It always seems to come so early. I envision leaves and sweaters, giant chrysanthemums and satiny sashes blowing in the fall wind. But Homecoming is upon us and it was 90 degress today. My cheerleader and her squad will have cheered for only 3 games before this one. The dance appears on the calendar when many freshmen are still learning their way around and the names of the faces beside them in class. It’s homecoming. The tradition is, of course, for alumni, mostly football players, to return “home” to enjoy the game and at some schools even be recognized on the field at halftime. Really though its become known as the first school dance of the year. Kings and Queens are crowned and they get paraded at halftime instead. As a young cheerleader myself, this game meant a little bit more, winning, meant a little bit more. Getting asked to the dance took up a lot of lunch time talk. Strategic loitering was done in between classes as to make yourself more available to askers. Lucky for me the guy who liked me had a last name starting with A and since our lockers were assigned alphabetically that worked out reeeeeeal nice for this gal with a B last name. I’ve seen on my daughter’s Instagram account where girls share tall tales of how some people were asked to Homecoming. There are elaborate announcements at football games, invites spelled out in pepperonis or Skittles, treasure hunts filled with clues, full scale videos made. Presidential elections have gone off with lesser fanfare. I don’t remember the specifics in the hallway at Mead High School in the fall of 1984, but I know he asked and I accepted. I got a shiny red dress at NorthTown mall, borrowed my Mom’s pearls, and headed over to his house just a few streets away. I think we went out to eat with his older brother and his date. They were (and still are I assume) Mormon so there were a lot of them. Another brother or sister may have come to. At least that spared us the indignity of having one of our parents drive us to the dance. Could I just die instead? There was dancing, pictures first ’cause you don’t want to be sweaty and ugly, and socializing and the inevitable slow dance that I’m guessing I tried to lead since I still have not yet learned how to the let the man lead. The 30 second drive from our school to our neighborhood, I’m positive no goodnight kiss (see above: Mormon), and home. His name was Matt. He played football. We would not become a couple. He would become a friend through our high school years. I would turn to him to escort me during the pinnacle of high school life in Spokane, Washington when I was part of our school’s Lilac Princess competition. I did not win. It had nothing to do with Matt’s escorting abilities. More homecomings would follow, more tacky corsages, more awkward slow dances. It is a rite of passage. I passed. Barely. My high schooler will to, although with many, many more pictures, a Vine or two, some tweets and a status update. Thank god all I have is this one piece of evidence.
It was early. My husband woke me saying something had happened and I should probably call into work. He did actually leave for work and take our daughter, who had turned 2 the day before, to daycare. They would return home shortly once the country shut down in shock. Despite the events unfolding on my TV being the biggest news story of my life I was not needed in the newsroom right away. At the time the station I anchored at had only a morning show and a 10 pm newscast and our morning crew had already handed things over to a fairly new FOX News Channel for coverage. I watched with you as planes crashed and buildings crumbled and lives ended. I listened as seasoned news professionals were rendered speechless at what was unfolding before us all. I felt as fear crept into our living rooms upon the realization we were under attack. My young family came home, where they would stay for the rest of the week, and I left for work. The day is a blur of video and scripts and cut-ins and changes. No one ate or went to the bathroom or even glanced outside that long first day. We did a special 5 pm newscast for an hour, tossed it back to FOX, then came back at 10 for more. It would be this way, it would lead our newscasts, every newscast, for months. It was the entire content of “The Oregonian” the next day and the next. Of which I still have, slowly, slightly yellowing with age. There were connections between New Yorkers and families in Portland. There were concerns, as there were in every major city, with the security of our airport, our tallest buildings, our federal monuments. There were people traveling east to help. There were those stranded with us in Oregon’s largest city when the F-A-A made the unprecedented move of shutting down the nation’s airports. So many stories. So much fear and uncertainty. So overwhelming a news story that none of us in the newsroom had taken a moment to grieve, to process the horrifying unedited video we’d seen, to be able to shut down our brains at the end of these grueling days, to cry. My tears finally came weeks later after picking up an old copy of TIME magazine published in the days after the attack. I flipped through its pages, skimming the words of a story I knew, we all knew, by heart. Then I came across an image I hadn’t seen on our air, on anyone’s air, of two people jumping from the World Trade Center to their certain death, holding hands. It was grainy, partially smoke obscured, and from far away, but it was unmistakably two human beings in their last moments on earth. They had no choice but to leap from their burning offices, so intense were the flames and jet fuel filled smoke. They made their choice and they did it together. Held hands and jumped into that perfectly blue September sky and I hope, God, I hope they found peace in having a hand to hold, that they were not alone. And they still aren’t. We remember. We will always remember.
