Kelly Rowland & Jessica McKay, ALWAYS WITH YOU, ALWAYS WITH ME

Kelly Rowland & Jessica McKay, ALWAYS WITH YOU, ALWAYS WITH ME

“Toni Morrison said if there’s a book that you want to read, write it. That’s exactly what has happened here.” Zibby is joined by Grammy Award-winning member of Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland and educator Jessica McKay to discuss their new picture book, Always with You, Always with Me. The writing duo share how they became friends by bonding over their shared experiences as working mothers as well as how their dynamic created the basis for this story. They also talk with Zibby about leaving magic traces for their kids while they’re gone, the misconceptions that come with being a mother who happens to be famous, and why they hope this book will ease some elements of mommy guilt. Check out Zibby’s book recommendations for all types of moms to celebrate Mother’s Day!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Kelly and Jessica. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Always with You, Always with Me.

Kelly Rowland: Thank you.

Zibby: This book is so perfect. I was like, where has this book been all my life? You have just taken care of my guilt and closed the door on it and shoved it away. Thank you for that. How did this book come about? How did you two team up? What’s the whole inspiration story? Let me have it.

Kelly: Go for it, Jess.

Jessica McKay: We are parents together. Our sons are in the same grade. When they started school, we met and just instantly had a bond. It was, I know for me but also for Kelly, a really busy time. When is it not? I was a teacher for a long time. Then I entered in a leadership role at a new school. I was in startup mode working around the clock. That was around the time, Kelly, you were flying back and forth to Australia working on The Voice. When we did have time to connect through our children, our story just really emerged. In between all of that busy working-mom stuff, we would read to our children. We spent time with them at school. I have these pictures of Kelly reading to Titan and Chase. We realized through all the books, there really wasn’t a picture of a mom who would leave to go to work and what that specific separation was like. Usually, the books would often have a kid going to school. There’s separation, a discussion about it there, but not a working parent, specifically a mom. We just said, let’s create this. Let’s make it a story for the world. As is evidenced from our own libraries, it’s not there.

Kelly: Toni Morrison said if there’s a book that you want to read, write it. That’s exactly what has happened here. I was fortunate and blessed enough to do it with a fellow mom who understood that and understood the dynamic and the journey between a mother and a child, what happens, the emotional attachment, the emotional part of it. People don’t realize, or some people don’t realize, we go through it just as much as the kids do. There’s a page where you see the mother cry in the car. There has been several times, if not last night, I’m just going to be transparent, where I’m heading off — I’ve had all this time with my kids. We bonded. We played. We read. We just had these intimate moments together. Then your schedule catches up with you. Then it’s the separation. You miss them, and like I said, crying on the way to the airport. I miss my babies, even though it’s two days. I’ll be back in two days, but you just bond. Think about what COVID has done. We’ve had all this time with our kids. Just as much as they’re like — actually, no, my kid is like, “Bye Mom, I’ll see you later. I’m going to go with my friends to school.” I’m like, oh, my god, I don’t have him all day, every day, which is good for both of us.

Zibby: That was definitely my favorite page in the book. I’m like, I think that mom is crying. She is crying. She had the little saying that he made her, “I love my mom.” How later it’s framed, all these little things — right behind this computer, I have the little love notes from my kids or a little drawing. Then when they’re not around, I’m like, aw.

Jessica: They’re always with you. You’re always with them.

Kelly: Exactly. PS, hold on, can you see this?

Zibby: Those are gorgeous. For people listening, Kelly’s wearing two rings that say Titan and Noah, beautiful, gorgeous rings. My late mother-in-law gave me a necklace. Each one of the rings has one of their names on it. I like to wear that. I’m divorced and remarried. I have four kids. When I started the custody thing, I would sit in their rooms and sob. I was like, how could they not be here? I’m the type of mom, it sounds like you guys, just wanting to be there and soaking up every second. I’m like, how could they be gone? It’s the worst. Totally relate, also, to the working piece of it too. I love that you included a piece where they’re at home, but she’s trying to work from home. You’re like, oh, yeah, you have the sniffles? I say as I have — one of my kids is upstairs. I’m like, closing the door here.

