Parenthood. It’s the mother (or father) of all relationships. On this episode of the Relate podcast, we’re exploring parenthood from a few different angles. You’ll hear about a tough-as-nails biker club in New York City that helps support moms and their newborn babies. There’s also a rather extreme example of parenting... from behind bars. And we get some hilarious perspectives on fatherhood and minivans from father and comedian James Breakwell.
Featured in this episode:
The Sirens Women's Motorcycle Club delivering milk to premature babies
Mother, educator, and former inmate Mona Graves
Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse by comedian and father James Breakwell
SPEAKER: So, before you knew it, this friendship had formed and this relationship had formed with these big, bad motorcyclists. I delivered the milk and she came to the door with her child and you see the baby's face, and it's like, wow. My family's still like, "How did you do 20 something years in prison?" Had I not had my kids to look forward to, I doubt if I would have made it. I hung onto my kids for survival.
TAMARA STANNERS: Parenthood, it is the mother or father of all relationships. On this episode of the Relate podcast, we're exploring parenthood from a couple different angles. There's the story of a biker club in New York City that helps support moms and their newborn babies. You're gonna hear about a rather extreme example of parenting, this one from behind bars. And some hilarious perspectives on fatherhood and minivans from James Brakewell. He's the author of Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.
SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate. You're listening to Relate by Zendesk. Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships. For better customer relationships.
TAMARA STANNERS: I'm Tamara Stanners, and this is Relate by Zendesk. It's a show all about relationships, and this time around, it's about those relationships between parents and their kids. This first story involves motorcycles and babies. No really, you have to picture a chopped Harley here, and how the bikers who ride these motorcycles provide this amazing service to parents and their newborns. The Sirens Women's Motorcycle Club is the oldest, largest women's motorcycle club in New York City. They live to ride. And they recently took on a project to deliver emergency supplies of breast milk to newborns, riding through the super crazy, gnarly traffic of New York City.
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: My name is Julie Bouchet-Horwitz:, and I'm the executive director of the New York Milk Bank. So, what we do is we collect extra milk from women who are producing more than enough milk for their own babies and distribute it to babies in need throughout New York state. And we have formed an unusual partnership with an incredible group of women that-
JENNIFER MCCALL: My name's Jennifer McCall. I am the president of the Sirens Women's Motorcycle Club of New York City. You can call me Jen.
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: Well, one day my husband and I were stuck in traffic, and as we were sitting there, I noticed a motorcyclist just bobbing and weaving through the lanes. And I know that's illegal, but it just occurred to me, “What do we do when we've gotta get milk in and out of Manhattan quickly?” And I thought of motorcyclists, and I thought of female motorcyclists, and I thought, what if there were women motorcyclists that could help us out? So, I did a Google search, and up popped the Sirens Motorcycle Club of New York. And I called them.
JENNIFER MCCALL: Julie called me at the beginning of 2016 out of nowhere and had kind of told me a little bit about the Milk Bank and what they do, and then presented this idea of delivering. And as strange as it was, I was like, "Wow, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. We'd love to be involved. It's a woman's issue." So, I kind of jumped right on it and brought the idea to the club, and everyone in the club was like, "What? We can do what?" Was like, "Yeah, I guess so. Let's do it."
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: So before you knew it, this friendship had formed and this relationship had formed with these big, bad motorcyclists.
JENNIFER MCCALL: I guess I don't feel like I look tough, but everybody says we look tough.
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: And us, with these little tiny one and two pound preemies, and all of a sudden now we have this fabulous relationship with this group of women, and it's been working out really well. When we first started to use the Milk Riders ... I dubbed them the Milk Riders. I just, the idea came to me. Let's call them the Milk Riders. And I think that has stuck. We use them in two ways. One is to pick up milk in a non emergency situation, and the other one is to use them in an emergency. And when I first approached them, that's actually what I was thinking of. We're here in New York. If we've got to get milk to a baby in need very quickly, how can we do that? And it seemed like a motorcycle rider would be one of the best ways to do it. So, we presented to them that we would like to use them if possible in an emergency situation.
JENNIFER MCCALL: Oh, they come up. There have been situations where a hospital has run out of milk in the NICU, and they, they need it for a sick child, or a mother in a home has run out of milk and they need it for their sick baby. So, I think that's when they call on us most to get things done fast.
