On the Home Front with a “Type A” Television Reporter
Amanda Lamb, 38, Cary, North Carolina
A crime reporter for WRAL television in Raleigh, she loves her job—the investigative aspect, having sources, getting tips, getting to know the families on both sides of the case. The job also appeals to the writer in her. “Every day I’m telling a story.” She’s comfortable in courtrooms (both her parents are lawyers) and loves a good mystery, real or fiction. Outgoing. Organized, “sometimes to a fault.” Goal oriented. After graduating from Northwestern, she drove up and down the Eastern Seaboard with a box of tapes in her car, knocking on station doors. She landed her first job three months later, gradually advancing her career with an eye toward the bigger markets. Halfway there, she adjusted her goals when she fell in love with a metals recycler and drummer. “My life happened here in Raleigh.” Married eight years and mom to two daughters, ages four and one, she feels lucky to have a career and a family. “Raleigh is a medium market—a good place to do TV and still have a life.” Like most working moms, balance is the big issue. Her strategy? “I don’t think you can achieve it. The closest you can come to balance is being in the moment. When you’re with the kids, be there 100 percent and don’t think about work. And when you’re at work, focus on that instead of feeling guilty.”
1:09 a.m. I hear the baby, Chloe, flailing around in the playpen, the rustling of sheets, the rattling of toys, the heavy pacifier-sucking noise. She reminds me of a live fish, still hooked on the deck of a boat as she arches her back and wriggles on the thin mattress. In my sleepy fog, her sheets sound like someone crumpling wads of crisp newspaper. I do not usually sleep in the same room with my daughter, but we are on vacation. Vacation is a funny word for what this is, two endless weeks with children in constant, close, needy proximity.
3:00 a.m. Chloe is snoring now. I need to go to the bathroom, but if I wake her I’m sunk. If she realizes I am here in the room with her, she will want me. Her head will pop up over the edge of the playpen and she will lift her arms, the universal “hold me” sign for babies. Then comes the scream, piercing, impossible to ignore. I decide to hold it.
5:44 a.m. Our rooms at home have blackout shades that let in very little light. On the other hand, rental homes at the beach are built to let light in. The early morning light dapples the bedroom comforter. This looks good in the rental brochure, but is not good for young children. It wakes them up, and in turn wakes us up. This morning, day four of vacation, is no exception, although I hoped it would be. I whisk her out of the crib into my arms to keep her from waking her grandmother and sister in the room across the hall. My husband is joining us for the second week of vacation, so for now I’m on my own. I don’t know how single mothers do it.
6:00 a.m. You can hear my other daughter, Mallory, coming from a mile away. She is loud, brazen, disturbing to us and the tenants in the condo below. The man who is staying downstairs with his family asked me yesterday whether we had hardwood floors in our unit because it was “so loud!” Mallory jumps onto the bed and begins her passive-aggressive ritual with her baby sister. She makes her laugh and then sits on her head. Mallory is four and a half. She is beautiful, difficult, funny, smart, and complicated. One minute I adore her, the next minute she makes me want to get on a bus and leave town.
6:15 a.m. I give up. There is no possibility of sleep. Eating is next on the agenda. I am a schedule person. I believe kids and adults function better on a schedule, even on vacation. You might say I’m a little obsessive-compulsive, but it has served me well. We head to the porch to eat. Mallory, who eats virtually nothing ever, has a donut and milk. Mostly she drinks. This would be a concern, except for the fact I was the same way and somehow survived, albeit with a limited palate. Also, I am too tired to fight about it. Chloe is a good eater, but this morning she decides to throw small pieces of waffle on the floor beneath the high chair. Amid the noise, my mother wakes up and wonders out loud repeatedly why the children are awake so early.