Jessica: That juggle is real.

Zibby: The juggle is real. What do you two do to make yourself feel better when you’re really missing the kids or you’re feeling guilty about it? After you cry in the car, then how do you get over it? Do you call them more? Do you write them notes? Do you have these magic traces moments that you do? Tell me about that.

Kelly: I know for me when I’m gone, my magic traces are leaving gifts throughout the house but calling them and telling them, “Oh, my god, I left something for you.” “Did you, Mom?” I was like, “Yeah, go check the cabinet to the right of the trash can in the kitchen.” It’s like a scavenger hunt. That’s one thing. Every time I go out of town — every other trip now because these Legos are getting out of control — I bring him back a Lego set, specifically to New York. I’ll say, “If I’m going to New York, I’ll come back and I’ll have a Lego set.” He’s like, “Are you going to New York?” He knows something is coming from the Lego Store. Those are magic traces. Then I leave him pre-written notes for his lunch kit. When he did have lunch, I would leave those. What else? What do you do, Jess?

Jessica: I do the notes too. I love a handwritten note. I’ll leave those in lunches if I know I’m going to have a long day, leave those in the lunches. Beforehand, I do the anticipation thing. “This is about to happen. I’m about to be out of town or gone all day. Just know even if I’m not there, I’m always where? In your heart.” Just have that conversation so it kind of paves the way and prepares everyone. I’m saying it more to myself than I am to them, but it’s for them for sure.

Zibby: I say that too. I wonder if it works. I’m always like, “Even if you can’t see me, I’m thinking of you all the time. I’m there.” I don’t know. Again, it’s probably more for me. You guys are — scavenger hunts? I have to get organized. Now you’ve shamed me into the bad mom category. That’s impressive, organizing Easter egg hunts every time you leave. I have to do that.

Kelly: No, not every time I leave. I didn’t say that.

Jessica: This is shame-free. any shame. The whole point of this book is to get rid of that.

Zibby: I’m kidding. I’m totally kidding. I’m kidding.

Kelly: Let’s see, I’ve done that at least four times. That’s about it out of all the —

Zibby: That’s a lot, though.

Kelly: — three hundred trips I’ve taken.

Zibby: That’s four more times than I’ve done that. It’s a great idea too. I think that the book, it really shows that even having the blanket on one of the beds — the aunt is putting the son to bed. It’s just a reminder of how much a mother’s love can be there all the time even if you’re not there. Then of course, I think of parent loss. There are a lot of kids whose parents have passed away. Kelly, I read that when you had your baby, your mom passed away three weeks later, which is so awful. I’m so sorry about that. How do you go through when your mom is not there, and still taking that love with you everywhere you go?

Kelly: Here’s the thing. When you think about it, like you were just saying, a mother’s love and how it’s a constant, I can feel her around me. It’s never a day that I can’t. Even if there’s something — I remember maybe a month ago — yeah, because it was really, really cold that night. The house got cold. We were fine in the room. I was like, “Noah.” I literally woke up and said, “Noah.” It happened so quick. I go to his room. Sure enough, his room is cold. I was definitely knocked out. That was not me. That was my mama. You better cover up my baby. All I said was “Noah” when I woke up and then walked to his room, and it was an icicle. We got the heat on. I was like, how insane to still have that kind of stuff. When we’re outside, I always say I know she’s there because of butterflies. I’d say butterflies or when I see someone doing sign language because she used to sign — she was the most beautiful signer. On a spring day, she would love butterflies. It’s just things — always with you, always with me — that make perfect sense, the memories that you make, the moments that you make. A girlfriend of mine just took her son on a mother-son trip. I was like, oh, I have to start doing that. He’s old enough now to where we start creating these memories for our kids. That solidifies the, always with you, always with me. It stacks the relationship. It’s just so beautiful how layered it is, motherhood, period.