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: And believe it or not, that's happened more than once. And the most incredible story that happened was fairly recently, in the winter it happened too, when I get a text from a nurse at one of the hospitals saying, "We're out of milk. We're not gonna make it through the weekend. Can you get milk to us?" And I said, "It's Friday at 9:30 at night. What happened?" She said, "Well the babies are eating more than usual, and they're twins, and one twin died and we don't have enough for the other twin, and, and the mom doesn't have any milk." So, I texted ... Jen was in Mexico, and I texted her and I said, "We need milk tonight. Can we do it?"
JENNIFER MCCALL: She texted me at 9 PM, I think on a Friday, and I was working down in Mexico. I wasn't anywhere near home. So, she's like, "Oh, I gotta get this milk to this baby, and the Milk Bank is closed, but I really would like someone, if they could come and get it, to take it to them."
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: And we have an additional service that our milk bank provides. When our milk bank is closed, my home office stays open 24/7.
JENNIFER MCCALL: I was like, "Well, I'm in Mexico. I don't know what to do." I said, "Okay, let me see. Who can I call on? There's a few people I know that I can totally rely on." I hit Judy up.
JUDY: I was literally asleep on my couch, cause I fall asleep in front of the TV all the time, and all of a sudden, my text message goes off that there's a problem with one of the hospitals, that they're in pretty dire need of breast milk. And I'm like a little groggy, so I'm like, "Okay let me get myself together," and basically jumped in my shoes and-
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: And said, "I can be there in half an hour." It was Judy. She came to my house, knocked on my door. By the time she got here, I think it was 11:30 at night, and I packed up a dozen bottles, gave it to her, and off she went into the night.
JUDY: It was a great ride. It was really easy. No traffic. So, maybe 20 minutes to get there. Pulled up, called up to the NICU, the nurses came right down. I wait, maybe waited five minutes, and they were really happy to see me, cause this baby really needed that milk.
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: We were so grateful that we had implemented this system that we could provide milk in an emergency, especially to this baby that really needed it so desperately.
JUDY: And my work history is in the emergency services. To me, it's like another day at work. This is an emergency. You don't get very excited. It's just work. So, it was a very basic day. It was a very easy day because it was just a delivery of a box. But you know that in the greater scope of this, that there is a baby at the end of the line, and that there is a life that needs this milk, and anything that we can do to help that, and that's something that is always gratifying to do.
JULIE BOUCHET-HORWITZ: Now, one of the things that developed even more, besides the relationships that we have developed with them ... I mean, we just love them. I mean they came to our Milk Bank, I hugged every one of them. I'm just, I'm so grateful for what they've done for us. But besides that, they're meeting some of these babies that they wouldn't meet, these babies that are survivors that were born at two to three pounds, and then they're seeing them look chubby and healthy, and they're meeting the moms.
JENNIFER MCCALL: I had a delivery to a home, and I had no idea that I was gonna be able to go interact with, with the baby at all, but I delivered the milk, and she came to the door with her child, and I ... It was ... I don't know. All of a sudden, it was real that we were doing something very specific for a very specific baby. You know what I mean? It was an instant sort of connection to the whole thing. It's easy to just do the job, take the milk, be the courier, until you see the baby's face. Then it's like, wow.
SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.
SPEAKER: Zendesk helps your business turn interactions into lasting relationships.
TAMARA STANNERS: Parenting has never been an easy gig. Rewarding, for sure. But easy? No. The sleepless nights and spelling tests and soccer practice and attitudes, video games, siblings, picky eaters, and curfews and just getting them to pick the laundry up off the floor. Please, can you do your mother a favor! Anyway, I think you get the picture, but now try to imagine being a parent while you're in prison. This is the story of Mona Graves. She spent 20 years behind bars but still found a way to be a parent to her two boys.
MONA GRAVES: My family's still like, "How did you do 20 something years in prison?" Like I think about it now. I'm like, "Wow, how did I do it?" I really think that had I not had my kids to look forward to, I doubt if I would've made it. I hung onto my kids for survival.
TAMARA STANNERS: In the winter of 1985, Mona Graves was in the passenger seat of her boyfriend's car during a fatal hit and run. Three years later, she was sentenced to 20 years to life for second degree murder and reckless endangerment. Mona was in her early 20s when she boarded the bus to take her to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum security women's prison about an hour north of New York City. She had a toddler at home, and she was three months pregnant.
