“All For One with Debbie Travis” is a new hour-long reality series which brings the home-renovating icon to a different Canadian city each week, surprising the locals with with plans for a reno project to reward a local hero. The twist is that Debbie brings only her ideas, materials and tools… but no team to carry out the job. That’s what the locals are for, and she calls on community members to step up and pitch in, sometimes with disastrous results! The sneak preview episode aired on CBC in September, and Debbie is back on Sunday October 17th with the next entertaining episode.

I had the opportunity to chat with Debbie about her new show, as well as motherhood, marriage and the latest decorating trends for kids. {By the way, Debbie had to turn down her first invitation to visit Oprah, yet she eagerly made time for This Mom Loves. I’m just saying.}

This Mom: I definitely want to discuss the new show, but before we get to that I’d really like to ask you about your book “Not Guilty”, which I read this summer and really enjoyed. You seem so confident now about the choices you made as a mom and a businesswoman both, and the tradeoffs that had to be made. Do you think it’s actually possible to not feel guilty?

Debbie Travis: I think women, it doesn’t matter what you do, you could be sitting at home knitting and you’re going to feel guilty. None of us have enough time, and you’re guilty if you put them in daycare and you’re guilty if you don’t. Even a stay-at-home mom feels guilty. It’s just ingrained in us, and there’s no point telling a young mom. I started the book with the end of the journey, sending a 6 foot boy to his room, and the sadness of “Is it over?” and you look back on those 18 years of bringing up your kids, and you just can’t tell this to a new mother. What I liked about the comments on the book was that these are everybody’s stories, everyone’s mistakes, and no matter how precious we think our children are, we’re sitting at home thinking “Oh God, I did it wrong!” We all lose our tempers, we all cry ourselves to sleep. In the end, the kids are own their own path really, and unless you tie them up in the basement they’re really going to do what they want to do.

TM: Your sons are now 22 and 23. What would you say was the hardest phase of parenting?

DT: Now! I think actually the older they get the tougher it is as a parent because you have less control. They’re young men now, but you never stop worrying. They were at the Munich Beer Festival, and it was 6:00 a.m. here, and I’m calling Munich to try to make sure they’re sober enough to walk down the street. What next? With a toddler you’ve got control, you’re in charge. I think the reason parents are so frightened of teens is that they are big, and they do talk back, and it’s very hard to control them. You have to do it through guilt! {Personally, I already love using the “Mommy is very disappointed with you” line, though I often get the “You’re the worst Mommy I ever had” reply.}

TM: In your book you also try to debunk the “yummy mommy” phenomenon.

DT: I try and give these cartoonish pictures of the mothers at school, “The Volunteer Vulture”, “The Yummy Mommy”, and there are mothers wishing they could be more like the yummy mommies, and wondering “Why can’t I look like that? I’ve got vomit down my back, and they look so smart. How do they put themselves together?” You’re always trying to compete with the other mothers, but if you actually sat down with them they probably have the same vulnerabilities you do. We’re just all trying to get it right.

TM: As a decorating expert, what sorts of trends are you seeing these days for kids’ rooms?

DT: I just got back from London and I saw a lot of patterns and colours and textures. A lot of fun in rooms. There’s a new product out called “IdeaPaint”, and it’s a paint you can use to turn a surface into a notice board {a dry erase whiteboard}. People have been doing this with chalkboard paint for a while, we did that in my day, but chalk is messy, and this is just a white surface that you can use markers on. I thought that would be very cool for maybe the back of a door in a children’s room.
TM: You and your husband work together on your projects {Debbie and husband Hans Rosenstein are partners in their production company}. What are some of the pros and cons of being in business with your spouse?
DT: Don’t do it! {Laughs} I think the pros are you’ve both got the same goals in a way, and when you’re in a similar business you understand each other, whether you’re both baking cookies or you’re both running a television station or whatever, you understand why the other is so tired, or in a bad mood. You understand the bones of your industry, and really that does help. If I were married to an accountant, I don’t think he’d ‘get’ me. He wouldn’t understand what on earth was going on. On the other hand, a huge danger is if something goes wrong, like the dreaded “d” word, it’s incredibly complicated. {My apparently dyslexic mind heard “b” word, and immediately thought she was talking about bankruptcy. Which would be worse?}Sometimes it’s a bit harder for staff. Mine are used to it, but it’s hard for them hearing a blazing row, and it’s a different type of row when it’s your spouse. You can threaten “I’ll never cook for you or have sex with you ever again!” but then that’s not what we do in the boardroom! It’s sometimes hard on other people. I think with any partnership, when you have a business, what you need to think about before anything else is who you take on as a partner, because most partnerships don’t work, and you think “It’s my best friend and we’re going to start a cookie business” or whatever {why so much talk about cookies? We were chatting at dinnertime…} you have to think about what you’re going to do if it doesn’t work, how do we get out of this?

TM: Your new show is all about communities. How would you describe your own community in Montreal?

DT: Mine really links up to your mom story in that a lot of people live away from their families now. You don’t have that nostalgic street with your granny at the end of the street and your mom next door. {Actually, I do have my mother-in-law next door, but I’ll save that for another post.} A lot of people have moved away from family, so in my neighbourhood we have eight moms, and we’re all there for each other. My next door neighbour is a surgeon, and she’ll call me and say “I’m late in surgery, can you pick up the kids?” “Yeah, sure, I’ll just drop everything!” We’re there to help each other. Somebody will come around and say “Can you take my kids for the weekend, because if I don’t spend a night with my husband we are in deep trouble!” We are a little community of support on that street for the last 15, 16 years. Even if it’s just a bottle of wine and a good cry. It’s the most valuable thing I’ve got.

