Mother Knows Best

Nanci Olesen, 'Mombo,' and the parental underbelly

As Olesen speaks about the struggles of an independent radio producer/storyteller/marketer/start-up podcaster, her three children giggle amongst themselves in the kitchen and eat takeout Vietnamese food. "Do you want an egg roll?" says middle-schooler Nora, to her mom's visitor. All three break into song throughout the evening, and the squabbling is at a bare minimum. There's no TV going, and no need for Super Nanny. To a visitor for even a short time, the Epp-Olesen home teems with warmth and creativity. If this were the only side of parenting that Olesen and her fellow Mombos presented, it would be beyond saccharine. Luckily, that's not the case.

The fact is, parenthood is as terrifying and as humbling as it is joyous, and, more often than not, Mombo goes after it: The Mombo essayists are at their best when they stop entertaining their audience and expose themselves. The tagline to everything Mombo is "love your kids and be good to yourself," and that is its core philosophy. But Olesen's writing, in particular, has become more naked of late, as this recent middle-of-the-night riff attests:

"I listened to the furnace and wondered if I should have the furnace guy come check it. I tried to imagine the day ahead: Would I find time to practice the piano? Why did I sign up for piano lessons if I never find time to practice? I fretted about our checkbook balance and our work/home balance. I wondered how my sister was REALLY doing on her pregnancy bedrest for the umpteenth week. I planned new ways to keep her spirits up. Then I started thinking of our Dad, and how he had died so unexpectedly and how odd it was to wake up in the middle of the night and feel him gone.

Raoul Benavides

"Then I wondered if I should just go iron my shirt for work so that it was all ready. Then I started trying to remember all my friends' phone numbers in grade school. Then I listed all my teachers from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Then I remembered old boyfriends and clumsy first dates and unresolved break ups. I moved on to the big stuff: global warming, the indictments and scandals in the administration, whether Mt. St. Helens was going to blow again, and a recent article I had read about the horrors of the war in Iraq. I got up to get tea. I stood and looked out the window. I pictured myself standing there, ten years from now, with no kids in the house, drinking tea in the middle of the night."

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