7:15 a.m. It’s too early and too cold to go to the beach, but it’s never too early to exercise. I have a double baby jogger. Before I had kids I looked at women pushing these things and pitied them. Why would anyone want to push such a ridiculous and heavy-looking thing? But now the jogger equals freedom. I need to exercise. It’s my sanity. Some people take drugs, I run. Granted, I’m an adrenaline junky, but I’m at peace with my choice of obsession. The jogger allows me to GO. Anyone who laughs at the sight should try it. Pushing sixty-five pounds of children at a high rate of speed should be an Olympic event.
7:35 a.m. The New Jersey beach town where we are staying is breathtaking. The homes here in Cape May were built in the 1800s and are surrounded by wraparound porches, iron fences, and wildflower gardens. Many of the old homes have been refinished and made into shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts. There is a boardwalk that runs the length of the downtown where I take the jogger, bordered on one side by the beach, on the other by the town. The only problem is that I have a lot of pent-up envy. Envy of the people who are not with young children, who can sit and drink wine on the verandas, browse in the cute boutiques with lots of breakable items, and stroll the boardwalk after dark. And then there are the memories. Like the restaurant where I had to dress like Martha Washington in college, or the spot on the beach where my first real boyfriend, a lifeguard, and I had a fight because he played volleyball with a girl.
7:48 a.m. I am wearing an MP3 player, listening to a mixture of hip-hop, chick ballads, and seventies disco. Mallory keeps trying to talk to me, but I can’t hear her because of the music. It makes me feel a little guilty to be ignoring her, but then I think it could be worse. It’s not like they’re playing with matches while I’m passed out on the couch.
8:00 a.m. I get two cups of coffee and balance them on the top of the baby jogger. The coffee shop has detailed descriptions for each blend. One says, “dark, brooding, spellbinding.” Another says, “distinctly complex.” I never realized coffee, like everything else in my life, seems to be an emotional choice. I’m feeling more complex than spellbinding today.
9:15 a.m. Getting two kids ready to go to the beach is almost so exhausting it’s not worth the trouble. But being a Type A working mother, with all the guilt that goes along with this role, I plan for every contingency to make the day at the beach a scene out of a Disney movie. The list includes bathing suits, hats, sunblock, sunglasses, diapers, changes of clothes, toys, towels, chairs, drinks, and snacks. The planning is the easy part. It’s the execution that’s hard. After watching me do this, my mother says instead of “a village” it takes “a city” to raise children.
10:00 a.m. We arrive at the edge of the beach. The Jersey Shore has big, wide beaches, so pushing the baby jogger across the sand is a bit like crossing the Sahara with a rickshaw. People stare and say things like, “You’ve got your hands full!” Or “What a workout!” I politely smile and imagine running over their feet. Upon arrival at a good spot, the setup begins. There are two kinds of beach people here. The people who bring their own chairs and towels, and the people who stay at hotels and inns where the staff sets them up for you. We are the former; my mother longs to be the latter.
10:15 a.m. We have the beach almost to ourselves as it is still a little cool. In an unlikely turn of events, the baby has fallen asleep in the jogger, so Mallory and I have a rare moment to ourselves. I am taking pictures of her as she does cartwheels by the water. I want to remember her like this, her skin the color of toast, her blunt short haircut falling into her eyes with every tumble. She gets bored and decides we need to build a drip castle. It’s the only kind of castle I can build because it’s meant to be abstract instead of perfect. My mother never built castles with me because she didn’t like sand. So by doing it, I kill two birds with one stone, complete my working-mom-guilt Disney fantasy and one-up my mother.
10:35 a.m. A little boy and his family set up camp next to us on the beach. He looks about Mallory’s age. She begs me to make an introduction. She is always afraid to approach new kids, but desperately wants to meet them. I see a lot of myself in her insecurities. Because I understand, I always try to help her. We introduce ourselves to Daniel and his family. While the adults make small talk, Mallory and Daniel become fast friends over a drip castle. I am proud of her. I think she’s a lot braver than I ever was.