Zibby: It’s true. Even fatherhood a little too. I remember as a girl, my dad worked a lot and all time. I missed him a lot, but he took me on these two weekend adventures. We had a monkey adventure or whatever he called it. I remember those more than anything in my whole childhood. We probably were gone for a night twice in my life. I remember going to Washington, DC. We went to Colonial Williamsburg. That’s what I remember. I feel like all these moments, it doesn’t have to be around the clock, all the stuff. It’s just these one things. Just make that memory. Make it different than another day where they come home and I’m sitting here. You can also make a really big impact with a little bit of time. I loved how on the weekends, they all get back together, and the little trampoline. I’m like, how much time can I spend on the trampoline?

Kelly: By the way, that’s the best time for me. My sister has a trampoline at her house. After I had Noah — that was three months after I had Noah. I remember I was on the trampoline and jumping on it. My nieces and, of course, Titan was there. Somebody was holding Noah. I was jumping. I was having the best time. I’m just going completely ham. My sister goes, “You just had a baby. You have to be careful.” I was like, oh, that’s right, but I’m just having so much fun. The kids were jumping with us. We were falling all over the place. I was like, this is memories. I love this.

Zibby: Now I feel like I know what you mean, your body after baby, because I read your book, Whoa, Baby!, with the most intimate details.

Kelly: That happened.

Zibby: How great, that book too, just to let everybody know in the funny, great way that you did, what is to come. I wish I had had that book before I had my kids a long time ago. I was not prepared. Even though you read the books, sometimes you just want a girlfriend to be like, no, no, no, let me tell you. That’s what that book was.

Kelly: Thank you. That’s what I wanted it to be, literally like we’re girlfriends. I just want to tell you what’s about to happen. Nobody did that for me. It was the stuff that’s surface. You’re not going to get any rest. Well, yeah. No crap. There’s a new human. It has to figure out exactly how to maneuver on this new space we call earth with family and so many interactions, trying to help them acclimate. Your body has to acclimate too. It’s wild.

Zibby: Jess, I don’t know if you felt this way also. In Kelly’s book, she talked about sort of feeling abandoned after her baby got born because suddenly, all the attention was on the baby. Kelly just almost spit out her water at that comment.

Jessica: I have times when family will come to visit me. They hug my children. They’ll give them all hugs. I’m standing there like, hi. Hello. What about me? It’s still the case.

Kelly: It’s true.

Jessica: I get it. They’re miracles. They are amazing. Actually, that was part of our journey in this book, is really bringing to light — it’s rare for a children’s book to have as prominent, the mother. Usually, the focal point is the child. This book, and I’ve seen others recently do it too, where there’s a parent that kind of comes into prominence. I think that ties into exactly what we’re saying. We are the ones reading the books to the child, so bringing in other layers and other characters and topics. They see us. The kids are always watching. They’re always noticing, so blending those worlds. Again, bringing a little bit more attention to some of the grown-ups that they love also was important to us.

Zibby: Yeah, like the dad and the aunt. Where is this whole village? Even what you did about getting up early and taking — I’m up early taking care of all the stuff that I need to do to make your world run. It is such unseen work. It takes so much time. I wrote this whole article soon after my divorce. This is six, seven years ago or something. It was called “A Mother’s Right to Sanity.” All I wanted was to spend time with my kids when I had my kids. Instead, I’m sitting at my computer. There are so many forms and so much stuff with every kid, this camp, this playdate. How are you supposed to do this and actually work?

Jessica: There’s this funny meme. I had to quit my job to respond to my child’s school’s emails. It’s real.

Zibby: It’s true. It’s so true.

