Like George W., Laura espouses faith and family, and her person fairly exudes Americanism and apple pie.
If we could just step into the Bushes' living room for a chat with Laura, we could touch on some of those family matters and real-life issues women want to know about, like what she especially appreciates about her husband and how she feels about being in the spotlight.
During recent interview with Laura at the Texas Governor's Mansion, she answered the following questions:
What kind of family did you grow up in? George and I grew up in Midland, Texas-a small town, sort of in the middle of nowhere. Midland's motto was "the sky is the limit." And the sky was the limit! There were no native trees; it was perfectly flat under a huge, beautiful sky.
I'm an only child; my father is no longer living-he died in '95 right after George was inaugurated. My parents were very happily married, which is a great advantage for a child. And they were definitely into parenting. My mother read to me a lot as I was growing up, and I turned her love of reading into my own, later becoming a librarian and a teacher. My parents and I were very devout Methodists and always went to church. The First Methodist Church in Midland is where I was baptized and also where George and I were married. That's when George became a Methodist by marriage! Our children were baptized in that same church, the church George and I attended.
How did you and George W. meet? We didn't really know each other until we were 30, and we married after a very short courtship-three months. But, in a lot of ways, it was like we really had grown up together. We grew up in the same town and even attended the same school for a year, though we knew each other only very vaguely. He and his family moved away when he was in the eighth grade, but George and I both ended up in Houston when we were single. I taught in a school in Houston, and he was with the Texas Air Guard. We even lived at the same apartment complex but never ran into each other! Still, we have a lot of the same friends from that time in our lives, and of course from our childhood. So, in a lot of ways, it feels like we grew up together even though we didn't know each other while growing up.
What do you most admire in your husband, and what does he most respect about you? I admire his discipline and his compassion. George also has a really great sense of humor, a sweet sense of humor. He needles people a little bit, but in a very sweet way that makes people feel good. Humor is really a great trait for a husband to have; many moments of tension in a marriage can be diffused by humor, and George does that well.
And certainly with children, it's the same. When your children are grumpy, being funny in a way that's not belittling really diffuses the tension. That's one of George's greatest assets; I admire that a lot in him.
He's also been a very disciplined runner since we married. He started running in Harvard, when he was in graduate school, and he's been a very disciplined athlete. So a lot of mornings I've felt lazy when I'm still asleep and I realize he's already gone out and run five miles (she laughs).
I think we do have very complementary personalities: he's real talkative and I'm a good listener (laughing again). Because I'm pretty reserved and calm and he's so gregarious, he brings a lot of excitement to my life.
I do think our personality traits complement each other well, but I also think we have a lot of the same values due to growing up in the same town and with similar parents. Certainly, mine were not similar in the sense that they were in politics or prominent or from the East Coast, but similar in the sense that both sets of parents were very interested in their children, interested in being the best parents they could possibly be. That's really important for children, and we try to emulate that with our daughters.
Laura and Her Faith
How involved in your church were you as a young girl? How important is your faith to you now? Very important-our faith is important to us. I think when you're in this kind of business, faith is particularly meaningful, and so is family. You find a lot of refuge in each other when you have an opponent all of the time. Politics has made us closer; certainly we were particularly close during every one of his dad's races. It's not easy being a child of a politician and hearing someone you love criticized or characterized in a way you know they're not.
I was very involved in the church as a young girl, and I sang in the church choir from the second grade to high school. Sadly, I didn't have a great voice, or I might've kept that up! The church has always been, for both George and me, a strong influence in our lives. Our lives revolve around it, certainly in keeping the church calendar, the holidays, and the rituals in our family that celebrate the meaning of those holidays.
How has faith in God affected the course your family has taken? An example is when George quit drinking in Midland when he was 40; a lot of things contributed to that decision. One was he had met Billy Graham. We had the opportunity to meet him one summer in Maine when we were visiting George's parents at the same time the Grahams were visiting. George had the opportunity to visit with Billy Graham a lot by himself. And George had watched him on television during crusades at different times in his life, and he found a lot of comfort in things Billy Graham said. So the opportunity to talk with him by himself really awakened something inside George. George has always been religious; he was an acolyte in the Episcopal Church and got up at six o'clock on Sunday mornings. But at that particular time in his life, I think Billy Graham was very influential.
