First day back to school. Three new grades: first, fourth and sixth. My kids and I celebrated by munching tortillas at our favorite Mexican café in the bright September sunshine. We dissected who had grown. Who had braces. Which teacher was most strict.
Then my cell phone rang. The caller offered a thrilling balance of opportunity and chaos: Could I be on a plane in two hours to attend the Republican National Convention and give a Today Show interview about the “mommy wars”  stirred up by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s nomination?
Well, yes I could. We rushed home. Cell phone cocked against my ear, I made travel arrangements, I threw together a suitcase, makeup, toiletries. As my husband walked in the front door I ran out in the same stay-at-home mom clothes I’d been wearing at the Mexican restaurant.
A few measly hours later, I was in the St. Paul convention center, wearing salmon silk, professionally lacquered, my right arm resting next to Meredith Viera’s left arm . Although it was not yet 7 am, Sarah Palin had just finished practicing her acceptance speech. I caught an electrifying few final words before it was my turn to talk under the bright tv lights. I spoke about the surprise of the Republican party vigorously championing a working mom of five after decades of seeming to insist that a good mom could not work outside the home. I offered a possible explanation behind women’s criticism of Palin: the “mommy wars” propensity to overpersonalize others’ decisions regarding juggling work and family. 
That interview led to another. My media pass meant I could stay a few more hours and hear Palin herself deliver the entirety of what was sure to be a landmark speech. I wanted to witness thousands of formerly sexist politicians listening raptly to her tale of juggling kids and career, and what she dreamt of doing for America as the first female vice president. I felt like the girl who gets asked to the prom by Jake.
Then my nine-year-old burst into tears over the phone when I told her I was staying a second night. My son confessed the dog had pooped in the dining room because he had forgotten to walk him. My six-year-old babbled excitedly and incoherently about her first homework assignment: assembling a coin collection, which sounded like doin doolection because she just lost her second front tooth. Every muscle told me how tired I was from being up since 4 am. I caught a whiff of my own stinky armpits trapped in clothes I would have to wear another day since I hadn’t packed enough outfits.
Home tugged as hard as Sarah Palin’s words.
I thought of how many nights with her children Palin has missed over the last two decades. What it must feel like to return to work three days after giving birth to a disabled infant. Lost in the debate about right and wrong ways to be a working mom is the lingering, private pain that accompanies balancing our ambition with love for our children.
As I’d said on tv a few hours before, it’s not for me to judge another mom’s decisions about balancing work and raising a family. Palin isn’t suggesting that I, or any other mom, have five kids and run for vice president of the United States. She’s saying she wants to – that her family can handle the days and nights and years apart from each other in support of her calling to serve our country.
Sarah Palin – and every other mom on the planet – has my enthusiastic support to raise children and pursue a career however she damn well pleases. Palin looks like a fulfilled, vibrant mom. Her husband and kids, even her pregnant teenage daughter, seem wonderfully proud of their mama. Maybe this is why her decision to work fulltime as a mother of five bothers some women so much – how dare she skip the martyr drama and be happy in the midst of the chaos of working motherhood?
As for me, I’ve worked hard to get to the point in my own career where I can head home whenever I want. Most days I’m 99% at peace with the reality that it’s unlikely I’ll ever be the vice president of anything. So, just as delegates and boldface media luminaries from around the country started streaming into St. Paul in limos and black SUVs as if the Xcel Energy Center were the hot core of the universe, I busted out the exit doors and caught the last flight home.
Five hours later, I walked through my front door just as Palin was turning on her microphone in St. Paul. I heard every word of her speech. Not a big deal that 700 miles instead of 700 feet separated me from the stage. Because I got to snuggle my daughter, who’d fallen asleep with the lights on in her bedroom waiting up for me. The lesson here: motherhood is an intensely personal chimera. The trick is to forget about second guessing other mothers, and to follow your own compass as it points quiveringly to your family’s unique needs.
Click here to watch Leslie on the Today Show