Welcome to Chicago North Shore Moms weekly Meet a Mom series where we feature one local mama, what they’re up to both personally and professionally. This week’s Meet a Mom feature is the lovely Winnetka resident of three young ladies, Author and television Family Lifestyle Contributor, Donna Bozzo (Insta)! If you’ve never seen one of Donna’s television segments here in Chicago, you’ll get the feel for her warm, fun and super outgoing personality in this awesome interview! Learn about Donna’s journalism path from J-school, to Pittsburgh, & back to Chi-town and how dreaming big, setting goals and hard work and persistence keeps her on an upward trajectory to personal success! Welcome, Donna!
Hi Donna! Please introduce yourself.
Hi everyone! I am a mom and author of two parenting books, What The Fun?! 427 Ways To Have Fantastic Family Fun (Plume) and Fidget Busters 50 Ways To Keep Kids Busy While You Get Things Done (W.W. Norton.) I am also a TV contributor weighing in as a lifestyle / parenting expert on TODAY, television shows in Chicago and shows across the country showing families easy-peasy ways to put more fun into their lives.
What city do you live in now?
Winetkworth. Which really isn’t a town. We live in Winnetka- but my girls all went to Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth (I heart Sears) – we are only two houses from the Kenilworth border so I like to claim both towns as mine. I feel lucky every single day. Super random, but my first glimpse of K-town was Kenilworth Beach when I was 17. I was passing through with my cousin Rob on our way to have lunch in Lake Forest, his convertible hugging the lake as we wound our way through the North Shore. We spontaneously stopped to check out Kenilworth Beach. I remember standing on the platform, and I said “oh my goodness – I so love this! Someday, I will live here and my kids will bike to the beach!” Ironically, and it feels like a million years later – I do, and they did. I will cherish that day always because we lost Rob six years later.
Where are you from originally? What brought you here?
I am from the Chicago area and studied Journalism at Indiana. I fell in love with IU when I was a junior in high school at journalism camp. I know, so super sexy! There was no other school for me. I was lucky to get in.
After college graduation, I worked for CBS Chicago as a writer / producer for about a year. I didn’t want to leave Chicago, but I was pretty green, and I definitely needed to ramp up my producing experience in a smaller TV market. Enter Pittsburgh, aka The Burgh where I took a writer / producing role at the ABC station for what I figured would be a year’s stay, think graduate school. But then, a man walked into a bar, and well – meeting my husband delayed my Chicago return by four years. Yes, he was that hot! I planned a Chicago wedding from Pittsburgh putting all my bridesmaids to work. There was no Google back then so I appreciated all the legwork. I wrote an essay about the crazy experience and it was picked up by Brides Magazine which made me feel like a real writer and it official launched my side hustle publishing gig. I continued to write for national magazines –Brides, Family Circle, American Baby, Redbook, Working Mother, Chicago Tribune – while working in TV thinking life would eventually figure out a way to blend the two
“Father Time” has quite the sense of humor, right? A few months after our wedding – before would have been too easy – I finally turned the moving truck around to take a job at NBC Chicago running the creative services and design department. Hubby (thankfully) came too. Later a management change at the station had me entertaining offers at a television network and a couple east coast stations – but in the end home is home, and I wanted my family’s home to be here. My husband had started a new career here, and I really wanted to start a family and raise our kids in Sweet Home Chicago – and it was my dream for them to go to New Trier High School. I started freelancing at ABC Chicago and Leo Burnett among others which led me to lots of fantastic opportunities and extra time with my girls at home and eventually back in TV on TV. I got misty the day I picked up my oldest from her first day of school at New Trier. And I am sure I will again when my youngest graduates from New Trier in May. It really is a fantastic school. I am grateful to everyone who works so hard to make it great.
You’re a mama! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
I have three not so little girls – 18, 19 & 21. They are sporty, witty, and caring. They are way better in math than I ever was and are all fantastic company. It sounds trite and made up like something a mom would totally say even if it wasn’t true, but they really are the best of friends which makes my heart swell. They are lucky to have each other. No one has your back like your sister.
I had always wanted three girls. When I was at NBC full time, I had a black and white picture of three little girls – taken from behind – sitting on a bridge arm in arm. It hung in my office. I guess was hoping to somehow plant some magic seeds. I did stray from my plan briefly when I was pregnant with my youngest, Ava Francesca. I loved being a mom so much I impulsively prayed for twins in my last trimester. I didn’t get my last-ditch wish– only to find out years later, it seemed to have boomeranged to my fantastic literary agent Stacey. Stacey had two girls then BOOM, surprise – identical twin girls. You may have seen her four beautiful girls on TODAY with me, they are my favorite TV assistants.
What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?
I love all things Mom! It’s impossible to come up with just one. I can tell you a couple things I don’t like about being a mom. I am not fond of doing dishes or laundry which I seemed to do a ton of through the years. My husband knows this and does way more than his fair share just to keep me smiling.
Do you have any mom tips to make quarantine/COVID life a little easier?
