Balancing family and political life. State Sen. Carol Amick
Bedford, Mass. — ON most days, Carol Amick rises at 6 a.m. with her husband. She plans dinner, checking to see if there's adequate food in the house. Next comes morning feeding for 5-week-old William, then wake-up time, clothes, and breakfast for 31/2-year-old Jennie. By 8:30 she's carpooling Jennie to her Montessori school in nearby Lexington. Sounds fairly typical, so far. But what makes Ms. Amick's life different from that of thousands of busy mothers is her ``other'' career -- as a state senator representing seven suburban towns on greater Boston's northwest fringe.
``The earliest I can get anywhere is 9:30,'' Ms. Amick says. ``Anywhere'' usually means the Massachusetts State House, some 20 miles from her yellow Victorian home on a quiet, shady street in Bedford.
Amick, a smiling, boundlessly energetic woman, may have a more limited sphere of activity than the well-publicized female politicians vying elsewhere for governorships or the United States Senate. But her experience as a legislator and mother of young children illustrates the many challenges of balancing family life and political life -- challenges faced by countless office holders, women and men.
Striking that balance is hard, but not impossible, says Amick. Her legislative and political duties absorb about 60 hours a week. They include holding hearings (she chairs three committees and is a recognized authority on environmental matters), giving speeches, and responding to the 50 to 70 phone calls and letters that deluge her office daily. She also holds office hours in her constituent communities -- one morning and one evening in each town each month. The latter is ``a pretty rigorous schedule in and of itself,'' she notes, but it's crucial to staying in touch with her constituents. ``I'm out about four nights a week,'' she says.
Then there are the demands of her current campaign to retain the Senate seat she's held since 1977. It's a race she's expected to win easily -- despite the fact that she's the first Democrat ever elected in her heavily Republican district -- but which still brings a burst of speechmaking and politicking.
So how does family fit into this avalanche of work? First, Amick and her husband, William Moonan, vice-president and controller at Teledyne Engineering Services in Waltham, Mass., have evolved a kind of flexible system for handling parental duties. ``He has the evening shift,'' she explains, ``and I have the morning -- the easier time.''
``I am married to an extremely understanding man,'' the senator says, smiling. For his part, Mr. Moonan says the key to making the whole thing work ``is keeping a sense of humor.'' Also, he adds, he grew up in a household where his own mother always had outside responsibilites. ``I don't have a preconceived notion of where she should be and what she should be doing,'' he says.
Amick asks her staff to keep one night a week open for her to spend with her family. On other nights, consequently, engagements may be scheduled on top of each other. Two speeches a night is far from uncommon.
As the size of the family has changed, so have their routines. ``After our daughter was born, he [her husband] changed his schedule to be able to pick her up at family day care here,'' she says. And ``if my husband calls and says, `I can't pick Jennie up at 5,' I have to pick Jennie up at 5,'' she adds matter of factly. Then there are those rare times when the little girl is ill, and ``I just have to cancel everything.''
Important as her legislative work is to her, ``this is the most important job,'' she says, pointing to little William, gurgling in his baby chair on the living room floor.
That sense of priorities rarely dominates among politicians, notes Democrat Paul Tsongas, former US senator from Massachusetts, who decided to withdraw from politics in 1984. Ill health was part of the reason, but ``the major reason'' was to spend more time with his family, he says. In the nation's capital, the separation of families is an acute problem. ``What struck me about Washington,'' Mr. Tsongas said in an interview, ``is the number of people who really didn't care, who were really so concerned about their political being that other considerations fell off the table.''
In her effort to keep family concerns squarely on the table, Amick has taken some flak for missing roll call votes -- occasionally due to the need to rush out to Bedford to help with a child. And she admits to some apprehension after Jennie's birth. ``I had real concerns about the way people in my district would react. Would they think, shouldn't I be at home with my young child?''
Her constituents have been understanding, she says. But having children has had a definite impact on her life in politics. First, she says, the early breakfast meetings she used to attend, often with various lobbying groups, are out. Second, and more important, she's become ``much more aware of family issues'' -- such things as adequate funds for families on welfare and laws that deal with child abuse.
And what about the impact of politics on her children? ``He's used to it,'' she laughs, as William gets his picture taken.
Jennie has taken it all in stride, according to her mother. Instead of dolls, she has a little case she calls her ``briefcase'' and ``goes off and gives speeches,'' says Amick. And she asks some good questions about politics, too. During the recent campaign, Jennie heard some televised comments from her mother's opponent and promptly asked, ``Mommy, why does that man want your job?''