11:06 a.m. Going to the beach carries a different meaning when you have kids. There’s no reading, no dozing, no idle sunbathing. It’s busy. The baby wakes up. She is in a cute bathing suit that matches Mallory’s. I vowed I would never buy my children matching suits, and I didn’t. My mother did. Like buying a minivan, I felt like matching outfits of any kind on my children was admitting I’m no longer cool. The truth is, at thirty-eight with two kids I’m not cool, probably never was, and the suits are damn cute. Of course, the baby has peed through her swim diaper and totally soaked the suit. I dig into my bag and change her into a white onesie with a snap missing in the crotch. Within minutes she is rolling in wet sand and is soaked again. I feed her raisins and goldfish. She picks up the ones that drop with her sandy hands before the seagulls can get to them. I turn my head. I’m a lot more laid back about parenting the second time around.
11:17 a.m. Mallory sees some girls she would like to play with and quickly ditches Daniel. After negotiating with their leader (the big sister), she grabs a shovel and begins to dig with them, leaving Daniel to sit at a distance and stare at his feet. I call her over and quietly explain she must include her old friend with her new friends. There are so many things I want to teach my daughter, and compassion is very high on the list. I remember how mean kids can be, the sting of rejection, real or perceived.
11:47 a.m. My dad calls on the cell phone. The reception is awful. We keep yelling at each other. “Can you hear me NOW?” After several disconnected calls, we can finally hear each other if I stand in one position and don’t move my head from a slight tilt to the east. My parents are divorced; we are spending the next week with my dad. He is calling to tell me he has bought me a case of Dr Pepper and wants to know the girls’ shoe sizes so he can buy them flip-flops. Seems trivial, but with my dad the love is in the details.
12:00 p.m. The problem with bringing a baby to the beach is that she must nap not long after you have made the BIG effort to get there. Neither of my children has ever napped on the beach. My mother stays with Mallory, and I take Chloe back for a bath. She has sand in every nook and cranny of her pudgy little body. I wash her, nuzzling her soapy wisps of blond hair as she bores her tired head into my shoulder. She is a cuddly baby; it’s one of the things I love about her. Mallory doesn’t give or seek such affection easily. But when she does give it, it makes me feel like maybe I’m doing something right.
1:00 p.m. Against my will, my mom hires a babysitter for the afternoons to sit at the house while Chloe naps. This frees her up to do whatever, and it frees me up to do something with Mallory. It is a good idea, as are most of my mother’s ideas, but I feel guilty, for what I’m not sure. Mallory and I meander our way back to the beach, ducking into little stores like girlfriends with nothing but time on our hands. I buy myself a sash, one that I will probably never wear because I’ve seen it on too many teenagers. I buy Mallory a dusty shell necklace, one that I’m sure has been in the shop storeroom since I was a little girl. We run into Daniel at an outdoor lunch place. He tells Mallory he is getting a big shovel. Suddenly, I am shelling out $3.17 for her big shovel.
2:45 p.m. Mallory and Daniel are playing near the water as I sit under the umbrella. I want to give her space and independence, or at least the perception of independence, but I am terrified of her drowning. Mallory is a risk-taker, plus when she was a baby she got bacterial meningitis and almost died. I try not to be overprotective, but I know what it feels like to almost lose her, and I never want to feel that again.
3:00 p.m. Mallory is now playing with two girls she calls “the six-year-old twins.” I realize that Daniel has once again been banished from the play, not intentionally, but when the cartwheels begin, he falls back. This time I don’t intervene. Maybe this is the age when boys and girls begin to part ways. Mallory is tough and energetic, but she is also a girl; a cheerleader, a dancer, a wannabe rock star. I realize as I watch her with other children that I will have a big role as navigator in her life, if she lets me. It seems like a daunting responsibility.
3:20 p.m. The twins’ father comes over to say hello. We have exchanged polite smiles this week, but have not yet met. He is clearly either a divorced parent or a widower. He is alone with his three girls. At first we make pleasant conversation, and then I realize he’s wondering whether or not I am single. I am at once flattered and uncomfortable. I tell him I have a baby. The conversation ends quickly.
