After 9/11 I became pregnant with Alice. I remember feeling relief in knowing that having another baby meant I wouldn't be expected to work. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever work again. By now I was so lacking in professional confidence (I'd been home for five years), I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to hire me. Having Alice meant I could concentrate on my new baby and continue being a fulltime mother. I would have found this a difficult choice to justify without her, as Molly was now in kindergarten and didn't need me there between the hours of 8:30 and 3:00. We no longer had any babysitting help, apart from the occasional college girl on the rare evenings when we went out. A lot of the time it was just my girls and me. And their dad. Bill was around a lot in those days, too. Writers usually are. He'd get home in the late afternoon, easily in time to tell the girls bedtime stories. He'd play with them and he'd cook for them. I look back on those years as a golden time for our family. Of course it couldn't last.
In the early summer of 2003, Bill called home from the office to say he had been asked if he was interested in being considered for the job of executive editor of the Times. As we discussed whether he should say yes, I pictured the future of our family. I saw a life where the phone rang incessantly, where there was little privacy and not much downtime. I imagined attention that was both fawning and critical. I could see Bill's children being the recipients of unwanted interest because of their father. I realized our home would be an oasis in the middle of all of this, precious but more difficult to preserve and protect.
On the other hand, what a great opportunity for us as parents! Imagine a childhood where the newsroom's your schoolroom. Imagine the opportunities for travel and the exciting exposure to the world and its people. If your goal as a parent is to raise children with compassionate, engaged, inquiring minds, there could be no better environment than this.
What would my role be in this new life? To the outside world I would probably become simultaneously more and less visible. Should I be feminine or a feminist? Ironically, having spent years writing about the complications of being a public or semipublic wife, I couldn't figure out how to be one myself. I knew there was a role to be played as Mrs. New York Times (a role not a job). I knew it was mine to define as I chose, but I had no idea how to do it.
I asked my predecessor and good friend Carolyn Lelyveld for advice. Carolyn also had two daughters, but they were grown by the time her husband, Joe, was made executive editor. Carolyn had been a maternal figure to many families at the paper, including ours. She spent most of her life working with children, and while Joe was editor she was a constant presence at PS 111 Adolph S. Ochs School, a local school with an affiliation with the New York Times Company Foundation. Carolyn was very sick when I talked to her and would die from complications from breast cancer within the year. Her advice was always punchy. She told me to be myself. Easy for her to say! Which self was that? I now had as many identities as Sybil.