Jessica: It takes over. It’s just a lot. That was a page that we loved, just zooming in on the day that begins before the child even knows. To us, that was just really beautiful. The other day, my son said, “What do you do while we’re at school?” They have no idea. I feel like this book and others that I’ve seen — there’s one called You Be Mommy. I love that one, about this mom who’s like, you be Mommy tonight. It just walks you through her day too. The kids, they don’t really know. Our goal is really to shift the narrative. Let’s normalize and own all of this modern motherhood. Remove guilt. Remove all of this. Show the emotions of it all and the rollercoaster of a week in the life of it but not laden it with so much of the stress and shame that can come with it.

Zibby: It’s so true. Kelly, I feel like there’s this — maybe this is a misperception, that people who are famous don’t have to deal with all this kind of stuff. It must just all work. Dispel the myth, please.

Kelly: First of all, I just feel like it’s disrespectful for someone to assume that kind of thing only because I feel like — I remember saying, “I’m just so tired.” Someone said, “Well, you have help.” I said, “First of all, I don’t say help like that. I have a support system.” That’s what it is. I have a support system to be able to do the things that I love and will allow my children to do the things that they love, have a roof over their head, clothes on their back and shoes on their feet, and food in their mouth. For me, yes, it may be, as someone says, a celebratory or extraordinary lifestyle, but I’m still trying to figure out how to balance it all, my husband, my kids, my job, and shield them from all of that and still have their innocence while everything being so out. I don’t think that one holds more weight than the other. I just think that we’re all moms. We’re all trying to figure this out. Nobody gets a rule book or anything. Somewhere along the way, I’m going to screw up. I always say that. I remember I used to put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself and say, this has to be perfect because I want this to be better than mine. I was like, no.

A girlfriend of mine just sat me down. She’s like, “You know you’re going to screw up, right? You know you’re going to screw up. I love you, but I see you stressed by just being a mother. You can’t enjoy the day-to-day things that’s going to happen. Even in the moments that it’s a challenge and you’re like, what do I do? and you’re stressed, you have to just immerse yourself in that moment, too, and surrender. Just surrender to motherhood. Surrender to wifehood. Just surrender.” I was like, okay. Ever since I’ve done that, I’ve been great. I’ve been great. I figure it out along the way. It’s not to say that it’s not hard. I remember I posted something where Titan was in the backseat. He was singing. I guess I had Titan’s seatbelt on — a strap or something was the wrong way. It was on, but it was the wrong way. Somebody was like, I can’t believe — what kind of mother would — I was like, oh, that’s what we’re doing. For moms just trying to figure it all out, we don’t have time to do that. Someone told me, they said, when you have your kid, you are born a mother. You’re born a mother of one. When you have two, you’re born a mother of two. When you’ve born three, you’re born a mother of three, and so on and so on. You don’t get a rule book to this. You just have to figure it out. I’m figuring it out like everybody else. I don’t judge anybody when it comes to motherhood because I have been judged.

Zibby: You have to be a certified genius to work all of the different contraptions designed for kids, car seats and strollers and whatever. I felt this huge sense of being relieved once I got my kids out of strollers so I could stop feeling like a moron because I couldn’t collapse them. I’m very accomplished in some areas, but I’m ready to break this stroller because I cannot figure out — I’m watching YouTube videos next to my stroller. I’m like, what is wrong with me?

Kelly: I do the same thing. Don’t worry.

Zibby: You could really tell through your Instagram and through — when Hoda and Jenna surprised you with your kids watching, oh, my gosh, that made me want to cry. You could see your emotion. It was so beautiful. It’s just so great to have this role model of reality of motherhood versus Instagram perfection of motherhood, which none of us really need. That doesn’t help anybody, unrealistic expectations, because it is hard. Even if you surrender to motherhood, it’s hard. Then it’ll change the next day.

Kelly: Absolutely. There’s this one video where there’s — I don’t know if it’s her kid or not. I was like, wow, she looks great. She just had a baby. This woman is holding her baby. She puts her leg up.

Jessica: Oh, yeah, that one.

Kelly: Yo, man, I wanted to try that so bad, but I wanted to fail at it and film it.

