I spent 8 years as a TV news reporter, and when my son was born, I stopped working to raise him full-time. Turns out, all my news training has come in handy. Well, kinda.
1. I know how to look really put together when I’m actually falling apart at the seams. It’s amazing how perfect the viewers expect your hair to look when you’re chasing a tropical storm. Or covering an apartment fire at 3 in the afternoon. In 90 degrees and 95 percent humidity. The goal is, no matter how hot, tired and out-of-breath you are, you gotta pull it together for the 2-minute live shot. And then you can go back to being a hot mess. You might be sweaty and gross, but throw some MAC powder over it and go live. Your hair is disgusting and flat, but tease the crap out of it (for the 9th time today) for that live shot, and you’re good. No one needs to know you’re wearing tennis shoes with your designer dress. It’s perfect training for being a mom, when having anything more than 5 minutes to get ready is unheard of. And it’s a miracle if you’ve run a brush through your hair, much less put on makeup. Not a problem. Just put your hair in a ponytail and throw on some sunglasses. You’re toootally good to go.
2. I’m totally accustomed to driving in a nasty car. Let me tell you: TV live trucks are disgusting. Reporters basically live in them, like 24 hours a day. The morning shift is in the truck from 2:30am to 1pm, then the afternoon shift from 2pm to midnight. Then all over again. They. Are. Nasty. This is the junk I found one day, in just the passenger door, while I was waiting for a jail round-up. Needless to say, this makes my Goldfish-crumbed, barf-stained Suburban seem like a VIP Bentley. Even with the 3-day-old diaper in the back.
3. I know how to improvise. When you’re in a live truck for your entire shift, you learn to use what you’ve got to get the job done. It doesn’t matter what it is. It might be using your photographer’s mechanic’s clip to keep your road safety vest on, or using old scripts to keep the fire ants off your open-toed bootie heels. Same goes for parenting a toddler. If shoving a cookie in their mouth is what you need to do to get through Target, you do it. If your kid is hungry on a long car ride, you gather a few 4-day-old animal crackers off the floor and call it good. You do whatever you need to in order to get the job done. What it looks like is of no concern.
4. I can pet egos like a pro. In all reality, reasoning with a toddler is no different than interviewing a local dignitary. Tiptoeing around egos, you’re basically trying to get a very self-important person to do something they really don’t want to do. Usually, you avoid confrontation at all costs. But sometimes, it’s necessary to upset the power balance and remind them that you’re the boss. In the end, the hope is: you both get what you want and they walk away happy, preferably thinking it was all their idea. Either that, or they’re screaming at you.
5. I’ve perfected the art of talking while listening to something totally unrelated to what I’m talking about. As reporters, we wear tiny earpieces in our ears, called IFB’s, so we can hear our producers and follow along with the live newscast. Sometimes, that means talking on live TV about your story, while your producer is saying: “Your video isn’t here. Adlib for 2 minutes.” This means you have to keep talking about your story on-air, all while processing the information the producer just told you in your ear. Without missing a beat.
Same goes with trying to carry on a conversation with toddlers around. If you ignore them for too long, they will riot. So every few seconds, I have to repeat back what the toddler is saying, so he knows I’m hearing him. While, at the same time, not missing a single word of the story my best friend is telling. So your conversation sounds something like this: “So then I just decided to — no Sully, you can’t pee on the slide — keep going with what I was planning to do — son, put the stick down. So that means that I’ll just keep with the original plan — Sullivan, please don’t sit on your brother.”
6. I consider random snacks to be totally appropriate meals. Let’s face it: most TV news reporters eat like toddlers anyway. A piece of leftover newsroom cake on the way out to a story, some Oreos from the vending machine while waiting for a news conference to start and a banana and a Mountain Dew while the editor puts the story together. There were plenty of times I was starving, but usually, there’s no time to stop for something, or you’re working such crazy hours that nothing’s open. So that means you’ll gladly take that box of chocolates your producer leaves on your desk at 3am (media gift from a local business), or the free box of donuts a viewer drops off at your live truck during tornado coverage. These are considered totally legit meals and will sustain me for the rest of my day. A. Toddler’s. Exact. Thoughts.
7. I can carry gear like a pack mule. When I was reporting, I often had to shoot my own video too. That meant I could not leave the station with anything less than 5 bags of crap: my laptop bag, my personal purse, my makeup bag, my hair dryer/hair straightener/extra wipes/gloves/socks bag, the camera bag, and the tripod. It’s a ridiculous amount of stuff, but the last thing you need is to be in the swamp, 4 minutes to live, and realize you forgot your only teasing comb. And, a lot of times my endless bags came in handy. Like, when it was 20 degrees at a strawberry field in Dover and our live truck heater went out. Hair dryer to the rescue to warm up my frozen hands. Being a mom also means that you need a crazy amount of stuff to go anywhere: diapers, wipes, sunscreen, change of clothes, snacks (do not forget snacks!), sippy cups, nursing cover, bib, bottles. Oh, and if you can manage, you might need your own wallet too. Hopefully you remember that before you’re out of the driveway. Or maybe it’ll be at the checkout counter at Publix. With a full grocery cart and 2 hungry kids.
