Babies, like magazine deadlines, come in the dark of night, just when taxes are due, unseasonably early or bewilderingly late. But if it's news you want, both hold promise. WORLD was conceived the same year as my eldest and erupted into a life of its own just as she took hold of her parents' hearts. The passions of parenting and publishing would intersect from then on in ways I could not conceive.
Into a second trimester sufficiently to be out of morning sickness, I accepted an offer from Joel Belz (mentor and brother-in-law extraordinaire) to write a story for the first issue on a then-lively budget proposal coined Gramm-Rudman. I was a novice at journalism but had Capitol Hill experience and contacts. Joel had little reason for his confidence in me, but he had pages to fill.
Thus began a twined course criss-crossed by three more babies and deadlines without number, experiences at once sublime and common to man. A son arrived on the eve of the Berlin Wall's departure. An outdoor birthday party overflowing with tow-headed toddlers halted-cake melting in the August sun-while I raced in to check CNN to discover, yes, it was true, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. Six months later (and expecting a third child) when a cautious George Bush and his commander Colin Powell pulled the troops back from an assault on Baghdad, I tucked a small boy into bed that night, watched him fade to slumber and wondered, Must we return to fight this war another day, and will you be one of the young men fighting it?
In this cacophony of change it was hard to focus on what it all meant. Needy babies were morphing before my eyes into people with destinies outside my control. The Cold War at its steepest pitch already was in its death throes. Only with the benefit of hindsight could we see that with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the last of the U.S.-Soviet proxy wars had been fought and a new era of conflict was upon us. Boris Yeltsin perched defiantly atop a tank was one moment vanguard to a new order and the next moribund. Our 20th anniversaries, like 20th birthdays, are dressed packages containing needed, long-lens perspective.
The post-Cold War havoc reached WORLD's pages and, to a smaller degree, my own home. A trip to Chernobyl was revised when I learned on departure's eve I was pregnant with a fourth child. Even without journeying to the orange zone (doctor's and husband's orders) we gathered stories of fallout misery in the yellow zones of Belarus on the 10th anniversary of the nuclear accident-children born with deformities or leukemias who should have developed whole and safe in the womb, as my own did then. Yugoslavia was in pieces, and I spent the healthy middle of that pregnancy bouncing over de-mined roads in Croatia and Bosnia. In an apartment along Sarajevo's Sniper Alley I washed dishes with a woman beneath a window pockmarked with artillery rounds. For three years she had walked her daughter through basement tunnels to school-an entire secondary education in a bomb shelter.
Some journalists practice professional distance; juggling work and babies forced me to close the distance instead. Drinking tea in a military-issue tent overlooking Turkey's Sea of Marmara with a mother who lost her children in an earthquake; in Sudan roasting coffee beans over a fire with the women, while the fathers sang hymns by firelight and drew battle strategies in the dirt; in Iraq forcing myself to look at the pulpy jawline of an 18-year-old Marine whose face was blown apart by a roadside bomb-those moments honed the craft of reporting but also expanded my calling to parent well.
Journalists are good at thinking they connect with the world's anguish. But an overnight at a combat hospital outside Baghdad does not a soldier make. And we have Christ for comparison. He took on flesh, had rocks for pillows and stormy seas for a bed, forsook his mother, was forsaken by all. Part of turning 20, for a magazine, its middle-aged scribes, and its sons and daughters, is learning how much we don't know yet leaning into the crosswinds of the next decade's news, catching full in the face both sting and unexpected zephyr.