I used to have a doll with long red hair and alabaster skin named Crissy but I called her Melanie Elizabeth. I would dress her up and take my purse and plastic car keys and leave my room in our two bedroom apartment and go into the living room and pretend to drop Melanie Elizabeth off at daycare so I could get to my high powered job in the kitchen/dining room. I would take my time brushing her hair and choosing her outfit and packing a diaper bag. I would have entire conversations about what the daycare workers needed to know about my daughter. I would stick a plastic spoon to her stained mouth to nourish her and put her in her footed pajamas so I could rock her to sleep, her brown eyes shutting closed every time I tilted her head back. I don’t remember what happened to that doll. I do remember how I handled her delicately and spoke to her sweetly and practiced writing her name on things. The first maternal instincts awakening in my vivid imagination and in my heart. She was replaced by boys and cheer and dance and makeup and first kisses and the like. College, marriage, career beginnings, the treadmill of a young life moving ever forward until one day, the first day of a new year actually, when that changed. January 1, 1999 I found out I was pregnant. Married for six years, about to turn 30, good stable job at the number one station in town, everything was in order. Then I had you. And you changed everything. My politics, my career aspirations, my body, but mostly my heart. I had absolutely no idea what love was yet. Yes, I knew romantic love. Yes, I knew familial love. But you? You showed me how love can surprise you with its intensity, its unyielding presence. You actually looked more like a doll that Melanie Elizabeth. Blonde fuzz, wide, blue eyes, crimson pursed lips. After my days at home with you ended I found myself living out my childhood working mom fantasy. I grabbed my purse and my car keys and left our small first house and drove into town to a daycare walking distance from the station. In this moment I found I had nothing to say to the daycare workers, no care about what I packed in the diaper bag, there was nothing but my precious 8 week old baby. Leaving you there was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Ever. And also the best. We both started down our own paths then, still connected, but independent. I picked you up after the shows, put you in your footed pajamas and fed you from my own body as your blue eyes closed. You knew everything was going to be okay, that I may be away, but I’ll always come back. I knew we could do this thing together, learn how to do it together. I do know what happened to that baby, my living doll. She grew up, independent, but still connected, always connected.
Happy 14th birthday Lucy Caroline.
Read an interesting article this morning about the ‘no children’ movement. People choosing to not have children and asking others to more carefully consider it. The topic is not new. It has gained momentum though. In a time not so long ago, it was assumed a couple would have children and if they didn’t, it meant they couldn’t. The choice to reproduce is a personal one and some within this ‘no children’ movement say a selfish one. Their evidence lies in our overpopulated planet, our foster care systems teeming with parentless children, our dwindling natural resources. They see their choice as selfless, choosing not to bring another human being into the mix. Among their suggestions to those considering parenthood is to ask yourself why you are having children. I had read with interest up until this point and put the brakes on right here. Why do I want to have a child? The flaw lies in having to explain something that defies explanation. For me, it is easy to explain why you DON’T want to something. Much harder to explain why you do. And any answer falls under what the movement would consider “selfish.” Because I want a baby to love, a larger family, someone to take care of me when I’m older, to create a human being with my partner. There isn’t an altruistic answer in there. Does there have to be? How fake and frankly, pretentious would you find an answer like “to make the planet a better place” or “to raise a human being who will change things.” There is a certain amount of societal expectation that leads to decisions such as marriage and childrearing of course, to not be the one who doesn’t do what everyone else is doing. There are people who bring multiple children into the world without much thought as to who will provide for them. I understand the importance of not entering into parenthood lightly, of understanding the process is expensive, exhausting, time consuming, frustrating. But I’m still stuck on what the right reason to have children would be. What would those who want me to take this decision more seriously consider a legitimate reason? Doesn’t any decision, in this case the one to have a baby, have a selfish element? You’re making a decision about something that affects you, yourself. I respect a couple’s decision to not have children. I respect their reasons, they are well thought out and make sense. I cannot however, give such an eloquent argument for why I chose to have a child. My answer is the most selfish I can think of.
I wanted to. We wanted to. I wanted to have a baby with the love of my life. To make a family. That’s it.
