Today we are continuing with our series – INTERVIEW WITH A MOM, where we interview local moms about themselves. With a goal of connecting us even more as people and a community!
A few months back I met with with Dani Maxwell, local news anchor and producer, at a local coffee shop for an interview. Dani is a bright and outgoing person. We shared lots of laughs.
Before we published the interview Dani and her Husband suffered the tragic loss of their triplet sons. Dani, Alisa and I met again recently and she opened up about her loss and life and what has helped her during this heartbreaking time. Most of us (who watch her on Wake-up Wisconsin) know what a great news anchor she is. She is also a wonderful mom. She is an amazing mix of strength, grace and openness. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have met and interviewed her.
Today I am sharing both interviews. Please extend kindness and understanding if you choose to comment.
Me: What is a job (or career) you have had that was the most fun (not including motherhood)?
Dani: I mean my job now is sometimes fun, it looks like a lot of fun when we’re on the air, especially with the morning show. We try to make it cover the news of the day, give information to people that they need but have the element of fun or news you can use. That’s the comments I get most, about how fun my job must be. I feel like “gosh, I really wish people would see behind the scenes of what we actually do because it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of times it’s not fun, because we get a lot of criticism for what we do.
I think, probably the most fun job I ever had was as a gymnastics coach though. I did gymnastics all my life, I even started coaching when I was around ten years old – because you had to coach to be on the team. I coached gymnastics for years, in fact even when I got into the news business I still coached on the side because I liked it so much. I coached all different levels, so the really really young kids, like three year olds who were just starting out, learning how to do summersaults and things like that and some of the older kids who were really, really good. That probably was the most fun I’ve had.
Me: My girls just started taking gymnastics a few weeks ago and they really love it. They are three and six. The three year old is more naturally coordinated but the six year old is very determined so she’ll just keep trying till she gets it.
Dani: My daughter does it too, she’s three as well. I swore up and down that I would never put my kids in gymnastics and of course at the first moment they could…
Me: I think it’s so good for them.
Dani: It is. She can decide later whether she wants to continue with it, but she loves it now. She’s kind of one of those who if you doesn’t get it the first time “I can’t do it”. I have to say “you just gotta keep trying” and then she does and then she gets it and she’s so excited about it.
Me: What is your favorite treat or dessert to have when you’re “kid- free” and don’t have to share?
Dani: I am like a huge candy fiend. I’ve been eating raisinettes like crazy.
Me: Well there’s some fruit in there.
Dani: I know, that’s what I keep telling people!
Me: There is a lot of iron in raisins.
Dani: I’m not like a huge sweets, like cake or pie person. So I rarely will get dessert if we are out at a restaurant or anything like that…I just never was that into it. But candy, like taffy, I love that stuff. Yeah, the candy is a really bad habit, so I try to hide it from my daughter, Rylan. I mean I don’t know how she knows I have something in my mouth.
Me: They have a sixth sense about it.
Dani: I just finished chewing it and she’s like “what’s that? Can I have some?”
Me: They just assume if your eating it, it must be good so they want it.
Dani: And it is.
Me: What is your favorite music to listen to while in the car?
Dani: It really depends on my mood because I listen to everything from… I think the only thing I don’t listen to is maybe country music. I listen to… I grew up listening to (when I was younger), you’re going to laugh at this, I listened to the heavy metal stuff. I listened to Skid Row and Guns & Roses I was kind of into that and not… like New Kids on the Block was really popular then but I was never really into the boy bands. I really liked the heavy metal and the rock stuff.
Me: Same here.
Dani: My dad was a musician so I think that is where that came from. We would listen to a lot of Queen and David Bowie in our house growing up. I love alternative music too and I love hip hop and rap, and some of the pop-indie…I mean I love everything, it really just depends. Right now I can’t get enough of Ellie Goulding, I listen to everything she puts out… I have her on my YouTube channel. I could just listen to her all day, she has my favorite voice. I grew up in an area where there were a lot of people listening to hip hop and rap music so I listened to that a lot, too, and I can’t get rid of that either.
Me: I love to listen to hip hop when I run… if I hear a song that I run to a lot when I’m not running I automatically feel like I need to be running. It’s very motivating.
Dani: Yes it is. I really just depends on what mood I’m in.
Me: Or what time of day it is, too. If it’s early morning I can’t listen to classical because I’ll fall asleep.
Dani: Even classical, I used to listen to that as a kid. I was kind of like the weird kid because I liked classical music. I think I liked it because a lot of the gymnastic routines I did for my floor exercise came from classical songs so I got really into that at one point, too.
Me: What is your favorite most lived in outfit?
Dani: I’m a jeans type of girl. Not t-shirts so much because I don’t like how they’re big on me but tank tops and fitted shirts.
Me: Who was your most influential role model and how did they help shape your life?
Dani: I would say my dad. He was the greatest dad and he passed away last year. My mom died when I was a kid. We were really, really young and he had four girls, bless him. It was a struggle there for awhile. He raised us. In my mind it was amazing what he did. I mean it was tough, especially when you’re trying to deal with four girls and everything. You know, he got remarried and she was with us for awhile but it was always my dad who had influence over everything that I did. I still think about “What would Dad think?” or “What would Dad do?”.
