Melisa Wells has a very big weekend ahead of her. She’s one of the co-producers of the Chicago production of “Listen to Your Mother,” a national series of live readings by local writers in honor of Mother’s Day. The show will be performed this Sunday, May 6, at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater in Chicago.
Wells is also the author of “Chicken in the Car and the Car Won’t Go: Nearly 200 Ways to Enjoy Chicagoland With Tweens and Teens.” She’s a partner at Social RevUp, and she blogs at Suburban Scrawl. And she’s the first woman to be featured in this space to mention “The Cosby Show” when talking about her parenting style.
Wells, a freelance writer, lives in Naperville with her husband of 25 years, Jim. They have two sons, ages 19 and 17. Read on to find out why we think Melisa Wells is a Go West Mom You Should Know.
Q. Can you tell me about “Listen to Your Mother” — the concept behind the show? How did you get involved? What’s been the best part about working on the show, and what’s been most challenging?
A. Madison-based humorist/blogger Ann Imig came up with the idea of “Listen To Your Mother” after attending the BlogHer conference and being in the audience of what is now known as the “Voices of the Year” (bloggers reading posts, chosen by the nominations and votes of others in the blogging community). VOTY is one of my favorite parts of the BlogHer conference experience, by the way. Ann wanted to create a community-based show around the theme of Motherhood, and in 2010 put on the very first LTYM show in Madison, where twelve local bloggers/writers read their pieces on different aspects of mothering or being mothered. The show, which benefited a local charity (10% of ticket proceeds were donated) was videorecorded and posted online, and Ann soon heard from bloggers in Los Angeles, Northwest Indiana, Spokane, and Austin who wanted to bring the show to their cities. LTYM was staged in those cities (and Madison again) in 2011, and this year it has expanded to 10 total cities, with 140 pieces being read, all about different aspects of Motherhood! The show is being sponsored nationally by Snapfish and BlogHer.
Back in the fall of 2011, Ann put out feelers to see who else might want to do a LTYM show in their town, and took applications for a while. Tracey Becker and I decided to throw our hat into the ring because the Chicago blogging community is huge, and we knew there would be interest here. We also thought it would be a great challenge, since neither one of us had ever done a project like this from scratch before. Our application was accepted and it’s been non-stop ever since! There have been so many great things about working on the show: auditions, choosing our cast, finding great local sponsors (Fannie May, the John Hancock Observatory, Chinatown Family Dental, Neighborhood Parents Network, the Rosen Automotive Family, Building Blocks Toy Stores, The Meatloaf Bakery, travel beCAUSE, Chicagonista, Chicagonista Live, and The Chicago Moms), choosing a cause that will receive 10% of our ticket proceeds (Bright Pink), and getting our cast together for rehearsals: it’s been electric to hear these stories as a group.
I also have to mention that it’s been a real joy working with Tracey on this. We knew each other before this just from being a part of the Chicago blogging community, but we didn’t know each other well. Our work (and worry!) styles are so far apart on the spectrum that we complement each other nicely, and she’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with on any project, ever. We have become great friends and that has been a wonderful bonus that came with this whole experience. I anticipate that my absolute favorite part of this whole process will be watching what we’ve worked so hard to put together come to fruition on May 6.
For me, the most challenging parts of this have been stepping back to breathe when things don’t go the way I expect them to, and having to turn on a dime to accommodate something unexpected. I’m a control freak, and I tend to go totally out of my mind in adverse situations. I have been learning to dial it back, though, so even the challenging parts have turned into something beneficial.
Q. Tickets are sold out for next week’s show. Is there any way readers can see any of the individual performances by the women?
A. Oh my gosh, we knew tickets would sell out, but not as quickly as they did. Thanks to our family and friends and the Chicagoland blogging community who were fantastic at spreading the word, we sold out in just over a week! Luckily, the show (and all nine others) will be videorecorded, and just a couple of weeks after the shows, the individual performances (all 140!) will be available on the LTYM YouTube channel forever and ever. In fact, you could go watch performances from 2010 and 2011 now!
Q. Last year you published a book. Congratulations! Can you tell me what prompted you to write “Chicken in the Car and the Car Won’t Go“? Can you explain the title?
