When I told my daughters I had been laid off from the Miami Herald, they were shocked.
“But you’re famous!” exclaimed 9-year-old Lyla.
I wasn’t really that famous. But Lyla and her 6-year-old sister, Lacey, thought I was because they spotted my 1A-article about President Barack Obama’s speech in Miami in November 2016 through the window of the Newseum, a Washington, D.C., museum dedicated to, well, the news.
Working as a reporter for the Herald and a fact-checker for PolitiFact during the election was the most rewarding professional experience of my career. As a single mother, it was sometimes tricky to pull off. My work included sending and responding to a stream of emails during family dinner and late nights fact-checking debates, only for the girls to leap into bed with me at 6 a.m.
But there were upsides to my daughters seeing me work as a reporter: They had a window to the role the media plays in educating voters.
After Lyla was born, I worried about how I would juggle being a mother with a job that often stretched beyond 9 to 5. It wasn’t always easy, but the tough moments were balanced with funny ones.
When Lyla was a toddler, political news exploded in Broward County, FL, when a slew of politicians were arrested amid federal corruption probes, followed by the saga of Scott Rothstein, a lawyer convicted for a $1 billion Ponzi scheme.
I must have talked about corruption so often that I wasn’t even shocked when Lyla, en route to daycare, screamed “corruption!” pointing her finger out the car window at a run-down gas station.
During Charlie Crist’s campaign for governor in 2014, I had to cover a last-minute press conference at a law firm that coincided with school pickup. I packed a bag filled with food and coloring supplies, picked up my girls and, to borrow a trick from politicians’ playbook, oversold what I was about to do.
“Guess what, girls! I am allowing you to attend your first press conference! This will be so much fun for you as long as you are silent!”
We arrived at the law firm, and I attempted to stash the kids in an adjacent conference room.
No can do, the girls basically said. They followed me into the room where Crist spoke in front of a largely male audience of reporters.
I was relieved when the press conference ended without my children blurting out any interruptions.
After the event, a male reporter remarked that, years ago, I would not have been able to bring my children along. It felt as if he was hinting I had gotten away with something. In my mind, I was just covering the press conference and avoiding late pickup fees at school.
Two years later, I was fact-checking a U.S. Senate debate that was televised early enough in the evening that my oldest was still awake. Lyla pleaded to watch. The Democrat, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, accused Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of standing by Trump, despite Trump saying Mexicans were “rapists” and had bragged about “sexually assaulting women.”
Rubio fired back accusing Murphy of inflating his academic credentials from the University of Miami and background as a CPA.
“I have questions,” Lyla said after the debate.
With the clock ticking to write my article for PolitiFact, I frantically worried about how to respond if she asked me to define the word, “rapist,” or phrase, “sexual assault.”
“What’s a CPA? And why did that guy say the other guy lied about his college degree?”
Dodged a bullet—those were questions I was willing to answer.
I wouldn’t tell my girls who I planned to vote for or answer their questions about whether a candidate was “nice” or “mean.” Instead, I focused on the tools I used in my work and wanted them to develop: the importance of seeking factual information to answer questions. They started to ask their own tough questions:
How did Adam in the Bible get born if he didn’t have a mother or a father? (Ask our rabbi, I said.)
What does scientific evidence show about why we dream? (Ask one of our psychologist relatives, I said.)
How does Santa know we are Jewish—did you text him? (I fess up to a rare lie to my kids here. Yes, I did text him. Stop asking me if Santa will show up. He won’t. You get Chanukah presents.)
We made it through the election. In 2017, I vowed to create more work-life balance. The Trump administration provided a steady stream of interesting news, but at a more manageable pace than the campaign.
And then my editor called one morning in August. He told me I was being “given a buy-out.” Translation: you are part of the umpteenth round of layoffs in the newspaper industry over the past decade.
I explained to my girls that not enough people were buying the newspaper anymore, so the Herald couldn’t pay everyone. After seeing the long hours I put in—and heck, my name at a museum—this made no sense to them.
“Did you ever sneeze really loudly at work and that’s why they fired you?” Lacey asked.
Lyla tried to come up with a new career for me. My favorite: become a famous tennis player, and since you won’t have money, you can pay your teacher with kisses and love. Sounds fun—including the method of payment.
“Why can’t the government own the newspapers?” Lyla asked.
I explained that in countries where the government runs the media, the reporters can’t write articles criticizing those in charge or showing how politicians sometimes lie.
Working as a political reporter was a key part of my identity, and I shared it with my girls. Now, I’m not certain what lies ahead on my career path. As they grow up and one day launch careers and families of their own, I hope that my daughters will remember something I taught them about newspapers, politics or balancing motherhood and work.
I want my girls to become anything they want, although I can’t imagine either will land at a newspaper, not at the rate they’re shrinking. But they could have a future as CPAs.