At that same time, a big group of men, some of George's best friends in Midland, started up a Bible study that was also very influential. A lot of times men don't really have the opportunity to have personal conversations like those a Bible study can lead to, and many in that group found that Bible study to be a sort of springboard for teaching them how to change their lives. Several of them quit drinking, including George. The oil business in Midland was a big boom, and in general across the whole U.S., there was a lot of drinking. This was particularly true in west Texas, where there were quite a few high-risk people in the oil business. And I think a lot of people were reevaluating their lives at that point.
Laura and Motherhood
What are your thoughts as your twin daughters grow older? Our girls are 18 and have just started college. They mean more to us than anything in the world. We really wanted children; we didn't marry until we were 30 and didn't have them until I was 35, so we felt particularly blessed and lucky to get two babies at once. They're very funny girls, a lot of fun. When they were born, their grandfather was Vice President, and we've made a real effort to give them a normal, private life. We've made that effort the whole time they were here with us, and we're grateful for the Texas press for giving Barbara and Jenna the opportunity to have privacy. We hope the media would do the same thing they did for Chelsea Clinton in respecting her privacy.
I'm sad, of course; leaving for college is such a passage. But I'm thrilled for them, and they're very excited, though they had a great time in public high school here in Austin. I remember I felt the same way: even though I had a great time in high school, I wasn't that sad to leave. You're going off to the next thing-bigger, more exciting. Both of them feel that way about college. For parents, it's such a sad and sweet time because you know it'll never be the same. They won't ever really be home again for any long period of time. At least, you hope they won't, I guess (she laughs).
Laura and Politics
As a governor's wife, you've been quite visible in supporting education and the arts. When you become the First Lady of the U.S., what would be your initiatives? Education will definitely be a major initiative. In December of 1998, I announced an Early Childhood Initiative in Texas. We invited state representatives, senators, policy makers, and agency heads to hear several experts on childhood development. There's a lot of new research about how fast the brain develops in infants and very young children and the importance of the first few years of life. We're learning, for instance, how important it is to read to children, and what an advantage it is to read to them before they start school.
There are several parts to our Early Childhood Initiative here in Texas. One of them is Reach Out and Read, a pediatric program where doctors and nurses from around the state actually prescribe that parents read to their children. Another part, the Ready to Read Initiative, provides for training of Head Start and day care workers to add pre-reading skills to their programs. The third part, the Family Literacy Initiative for Texas, gives grants to family literacy projects around the state. Finally, Take Time for Kids is a public awareness campaign designed to give parents information on child health and safety as well as topics like early brain development.
What advice has your mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, given you about being the wife of a politician? Barbara has been terrific as a mother-in-law. She doesn't really give that much advice, I think, because she knows that mothers-in-law need to be careful about giving daughters-in-law advice. But she's been a great role model for me to watch.
Early on, when we first married, George was running for Congress. We were with the Bushes somewhere, and Barbara said, "I just want to tell you something. Don't criticize George's speeches." She said that she had criticized one of her George's speeches, and he had come home weeks later with letters from people saying it was his best speech he'd ever given.
And so I didn't; I was really very careful not to criticize George. I know how I would feel if I were to give a speech and someone were to criticize me; plus I knew there were plenty of other people who would feel free to be critical. But anyway, one night we were driving home from Lubbock, Texas. We were in our driveway when he said, "Tell me the truth: how was my speech?"
And I said, "Well, it wasn't that good." And with that, he drove into the garage wall!
Laura and the Spotlight
Over the years, you seem to have grown much more comfortable in the spotlight. Would you tell a bit about this change that your husband has called "remarkable"? When George and I married, he promised that I would never have to give a speech; that was his prenuptial agreement. Mine was that I would run with him in the mornings, which I never fulfilled either! But no one would have ever guessed that all those years of being a school librarian and reading to children were actually great practice for giving speeches...
I wouldn't say that I was shy-I think reserved and quiet is really what I was. But I've gotten really used to giving speeches and meeting people everywhere, which I've enjoyed. I like people, so that's been fun. And since George has been interested in politics, I've had the opportunity to develop a side of myself that I otherwise wouldn't have.