And now for Working Mom of the Year

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TIME just unveiled its Person of the Year. I know, I know; you’re thinking, who what huh? Putin? As my brother-in-law said, “What—next year it’ll be Castro?”

I can give you only a tiny behind-the-scenes peek at the process that resulted in his selection because even within TIME, POY (as we call it) is heavily guarded. A few months ago, Adi Ignatius, the executive editor who heads up the effort, sent out e-mails to us staffers asking us who we thought might make good candidates. A bunch of notables, past POYs and past TIME cover subjects were polled for their own nominees. You all responded with thousands of candidates on TIME.com (the obsession with South Korean pop star Rain continues).

The editors talked among themselves and came up with a list. There was a meeting about a month ago open to the staff where the choices were debated. The Burmese monks! Musharraf! Steve Jobs! A lot of names were bandied about, some of whom landed in the issue among the runners-up.

A small team were dispatched to report on the finalists; only a handful knew for certain the identity of the winner. But at a staff holiday lunch the other day, a bunch of us accurately guessed Putin by sussing out who was missing from the office, who had taken sudden trips to Russia and whose name caused the art director to choke on his pasta.

Anyway. Check out TIME.com’s truly brilliant package, why dontcha, to learn more about this year’s POY, Vladimir Putin, in this incisive article by Adi (who is a longtime Russia hand, late of the Wall Street Journal). Still wondering, Why Putin? Read our managing editor Rick Stengel’s explanation.

Bitter about the oversight of the obvious choice, Al Gore? Read Bono’s obituary, I mean, appreciation. Pining for a more whimsical, warmer choice? Read Nancy Gibb’s beautiful piece on J.K. Rowling.

And now (taiko roll, please) for WiP’s own Working Person of the Year: in this, our inaugural year, we select Laura Bennett. Who? She’s the red-headed lady who was a finalist in the last Project Runway season. I watched that show like an addict, and was always tickled by her bluntness and dazzled by her gorgeous designs. But what bowled me over was the news that she was the mother of five—and was pregnant with her sixth.

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WiP’s Working Mom of the Year: Laura Bennett! / Bravo TV

I interviewed Bennett recently for this story I wrote for the magazine about a weird phenomenon being reported in some fancy towns: affluent couples seem to be having a lot of kids. Bennett and her husband Peter Shelton are raising their five young boys in a loft in Manhattan (she has a daughter from a previous marriage who’s 19 and doesn’t live with them). Five boys! In Manhattan! And she works!

Bennett described her day: a baby sitter arrives early to help manage the morning scrum. They get the oldest ones to school. She and Shelton head off to their offices. Bennett, a former architect, is launching a brand new and high-profile career in clothing design; she’s got a new line coming out on QVC in January. She works in a studio in the garmet district, scuttling around making designs and buying materials. Once she called me back on her cell phone from a button shop.

Then, at 3, she and two sitters disperse to pick up the kids and shuttle them to their various activities. Her husband Shelton often pitches in. One sitter leaves around 4; the other stays till the bitter end, when all five boys are tucked in like soldiers side by side in a room Bennett describes as a barracks.

Then I presume she collapses. I would. With a bottle of Scotch.

What I wanted to know was how in hell she does it. I can barely manage the juggle, and I only have one little bugger to deal with. “I think people can manage a lot more than they think they can,” she said, after some thought. “If you think about it, almost all the work you do in a given day is done within a five-hour span, anyway. I’d bet you that I get as much done between 10 and 3 as anyone does between 9 and 5. I just have to plan better.”

That means cutting out the junk. “I try really hard not to accept appointments outside of that span,” she says. But when she has to be, she’s flexible. If she has to take a meeting and miss a kiddie concert, so be it. “A lot of mothers are frantic because they don’t want to miss a thing. I get to do things six times. And let me tell you, those musical revues can get a little old.”

Many of us working parents get caught up thinking, If only I didn’t have to hold a job; If only we didn’t need the money. But here’s a person who really gets a rise out of what she does, who doesn’t want motherhood to be her only defining role—who in fact feels her career enriches her parenting. “Work for me is the savior,” she says. “People are so stunned when I say I have six kids that they don’t even factor in the fact that I work. But for me, it absolutely keeps me sane. Besides, I like my kids better when I haven’t seen them in a few hours.”

Here’s to us working parents everywhere. May the fun outweigh the work. Happy holidays, all. WiP will go on holiday during TIME’s dark week and through the beginning of next year. See you in the Year of the Mouse.

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