MONA GRAVES: From the minute you're there, it's really horrible. When you see it on TV, it's bad, but when you're actually in that position, that's when it really sinks in. You know, you're just on this big, long bus. Your arms are shackled. Your feet are shackled to somebody else. You know, there's difficulty walking when you're chained. Walking downstairs in a bus, you know, they like push you, like, "Hurry up!" I seen plenty of people fall and get hurt and stuff. They strip you of everything. They douse you with, you know, lice medication. They strip search you and check everything and make your squat, cough. It's really degrading.
People are very mean. I mean, you know, they call you all kinds of names, you know, "Get the eff up." They don't speak to you like you're a human being. You know, and they'll put the cuffs really tight to hurt you. I don't remember if I cried or not. I doubt it. So, what happened, like I knew at 19 years old ... I knew I had to be tough. I knew that if i didn't that they would take advantage of me. There was this one girl that bullied everybody, my friends and everything, but she said something to me and somethin' ... And she mushed me in my face. And I just hit her back and then I just held her in a headlock, and I was squeezing so tight, so tight, and, you know, the cops were coming. They were running. The alarm went off. They were coming to get me, and I was holding her neck, and she started screaming, "I can't see! I can't see!" And she fell.
I think I cut off her air, and she just hit the floor, and that's when I got scared and ran. And it's not the type of person I am. Not the type of person I wanted to be, but you have to, you know, but yeah, I was three months pregnant at the time. Was I concerned about my baby? Absolutely, but I, I really didn't have a choice at the time. Believe it or not, it earned me a lot of respect after that.
It's just a, it's just the mentality there is totally different. You know, it's a whole different, different world inside there.
TAMARA STANNERS: Six months after she got to prison, Mona gave birth. Her mother took her infant son soon after he was born, and over the next five years, Mona saw her two boys occasionally, but life in prison made Mona feel backed into a corner. It was all about survival of the fittest. Mona got into fights with other inmates and was caught smuggling supplies to friends in solitary confinement. For years, she was in and out of "the box", as she calls it. Mona was on a path that was leading her further and further away from her two young sons and she knew it.
MONA GRAVES: I have letters from my kids and my son says, you know, "Are you still in lock-up?" and, you know, "Don't you want to come home?" And my son was like five years old when he wrote this letter. And that's what really woke me up is that when I'm in there, I get a visit once a week 'cause I'm in the box, so that interfered with my kids, and not only that is that you don't sit in a normal visiting room either. And these kids, my kids been in prison unfortunately with me for all those years, so like they created relationships with the other inmates' kids, they're like family almost. And it affected them so badly because they couldn't play with their friends in the children's center and in the visiting room no more. They had to sit in the boardroom with me, and if they wanted something to eat, they would get escorted to a machine and then back to me.
So, it really affected them, and then they didn't want to come visit me if it's gonna be like that. You know, it's not fair to them no more. You know, how could I put them through this? It's bad enough that they have to come here. And that's what really woke me up.
TAMARA STANNERS: At this point, Mona decided she had no choice but to turn things around. She stopped getting into fights in hopes that she'd get access to some of the prison's programs designed to help mothers stay close to their children. Bedford Hills isn't your typical women's prison. It's one of the handful in the US that has a number of programs to help incarcerated mothers. It has a nursery for babies born to mothers behind bars. It offers parenting classes, and it has a children's center, which is a playroom stocked with toys, arts and crafts, and books to facilitate longer visits and bonding between mothers and their children.
Mona was granted access to the children's center and eventually started working there. It was a turning point in her life.
MONA GRAVES: I started working in the children's center, which is in the visiting room. Those are the children that are coming to visit, and I did all of the murals. It's incredible. I mean, my kids actually grew up in there. I mean our whole world was created in the children's center when we interacted, everything we did. And then from there, I started to teach parenting. I took on the class, Parenting From a Distance. Parenting From a Distance is a very intense parenting course. It's consists of 16 weeks. It's all solely run by inmates. It was put together by inmates. It starts out with our own childhood and how important that is to how we parent. You know, a lot of us say, "You know what, I'll never be like my mother. I'll never do th- ..." And then we find ourselves doing the same thing. From our childhood, it'll go to our decision to become a parent. You know, was it planned or did it just happen?
Were we emotionally stable? Financially stable? You know, and how that affected our parenting. Really, really thorough, intense stuff. I feel like the women in my parenting class, they learn so much about themselves that they didn't even know.
TAMARA STANNERS: In addition to parenting classes, some pregnant inmates also have access to a nursery where they can stay with their babies to bond for up to 18 months after they're born.