A. Thanks! Back in 2005, my kids and I planned a family summer camp schedule because the two years prior, I had been working full-time and they had gone to day camp. Being home in 2005, I thought “Why should I send them to camp when we can do our own activities and have fun together?” We did the brainstorming and research together (and even budgeted!), and built a camp calendar that provided fun all three months of summer vacation for less than what it had cost me to send them to daycamp for four weeks. I had all of this research there and my husband suggested I put it into a book. Of course, there was MUCH more research that had to be done and I worked on it off and on for five years before it was ready to publish. I focused on the tween/teen age range because that’s how old my kids were when I was working on it, but the book is great for adults too, and most of the activities inside can be enjoyed with younger children. I happened to be in the right place at the right time in January 2011 and found a publisher who wanted the book. It was published early last summer, and it’s been a thrill.
The title comes from an old poem: “Chicken in the car and the car won’t go, that’s how you spell CHI-CA-GO.” (See, you take the CHI from chicken, the CA from car, and the GO.) My mom used to say that ALL THE TIME when my sister and I were kids, and I thought of it immediately when I had to come up with a title. It was perfect, even though I have met so many people who never heard the poem!
The book is available on Amazon, of course, but it’s also available at Anderson’s in Naperville and Elevenzees in Wicker Park. I achieved my two major goals in the past couple of months, too: the book is now being stocked in Chicagoland Barnes & Noble stores as well as the Skydeck Chicago gift shop at the Sears Tower (and yes, I know it’s the Willis Tower but I can’t call it that).
Q. What’s one of your favorite suggestions in the book for families looking to experience Chicago with teens or tweens?
A. I adore taking my kids to Uncle Fun, which is a store on the north side of the city. They sell all kinds of crazy, funny things at all price ranges (starting at less than a dollar!). The staff is hilarious, too, which makes the experience doubly fun.
Q. I know you spent your childhood in Chicago but then moved around a lot before returning to the area. What do you enjoy most about living in the greater Chicago area and/or Naperville specifically?
A. I actually get an adrenaline rush when I see the Chicago skyline; I love the city so much and love living only 30 minutes away from it. Raising my kids in Naperville has been great because it’s got a small town feel even though the population is something like 140,000. We have many of the restaurants and shopping that a big city has, just on a smaller scale. Naperville has a fantastic park district and their programming is great: something for everyone. The downtown area is one of our favorite hangouts, and whenever I have visitors in from out of town I love taking them to the riverwalk: it’s just beautiful!
Q. Can you tell me a bit about your children — their personalities and interests?
A. D is finishing up his sophomore year at college. He’s a graphic design major (and actually is responsible for my book cover!). He’s very much like me in many ways: he is intense, he worries about the details incessantly, and he’s a procrastinator. He’s also a very responsible, polite, caring young man, and so helpful to others. He earned his Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts when he was 17, and was thrilled to have been hired for this summer by the Philmont Ranch (a high adventure scouting experience in New Mexico) to be a backwoods ranger.
J is finishing up his junior year in high school. He is very interested in cars, and he is a talented guitar player. We’re in the middle of the college search right now and he is thinking about majoring in business and minoring in music. J is very, very funny and a total charmer. He works about 20 hours a week (and has been for almost a year) at the warehouse for an internet necktie company and has been socking away money like crazy. He just bought his second car (and sold the first one), at 17! We are really proud of both boys: they are total opposites, but what they have in common is that they are both great guys.
Q. How do you describe your parenting style?
A. Jim and I have raised our kids according to what I call the Huxtable Method (“Cosby Show” reference for your younger readers.) We have high expectations, we are firm, we are respectful, we follow through on what we say, and most of all we are consistent. We talk WITH our kids instead of TO them, and we know how to have fun as a family. As a result, though had to deal with some normal teenaged surliness, we all came out of puberty unscathed and our boys still really like being with us (and us with them).
Q. Many Go West readers have young children; is there any advice you would offer them now that your sons are in high school and college?
A. TIME FLIES. Enjoy every moment when they’re little because once they are in their late teens, you’ll feel like you just blinked and all of that growing happened overnight.