Love Your Kids. Be Good to Yourself:
An Interview with MOMbo's Nanci Oleson
by Amy Anderson
Nanci Oleson, the founder of MOMbo.org, has been running her radio resource for moms since 1990. As a relative newbie to this world of writing and activism on behalf of mothers, I couldn't help wondering how she managed to sustain such a project for such a long time. Like most of us who put time and energy into these not-for-profit, unpaid labors of love, Nanci has had other roles to play as well: she's a mother of three, and until recently, worked as a waitress. Once I started emailing Nanci, however, the reason for MOMbo's enduring presence in the lives of mothers became clear. Nanci's energy and commitment to supporting mothers shines through in everything she says and does.
mamazine: You started MOMbo in 1990, which means you've been nurturing this project for 15 years. Where did the idea of a radio program for moms come from? How did you get started--and how did MOMbo grow and change over those years?
Nanci Oleson: I was patting my baby to sleep one night, knowing that I had to head into my office after that and start preparing for a series of interviews with a dance company. I was doing an arts show on the radio the next day. I thought, "God, I am doing the WRONG show. I should be reporting about THIS." The next week I started a monthly series that I named MOMbo. It sounds a little trite, but the title of the show, referring to "the DANCE of motherhood" came to me on that baby patting night, like a revelation.
In those early days I simply wanted to reach out to other moms who had just begun trying to figure out what they were doing as moms. I wanted to read these train of thought essays I was writing about motherhood. I wanted to share the names of books that I found helpful. I had a few friends who had been moms for a while, whose kids I was pretty attached to. These moms were pretty "earthy" and I felt they were somewhat didactic in their style of motherhood. The weirdest thing was going on. I felt like they were judging me if I used formula or a pacifier, as if I was sprouted from the devil. I thought the judgementalism between moms about lifestyles was hurtful. I felt strongly that I should use cloth diapers, but when I met moms that used paper diapers, I just loved talking to them and I thought, "Jesus, we have got to start relating on lots of levels about raising kids." So I just wanted to have a variety show of sorts, that featured lots of opinions and experiences, good writing, good performing, and good food for thought. I also wanted to reach out to ALL MOMS and just say "Hey. Way to GO!"
MOMbo was a weekly local radio show for 6 years. Then it became a nationally syndicated show on the Pacifica Radio Network after I won an award for a show about pregnancy, with my co- producer, Andrea Pearson. Andrea left the show in 1996. It was hard to have her gone, especially at first, because she was a GREAT writer and a wonderful thinker.
Then as a syndicated show, I spent 6 more years trying to catch up with the huge technical changes that were happening with radio at the time. It really was an interesting journey. I started in radio using reel to reel tape and now I podcast everything from my house on a laptop and do all my editing on a laptop too.
I stopped doing the weekly show in 2002 so that I could start producing specials for Public Radio International. I turned MOMbo into a non profit organization in 2000. The goal was for it to become a financially stable business. We're still working on that, but I get a salary now, and just this January I quit my waitressing job and became a full time radio producer. AFTER 15 YEARS!!!!!!!
Now, my goal is to become a nationally syndicated weekly radio show again, with a staff and an office. I swear to God it's going to happen. I love interviewing authors, recording mom writers, making sound collages of daily life.... And mixing together an interesting show. I have a Mother's Day show on Public Radio Exchange right now that I hope will be carried by about 50 stations.
mamazine: Over the years you've been doing MOMbo, what themes in mothering have you seen resurface? Are there some that seem particularly important right now to you personally and/or to the listeners and contributors you hear from?
Nanci Oleson: I see this whole MOMMY WARS ("working" moms versus "at home" moms) thing ebb and flow. Back to that old judgementalism. I swear, we have got to stop it. The media is really pushing this one, trying to get us to take sides. Each mom figures out what is right for her, and what she HAS to do. This is a very complicated time we live in.
I am very excited about Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation for Peace, which was written in 1870 at the end of the Civil War. She got mothers from the north and the south to stand together, and call for peace. That is the original roots of Mother's Day. You've got to read this proclamation. It needs no introduction. On Mother's Day at our local park (Lake Harriet Band Shell, Minneapolis, 2 p.m.) we read this proclamation. We have got to stop this war. It's scary that over a hundred years ago moms were saying the exact same thing.
mamazine: What's next for MOMbo in 2006 and beyond?
Nanci Oleson: Well there's that MOMbo Mother's Day live event I just talked about, and there's a MOMbo Mother's Day radio show, one hour long, that I'm marketing the heck out of, and there's a cd set that we made last year that I still have 500 copies of in the basement. It's called NOW YOU MOMbo and it was a HUGE project. It is being sold at local bookstores and it is available at MOMbo.org. It's the perfect shower gift!
Every week I make a podcast for the website and feature an essay on what's called THE ZONE. I am also working on adding a lot of new material to the website. I submitted a big grant last month, and I'm really hoping MOMbo gets the funding needed to become a bigger-than-one-person operation.
I do commentaries for Minnesota Public Radio and other public radio shows. And I just snoop around, trying to get MOMbo noticed and listened to. I love the work.
One of the most important things about this work is to know when to quit. I have three kids, ages 11, 12, and 15. At 4 p.m. when we are all home, I really try to make myself shut the computer down and just be their mom. They are so interesting and fun and they really need me to be around, even if it's just peripherally. So I try really hard not to be so gung ho MOMbo that I forget to be their serious, fun, happy, sad, workaday, loving mom. Their dad is out of town til July so we gotta stick close. And of course there's a lot of laundry and chores.
The MOMbo Mantra is: Love your kids. Be good to yourself.
I try to follow it and just live as uncomplicated as possible. These are complicated and ridiculous times we are living in, but I don't want the world to eat me or my kids alive.
One last thing is the MOMbo mission statement:
"MOMbo broadcasts the everyday truth about motherhood (in order to save the world)."
mamazine: We're book lovers here at mamazine.com, and we're always interested in what other moms are reading. Got any good books to recommend?
Nanci Oleson: I love the book The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. I interviewed her for this book. I think it's groundbreaking. I love The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart. I love The Essential Hip Mama, edited by Ariel Gore. Recently I've started reading novels again and I can't put down Blue Shoe by Ann Lamott. In my bathroom is All About Love by bell hooks. It is a great book to pick up and read parts of over and over.
And I love reading with my kids. They're old, but we're gonna read Finn Family Moomintrol by Tove Jansson this summer. That's when we read together out loud, on trips.
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