Yes! That has been my focus in all my TV segments since March. When COVID cleared my travel schedule – I had been booked to do segments and media events through the fall — I began doing something I thought I’d never do in my lifetime – so exciting for a dorky girl who grew up loving everything TV – I have been broadcasting out of my now fancier basement weighing in on shows in Chicago and around the country showing families how to get COVID clever and create rich family memories despite all these limitations. COVID or no COVID, time ticks on and us mamas and dads are still weaving together life for our kiddos day by day. Kids still have things to learn and things to celebrate and they still need reasons to smile even if everything is locked down. We just have to get clever about finding ways to paint it happy and celebrate birthdays, holidays and all the every days in between. In my book, What The Fun?! (Plume) I take a deep dive into the science of fun, it really is important. Please anyone reading this – don’t take it for granted. Teen depression is attributed to lack of play in childhood. Play deprived children have greater communication problems and more intense conflicts with people overall. Happiness protects against illness. Not having fun is bad for kids. Putting more fun in your family’s days not only makes your children happier, it will make your great grandchildren happier, the link stretches for generations to come. It may seem silly, but a big dose of fun is the best medicine. If you can’t go big – little sips sprinkled here and there work too. The science backs it up.
Tell us about your roll with ABC 7 and the many other networks and television shows outside of Chicagoland!
I weigh in on television shows across the country and on TODAY including ABC Chicago giving families easy-peasy ways to maximize time together. As I mentioned since COVID I’ve been broadcasting out of my house. I think I did about 40 segments last year. Firing up my own TV station in my basement and broadcasting live through Zoom, Skype and a couple others has been nerve wracking and so crazy super fantastically fun at the same time. I call it V TV. I have learned more about lighting, streaming, internet bandwidth, and camera functions- than I ever thought I could have! I have my TV tech friends Al and Tom to thank for helping me via FaceTime and Facebook with set up. I am super grateful to continue helping families along the path and recommending brands I know, love and trust at the same time.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you…
Okay, how about two?
#1 I once jumped out of a perfectly good airplane – solo, back when they didn’t require you to jump tandem on your first go. It was while I was working in Pittsburgh. We were doing a special report, Adventure Seekers. I was mocking our sportscaster who was not happy about the assignment. He left my desk, then came back a few minutes later and said, “Guess what? I signed you up.” I still have the pictures our photographer took from the plane. They were hanging in my Pittsburgh apartment when my husband picked me up on our first date. I think he thought I was hot to trot. Do they still say that anymore?
#2 I have also been known to give the shirt off my back to a friend – of course figuratively. And once, literally. No really. Just last spring before lockdown. Along with my jacket, necklace and earrings. Out to dinner with the girls- one of my friends begged to borrow my shirt. She was leaving for her son’s fraternity’s Moms Weekend crazy early that next morning. She said the necklace and jacket looked nice too… I handed her the earrings.
I Ubered home shivering in a cami and jeans – thank goodness she didn’t like them, right? My daughters were like Mom, what? Seriously? Of course you did.
Any local favorite takeout restaurants?
Valley Lodge in Wilmette is my favorite spot for instant fun. I was just there a few nights ago! Grateful Bites is my favorite place for takeout by far. And my 3 favorite girls work at both!
What is your most favorite moment you can remember with regards to your work with ABC 7?
TV days are the best. It never, ever, ever gets old for me. It’s like Christmas and sprinkles and dancing unicorns and fireworks each and every time. Being on TODAY was pretty cool. Being asked back again and again was even cooler. Kathie Lee and Hoda are truly as sweet in person as they are on the show. They all are. All the producers, Jenna and Al too. I wave to Jane Pauley each time I push through the glass doors on my way to the set. Her picture hangs on the wall. I’d watch Jane on TODAY when I was a little girl, stomach pressed to the shag carpeting in my babysitter’s basement. I remember wanting to climb inside the TV. Everyone on morning TV seemed so happy. Jane also spoke at my college graduation.
I have so many favorite stations, but I’m glad you asked about ABC 7. ABC Chicago has a special place in my heart for so many reasons, for one I freelanced there for many years but mostly because around the time I had those fantasies of climbing into my babysitter’s TV set, oh my gosh – thank goodness I didn’t actually try that – my mother was scheduled to answer phones through her work for the Make A Wish phone bank on AM Chicago. This was years before AM Chicago became Oprah. Rob Weller was the host and my mom liked meeting him and told me all about the studio. She said I’d be there someday working in TV which really was unicorn fantasy from where I was sitting, er -laying that day, but- it’s the studio where ABC Chicago broadcasts from today.
But I have to say, my favorite ABC Chicago moment is when I weighed in live from the Kohl’s Children Museum for the ABC Chicago Morning Show. It was my first live shot. It was dark, and I drove into the parking lot past the ABC satellite truck and the museum was lit up, opened just for me. It was so exciting.
How did you become an on air personality? Was this something you have always aspired to or did it happen organically?
Good question. Not sure.