I grew up in a small village, and really the community was the backbone of the way we were, and often community doesn’t really show itself until something bad happens. When I was 12 my dad died and my mother was 33 and had four kids under 12, my brother was six months old, and the community came together to bring the food, bring clothes, pay my school fees, be there for her until she could get back on her feet. It’s expected, and in that area it was a church group, that’s what they did, they were the backbone of the village.

We found that on the show, ethnic communities have an incredible support system because when you come to a new country it’s scary. Rural communities do it, too. The places we found the hardest {to rally community volunteers} were the big urban centres like Toronto. People are so busy and they don’t see the value in it until something goes wrong. A neighbourhood is not a community. Somebody said to me that she lived in a great Toronto neighbourhood, people would walk by and say hello, but it wasn’t until her husband got cancer that people really rallied around, and the neighbourhood from that day on became a community.

TM: What else should we know about “All For One”?

DT: It’s a very funny show, because people are funny, and especially the nightmare of the volunteers – I could write another book! But it’s about the community coming together for this particular unsung hero, and I have everyone standing in front of me and we show the back story on this person, and people say “Oh I didn’t realize everything she did, she’s so amazing”, and I say “Look what I’ve planned, we’re going to rip her house apart and here’s what we’re going to do….only I’m not going to do it, you are!” That’s when they start backing away! Sometimes we don’t finish, and people don’t turn up.

We’ve had some really hilarious situations where people think “Oh, you know these television shows, as soon as the cameras go down at night she’ll bring in her own people and finish it!” and that’s not what happens. We supply the materials and the tools, and the money for food, but they do the work. It’s really a modern-day barn-raising. People coming together laughing and crying, and being tired, and creating a bit of a legacy in each place. I’m just the circus master with the whip!

TM: Do you have a favourite out of the seven communities you shot in?

DT: The show this Sunday takes place in North Preston, Nova Scotia: the oldest black community in the country. Our director, who has directed Survivor and The Apprentice, lives in Los Angeles, and he said it was worse than east L.A. here. This community has been dumped by this country. They don’t have a shop or a bank, no taxi driver or ambulance will go in because it’s too rough. Yet, these people are there and someone needs to help them. One of the guys who came to work on the house was a newly trained doctor from Nigeria, and at the end of the show after working on the house with these people he said to me “There’s no doctor here for 4000 people. I will come and be the doctor here for the next ten years.” And oh my God, talk about tears, and I’m praying there’s a camera on this. I couldn’t have written it. If I never do anything again, we got a doctor for North Preston. These people were the nicest, funniest, kindest people I’ve ever worked with, but what a place. A lot of drug dealers and pit bulls…we had to be protected to be in there!

Each show has a little story within it. Oakville is hilarious. I thought it would be boring, but that show has full frontal nudity! What I do to get volunteers is so embarrassing!

TM: How would you complete the sentence “This Mom Loves…”

DT: I love London, Tuscany. I love wine. A lot. Prada shoes – they are the comfiest shoes ever! {I’ll let you know if I agree whenever I get my first pair.} I love getting dirty. I actually really do like jumping in and puttering in the garden, which is why I have no nails. On the show I don’t even care about the cameras, I find it really hard not to grab a brush. “I will not help you! You have to do this on your own! Alright, give it to me, then, I’ll do it!” I love to read. I love food. Too much probably. I love women, and mums, and chatting, as you can see. I love a girls’ night out: a bunch of women, no men, a bottle of wine, nobody calling “mummy”. That’s the best night out for me.

TM: My two girls are upstairs right now, and they haven’t interrupted an interview yet but I can just see my two year old barging in and insisting on saying hi! {Actually, Maggie’s  favourite telephone question is “Doin’?”}

DT: Ah, but you’ll get your revenge when they’re teenagers and sitting with their friends, and you’ll come in and plop yourself down, and your daughters will look at you like you’re covered in dog poo, and say “Yes? What do you want?” and you’ll tell them that you just want to sit and interrupt their conversations like they did to you for years. Oh, and you’ll get to wake them up at 7:00! Revenge, it’s called!

TM: I can’t imagine having to wake them up at 7:00! That doesn’t sound like things getting harder! {I am actually excited that I will be able to live out this revenge fantasy, PLUS say “Debbie Travis told me to do that.” Although they’ll be too young to know who Debbie Travis is. Even Justin Bieber will be old by the time my girls are teens.}

In conclusion, I’d like to offer you one of my favourite Debbie Travis quotes that I fail miserably to live by: “Love the chaos. Praise your messy house daily, even pray to it, because before you blink, your children will be gone and it will be way too tidy!”

You can visit Debbie’s official site at http://www.debbietravis.com/, follow her on Twitter and learn more about “All For One” at http://www.cbc.ca/debbietravis. Be sure to catch it Sunday evenings on CBC.

1 comment on “Debbie Travis: The Momterview”

  1. Too cool! Debbie Travis – I am totally star struck. Some great words of wisdom for this guilty-feeling mom 😉 (Not only do I have Mom guilt, I carry around a special kind of Catholic-Mom guilt.) I wonder if I'm the Mom who looks like I have it together at the school or the one with vomit on my shoulder? I aim for the former and likely achieve the latter.

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