the group. They went hiking, took an architecture tour, played games, talked for hours, and laughed together.
One of the members brought copies of a self-help book called Goddesses Never Age that offered advice for aging gracefully and living life fully as you get older. While the author appreciated some of the advice, she felt that at 50 she and her friends were not quite ready to embrace the "mature woman" label suggested by the book. She resolved to revisit the book in another ten years for their 60th birthdays.
Overall, the author cherishes her lifelong friendships with these women who have supported her through many life events over the decades. Though they live spread out across the country, they have remained close, and gathering together constantly feels like coming home.
The author recently interviewed her favorite author, Ann Patchett, who said finding unexpected close friendships later in life is unique. The author agrees, noting that college friendships are often built just by "wasting time together," unlike the busier friendships of adulthood.
However, as the author entered her 30s and 40s, her parents became central to her life again, helping care for her young children in ways friends could not. Family reasserted itself at the center of her world.
Now the author's sons are teenagers and less dependent. She looks forward to having more free time again to spend with friends. She remains close to a friend, Kat, who has sons the same age as hers.
Kat's older son, Will, recently came to stay with them while visiting colleges. Will's car broke down nearby, so they lent him the author's son's car. She found it "wonderfully full circle" that Kat's son was using her son's car to potentially find his lifelong friends, just as she had met Kat in college at the same age.
The author's son just got into college, as did Will at a school 15 minutes from home. She thought about them heading off to college together, realizing her role as their guardian, should something happen to her or her husband, would soon end. Though bittersweet, she said, "It is exactly how things should be."
In summary, the author reflects on friendships at different life stages. College friends are for "wasting time together," while family becomes central again when you have your children. Though roles change as kids become independent, close friends remain, and the circle of life continues with the next generation.
The narrator's father loved to run, especially the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th in Atlanta.
He ran the race for nearly 40 years and always encouraged/pressured his kids to run it.
The race is 6.2 miles long, very hot, and goes down Peachtree Road. If you did not run, you had to cheer others on.
The dad signed the kids up for many races over the years, starting when the narrator was just 4-5.
One memory is doing a one-mile Fun Run as a kid and seeing her dad running the longer race. She sprinted to catch up to him but could not, showing how dedicated he was.
The story illustrates the dad's passion for running and how he shared that with his family, even if they did not always love it. Running and competing in races together was a family tradition and bond.
The key takeaway is that running, especially the Peachtree Road Race, was extremely meaningful for the narrator's father and helped bind the family together, even if the kids did not fully appreciate it then. The story captures the nostalgia for childhood and recognizing, as an adult, the importance of family traditions and the love behind a parent's actions.
The author's father, Jim Kelly, was an avid runner and encouraged his whole family to run, including a mandatory family run on the weekends when the author and her brother were teenagers.
Even though the author and her brother complained, they usually followed their dad's insistence on running together as a family. Over time, the author came to enjoy running and share her dad's passion for it.
Jim Kelly was diagnosed with cancer in his late 50s but continued to endure many years of treatment. During the pandemic, when the Peachtree Road Race went virtual, the author ran it in his memory after he passed away. She ran a personal best and felt his presence during the race.
The author's two sons, James and Alexander, did not inherit their grandfather's love of running. However, James inherited his height, build, dark hair, and giggle. Alexander inherited Jim Kelly's love of nature and the outdoors.
Although the boys did not love running, they did inherit speed and beat their mother in a 5K race when they were teenagers. James told his mom after the race that he "did it for Papa."
The author hopes her sons will someday grow into a jogging habit, as running has been an essential part of her life and helped her through difficult times, as her father taught her.
The narrator is a journalist reporting live on Russia's invasion of Ukraine when her son repeatedly calls during the broadcast.
She cannot answer at first because she is on the air, reading a script and monitoring President Biden as he addresses the nation about the crisis.
Her son texts that he has tested positive for Covid. She takes his call during the broadcast by activating a "cough button" that temporarily silences her mic.
Her son says he only has a stuffy nose so far but has to quarantine at home for five days and get a negative test before returning to school. He worries about missing classes and social events. She reassures him that they will figure it out.
The narrator has to quickly end the call to resume broadcasting as Biden finishes speaking. She summarizes his key points, though she missed some details while on the phone. Her colleagues fill in additional context and analysis.
The narrator is broadcasting from home as many NPR staff are still quarantining due to high Covid case numbers, though they hope this wave may end soon. She is grateful to be home to take her son's calls during this crisis.
She wraps up the broadcast with 30 seconds left, thanking her colleagues who joined the coverage.
The key events are: Russia invades Ukraine; the narrator's son tests positive for Covid and calls her during her live broadcast reporting on the crisis; she takes his call and reassures him though she has to rush off again to finish the broadcast, with help from her colleagues. There is a suggestion of lingering complications from the pandemic in the background.
The speaker, a radio journalist, has just finished anchoring live coverage of events in Ukraine for NPR. She checks to see if any soup is left, has a few more work obligations, and then needs to figure out how to quarantine her 18-year-old son.
She recalls interviewing Hanna Hopko, a Ukrainian activist, a month earlier. Hopko calls the journalist to say she is had to flee Kyiv because she is on a Russian "kill list." Hopko's daughter and her guinea pig, Nafanya, are safe. Though scared, Hopko remains defiant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Six days later, Hopko sends the journalist a link to a butcher in upstate New York. The butcher has created a beet and vodka sausage named after Hopko to raise money for Ukrainian refugees. Though a small gesture, it gives Hopko hope that she and Ukraine are not alone. Hopko continues to advocate for more aid and sanctions against Russia.