He was the funniest man I’ve known, always had a ton of friends and would always do anything for anybody. When I was going through difficult times I knew I could always count on him. He was just a “drop everything and help his girls” kind of dad. He was a great role model in that respect. You can’t say enough about the things your parents do for you. Even though my mom died young, I still remember her very well, I was twelve when she died, I was a little bit older than the other girls, I’m the oldest. Even though she hasn’t been in my life for a long time I still think “How would she handle this?” or “How would she do that?”. I think you don’t ever lose that, those connections with your parents, how they would do something, especially if you had good parents, which I was really lucky to have. That’s probably been the biggest influence in my life as far as role models. I know that’s kind of a generic answer a lot of people say that.
Me: No, it’s not. Everyone has their own reasons behind it and how it’s important to them. Each person’s parent is unique to them. That is pretty impressive with four girls.
Dani: I mean my dad taught me how to change a tire, how to change the oil, I remember learning that when I started driving. At the time I was probably not so… but I’m really glad I learned I mean I’m not great at it but I could get it done.
Me: What’s something you do (or strive to do) just for you?
Dani: I try to get massages. But that does not happen very often. For the past three years anytime anyone asks “What do want for your birthday?” or “What do you want for Christmas” I say a spa certificate because I want want a massage… and those are probably the only times I use it. I do try to unwind a little bit though because the job is stressful and the hours are very odd so I’ll try to relax a little bit after I get home from work, before I pick up my daughter. I have her then the rest of the afternoon. At first I almost felt bad doing it but then after awhile I realized I need a little bit of time. That way I can eat, I can sit for a little while. A lot of times I’ll use that time to run errand but I have been trying to just take some down time before I go and get her.
Me: I think that’s great. I fully agree and we should not feel guilty. I think we’re better when we’re with them when we get that time to decompress.
Dani: You’re right, because then when I go an get her I’m a little more re-energized. I find when I take a nap or have some downtime, then in the afternoon I’ll have plenty of energy to spend with her and play.
Me: What is the best piece of parenting/ mothering advice you have received?
Dani: This is a hard one. I do get a lot of advice, everybody does. I remember going into parenting knowing that I didn’t want to yell or be short with my daughter, to be very patient with her. I’m not by nature a patient person, at all. For the most part I’ve been pretty good. I remember people telling me if you’re getting frustrated, kind of step away from the situation, especially when they’re babies and they don’t know how to tell you what’s wrong. Every time I feel frustrated, I just take deep breath and I let myself think. I’ve been much more patient then I thought I would be, as a mom. I think that advice “taking a step back from the situation” helps a little bit because otherwise you’re going to say something that you regret or you’re going to upset them. It’s okay to have an upset child but I don’t want to yell. I always say “mommy doesn’t yell at you so you don’t yell at me” because she’ll yell at me, and it calms her down. I try to explain things to her, why mommy made this decision and there is a reason for it, whether it be your safety or you’re learning a lesson…and that has really helped. It calms me down too.
Me: I think that is great advice.
*** Second Interview ***
Me: Thank you so much for meeting again. Is there anything we talked about in our previous interview you would like to add to?
Dani: I know in our previous interview I talked about my Dad and how I ask myself what would he do. With parenting I also think a lot about “what would my mom do?” She died when I was young so it’s hard to think about… with her it’s more of a feeling. I remember how I felt with her and how she made me feel. I don’t remember about her parenting style because I was twelve…
Me: You couldn’t put it in context at the time.
Dani: Exactly, so now I can think “what would my mom do” in situations because I knew who she was as a person… funny, happy-go-lucky but when it was time to get serious she was a ‘didn’t take anything from anybody’ kind of woman. She was one of those very strong women. So now that both of them are gone I think about how would my parents have handled certain situations. I think about it a lot now.
As you have seen I am a really open person… and I want to be. When my mom and sister were killed in a car accident my dad had a really hard time with it. He really blamed himself so he never wanted to talk about it afterward, we never went to the cemetery to visit them. So when this happened with my boys that was one of the reasons why my husband and I decided to write a story about it, to be public about it. It wasn’t about taking a stand on infant viability. We just wanted people to know they existed in this world, that we loved them… that they were alive.
Alisa: I think it’s hard for people to put themselves in that situation and know how they would react. I have so admired everything that you have done and how you’ve handled it with so much love and grace. It’s been amazing to watch you persevere through what most would consider one of the most heartbreaking things a person could experience.
Dani: I cry every day, I’m not going to lie. Sometimes it’s like this and sometimes I’m screaming hysterically… I have had a lot of loss in my life and this has been a long road for our family. I was obviously worried about preterm labor because that is a risk factor with multiples. I was fully prepared we would have them early…I just did not expect it to be that early.
