THE TRUTH of the matter is that raising children is colossally important job but also a monumental drag.
Thus, skeptics may make crooked smiles at Rep. Bill Paxon's announcement that he is sacrificing a successful political career to spend more time with his 21-month-old daughter, Susan Ruby. Her mother is Susan Molinari, a former GOP representative from New York.
Only last week, Mr. Paxon, a Republican from Buffalo, was feverishly working the phones to replace Texan Dick Armey as House majority leader. Becoming House majority leader is not necessarily the best way to reduce one's workload.
Mr. Paxon understandably avoided mentioning that Newt Gingrich was still sore at him. Last summer, Mr. Paxon participated in a plot to decapitate Mr. Gingrich as House speaker and place the crown on his own head. Since then, Mr. Gingrich has not been in much of a mood to do favors for Mr. Paxon, who was once one of the Republicans' most ambitious rising stars.
A family man
No, Mr. Paxon's message was that "my decision is to put family first." This is a nice message. It may play well with some old-fashioned members of the family-values crowd. On the other hand, the ranks of the Shirley Temple fan club have thinned in recent years. Whereas most Americans would like parents to carefully raise their children, they would prefer that it be done out of eyesight.
Not everyone enjoyed seeing Mr. Paxon turn Susan Ruby into a photo opportunity, bouncing the 3-month-old before the bright camera lights as his wife gave the keynote speech at the 1996 Republican convention. And there were many dry eyes Feb. 25 when the little girl was dragged to two news conferences -- one in Buffalo, the other in Rochester, N.Y. -- at which her father said he was giving up Washington for home life.
Children seem much on the national mind. A recent article in the conservative American Spectator bawled out the producers of "Murphy Brown" for making the famous baby disappear from the television show.
The fictional baby had held center stage in a national debate over the wisdom of single motherhood.
Writer Mark Steyn finds the show's producers irresponsible for presenting a wholly unrealistic portrayal of the single mother's life. Murphy's decision to have a child without benefit of husband was shown on air as a good thing. Afterward, the anchorwoman was able to resume her glamorous single life while the crying baby was definitely kept off air.
Of course, that's what the television producers are doing, and social conservatives should be somewhat grateful. The sight of Murphy changing diapers, haggling with child-care workers and quelling tantrums would be a poor advertisement for parenthood.
Producers may be socially irresponsible for portraying single motherhood as slightly more demanding than puppy training, but they are being quite responsible to their advertisers. Having babies is sexy. Rearing them is not. Ever since Jamie and Paul had a baby on "Mad About You" and kept it central to the story line, ratings have plummeted.
Babies are adorable in small doses. We have all seen how, when the wailing goes off like an air-raid siren, the room clears but for the closest of relatives. And while we must applaud parents who properly care for the little ones, we don't have to believe that it's all a trip on the Good Ship Lollipop.
In explaining his decision to leave Congress, Mr. Paxon said that after his wife left Washington, "she never looked back, and she is happy with being home with her daughter." Actually, Ms. Molinari has become an anchor for CBS News. This is sort of like Murphy Brown's job -- same network, too. And with her husband in Washington, she was sort of a single mother as well.
All right. Let us drop our cynicism and imagine Bill Paxon and Susan Molinari sitting in the family room with complete hTC contentment and watching Winnie the Pooh videos alongside Susan Ruby.
But let us also bet that the nanny's job is in no danger.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal-Bulletin editorial writer and columnist.
Pub Date: 3/04/98