Reporting is like riding a bicycle. You don’t forget how to do it. And once you do it again, as I’ve done for the past six weeks after being rather out of practice, it can feel as exhilarating as getting back on the bike. I have the wind in my hair, the sensation of whizzing past pedestrians, skirting between motorists. I’m back to getting perfect strangers to talk to me and tell me their problems – a psychologist for the masses. Sometimes I think there is no better job in the world, though in more cynical moments I think this is a myth we journalists tell ourselves to swallow our paltry salaries.
The only problem is that reporting is not entirely compatible with motherhood, in particular with mothering a six-month-old baby and a toddler who’s just turning two. (Happy Birthday, Eli!) In fact, the reason I have hardly blogged at all in the past two months is that I don’t know whether to celebrate or mourn my return to work.
Sometimes being a reporter with a baby means breastfeeding in the middle of writing a story, trying to type up notes with one hand while securing baby Z with the other. Sometimes this feels valiant, and at others, vulgar. Sometimes I put baby to sleep for the night by the light of my iPhone as I trawl for tweets that might give my almost-finished story that extra punch. When baby is this sleepy, I figure, she won’t realize that the soft glow is no night-light, but Twitter feeds from Benghazi and Beirut. (Yes, I worry about radiation, and realize that we don’t know how dangerous being around a cellphone may be, so I hold the phone as far from baby’s precious cranium as possible.)
Once upon a time, I thought nothing about taking off for a month to Iraq or Sudan, or driving the easy hour and-a-half from Jerusalem to Gaza, not being sure if I’d be coming home or staying over for a night or two. I used to keep a satellite phone a flack jacket in my car, just in case. Now I tote along my Medela Pump in Style, just in case.
Trying to make room for motherhood, in January 2011 I accepted a job as an editor at the Jerusalem Report magazine. I thought it would be the perfect way to keep a foothold in journalism without having to run around too much. My son was then four months old.
This July, as I prepared to come back to work after the birth of our second child, I found that the job had changed. It was unacceptable to the magazine’s upper management that I edit from home, as had been my previous arrangement, and I was ordered to be in the office for eight-hour days. A plan to bring my baby to work for half the day was nixed; I learned it was forbidden. So when the Jerusalem Post, which owns the Report, made me an offer to be a senior reporter with a beat focusing on Israeli-Arabs – a.k.a. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship – and other Arab world stories, I decided to take it. In addition to covering issues I care about, when not out reporting, I’m totally free to work from home. Ironically, the busy reporting job gave me more freedom to be around my baby than the “desk” job as an editor.
I find myself wondering where I will draw the line. Will I take baby Z out reporting from time to time? I might, if it seems a tame and safe enough environment. Colleagues have done so, like my fabulous friend Orly Halpern, pictured here. Will I go away overnight and leave baby Z behind? Not yet. It would probably be more traumatic for me than for her. But as my husband, my favorite editor, noted when I asked him to read this, “You have more cognitive ability to reflect on her absence. She will ache in your absence with no ability to comprehend that you will be back.” (Great, I feel much better now.)
A few weeks ago, an editor asked me to cover a demonstration of settlers about to be evacuated from their illegal outpost in the West Bank. The location, it turned out, was in front of the Justice Ministry in East Jeruaslem. One solution was to bring baby Z to the demo. But settlers? East Jerusalem? The two don’t mix well. What if someone decided to toss a rock or a Molotov cocktail? I had just covered, for nearly a week running, an awful Molotov cocktail attack near a settlement that seriously injured six members of one Palestinian family. Images of a burned five-year-old boy, whom I’d seen in the hospital a day earlier, flashed before my eyes. It wasn’t worth the risk. Something in my gut said no. Instead, I found a babysitter who helps us from time to time, and took off.
Of course, nothing happened. It was perhaps the most boring, quietest protest I’ve ever covered. But the issue was before me. What would I or wouldn’t I do?
Recently, reluctantly, I put my daughter in a small day-care program in someone’s home, five minutes from my front door, four days a week. On days when baby is home, I still usually have to work. Sometimes I type with one hand while I hold her with the other. Or I set baby on the carpet, where she now loves to be as she does downward-dog poses and tests out her ability to sit up, while I write nearby. In late afternoons, I usually blow off work for a few hours, doing playtime-dinnertime-bathtime-bedtime, only to return to my computer, often on deadline, to continue working until 11 p.m. Sometimes, when the story is too big and I’m too far from getting it done on time, I simply rely on hubby to pick up all the slack. Which induces great guilt, but that’s the subject of another post.
The odd thing is that my daughter has already reached a stage where she is no longer oblivious to almost everything but the task of getting herself fed. Now, as she lies breastfeeding while I type, she constantly lets go and turns her head around to see what I’m doing. And then, shockingly, she reaches over to the mouse pad on my MacBook, making all the open pages jump and dance around the desktop. My daughter is six months old and she’s already switching screens. And trying to crumple up my notes.
Admitting this, I am half-amused and half-ashamed. Shouldn’t I be rocking her off to a milky oblivion in a nursery with the sounds of a Bach lullaby wafting through the air? Well, I did do that for a while, in the first three months. And there are still moments when baby gets my full, undivided attention. But it seems there are moments when deadline is looming, time is short, and I have no choice but to multi-task. She too is learning to multi-task, gathering from her mother that it’s okay to do more than one thing at a time. I’m not sure what to do about it. Except maybe to ask her if she thinks I got the story right.