I was one of those dorky kids who knew exactly what I wanted to do – work in TV, be on TV and write books – my whole life, just ask my first-grade teacher and anyone I bored with my crazy life plans. I didn’t even know it was unusual to know what you wanted to be at the age of 5 until recently. Now, I had no clue how or if this would all come together, beauty school would have been a sensible back up. In grade school, I wrote books – stapled together construction paper, and my friends would ask me to put them in my stories. And I somehow convinced our neighborhood gang to “put on” a talk show Another Day With Donna in my friend Sandy’s backyard. Or maybe it was her idea, I don’t quite remember – but I do know it happened. I also produced long TV I guess you’d call them documentaries with my cousins Rob and Bill in Rob’s basement. We didn’t have a video camera then – I mean, did anyone? So we recorded our TV shows on my cassette recorder –so audio TV. Ah, to have those tapes today. I continued to be that girl –the editor of the newspaper, modeled clothes at the mall, I was in one school play, journalism major– everything seeming to lead up to today in in turvy, curvy, corkscrew fashion.
Fourth grade was the only time in my life when I briefly considered changing ambitions to become a pediatrician. My sister and I had moved to a new home daycare setting where there was gobs of doughy toddlers and little kids, how I loved them all. I had so many talks with our pediatrician through the years about the benefits of fun in a child’s life and the perils of an unhappy childhood so maybe even that blip played into the potion somehow.
So, um – yeah having worked in TV then becoming a mom then mom-ing my way back on-air, and now the books aren’t made out of construction paper and the TV has picture – 4K mind you. And I didn’t have to climb inside my babysitter’s TV set to be on TODAY. Well, it feels like it happened organically, But maybe the 5 year old was running the show and maybe “she” did have a plan. Maybe. All I know is I love being a writer, TV contributor, and a Mom. And, always most of all – a mom.
Who are your influencers who have helped you get to where you are today?
All great moms inspire me, truly. I love stealing ideas from everyone I can. I think as parents it is important to share best practices. Share good ideas, share what works and share what doesn’t so we can all learn from each other and cut to the chase in this movie called “Family” we are all creating. I suggest moms find a mom mentor – you don’t even have to tell her – a mom whose actions you can mimic and advice you can trust. Mine lives right up the street.
My TV mom Author mom inspiration is Meredith Sinclair. I’ve seen her in action on TV and Mom-ing it up across the alley where our backyards met. She and I share the same philosophies. And she got me my first segment on CBS Chicago. Interesting enough, I worked desk to desk with her husband those long television days in Pittsburgh. He and I were both producers and now crazy to think his wife and I do similar things in our career.
What are the 2 most common questions that people reach out to ask you?
Oh my, I can’t think of 2 of the same. I get a lot of questions. Mainly now questions from moms who are concerned they won’t be close to their girls as they grow older. The fact that they care about this tells me they’ve got this. And that’s what I tell them – you got this! Moms who aren’t close to their daughters make me sad, Girls need their moms so, so much – throughout their lifetime. I am sure boys do too – it is just girls are my specialty.
Current lipstick brand/color: I am obsessed with my Mac lipstick. I don’t know the color. The label wore off.
Undergrad college/major: J School, Baby! Ernie Pyle Hall.
Favorite candy: Gigantic, swirly, twirly lollipops
Strangest thing in your purse right now: A motion censored light.
Last book you read: My unfinished novel, Steel Grip
Your binge shows: I heart Schitt’s Creek. I heart Schitt’s Creek. I heart Schitt’s Creek.
Have you thought about how you and your family are going to stay sane this winter with shutdowns and such?
As long as nobody walks into my live shot in the kitchen in their underwear, I think we’ll be good! We’ve had a couple close calls with a toilet flush and an F-bomb thrown out a little too loudly, yikes – but so far, so good!
What’s next for your writing?
My literary agent and I are carefully considering my next steps in the publishing world. I am exploring middle grade fiction. I am “taking a meeting” with my 8 year old neighbor Sally, who lives across the yard from me this week. Sally is a voracious reader I am hoping to brainstorm ideas with her over hot chocolate. Growing up, my grandmother was a reading specialist and fourth grade teacher. She always made sure me, my sister and my cousins read all the best books. We’d all rehash them over Scrabble in her dining room, early circa book club I guess. Gram said good kid books were few and far between. As a mom, I know this to be true. Maybe I can help. We will see.
We are also looking at retooling my second novel. Dystel brought me in originally as a fiction writer. It’s called Steel Grip, it’s a beautiful ode to motherhood. Molly McDonaugh is the mom. Now seems like a good time to tell her story.
What’s next for your TV segments?
As far as my life in the TV world, I am looking to jump into a regular role at one station or on one show. My dream would be to a roving Mom Reporter – the gal with the school closing updates, the latest on child nutrition, the consumer news, the live report with the crossing guard – on a Chicago morning show. I actually interviewed with a local radio station to do just this, but the position never got approved. No one is currently doing this in the Chicago market, and I think it would be a smart move for a TV station that wants to break out. A girl can dream! Realistically with my third daughter leaving for college this fall, I am pursuing roles in any / all markets. This will be the first time in a long time I am open to packing up that moving truck again. There are so many wonderful lifestyle shows out there giving us moms the advice and information we need, many I’ve contributed to for years – I’d like to help them do it everyday.