Part of the reason we decided to do a story and I have been so public about this is because I have had thousands of people contact me and a lot of people have shared their own stories of losing children and you would not believe how many of them have been told, by family members or friends, to forget about their children. Or who have had insensitive comments like “move on” or “pretend like it never happened”. I couldn’t believe it… no matter what stage they were in whether it was a child young or old or a miscarriage… I couldn’t believe somebody was told to forget. I don’t want anyone to feel like that. If they want to forget about it then that is their choice but…
Me: They shouldn’t have to.
Dani: They shouldn’t have to. I’m not going to. I am going to make that choice to talk about it.
Me: Do you think that being open about what happened and your loss has made it easier to grieve? You mentioned your father not being able to talk about your mother and sister’s death made it hard for you.
Dani: It did, it made it really hard for me. We never talked about it… I didn’t go to see my mom and sister’s grave until I married my husband. It was a huge thing when we finally went. Now by doing this (being open about our loss) I have connected with people who have contacted me back with their story and in a way we have had our own little support group. Knowing that others have or are going through the same thing… it does make you feel a bit better.
I have had lot of loss in my life. We have been through infertility, miscarriages and ectopic pregnancy. I have a beautiful baby daughter and so it is possible and we were trying to have another. Mainly because I wanted our daughter to grow up with a sibling. I know how much I love my sisters, we are so close… I wanted her to experience the same thing. So we tried again. We were shocked when we were told we were going to have fraternal triplets. I had so much faith that everything was going to be fine.
Me: One of the things I have been told my friends who have gone through the loss of a child is that the most painful thing is when people act like it never happened, maybe because they are scared or afraid of hurting you or making it worse, but that you won’t make it worse because those who have gone through this are already thinking about it and but a friend or family not acknowledging it is harder. That is something that has always stuck with me. Whenever someone goes through something you haven’t gone through, you question how you can be a good friend to them. What are some things that people in your life have done to support you in this time that you found really helpful?
Dani: We had so many people send food to the house, it is just so amazing. We had so much pasta, lasagna.. it was really great. The local church in our neighborhood… so many people we had never met sent food over. WKOW had food sent over… catered food… trays and trays of food. It lasted a month. It was so amazing. So many cards, letters. My husbands coworkers pooled together money to help pay for the funeral. So many of our friends sent money for the funeral… I mean that is a big expense that you aren’t expecting, we wanted to do the best for our boys. My coworkers pooled together money to send us on a vacation. We haven’t gone yet but that is what they wanted to do.
Me: That is so thoughtful.
Dani: People were so giving… cards and well wishes. Viewers sent cards. It was amazing. So many flowers… our house smelled so good. You know what really helped me though. It was a small thing but… I was really worried how people were going to react when they saw me for the first time after. The best reaction was from people who hadn’t seen me for awhile and they came up and just gave me a hug. When I went back to work some people ignored me because they didn’t know what to say but one, she was amazing. She came up to me and gave me the biggest hug and said “We have missed you so much and are so glad to have you back. How are you doing?” That felt really good.
I have felt so supported and loved through this and I know my husband has to. From our community, from our friends and family and from the viewers. That part of it really did help me get back to work. It’s not that I felt I needed to get back to the news because I owed something. But it healed my soul a little bit to know that there were people out there who were there for me and telling me not to rush and to take my time to grieve. It made me feel loved and supported.
Alisa: Your photos were beautiful. Was it Now I lay Me Down to Sleep who took them?
Dani: Yes, and I had not heard of the that organization. When they brought it up at the hospital it was really fresh and I was hesitant… it felt weird to us at first. It took a while for us to be okay with that… thinking it would be hard. They suggested it again that we might want to consider and it almost felt like I was giving in to just do it… I am SO glad we did. I didn’t know what it was going to feel like. I knew it was going to be hard but it was the best thing. Otherwise I would just have their faces in my head and would forget them over time. I’m so glad we did it. They were wonderful, they spent two hours with us. The two photographers were amazing. My daughter got to hold them and she loved it… she didn’t know any better, she didn’t know they were gone then…
Me: I think those pictures will be for her, too. She will always be able to see her brothers and her with them.
Dani: You’re right not just for us but for her. She would never have remembered McKay, Asher and Kenji if we didn’t have those pictures. I’m so glad we have them.
Dani is the co-anchor and Executive Producer of Wake Up Wisconsin on WKOW. She joined the team 27 News team in January of 2012.
Dani holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Illinois State University. She has worked in half a dozen newsrooms over the past 15 years in nearly all capacities, including as a producer, reporter and news anchor. She has held management positions at her last two television stations, including here at WKOW.
Dani started her career as a sports reporter, but quickly switched to news while working in Grand Junction, Colorado. Dani has also worked in Peoria, Champaign, Bloomington and Rockford, Illinois before settling in Madison.
Dani and her husband Steve are proud parents to Rylan, McKay, Asher and Kenji. Their triplet boys passed away shortly after birth, which Dani wrote about in a story you can find here.
Dani is an avid cyclist and completed her first triathlon in 2013. If you see her around town, please stop and introduce yourself!