Twenty-one days to Election Day, the eve of the final presidential debate, and once again I felt like I was choosing between being a bad mom or a bad reporter.
It was a pivotal moment at the end of tumultuous campaign. There were stories to write. We had interviews lined up in Vegas. And yet Lila Grace, now 21 months, was curled up with her head tucked in my shoulder, fingers pinching my skin, as she struggled with that painful barking cough that comes with croup.
I began to play that game in my head, trying to rationalize whether it was OK to leave. We had taken her to the doctor; gotten her medicine; her fever had subsided; and I was leaving her in the extremely capable hands of my husband, as well as his mother, who had come to help
But I didn’t want to leave her. And I didn’t want to miss the debate.
When I had Lila in January 2015, I was one of those naive people who thought motherhood was just another thing that you could juggle. A colleague told me that if you’d covered presidential campaigns, you were already prepared for the chaos, the crazy hours, the push-pull between sleep deprivation and adrenaline.
But I wasn’t ready for that excruciating tension that so many mothers face: the desire to keep doing the job you love and that powerful instinct to be close to your child, all the time, so you aren’t missing those magical little moments that vanish as quickly as they come.
This is my fourth presidential campaign as a reporter, and it is by far the ugliest and most all-consuming I have experienced. Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns are more opaque than most, making sourcing more difficult. The rhetoric has been harsh and vacuous; the news cycle fast and unrelenting.
To break news and cover the campaign well requires being relentless, staying ahead of the story, drilling sources for information at all hours, giving your job every ounce of energy that you have. I have watched, with awe and admiration, female colleagues who seem to do that flawlessly.
But I’m still trying to find that balance between doing my job (well enough) and being present with Lila, trying to ignore that endless stream of emails and the pulsating phone.
There were those early sleepless days where I felt like I could barely string a sentence together at work. It’s amusing to remember how determined I was to find dry ice in Des Moines so I could ship home milk for Lila from the road — and more often than not ended up dumping it in a field on the way to a campaign rally.
I still try not to cringe when I come home after long trips, and Lila cries because her (wonderful) nanny is leaving, and she has to adjust to me again.
I began to wonder — after Lila picked up the flu while traveling with me during the Florida primary — whether taking her along on the campaign trail was really fair to her, even if I was happier when she was with me.
I have relied on other campaign trail moms, like Dana Bash, for advice. I asked her when you stop having that gut punch, every time the plane takes off and you leave your child behind for another work trip.
“You will always have it,” she told me. “It doesn’t ever stop.”
This week, I put Lila to bed and caught the last flight out to Vegas for the debate.
I did my 2:30 a.m. wake-up call for the morning show, got my interviews done. And then, with strong encouragement from my editor — who always goes home to put her kids to bed before wrapping up her edits and emails for the day — I gave in to that maternal instinct to go home.
I watched Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate while Lila amused herself by scattering newspapers around the living room.
She drew all over my notes with her crayons, as I tried to keep a log of moments that I would need to write about in the next day’s story. I gave up on live-tweeting and contributing to our live blog. I put her to bed while my colleagues picked up my slack, writing their analyses well into the night.
So I’m still figuring it out, whether you can be a good mom and still be a girl on the bus. Or whether you have to choose. I hope to have the answer by 2020.