This month, senior producer Menaka Raman writes about why she loved My Mother Made, from Radiotopia presents.
I love interview style podcasts. Especially when they’re with writers whose work I admire. Maybe I’m hoping to glean some small nugget of information about how they do what they do. Or perhaps I’m searching for some reflection of myself in their words so that I can say, ‘Aha! We’re not so different after all’. Sometimes, I just want to hear about how they wrote a book I loved.
One author whose interviews I’ve been listening to lately is Jason Reynolds. For those unfamiliar with his work, he’s an award-winning author of books for young adults, and the 2020–2022 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in America. My boys and I have devoured his books like Long Way Down, As Brave As You, Ghost and Look Both Ways.
In interviews he’s given on podcasts like On Being with Krista Tippet and Unlocking Us with Brene Brown, Jason talks a lot about his mother. Like, a lot. In a way that is so tender, loving, and respectful that I want to make my sons listen to them and say “You better talk about me like this one day!”
So when I saw that Jason was hosting a podcast about his mother, and their relationship produced by Radiotopia Presents, whose many other podcast offerings I’ve loved in the past, I added it to my TBL (the podcast version of a TBR list — To Be Listened to).
Since 2023 began, I’ve been thinking alot about my mother and our relationship, how it’s changed over the years, and how it continues to evolve as we both get older. I’ve also been thinking about how my relationship with my kids is also changing as they become young men.
There are so many feelings I’ve been feeling, and honestly, I don’t always want to feel some of them. Anxiety, worry, fear, anger. But also love.
It was in one of these moods that I remembered ‘My Mother Made Me’ and decided to tune in.
Where do I start? The title? ‘My Mother Made Me’ is clever in a way that doesn’t seem forced. The piano solo at the beginning of the soundtrack evokes just the right amount of nostalgia. The show is written by Reynolds and as can be expected from a Corretta Scott King Honor winner, the writing is pretty perfect. Lyrical without being flowery, gently humorous and reflective. All delivered in Reynolds’ voice which is perfection itself — intimate and inviting, as though I the listener, am the only one who is privy to these moments between him and his mother, and his own thoughts.
So what’s the show about? ‘My Mother Made Me’ is a four-episode series where Reynolds and his mother, Isabell, ‘explore their shared history, how she raised him, and what they’re teaching each other.’
There are only four episodes, and each one takes place during Reynold’s weekly visits to his mother on Sunday. We’re allowed to listen in as they talk around the kitchen table, having a special birthday lunch at a lovely restaurant, while pushing a cart around Costco, and even when gambling together. This in-situ recording of their conversations adds to the intimacy of the podcast, and feels so much more natural than an in-studio recording.
There were so many moments that resonated as I listened to the podcast. Reynolds showing his mother how to take a selfie reminded me of all the times I’ve done some kind of video call tutorial for my mother about Instagram or her Netflix account. The bit where he talks about how his mother’s home is the place where he goes to lay down his burdens, I felt that. My mother is the person I call when I need to unburden myself and my worries about my children, my choices, whether I’m doing it right. I know what she’ll say. “You’re doing a great job! You’re an amazing mother/writer/friend” but I still need to hear her say those words to me.
I think I listened to this podcast both as a daughter and as a mother, alternating between both roles. I want to be the kind of mother Isabell was and is to Reynolds for both my own kids and also wanted to be the child that Jason is to his mom.
My favourite episode was episode 2 where they talk about birthdays and funerals. I won’t lie, I cried when his mother got teary, reading out a birthday message someone had sent her. I don’t even know why. I just did.
The episodes are beautifully sound designed: from the rhythmic clicking of fingers to the way in which the names of women family members are recited on loop, as a form of thanks/prayer and so as not to forget them. The parts of the story that are left out are as important as to those which are included. Full props to Sr Producer Mark Pagan and his team (also, you should totally check our Mark’s podcast Other Men Need Help, which we often refer to as City of Womens’ podcast sibling)
It can’t be easy making a show like this. To know what to include and what to leave out. To make sure it doesn’t turn into some kind of ‘for family only’ personal project that no one outside your family would understand or enjoy.
If there’s a word that comes to mind when I think of this podcast it’s balance: just the right amount of everything: writing, music, sound design and intimacy.