Anchorage AK – It’s quite a compelling image: An accomplished working mother, projecting to the world that she can and does have it all: five children, a successful career and a husband who doesn’t mind being Mr. Mom. Oh, and she’s going to be a grandmother, and her infant has special needs, and she’s running for vice president.
The facts of life for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are fascinating and seem, frankly, exhausting. Her children range in age from 18 years to 4 months. Track, the oldest, recently enlisted in the Army and is headed for Iraq. Daughter Willow, 14, is in high school, and Piper is 7. The baby, Trig, was born in April with Down syndrome. Daughter Bristol, 17, is pregnant and is going to get married, her parents announced yesterday. That news added fuel to an already heated debate on blogs and in the street about the appropriate balance between child-rearing and working — and whether Palin can balance the extraordinary demands of both without shortchanging either.
Palin has carefully portrayed herself throughout her career as someone committed to both family and profession — and tough enough to handle both. She made a show of dismissing the chef at the governor’s mansion saying she wanted to do her own cooking, and that the kids were old enough to make their own sandwiches. And no one can recall her ever having a full-time babysitter.
“You walk into her office and Piper is sitting there, the baby is in the crib — that’s just the way it is. This is how she lives her life. Someone who was in a meeting with her recently said she was discreetly nursing Trig,” said Palin’s biographer Kaylene Johnson.
From interviews with those closest to Palin emerges a description of a hectic lifestyle, but one in which the hominess and rural community of Alaska have enabled her to have her kids around her while she works and have offered a deep bench of family and friends for child-care support. She has shown up to meetings and news conferences carrying Trig in a baby pouch.
Even in the story of Trig’s birth, Palin paints herself as feisty and fearless. She told the local media that she noticed her amniotic fluid was leaking right before she gave a speech in Texas last April. After her keynote address to the National Governors Association, and obtaining the consent of her doctor, Palin boarded an eight-hour flight to Anchorage. She never told the airline she was in labor. She and her husband drove 45 minutes to her hometown medical center; the baby was born seven hours later.
Palin kept her pregnancy secret for seven months, stunning even her staff with the announcement. She pointedly said at the time she would not miss work. “I had Piper on a Monday, and I was back to work on a Tuesday. I even brought her to work with me,” she said, referring to the birth of her daughter.
And, in fact, after Trig’s birth, she was at her desk within a few days, baby in tow and crib in her office.
Although a clear majority of mothers today are in the workforce, studies show that the pendulum has swung back, and most are skeptical about mothers working full time; they see part-time jobs as the ideal. A recent survey by Pew Research reported that only 11 percent of working mothers believe it’s good for children when the mother works full time.
Trig Paxton Van Palin could end up being the best-traveled infant in America. Campaign sources said that the baby would be with his mother a good part of the time, and that arrangements are being made to have a babysitter travel with them. Confirms grandmother Sally Heath, “I can’t imagine she would leave him behind.”