5:37 p.m. We’re trying to get ready for dinner. Chloe is whining, eating toilet paper, digging in the trash, pulling out the night-light, and putting her finger in the socket. To keep her amused we play peekaboo with the shower curtain as water sprays all over the bathroom floor.
6:05 p.m. We’re ready to leave for dinner. Chloe cries unless I hold her. Mallory is asleep on the couch. I try to wake her and she moans and curls up in a ball. Alternately, I carry both of them, crying, to the jogger.
6:15 p.m. Mallory refuses to eat. She drinks chocolate milk and runs around the courtyard of the restaurant with two kids she knows from the beach. Chloe is happy as long as she has pasta to throw on the floor. The small Italian restaurant has no liquor license. My mom goes around the corner to the liquor store to get a much-needed bottle of wine. When we finish the meal, we clean out Mallory’s plastic milk cup and fill it with the rest of the wine. We drink it through a straw as we shop.
7:30 p.m. We take turns going in the stores and watching the baby. The take includes a pair of purple leopard-skin slides for Mallory, a red leather purse that looks like a bustier for my mom (chosen by Mallory), a white sweater with pearl buttons for Chloe (to replace the one that got moldy in the washer), and assorted toys for Mallory, including a magic wand. We are spent in more ways than one. At one point, I am waiting for my mom and Mallory to come out of a toy store, and I decide my butt can fit in the extra baby jogger seat. Chloe loves it and laughs uncontrollably. It’s actually not that uncomfortable. I get a few looks, but I don’t care. I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve ever tried it.
9:00 p.m. We head home, put the kids to bed, and put on season six, part one of Sex and the City—a guilty pleasure like People magazine or coffee ice cream with sprinkles. When you spend so much time analyzing everything to death, it’s important to have a mindless release. This is mine.
11:30 p.m. I always plan to go to bed early. It never happens, life gets in the way. But that’s okay. Another full day, another full night, likely to be followed by more of the same the next day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Flavor of the Week
10:50 a.m. Drive by Culver’s Frozen Custard (yes, the very same place that also has Butter Burgers). I need to avoid this establishment like a bad virus, especially considering I’m headed to the Y. They post their Flavor of the Day on a board outside and, every day, I check it with apprehension because they just might have a flavor I can’t resist. Today’s feature is Raspberry Royale and I almost shout with joy in the car. This flavor does not intrigue me in the least. Marilyn Weigel, 36, Grayslake, Illinois; book reviewer, Romantic Times Book Club Magazine
1:45 p.m. I hear some news on the piped-in stereo system, something about Iraq and then some other story about porn. I think of my mother. When I was away at prep school I took an ethics class. I had to debate this guy (whom I had such a crush on) that it was important to fund all art. The topic of Mapplethorpe and pornography came up. The night I prepared for the event I called home to get some help. My mom couldn’t understand why I would not argue against pornography. It never occurred to her that I was assigned this position by my teacher. She thought that I really backed porn. To this day, she still believes this and tells people that I support pornography. Laurie Ballentine, 29, New York, New York; jewelry sales associate
11:30 p.m. I put Gabriel into bed. Ah, finally a quiet house. I go into my music studio, pull out The Ride of the Valkyries, and sing out my part, the role of Helmwige. I have to watch out not to sing too heavily, especially in the high range. Besides that, nothing is very hard except those tricky entrances. I put on the recording, fast-forwarding the orchestral sections, which are so heavy they almost make me laugh. It will be some work to memorize the German, but it will be worth the effort. Midnight comes and I am deep into finding the higher meaning of the Valkyries’ dialogue about their horses.
Excerpted from This Day in the Life by Edited by Joni B. Cole, Rebecca Joffrey, and B.K.Rakhra. Copyright © 2005 by Joni B. Cole. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.