MONA GRAVES: The nursery is great. It’s organized by own individual room. In each room, there's a crib. There's a dressing table. Everything you would have at home in a nursery is actually in the room, and it's not a cell. It's actually a health and old hospital building, which is just, you know, like patient rooms, except for it's painted with all these beautiful murals, and they have a day room with the TV. They have a playroom for the kids, you know. They have all the safety things you could imagine, you know, the sockets. It's really nice-
TAMARA STANNERS: These programs try to offset some of the many challenges incarcerated mothers face. Challenges that Mona was very familiar with.
MONA GRAVES: I had to make decisions as a mother, you know. I had to make decisions. For example, my son Justin, the older son, he started failing in school and what was even worse is my mom would stick up for him. She would get a doctor's note, just bad stuff, where it was really unhealthy for both of them and they were very close, my older son and my mom, and she would just defend him and lie for him. And it was really a bad situation. It ripped my heart apart, but I told him, "You're gonna pack your bags 'cause you're gettin' out of my mother's house."
And he's like, "Well, what's more important? My education or my grandmother dying of loneliness?" I'm like "Your grandma's not gonna die of loneliness, but you's are not good for each other." I have a big family, so I said, "So, decide where you wanna live because you're going." And this killed me. I mean he was angry, of course. This like disrupted his whole entire world, and I knew he gonna be angry with me, and I knew it was gonna cause a lot of problems, and I knew he probably hated me at the time, but I knew as a mother, I had to do that.
TAMARA STANNERS: Over the years, Mona continued to work with other inmates. She'd become a mentor for many of the mothers in her parenting classes and was involved in a program that provided the support for mothers to spend more time with their visiting teenagers, but after 24 years, her involvement in all of this would come to an end. Mona was 46 years old when she was released from prison.
MONA GRAVES: So what happens, you don't find out you're going home from the parole board til three days later you get a letter and usually if the envelope is fat that means, those are PO paper, that means you got hit. If the envelope is skinny, that means you're going home. So, to make a long story short, I found out I was really going home, so I was in shock. I really didn't believe it.
TAMARA STANNERS: By this time, Mona's two sons were grown men. They didn't need her in the same way that they used to and like many mothers, Mona had to let them go. MONA GRAVES: We were much closer when I was in prison then now. Much closer. You kidding me? My oldest son, he's married, he has two children. I mean, we're close, we talk all the time, I see him and everything, but he's not my baby no more like he was when I was in there. I don't care how old he was, he was always hanging on me, you know.
Now he doesn't pay me no mind. And my son--youngest son--the same thing, so independent, you know we don't have that mommy baby relationship no more. I'm proud of them. I mean, despite the struggle, they had a wonderful life with my mom. They're great I mean, they really amaze me.
TAMARA STANNERS: Today, Mona lives on Long Island. She sees her two sons and grandchildren on a regular basis. She hopes that eventually, parenting programs, like the one at Bedford, would be the norm, not the exception, in women's prisons across the US.
MONA GRAVES: Do I believe in punishment? Absolutely. Do I think people, some people belong in prison? Absolutely. Do I think the children should be punished? Absolutely not. Kids need their mother. People really don't give thought to that. That the kid's suffering you know, but I think that the children should be given the support they need. Distance can not break the love of a mother and child, you know? And you can be a dedicated, nurturing mother even from prison.
TAMARA STANNERS: So hopefully, if you are a parent, you'll never have to face the kind of situation that Mona Graves found herself in, but even if you've never had so much as a parking ticket, much less a prison sentence, there can still be barriers to bonding with your kids. Especially, now in this digital age. There's a great article over on The Relate online magazine, with tips on keeping that bond strong. It's called, Preserving the Parent Connection in the Age of Distraction, and you can find it at relate.zendesk.com.
SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate.
SPEAKER: By Zendesk.
SPEAKER: Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.
TAMARA STANNERS: James Breakwell, he's a professional comedy writer and he's the father of four girls, ages six and under. Just put those two titles together and you've got one of the most popular dads on social media. He's best known for his Twitter account, Exploding Unicorn, which boasts more than 850,000 followers. Here's James with an excerpt from his upcoming book, Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. You'll never think of minivans the same way again.