8. I’m an amazing translator. There’s a whole range of street slang, with different dialects and variations, that you can run into when covering murders, house fires and car accidents. And (unless you’re an a-hole), you listen to each person’s words with exactly as much interest as you would when you’re interviewing the governor. Same’s true for a person 3-feet tall who’s learning how to talk. You let them know that you are hanging on every mispronounced word that falls out of their little mouth. And you get really good at it. For instance, I know that “el-pock” means popsicle and “ack-mam” means Batman. And that officially makes me a superhero. (At least I think so.)
9. I never miss a deadline. In TV news, you live and die by deadlines. Not just everyday, but every half hour. By 3:30am, I have to be in the live truck. At 4am, at live shot location, preferably with interview recorded. Tuning in live shot no later 4:38am, 4:44am if the producer can slide you in the rundown. Live with the story at 5:01am. Web script must be posted within 30 minutes. Then the cycle repeats like 10 times before noon. One time, at my first job, I was so engrossed in a phone call that I totally missed our 8:25am cut-in. Meaning there was no anchor in the chair when the Early Show said: “And now, here’s your local news.” I got majorly chewed out and never lost track of time again. As a mom, you are watching the clock all day long. And instead of getting yelled at, your punishment is cranky, hungry, tired kids (which also involves getting yelled at, now that I think about it). Breakfast has to be consumed by 7:30am. By 8am, I have to shower. (Who am I kidding? I never shower in the morning anymore.) Must leave for preschool by 8:30am, then back in car to head home by noon. If it’s any later than that, the kids will fall asleep on the car ride home and naps won’t happen. Lunch 12:30pm. Naps never later than 1:30pm. Deadlines are deadlines, and if you miss them, you either have an angry GM, or an overly-tired, psychotic toddler to deal with. (I’ll take the GM.)
10. I know that there is no such thing as a weekend or holiday. It’s one of the worst things about being in TV news. Your boss doesn’t care about nights and weekends, or that there’s this thing called Christmas where everyone else in the world gets a whole week off without asking. In fact, usually on holidays, you’re working even more because you’re filling in for people who did get it off. Basically, it’s totally expected that you are available to the station at all times, and if there’s breaking news or a hurricane, you need to be ready to go within 30 minutes. Turns out, being a mom is exactly like that. It’s Saturday morning, but your kids don’t care. They’re up at 6am, asking for snacks and another episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Oh, and then there’s Christmas. While it really is magical with little ones, it’s also even more exhausting than a regular day. You’re working ’round the clock to make sure Santa’s workshop is going at full-speed. It’s not a day off. It’s a double day.
11. I’m an expert at neutralizing tantrums (via bribery, flattery and diversion tactics). When you work in TV news, there are loooooots of personalities. Strong personalities. Dramatic personalities. I worked with a photographer once who would have a supreme epic meltdown at least once a shift. So what do you do? You learn to get really good at predicting meltdowns and stopping them before they happen. That means, as he’s driving the live truck in a murderous rage because the station just told him he has to work on Easter, you ask him what stories he’s going to submit for Emmys this year. Perfect training for raising a toddler. Especially one who wants brownies for breakfast and whose bottom lip quivers when you say no. Meltdown. Is. Seconds. Away. Divert, divert! “You don’t want cereal? Oh wait, look! We have your special blue bowl today!”
12. I have learned to carry wipes everywhere. As a reporter, stuck in a live truck, sometimes for 12 hours a day, I knew the importance and supreme efficiency of carrying my own baby wipes. Cleaning my feet after walking through a strawberry field, wiping my hands after holding a nearly-dead squirrel at the humane society (don’t ask) and sanitizing the passenger door after finding a live bug inside. There is no shortage of uses for baby wipes when you’re reporting in the field. That could not be more true than when carting around a toddler. Besides butt-wiping, wipes have a plethora of other uses, including snot clean-up, collecting the 27 French fries your baby dropped on the McDonalds floor, and even wiping your cheek after your toddler spit on your face in an epic rage because you gave him a saltine cracker instead of a graham cracker. Rookie mistake. But at least you have the wipes.
13. I have no problem peeing in random places. It’s a dirty little secret, but when a TV reporter is going out to a story, and the mast on the live truck goes 40 feet into the air for live shots every 20 minutes, that live truck ain’t goin’ nowhere for a loooong time. And that means you have no ride to the bathroom. Like that time I was covering the sinkhole that opened up in the middle of the interstate, and we were live on the center median of the freeway. With 4 lanes of traffic on either side. For 5 hours straight. Guess what? I couldn’t hold it that long. And my photographer had an empty Dunkin’ Donuts cup. Yes. It happened. Don’t judge. So now, when my toddler has to pee when we’re driving down the street, it ain’t no thang. We just pull to the side, bust open the back hatch and get out our travel potty. There’s no shame in my Mama game.
14. I have no requirement for sleep. It is common for a TV news reporter to work 12-hour days on just a few hours sleep, especially if they work the overnight or morning shift. No one cares that you haven’t slept. And everyone expects you to perform just as well, if not better, than you ever have before. There were days when I was pretty sure the lack of sleep, paired with the weight of my false eyelashes, were going to make my eyes close right in the middle of a story. And, as a result, coffee has never, ever, ever been more important. In the history of the world. Until I had kids. ‘Cause now, I still don’t get to sleep in, and no one cares that it’s daylight savings time, or happens to be Sunday. Because they want you to make them peanut butter and jelly and take them to the park. Like, right now. (It’s still dark out.)