I worked my first Winter Olympic Games in 1998, as a member of TNT’s production team (where I immortalized one skater’s costume as “She looks like she was mauled by a lion while escaping a brothel.” I noted it off-handedly, but commentator Rosalynn Sumners liked it so much she repeated it on-air. It was like the movie, “Broadcast News.” I say it here, it comes out there….).
I spent close to a month in Nagano, Japan, working 28-hour days with no weekends, and came home so exhausted that I proceeded to spend the next 48 hours near-catatonic in front of the TV, catching up on all the shows I’d taped. (This was before Tivo or downloading or watching on demand, so I actually had to pre-program my entire primetime line-up weeks in advance. All on a tape that could only record for eight hours. Truly the dark ages, kids.)
My oldest son was born in 1999. And though I tried to continue working in figure skating production, his refusing to acknowledge my presence after I’d returned from yet another business trip when he was 18 months old pretty much put the kibosh on that plan.
So I stopped traveling, and wrote figure skating murder mysteries, instead. And then I worked in soap operas for several years, which required much less travel. (Although all three of my kids did each attend the Daytime Emmy Awards in-utero. They woke up, confused, at every burst of applause.)
But, at the back of my mind was always Sochi 2014. I knew my kids would be 14, 10 and 7 by then. Old enough to survive a few weeks without me. And, I figured after being out of the game for so long, the one advantage I might have over other potential hires was that I spoke fluent Russian.
I figured wrong. Despite diligent efforts, I was an unable to get a staff job in Sochi. But, I did get one in NYC. I would be producing two-time Olympic champion and longtime ABC analyst Dick Button’s live, Twitter commentary.
I was thrilled to get the gig. I even told my husband how for the best it was that I wouldn’t have to travel to Russia.
It’s possible I may have figured wrong again. Because while, on the one hand, I didn’t end up needing to endure multiple plane flights, the mess that was Sochi hotel accommodations (a friend of mine was booked into one of the venues that hadn’t been finished yet), and covering every single event, dawn to dusk, I did end up doing a lot of my work from home… surrounded by children.
“What’s that, Mommy?” They peppered me with questions while I tried to concentrate on the live broadcast and take notes for the pre-taped, prime-time airing.
“Who’s that, Mommy? Do you know her? Is she nice?”
“Why are they doing that? Is that a good score? How come they can’t pronounce any of the Russian words right? Can I help you work, Mommy?”
And then there was the snow day. Two hours before I needed to be on the Upper East Side of NYC to live tweet the Men’s Short Program, we got a snow day. For my 7-year-old’s school, not my 14-year-old’s. Which meant I couldn’t leave her with him. Luckily, my husband is a teacher and, eventually, his school was closed too. But not my 10-year-old’s school. Where a parent was required to walk as a Safety Patrol later that afternoon (yes, in the snow). Basically, we spent that whole day playing pass the children back and forth. Yes, in the snow.
And that was the long and short of it. Technically, I was working fewer hours for Sochi 2014 than I had for Nagano 1998. But, at the same time, I was also still packing lunches (at 6 a.m. despite working till midnight the evening before) and meeting the school bus and juggling play-dates and checking homework and throwing dinner together and keeping up with my non-Olympic freelance work and promoting my figure skating mystery novels (in the immortal words of Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when?”) and, one Saturday afternoon, I even managed to sneak away for my son’s ballet recital! But I spent a good chunk of it worrying what emails and phone messages might be waiting for me at home.
As a result, I concluded these Games even more exhausted than I had my first ones. (Surely, the fact that I am now 16 years older couldn’t have anything to do with it, could it?).
But, I also concluded them with the realization that I did a better a job this year, than I had in 1998.
And it was all because of the kids.
Once upon a time, I was a fact-spewing machine. Ask me who won the Men’s Olympic Figure Skating Gold in 1972, I could tell you. Ask me how many Ukrainians ever stood on the podium, I could tell you that, too. Who wrote the ballet “Giselle?” Done. Origins of the Triple Salchow jump? Piece of cake. The Olympic Oath? What language, please?
I was prepared. I was unstoppable.
I was unbearable.
I thought I knew everything and could never be wrong. Having kids sure takes the wind out of those sails.
This time around, I didn’t know if I was coming or going half of the time. When it came to facts, I checked and double-checked everything before handing off the information to be broadcast. And when I didn’t know, I didn’t guess. I said, “I don’t know.” And, guess what? The world didn’t end, either. (Something else you learn from having kids.)
I like to think that, if nothing else, I was more pleasant to be around in 2014.
Plus, there was the fact that when I stumbled home dead on my feet at the end of the day, dry-heaving with exhaustion, instead of taking a shower and gulping down a cup of powdery Ensure at the same time (yes, I really did that; the sooner I had knocked off both activities, the sooner I could crawl into bed – only to get up four hours later for the next session) I was greeted by a trio of voices chirping, “Mommy, Mommy! You’re home!”
Followed by “Sign my spelling test…please.”
“Daddy gave us cookies for dinner. Why don’t you ever give us cookies for dinner?”
And, lastly, “Group hug!”
Nope. Nothing like 1998.