JAMES BREAKWELL: (Zombies moaning) So it's the zombie apocalypse and you're tired of walking. Get a minivan. You heard me right. You can hoof it forever like a poor person or you can ride to Valhalla on a unicorn. Yes, I called a minivan a unicorn. It can be whatever it wants to be. It's the chariot of the Gods. Humans asked Prometheus for fire and he said, "Screw that." Then he went back up to Mount Olympus and stole a minivan. People were so psyched, they didn't even notice they still had no way to cook their food. They watched Finding Nemo on a built in DVD player until they all starved to death and it was good.
But a minivan can't be a unicorn all the time, it's too busy being a four wheeled sex machine. Everyone who drives one has been laid at least once. You can't own one of these bad boys unless you have kids, it's illegal. Sitting in the driver's seat is like a bat signal that screams to the world, "My reproductive organs are in working order." I don't care if the bat signal doesn't make any noise, when you drive a minivan you can hear light. Birds spent million of years evolving colorful feathers to attract a mate, all you had to do was turn the key in the ignition, vroom, vroom.
Sex machine isn't just a name, it will really get you laid. Like, so much so, it'll be a problem. Families are like fish, they grow to the size of their container. With an eight passenger minivan, you upgrade from a goldfish bowl to an 80 gallon aquarium. Expect your partner to jump on you the second you pull into your driveway. It's pretty much going to be all sex all the time after that. After the first few day, you won't even remember how to stand.
Don't worry about minor details like pregnancy and childbirth, with a minivan, new kids just kind of materialize in their car seats, like they beamed down from The Enterprise. This is true even if you're in a relationship, in which kids should be impossible. When you own a minivan, life finds a way. Your ride will be filled to capacity in no time, then you can get back to surviving. Just don't get a van that holds more than eight passengers, you don't have time for that much sex.
There's an apocalypse going on. (Zombies moaning) The sex isn't even the best reason to own a minivan, hell it doesn't make the top ten. I'd put it around number 12 or 13 depending on how I feel at any moment about stow and go seating. Driving a minivan is better than sex. When married couples have really good sex they say, "That was almost as good as a minivan." The only thing better than driving a minivan, is driving it some more or maybe driving two minivans at once. I don't think that's even possible, but it should be.
If you're a non minivan driver, right now you're shaking your head in confusion, "But I test drove a minivan once." You say to yourself, "It wasn't that great." Wrong. You weren't that great. "The wand chooses the wizard, Harry." If you drove a minivan and you didn't enjoy it, you were not worthy. You didn't reject the minivan, the minivan rejected you. Have fun being a Muggle. To enjoy a minivan, you have to be dead inside. Non sort of sad or discouraged, but all the way dead. Like, the doctor slaps the defibrillator on your soul and shouts, "Clear.", but instead of coming back to life, your soul catches fire like dry balsa wood.
Then, some jaded nurse flushed the ashes down a toilet. That is how dead you have to be on the inside to be worthy of a minivan. Dying on the inside isn't a bad thing, it's a rite of passage. You don't become a Navy Seal by showing up to an ice cream social and writing your name on the sign up sheet. You become one by going through months and months of hellish training that weeds out all but the toughest sons of guns on the planet.
Parenting works the same way. Those who can't cut it by crossover hatchbacks that match their antidepressant bottles, but for those who can stare into the existential abyss that is child rearing without blinking well, they’re worthy of a higher ride. If you want to go anywhere in the zombie apocalypse, you need a minivan. Do you know how much stuff you can cram into one? A lot. Like, a boat load, which is like a regular load, but proportioned for a boat. That's right, I went nautical. You can shove in all the blankets and pacifiers and stuffed animals your kid needs plus knives and booze too.
Think you can put all that stuff in a sedan? No way. If you jam all that stuff in a four door car, there won't be enough room left for oxygen. Do you want to hold your breath for the entire zombie apocalypse? I didn't think so. You need a minivan. (Zombies moaning)
TAMARA STANNERS: For more of James Breakwell's writing, his web comics and details on his upcoming book, Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, visit explodingunicorn.com. That's it for Relate this time around. In two weeks, we'll have an episode for you on diversity. We've got an amazing piece on a girl from Pakistan, who got her big break in international sports by pretending to be a boy and the story of a Syrian refugee whose entrepreneurial spirit helps other refugees start successful businesses in The Netherlands.
In the meantime, you can subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts, that way you'll get the next episode automatically. For more articles in connecting to your customers in deeper ways, visit relate.zendesk.com. And if you want to explore technology built to improve your customer interactions, head over to zendesk.com for a free trial. I'm Tamara Stanners, talk to you soon.