We broke a record yesterday in Atlanta. It was the coldest August day since weather record keeping began! Usually August in Atlanta is unbearable. So unbelievably hot and humid you never feel as if you dry out. Showers do little to help. Air conditioning cools your sweat just enough to leave you shivering indoors. It’s a miserable month in the south. I want it back! It’s bad enough our children go to school before any others in the country, Falcons pre-season is well underway, and Labor Day plans are being made – what happened to our summer?! I can’t remember one as rainy and cool and over so fast. Let’s go back three months and remember the good stuff.
The highlight reel I will play as I drive through the rain with the heat on these final days of summer. Now bring on the football and shopping for fall boots!
There are two thousand miles and some 20 years between them. One housed around 15 hundred sophomores through seniors, another includes freshman and probably 500 more kids. Snow was as much a certainty at one as humdity is at the other. But one step through the smudged glass doors, with the tuba bellowing from the gym, and the banners urging you to “JOIN OUR CLUB”, and I am back in high school. Not my alma mater in Spokane, Washington but my daughter’s high school in Alpharetta. I awoke early last week to accompany her to orientation and this morning she left at 7:20 am to start her first day. Unlike middle school and most surely elementary school, this day, honestly, did not carry with it any anxiety. None. We are a laid back family in most situations. As parents we have treated our only child as an adult for many years. Milestones are not met with trepidation or concern. Don’t mistake that for uncaring though. Or that we lack excitement. That’s not it. I love watching our daughter’s successes. I ache over her failures. I encourage her interests but don’t inflate reality. And for some people the reality is, high school sucks. It doesn’t have to though nor should she enter the doors anticipating a barrage of bullying, mean girls, crowded hallways, tons of homework and unrequited love. Sure those things are all a possibility. There is also the possibility that none of that will happen. I mentioned in earlier posts about a parenting expert I love, John Rosemond. He’s old school for sure. A child of the 50′s, he talks about how in his day, the parents were the center of the family unit and children and our relationship with them was secondary to the one we have with our spouse. I subscribe to this. I may not always adhere to it religiously. But I agree and try to remember that the best thing I can do for our daughter is to love her father. Last night as my husband and I watched our usual Sunday night HBO lineup and our daughter had gone up to bed, we looked at each other and realized that in four years it would be just us again. That today started the final chapter of her childhood, her life with us. Yes, it makes me terribly sad because despite loving the “Rosemond parenting method” I still overindulge her, fuss over her routine or appearance, and fall victim to the guilt of “always being at work.” I get it wrong just about as much as I get it right. Hubby and I will be just fine when she leaves. She will be just fine when she leaves. She will be just fine in high school. God equipped her with intelligence and grace, her dad and I have done our part with the genetics and coping mechanisms, and she has filled out the rest in a way I could have never imagined. As we navigated our way to each of her classes during orientation, stopping to hug a friend or get our bearings, it all felt so eerily familiar. The quirky art teacher, the no nonsense sciene instructor, the crazy drama club kids, the smell of the cafeteria, the tattered textbooks stacked in the corner, the frantic comparing of schedules to make sure you have lunch with your best friend. It was 1984 again and my mom was sending me out the door not with worry or worst case scenarios, not with anxiety or what-ifs, not with criticism or complaint, but secure in the knowledge she’d done her job and now it was time for me to do mine.
Knock ‘em dead this year honey. Like I know you will.
What would you do if you could not fail?
I’ve seen this on inspirational magnets, posters, and the like. I suppose it’s goal is to get us to forget our fears and explore what most interests or intrigues us. It was brought up today during a live interview segment during our 4:00 newscast. The interview was a broader look at finding your purpose in life and more specifically how that translates into better workplace morale. Quite a heady topic for a 3 minute interview I might add. But, we tackled it nonetheless. The woman I was interviewing had a test consisting of 3 questions you should ask yourself in order to fine tune your “purpose” in life. Above is the first question.
What would you do if you had $25 million in the bank?
That is the second. I’m guessing that’s to eliminate the “I can’t afford it” argument that will win most ‘find your purpose’ fights. The ‘if money were no object’ exercise.
What would you do if you were still a kid?
The third question. Take yourself back to a time before responsibilities, expectations, bills, to when you did what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it. What did you spend time daydreaming about?