Jessica: Close the car doors.

Kelly: I wanted to try to lift my leg almost like — I can’t think of that one comedian in the UK. Celeste Barber, her. I wanted to do a Celeste Barber version of that so bad. I was like, oh, I could never do that. That is a great trick.

Zibby: Are you two going to do more books together, I hope, or individual books or another advice book? What do you have on the literary scene? What’s coming next?

Kelly: We’ll have to see.

Jessica: A lot of people are saying, where’s the book with the dad? Where’s this? People are asking, but we’ll see. We want to get through this one and see what’s next, for sure.

Zibby: It’s exciting. I want to see this mom in other scenarios. I kind of fell in love with this woman. I’m like, where’s she going to go next? Maybe she can help me get through high school applications. It never ends.

Jessica: We’re not there yet, Zibby. You can write that one for us.

Zibby: Having written this book, do you have advice for artists of any kind? I know you’re performers, children’s book authors. You’re creators, both of you. What advice do you have for other people who aspire to be in your shoes in any way?

Kelly: I know I would say, like I said from Toni Morrison, if there’s a book you want to read, write it. I say that again because I feel like everything changes. The world is continuously changing. I think that for kids to be able to see just everyday scenarios of life and storytelling is really important. It’s necessary. It allows them to be well-rounded on all things that have to do with their space and their world and how it’s evolving and changing. We’re in a place now to where we can see a black mother that’s an architect in a book. I never saw books with kids that looked like me in them. That’s a really big win. We have to continue to do that for other races, for other sexes, period. I just feel like it’s important. It’s important, for sure.

Zibby: Absolutely. What about you, Jess?

Jessica: I would just say to make time for it. We’re born with creativity. Whatever that is, whether it’s through arts or writing, music, sharing our stories, there’s something creative in us. As we grow up, sometimes the world can start to pull that away from us, so even if it’s two minutes, five minutes a day. My kids are very close in age. I have three of them. I know you have four. We’re all busy. Kelly’s got her two kids and a huge career. Just make time. Find that. My friend and another author, Eve Rodsky, calls it unicorn space. Really take that time because other demands pull us in so many directions. If you just do a little here and a little there and every day, add to it, I think that’s what, really, life is all about. You never know. It can turn into something. Don’t let the world tell you, oh, you’re too busy. You have too many kids. You have too much going on. You can still do it.

Zibby: It’s true. You know what would be great? If you guys came up with a list for moms who maybe aren’t as creative for the magic moments, things like the Easter egg hunt or leaving the scavenger hunt. Post something. Post on Instagram or something. Give ten things moms can do to leave behind something that’s more creative than just a note.

Kelly: I’m going to do that.

Zibby: Will you do that?

Kelly: A brilliant idea.

Zibby: That would be helpful. I would do it if I had the guidance and ideas. Maybe idea of the week for a magic trace. Here’s your idea of the week. This week, I’ll do a scavenger hunt. Next week, I would try to knit a pillow. I don’t even know. Easy things.

Kelly: That’s a great idea. Actually, we should do that, Jess, on the buildup to the book. I’m going to talk to Sasha about it. That’s a great idea. Thank you.

Zibby: You’re welcome.

Kelly: See? Women. When we work together…

Zibby: You can tag me. I’m @ZibbyOwens.

Kelly: Yes, I’m going to. I’m going to.

Zibby: I’ll repost and spread the word. Then I’ll show myself doing the thing and post your book. I’m so excited about this book. I can’t even tell you. It’s music to my ears. Thank you for writing it and helping moms in this way by just being so relatable even though you could easily not be. It’s really amazing. Thanks to both of you. Really fun.

Kelly: Thank you.

Jessica: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Take care.

Kelly: You too. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Jessica: Bye.

Kelly Rowland & Jessica McKay, ALWAYS WITH YOU, ALWAYS WITH ME

ALWAYS WITH YOU, ALWAYS WITH ME by Kelly Rowland & Jessica McKay

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