You work too much, she says.
She is twelve years old, but she still addresses me in one plaintive syllable: Mom. She doesn’t have that drawl yet, the one so heavy with annoyance and angst that the word stretches out and hangs there: Mo-om.
She still wants me around.
You work too much, he says.
His voice is sweet at age 9. A half hour of speech therapy per week has not hardened him. The word rolls off his preoccupied tongue without the “r” so it sounds like wuk. Hearing it sometimes triggers a feeling that he’s still young, that I haven’t missed so much, that there’s plenty of time.
He still needs me.
You work too much, he says.
He is angry because he has to do it all, on top of his own full-time job: the driving and the coaching and the shopping and the heating of two DiGiorno pizzas at 425 degrees for 22 minutes. The scheduling and the RSVPs. The will you be home tonight texts that are too often met with nope. He is bitter because I am stressed all the time. Even when I’m not working, I can’t get it out of my head.
He’s not sure why he still cares.
I am a journalist. That looks good on paper, but you don’t have to read too far below the fold to find out I work for a small weekly newspaper that’s unrecognizable outside its coverage area. The paper has no internet presence to speak of, which means articles disappear within the boundaries of my two small towns almost as soon as they’re printed. I write about budgets, new businesses and high school musicals. Sometimes I catch officials in lies or explosive arguments. I cover cops and courts.
Having worked for a daily publication, I realize my current reporting gig is as close to family-friendly as I’m going to get in this field. My editor and publisher are supportive. I have three days off. My deadline is once a week instead of once a day. Sometimes I can wait that extra 24 or 48 hours for new information to emerge – or to uncover it.
Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, was once asked if he thought there were a lot of undiscovered government conspiracies out there. He responded by saying the central dilemma of journalism is that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s a simple truth that puts in context my professional and personal predicament, which is that I’ve never been satisfied with not knowing. Cluelessness just makes me dig deeper across a wider expanse.
There is no proportion to what I do: I am as committed to covering my towns (combined population: 22,000) as I would be if I were working in a major city or covering the White House.
My daughter, son and husband find this unnecessary. They may have a point.
They don’t care about councils or selectmen or zoning regulations in towns fifteen miles away. Municipal water issues, with literal and metaphorical implications lurking below the surface, don’t interest them. It doesn’t matter one way or the other if the abandoned psychiatric facility near the river stays vacant another ten years. The “Come On Over” sign at the end of the bridge isn’t for them.
They just want me home more.
I work too much, I know.
I could probably find something in public relations with a more traditional schedule and more money. Or I could stop trying so hard: I could write faster, ask fewer questions and then leave it all in the newsroom at the end of the day. But neither of those options involve the work I truly enjoy doing, and enjoy doing well.
I still love my job.