Interesting exercise. Maybe even fun. Kind of like what would we do if we won the lottery. But to me, it’s futile. And honestly, a bit selfish. The idea of finding your passion or your calling or in this case your purpose is noble and I’m sure fulfilling. I’m also sure many people do pinpoint that one thing they feel they were put here to do, be it ministry, healing, entertainment. But there are a great many more who don’t. Who work to simply put food on the table. How many children daydream about janitorial work? Or pushing papers within a giant corporation? Of working a graveyard shift behind bulletproof glass selling cigarettes? You can’t eliminate failure or money from the equation. You can’t build a career solely on childhood dreams. If you could, we would be all set with firefighters and ballerinas I suppose. Look, of course I understand the questions aren’t realistic, that they force you to eliminate obstacles you may feel keep you from doing what you really want to do. Like I said, that’s fun. But that’s if you take only yourself into consideration. In the bigger picture, however, we are all part of this team called humanity and it takes most, if not all, of us to keep it humming along. Someone makes the mess, someone cleans it up. Someone heals, someone inspires, someone sells cigarettes. I admit I am lucky. I have a job, that while wasn’t what I dreamed of doing, is a good one. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a purpose. I do belive I’m good at it and at this point not much else so yes, there’s a lot of fear that keeps me here. Yet I am fulfilled most days. There is a sense of accomplishment, of contributing to the team. It’s houses and feeds my family. It even allows us the luxury of travelling, of comforts, of extras many families don’t have. At the end of the day though, it is a job. We’ve all heard the saying “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” My job has never and will never love me back no matter how much I love it. To me our “purpose” goes beyond what we do to pay for cable and gas. And that the answers to the 3 questions may reveal that much to us.
What would you do if you could not fail? Exactly what I would do now. What fun is the game in which you know the outcome?
What would you do if you had $25 million in the bank? Share it. And adopt as many animals as possible.
What would you do if you were still a kid? Appreciate nap time! Ok, fine I’d be a dancer. But what did that kid know, anyway?
One of the Giant Pandas at Zoo Atlanta, Lun Lun to be exact, gave birth to twins yesterday. Yeah, yeah the scenes in ‘Anchorman’ about “PANDA WATCH!” are true. Local news loves itself a panda birth. And good grief! Twins!! We were beside ourselves. We showed Lun Lun rolling around in labor LIVE during our 6:00 newscast because who wouldn’t want a live camera trained on them while giving birth? It was quite hilarious actually because she kept looking between her legs as if to say “What’s the hold up?”
Meanwhile across the pond, people are camped outside St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London awaiting the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first child. There have been breathless reports about the baby’s sex (reportedly a girl), it’s name (seems Diana is the sentimental choice), and Kate’s birth plan (none of your damn business, thank you). As per tradition, when baby arrives, a hospital staffer will put the particulars on an easel outside the Lindo maternity wing for all to see.
Last night, 10:45 p.m., my very pregnant Executive Producer has her water break 15 minutes before airtime. She calmly tells me, the Producer, and a wide-eyed young male writer that she needs to go. It’s her second child, another boy, so she knew things were going to progress quicker than last time. She was right. Benjamin was born at 3:00 a.m. Those on staff who haven’t given birth or seen it were buzzing around wondering would she make it to the hospital, what does it feel like when the bag of waters surrounding baby breaks, how could she remain so calm?
Hollywood I’m afraid has turned childbirth into a screaming, profanity-laced, mad dash to the hospital joke. If the woman isn’t cursing her husband for getting her in this predicament, she’s hollering at her doctor for drugs. Men are bumbling sidekicks, forgetting overnight bags and passing out at the sight of a woman’s genitalia doing what they were intended to do. That’s a shame because as the above stories beautifully illustrate, it is one of life’s last surprises. In an age where we plan everything, childbirth is nature’s way of snatching that calendar or day planner or smartphone out of your hand and taking over. Plus, it is the great equalizer, isn’t it? Giant Panda, Dutchess of Cambridge, News Producer – everyone’s got to get that baby out and barring a C-section, all will do it the way it was meant to be done.
It is an incredible moment when you’re going to meet the child you’ve been carrying. You’ve already spent months talking, eating, sleeping, crying, and throwing up together. You’ve chosen names, clothes, furniture, books, toys, and any number of other stuff we feel we need for a person we’ve never seen (creepy ultrasound pics don’t count). After all the hype leading up to the birth and the excitement from family, friends, or the world in Kate’s case, and the hard work of pushing that human being into the world, just for a second, it’s the two of you, you likely flat on your back with half the hospital staff between your legs, and baby covered in junk, screaming her head off, and yes, wearing that white blanket with the blue and pink stripe they must have at every hospital in America, finally eye-to-eye.
And I don’t care if it’s two impossibly tiny and pink Giant Panda cubs being licked clean by mama or an easel announcing the arrival of the future King or Queen of England, or an overworked young mother of now two sons kissing that sweet forehead for the first time, I promise you you’ve never seen anything so beautiful, so perfect, in your whole life. The very best kind of surprise.
