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Mom's in the House, With Kids at Home

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), left, shows off infant son Cole to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), left, shows off infant son Cole to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

The little girl's daily routine is unorthodox -- she often goes to sleep at midnight and eats just one large meal a day, around 8 p.m.

"I promised myself I wouldn't feel guilty about this," Pryce said. "She's thriving and smart and better off with me than she had been if she hadn't been adopted. It provides her with so many opportunities that other children would never have. I see that as the silver lining."

"You can do both jobs," she said. "You can do both jobs well, but you can't do it the same as everyone else in America."

As an older mother who has endured loss, Pryce has learned to shrug off the small frustrations of political life.

"I don't take myself nearly as seriously," said Pryce, who narrowly won one of the toughest reelection contests in the country last year and is likely to face a repeat next year as her district increasingly leans Democratic. "Even if I lost an election, there would be an upside -- I could spend more time with Mia."

Pryce was by McMorris Rodgers's side last month when Cole McMorris Rodgers made his squirmy debut in his mother's arm on the House floor. He was greeted with a standing ovation and hurrahs that bellowed across the chamber. "There was a lot of love in that room," said Pryce, who passed along a crib to McMorris Rodgers. "It's something you don't normally associate with Congress."

Born a month early with an intestinal blockage that required surgery, Cole spent his first three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Doctors diagnosed him with Down syndrome.

In a sharply partisan Congress, McMorris Rodgers was taken aback by the support she's received from other lawmakers regardless of party, particularly women. Baby gifts stacked up in her Longworth office. The bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues planned a shower. Pelosi called, concerned about the baby's health.

McMorris Rodgers and her husband, a retired Navy officer, are trying to figure out how to care for a baby with developmental disabilities while she holds a job with long hours, constant fundraising and frequent cross-country travel.

"Our goal is to maximize our time together as a family as we learn more about the demands and what it's going to take," said McMorris Rodgers, who took a month off and eased back to work part time, shuttling between her Hill house and the Capitol complex to greet constituents or attend committee meetings. A beeper at home summons her when it's time to vote. She breast-feeds Cole while flipping through briefing books.

'Ordinary Mom'

Having a mother in Congress can be tough on children, too, said Wilson, from New Mexico.

"There are times when they want me to be just a mom," she said. "They're very patient, very tolerant of people who want to talk to me in the grocery store and things like that. But sometimes it's too much."

When that happens, her 10-year-old, Caitlin, makes a fist like an "O" and then points her three middle fingers downward like an "M" -- a signal that she wants an "ordinary mom," Wilson said. "We all have that moment when we ask ourselves -- are we doing the right thing?"

At Wasserman Schultz's home in Florida, Mondays can be the cruelest day. It's hard to watch her mother walk out the door, Rebecca said. "Sometimes, I regret that," the 8-year-old said quietly.

If these children are sometimes ruffled by casualties of their mothers' political ambitions, so, too, are the Congress moms constantly calculating the trade-offs.

"Everything you do has an opportunity cost," said Bean, of Illinois.

Bean missed every one of her daughter's violin concerts this school year but was determined to make the last concert in May. "I told my staff I was going home," said Bean, who missed some minor votes in order to fly to Chicago on a Wednesday afternoon. She stopped at home in time to see her daughter get ready and then drove her to the concert, where she won a director's award.

"It was so great," said Bean, who had to race back to the airport that night and return to Washington for a key breakfast meeting the following day. "She said to me, 'Mom, I'm so glad you were here.' "


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