Bryant Gumbel proposed a toast and Willard Scott nearly dumped anniversary cake on her lap when Today show co-host Jane Pauley returned to the show last week following a nearly three-month maternity leave. "I've missed her," Gumbel readily admits. Watching Pauley's return at home in their three-bedroom Manhattan apartment were her husband, Garry Trudeau, the 38-year-old Doonesbury cartoonist, the couple's 2½-year-old twins, Ross and Rachel, and their new baby, Thomas Moore, born on Aug. 27.

Pauley's homecoming on Oct. 10 marked her 10th anniversary on Today, the No. 1 show in the morning ratings. Once derided as a ponytailed teenager next to host Tom Brokaw, Pauley, now 35, is a respected newswoman who has lasted longer on the a.m. couch than anybody except Good Morning America's David Hartman, and his departure next February after 11 years means she may beat his record yet.

Though Pauley points out that nobody asks Bryant about his child-rearing plans, she seems at ease with her dual role. But that doesn't mean it's easy. Since Thomas' birth she's realized that "somehow three children is many more than two." Shortly before going back to work, Pauley talked with television correspondent Jane Hall about the perils of "having it all."

I'm excited about going back to Today, but, at odd moments, I'll grit my teeth in anxiety. I feel like a student before the start of school. I've got my new shoes and my book bag, but I'm not sure I'll remember how to do trigonometry. During my maternity leave, I haven't used many words of more than one syllable.

I think that both Garry and I are feeling the responsibility of having a third child. Frankly, being pregnant again was not how I intended to start 1986, but Thomas is very welcome in our home. As twins, Rachel and Ross have gone to the same birthday parties and had their doctor's appointments together. They're great friends. But now, with Thomas, they're showing normal signs of jealousy and competition. We're getting visits from them in the middle of the night.

Of course I'll feel guilty when I go back to work. I've sometimes left home with tears in my eyes. The only thing I have going for me is good intentions. I think my children know that Mother's priority is to be with them first. But I don't think it has to be an either/or situation. Work is very important to me, and it wouldn't be in the best interest of my children for me to stay home seven days a week. That said, I've stripped my life to work and family. I'm not a very social animal. My idea of a big evening is dinner out. I can cook; but not well. I figure I have six years until my children discover what their friends' mothers make for dinner.

On my refrigerator for some time I had a story in which one woman says the way she copes with being a working mother is that she "stopped reading articles about Jane Pauley." I'm very sensitive about being held up as some sort of example. I don't consider myself any sort of role model at all. I have great advantages over many other working women, and my schedule allows me more time with my kids than many working women have. First of all, I have help. And I have a husband who works at home and willingly shares the responsibilities besides just contributing handsomely to the gene pool. Garry does a lot of his most creative work late at night. I get up at 4 a.m., and my workday is practically half-done by the time the children wake up. With the twins, I would do my reading for the next day's show at home, but that was pretty distracting. This time, I'm planning to spend several afternoons a week in the office at NBC.

We're trying our best not to raise jaded kids. Ross and Rachel are in a neighborhood play group, not one on the Yale-Harvard fast track. We read books together—A Day on the Farm, and one we all know by heart, Big Hungry Bear. Still, despite our efforts, there are other influences. The other day, Ross asked his daddy, "Who's Crazy Eddie?" And Rachel recently tried to hail a cab.

It's hard to believe that I've been on the Today show for 10 years. I was such a baby when I was hired. Now I've gained a reservoir of experience, and I'm proud of my credibility. I think Bryant and I have one of the best working partnerships in television. We can take each other's humor.

I'm more than satisfied with my role on Today—I've just signed a new, five-year contract. But, now that I have three children, I wonder if my commitment to family will ever compromise my professional ambitions for the future. I've never turned down a Today assignment to be with my children, nor would I. In the past year, I've willingly traveled all over the world for Today, from Buenos Aires to the royal wedding of Prince Andrew in London. But I don't go out of my way to seek travel assignments either.

I have a very full plate now. But there are a couple of lessons I've learned from motherhood: I don't have to be perfect, and one way or another, things get taken care of.