Mommie dearest

Why I'm trading my typewriter for diapers and drool cloths

I knew, of course, that there was another, equally extreme type of mother out there--and I didn't want to be that either. Back in the summer of 1979, when I was a college student working at a magazine in New York City, I remember going to a luncheon hosted by Ruth Whitney, the editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine. She had been asked to address a roomful of summer interns like myself on the topic of how to successfully juggle a fulfilling career and a blissful home life. She had it all figured out, she told us proudly--she knew the secret to being a great mom. Then she launched into this pitiful, absentee-parent scenario whereby she said she made it a point never to leave home in the morning until she'd given her baby the first morning bottle--and then she'd dash home in the evening so she could pop the bottle back in for the last feed. Listening to that story, I made a vow right then never to be a Ruth Whitney.

Well, needless to say, that old vow has been haunting me.
Last Mother's Day, when Dallas Family called me for my two cents on being a busy mother, I found myself blathering on about how working moms, no matter how hard they tried, could never be as good as stay-at-home moms--that no matter what they did, it was, of course, totally inadequate compared to a full-time mother's efforts. A friend of mine, Debbie Barnes--once a high-powered couture buyer for Neiman-Marcus, now a devoted mom and disgustingly efficient keeper of the home flame--wrote me a note, thanking me for the surprise sentiments, obviously startled to see this thawing of the heart from a former career vulture.

Then, last September, when my husband and I stopped participating in various neighborhood carpools to get our kids to school, I experienced yet another sign of impending career trouble. Suddenly, the 30-minute dawn drives to school with my two girls were, hands-down, the best part of my day--holding little fingers; buying bananas and doughnuts at 7-Eleven; singing, loudly, to those great songs on The Remix Collection CD from Boyz II Men; driving away from their schools, staring in my rearview mirror as I notice, wistfully, how big they're getting.

Yes, I'm outta here--but only for the rest of this year. That's how long I think I need to play catch-up on my life. That's how long before the four-year-old enters kindergarten and the baby starts preschool in the mornings. That's how long I estimate it will take before the political games at Dallas City Hall--and the dismal coverage of them in The Dallas Morning News--make me so incredibly angry and frustrated that I can no longer sit back and privately stew about them. (My husband is looking forward to everything about this leave of absence--except sitting at the breakfast room table with me each morning as I read the daily paper.)

And in case anybody's out there popping a cork right now--Al Lipscomb, Ray Hunt, Thomas G. Jones, Ray Nasher, John Vance, Ron Kirk, and all you other high-profile marvels come to mind--don't get too comfortable. Not only has the Observer agreed to hold my job open until I return, but I'm keeping my office at the paper, where the phone rings daily with colorful tips about you and everybody else who deserves public scrutiny for varying degrees of bad behavior. I'll be passing on story ideas as I get them--returning calls for a change, now that I have time--and I'll be offering those ideas to my fellow reporters, who are only too ready to publish them in the only media outlet that isn't afraid to tell it like it is in this town.

That reality--that this small newspaper consistently prints the truth about the sleazy, stupid things that people in power do in Dallas--is what kept me toiling away like a madwoman these past five years, even as my family and my responsibilities grew larger all around me.

Since graduating from college 16 years ago, I have worked for bigger newspapers--The Miami Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Daily News, and Dallas Times Herald. But I have never worked for a better newspaper. The company that hired me five years ago to publish every single thing I found out about this city and the people who try to run it is unique in the industry. New Times, Inc. has built a national reputation for investigative reporting, hard-hitting column writing, and magazine-style feature stories. It has won dozens of national awards for its journalism. In October 1991, when New Times came to Texas to buy the Dallas Observer, this paper was a frivolous arts publication filled with futon ads, flaccid news stories, and filthy personals.

When one of the company's two owners, Michael Lacey, flew from Phoenix to Dallas that fall to interview me for the columnist job at this paper, I was certain I was just what he was looking for. After all, I had recently written a cover story in D magazine accusing Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price of sexually assaulting four women; failing to pay child support on his largely ignored son; illegally using campaign funds to pay personal debts; shaking down local companies for money and business deals for himself; and working as a troubleshooter for a large rendering company that had a desperate need for a pimp like Price who could contain the constant criticisms the company was getting from the low-income, largely minority neighborhoods where the company's 35 smelly plants were located nationwide.

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