Celebrating mothers with StoryCorps founder Dave Isay | KALW

Celebrating mothers with StoryCorps founder Dave Isay

May 9, 2013


StoryCorps is a national project that records of conversations between loved ones. Parents and their children, siblings, spouses and friends sit in a sound studio booth and record and interview with each other. StoryCorps is the brainchild of Dave Isay, an award winning documentary producer, and author of the book, Mom. Since he has inspired others to interview each other, we thought it would be nice to interview him. Isay sat down with KALW's Holly Kernan.

HOLLY KERNAN: What’s one of your favorite Mom stories from the book?

DAVE ISAY: Wow, the cool thing about these stories is that everything leaves you with something that you don’t forget. I have a baby. It taught me a lot about being a dad. There’s a lot to learn from these moms. I love every single story in the book. But one that comes to mind, since I spent some time with some of the folks yesterday on the tour, is the last story in the book. It’s about a mom who is interviewed by her daughter. It’s apart of one of the special projects we have for people with Alzheimer’s disease. This is about a mom who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and a daughter who is about to have her first baby. The daughter brings them to the booth to talk about their lives together and to have the mom sing lullabies to the baby that she knows she’s not going to be singing soon enough. On the page, it’s just beautiful. That’s what you see throughout this book. It’s poetry through our voices. It’s poetry in the words of our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors on the page.

KERNAN: And the book again is Mom. In honor of moms, let’s hear our next story. You just had a baby so I think you’ll enjoy this.

[Begin audio story]

ANN MEYERS: I call myself a lactation engineer. I love pregnant women. I love mothers. I love babies. I love children.

JENNIFER MEYERS: How did you become interested in infant and maternal care?

ANN: Well, Aunt Nancy was my influence in going to nursing school. Strangely enough I had an instructor in nursing school who thought I’d be a terrible nurse and should be a stewardess or a hairdresser. I went on to fool her and got the highest marks in state exams in maternal child health. So I started working in a small hospital in the postpartum unit with mothers and babies. I was in heaven. I became a childbirth instructor when I was pregnant with you. Then I ended up getting a job in labor and delivery at the hospital I work at now. Loved it.

ANN: The first time I delivered a baby was the most awesome thing. I was on top of the world. The doctor was on top of the world. I was just calling his name and calling his name. He was not paying attention. Before I knew it, I had this baby in my hands. I was like, “Holy cow! You can send me your payment. Not the doctor.”

JENNIFER: What would you give as far as advice for someone who is young and who has just had children?

ANN: Don’t try to follow anyone else’s parenting style. Don’t read a book and try to be a parent to the book. Be a parent to the child. Each child is different. You will parent each child differently. And you will love each child with a passion that you never knew you had inside of you before.

[End audio story.]

KERNAN: I was listening to that and just the intimacy of those conversations and the fact that it seems that the StoryCorps booth allows you to ask questions that you might never ever ask, it allows you a dialogue that wouldn’t otherwise happen in our daily lives.

ISAY: When I was listening to that, the first section of the Mom book is called wisdom and the end of that clip could have gone right into this book. That’s something you see in every interview about the formality of this proves. It’s formal but it’s incredibly relaxed for the people who’re in the booth. People look at it as forty minutes to leave legacy and there are questions asked and conversations had that just don’t happen during the normal course of day-to-day life. I doubt that in the 30,000 interviews there has ever been – in every single one of the thirty thousand interviews no matter how well you might think you know the person who you are in the booth with, you are going to learn something new. This is certainly something I found. When I interview my mom for StoryCorps – and I am very close to my mom – that the forty minutes that we spend in the booth, was almost nothing that I had known beforehand that we had talked about. And I was expecting it just to be forty minutes in the middle of the day just to be with my mom, but it was all new.

KERNAN: And why do you think that is?

ISAY: I think that the kind of questions that are talked about are big life questions and that we are so scattered, there are so many things going on and there is just no time to have those conversations. I think there is something about the facilitator and the safety of the booth that makes it easier for people to open up. In many cases people use this as a means to tie up loose ends and to say things they have never said before. StoryCorps at it's heart is really two people having the chance to say how much they love each other by listening to each other and very often when you bring your mom or your grandma or whoever it is in the booth at the end of the interview people tend to turn the tables and the person doing the interview tells the other person how much they mean to them. It’s always profound, it’s always emotional it’s the kind of things we don’t say as much during the regular course of human events but hopefully, what StoryCorps reminds us to do is to maybe say those things a little bit more often.

KERNAN: I feel like that. Every time I hear a StoryCorps story it reminds me to do that, to go home and say to everyone I love them.

ISAY: It reminds us how lucky we are to be alive – it reminds us how tenuous life can be often. You know I think it’s a very grounding project and it reminds us all that we have to be grateful for it.