In mid-March, the journalist's editors ask if she wants to return to Ukraine to anchor coverage. She says yes - it is her job, she is invested in the story, and she cannot stop thinking about a photo of four 18-year-old Ukrainian volunteers heading to fight after just three days of training. As a mother of teenage boys, it makes her want to weep. As a journalist, she feels obligated to bear witness.
The journalist summarizes that the coverage has been "special" but complex. She is thinking of the people in Ukraine, like Hopko, her former fixer, and the four young soldiers. She is ready to return to Ukraine.
The author feels torn between gratitude and sorrow in the spring. She is grateful for visits from her daughter and son and her son's successes and milestones. She is happy to see small victories in Ukraine and interviews inspiring women like Brooke Shields and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
However, spring also brings loss and hardship. Her longtime housekeeper retires. A chicken she named after herself dies. The war in Ukraine has worsened, with dead civilians in the streets. Her mother fell and fractured her pelvis in three places, requiring weeks of hospitalization and rehab. The author and her sister must figure out how to help their mother, who loves her home but cannot live there safely on her own anymore.
While there are moments of joy, the spring is bittersweet for the author as she deals with difficulties surrounding aging, loss, and conflict. The summary captures the dual nature of gratitude and sorrow she is experiencing.
The narrator's mother has moved into a new house with three bedrooms on different floors and a garage on yet another floor. The mother cries a lot on the phone but says "old age is not fun."
The narrator's husband, Nick, announces he wants to separate after 28 years of marriage. They have two teenage sons, James and Alexander.
The narrator recalled their formal wedding 25 years ago. Nick's father told her to love Nick as they do. Now Nick proposes they take turns living in the house so the boys are not disrupted. The narrator struggles with how disruptive this will be for their sons.
The narrator draws courage from the words of Winston Churchill to "keep going" through hard times. She jogs by a statue of Churchill and thinks of his words "Never give in." She is determined to fight for her marriage despite the silence and tension in their home.
Their sons have many graduation events and parties to attend. The narrator and Nick go to the events together but sometimes need to speak on the drive home.
James describes a school tradition where the seniors formed a circle and were shook hands and congratulated by the other students and faculty. Afterwards, the seniors started crying because "it is over."
James looks forward to the prom and wears a tuxedo. The girls wear colorful, short dresses. The narrator thinks Winston Churchill would disapprove of how short the dresses are.
The narrator struggles with the contrast between the joy of her sons' celebrations and the loneliness at home as her marriage ends. She realizes that grieving the end of a marriage is like grieving a person. She wrestles with never giving up on her marriage according to their vows. She draws strength from a passage saying "love is struggle."
The narrator feels unsteady and dizzy in her home, as if the floors and walls are moving.
The author reflects on precious moments that slip unnoticed until they are gone. She gives examples of last moments with her child before he grows up and intimate moments with her husband.
She then recounts going for a final walk with her dying father. He had been fighting cancer for a long time, but it had spread throughout his body, cracking his ribs and causing immense pain. Despite this, he wanted to walk in the woods during a family Christmas vacation. The author knew this would likely be their last walk together.
During the walk, her father frequently stumbled and fell but kept getting back up and continuing. He told the author to take care of her family - her husband, sons, and mother. Though the author and her brother had been telling their father for weeks that he could stop fighting and rest, he refused to listen. The author realizes they were telling him to stop breathing, which he could not do.
The author's father continued advising her during the walk, telling her that family comes first and to care for her sons and husband. The author notes that a parent's love and instinct to guide their children is unending. Though children do not always listen to the life lessons and values their parents try to instill, the author is grateful for this final walk and moments with her father.
The key themes here are:
Cherishing fleeting moments before they slip away
The deep love and guidance of parents
Continuing in the face of suffering and mortality
The author attends her son James's high school graduation at the Washington National Cathedral. It is an emotional day, remembering James's journey from a little boy to a young man about to go to college.
The author's father had died seven years earlier when James was in middle school. James wears his grandfather's tie at the graduation, a touching gesture. The author reflects on her father's love and influence.
The ceremony stirs memories of James's many teachers over the years. The author is incredibly grateful to see his English teacher, Mr. Schultz, who taught James important books and skills. She mouths "thank you" to him.
The author's favorite photo from the day is one her husband took of James looking at her with a sweet, proud smile as he processed into the ceremony. It captures the loving bond between them.
The author reflects that she is at a crossroads in her life, with her work contract up for renewal and her younger son soon to graduate. She wonders where she and her husband will end up living and whether they will stay together. However, she knows life comprises big decisions and small comforting rituals with loved ones.
A school tradition has the youngest and oldest boys processing into the cathedral together, showing how much they grow over their school years. The author marvels at the seniors who were once small, like her son.
The headmaster tells the families that rituals can help them navigate the difficult transition and goodbyes. The author agrees that they were lucky to have shared those rituals.
• The author will need to spend significant money on food over the coming years as her sons grow up in their teenage years. Teenage boys require many calories to fuel their development.
• The author reflects on how quickly time passes as her sons grow up. She recalls seeing a fresco in a church in Florence that depicts the passage of time and life's impermanence. She marvels at how small her sons were not that long ago.
• The author's sons have just graduated from high school. After the commencement ceremony, the boys run down the aisle, whooping and celebrating, enjoying their youth and invincibility. The family takes many photos to commemorate the occasion.
• The author wants to tell her sons many things, including that she is proud of them, loves them, and that it is essential to know how to use power tools, never give up, and keep going. However, she knows they are not listening to her advice on this day of celebration.
• The author's sons announce they will drive off together, just the two of them, after the graduation festivities. The author wants to remind them of a few things but knows they revel in their independence and celebration. She says her heart will ride along with them even though she will drive in a separate car.
• The author dedicates the book to her sons but says it would not have been possible without the women in her life, including her friends who supported her during difficult times and her editors and colleagues who have guided her journalism career.
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