Funny thing, having your appearance critiqued. You like to act like you can handle it or it doesn’t matter but it stings. Even after all this time, it stings. My first job, 23 years old, working in a crappy market in a hot as hell town, and the news director told me my skirt was too short. Probably was. Told me to cut my hair. Probably needed to. Second job, 24 years old, answer the phone at the assignment desk for the assignment editor who had stepped away, and got an earful from a viewer about that idiot Stephany Fisher they’d hired to anchor the morning show. Where did they get her? And why does she dress like an eskimo? I swallowed the lump in my throat and thanked her for calling. Probably needed to ditch the turtlenecks though, it was South Carolina after all. Third job, 31 years old, part your hair on the other side, pluck your eyebrows more, look older ’cause your co-anchor is 50. OK, I could probably stand to look more seasoned. This job, 44 years old, make sure your dresses have sleeves and your bra has straps. Probably should’ve done that anyway. Wear suits, don’t wear suits. You’re too blonde. You’re too fair. Don’t wear black. Or white. Or black and white stripes. Small earrings. Big necklaces. Neither. Look at your co-anchor. Stop looking at your co-anchor so much. Take out those shoulder pads. You need some Spanx with that. Love you in blue. Get rid of blue, it’s blending into the background. No ruffles, you look like a pirate. Wear an eye patch! Ok, I made that last one up but every preceding statement has been said to me in the last 20 years. The image/talent consultant is a big part of TV news. They’ve been a big part of my life for a long time now. Hell, I even exchange Christmas cards with one we got to know each other so well. If you cannot handle being dissected, having someone put into words the things about which you are most self concious, hearing a perfect stranger tell you your look is all wrong, then this ain’t the biz for you. I will never think I don’t require critique. That I can’t change or learn or grow or look better or sound sharper. I may not always welcome the comments, but I will respectfully listen to them and do my best to bring them to life. It reminds me of the line in “Bull Durham” where Tim Robbins is on the pitching mound “breathing through his eyelids” because that’s what he’s been told is the secret to winning. After listening to someone tell me to sit up straight, stop clasping my hands at the desk, fix my stringy hair, wear a wider belt, and read conversationally, I, too start concentrating so hard on breathing through my damn eyelids that I forget to just bring people the news. I didn’t get this far by just doing what others suggested though. I mixed in a little of my own tics and trends and timbre, too. I understand times change and I must too. The message may still sting a bit, but knowing I must be doing something right on my end, helps soothe that.
I eat alone most nights. I leave the station for about a half hour, armed with the latest book I’m reading, and go to one of my usual Midtown haunts to have dinner. The waitstaff will often see me pull up and have my iced tea ready. Night managers often pick up the tab to thank me for being such a loyal customer. I enjoy this mini respite from the noise of the newsroom, the evening humidity erasing the frigid temperatures of the studio. My quiet meals out have made me privvy to how people talk to one another. Tables of other diners pay me little attention and discuss any manner of things from the banal to the blush-inducing. Its not the topics of conversation that concern me. It’s the way in which they’re held. Just tonight I heard a man making fun of his wife for the way she ordered their food. In front of their children. He continued to put her down and remind her of something she’d done that embarrased him the last time they ate out. I hear mothers snap at their children and emasculate their husbands or boyfriends. I hear young women tear apart the unfortunate friend who wasn’t able to join them that night. Then, you know what I hear? They will turn to their server and be as kind as can be. Polite, gracious, grateful. Why do people treat strangers with more kindness than those in their lives? This is not to suggest the servers should be treated poorly. Just that the patience and warmth extended to the stranger bringing you food or opening a door or selling you something should be granted to the people you love. Is it that we move beyond that in our closest relationships? That manners are reserved not for someone who’s seen you at your worst and loved you still but for a person you may never see again? Wouldn’t our husbands and wives, children, dear friends, benefit from the most basic form of decorum- the thank you, the please, the you’re welcome? To be treated with a minimum of respect that requires you not mock them, not lash out at them, not ignore their efforts. Our relationships, those worth having anyway, deserve to be treated with that respect. Make a promise to yourself that the next time you are out with your family, your friends, someone dear to you, that you give them your full attention, that you are present in that moment, on that night, on that patio eating dinner, and treat them like they deserve to be treated. Thank you for being here with me tonight. Please let’s do it again. These people matter. Let’s treat them as such.