I have six things in common with Hillary. Both our husbands studied at Oxford where each lived at 46 Leckford Road, a house mine originally rented (and moved out of when hers moved in). We’re both 69 (I’m a few months older). We both loved the teen idol Fabian (I met him in person and he kissed me on the cheek). We both spoke at our college graduations (she was filmed; there’s merely a still photo of me). We both have worked all our adult lives. And we both are grandmothers.
When she was still thinking about running (or at least that was the public position), her first grandchild, Charlotte, was born. I felt impelled to give advice about her impending political decision, which in a moment for me of “the world [being] too much with us,” was simply this: Don’t. My argument against her running for president was based on my (and many others’) opinion and experience as to where the deepest satisfactions in life originate—in accomplishments or in love. They shouldn’t be such binary choices but for women they are.
I never sent the advice or published the piece; she ran; and now we’re in the range of double-digit hours until we know whether indeed she will be the next/first-woman/first-former-First-Lady President of this continuous experiment in democracy called the United States of America.
For her sake, I wish she hadn’t run. Far and away the most abusive campaign in our history; far and away the most shocking, so appalling in its turns that we writers find ourselves saying that a novel following the plot of this election would never find a publisher due to its unbelievability; and far and away the most dangerous for what it could mean if she does not win (not to mention mounting fears if she does, c.f., the threats of armed insurrection).
For her sake, I wish I’d sent this advice and that she’d followed it, which my fourth-generation feminist daughters were shocked to see coming from this granddaughter of a suffragist (she marched until 1920), born to a feminist mother (who didn't change her name when first married and always worked outside the home), I, who was lucky enough to turn 21 in 1968 at the height of the second-wave of feminism, which I embraced.
But for our sake, I’m very glad she ran. Her example is straightening the spines of little girls, young women, and even women my age; her grit is as incomparable as any of our peers, male or female; her ability to think of her feet is as good as anyone’s; and her skill at throwing off the insults, dismissals, and now the very threats to her life is, how do I say this, incredible.
Having followed her more closely these past two years, I’m betting that she’s found a way to take those calls from Chelsea anyway (see below).
And I’m sure she’s going to win.
Here’s what I wrote--but never sent--on September 24, 2014:
Rock, Grandma, Don’t Run
In the constellation of unwelcome advice, none is less desirable than re: family. Young mothers are the unwitting recipients of bounteous bromides as per the passerby, who, touching your baby, which, first of all, why are you touching my baby, catalogues a registry of rebukes:
- Don’t you think you should have a hat on her?
- Why are you feeding him avocado?
- Shouldn’t she be in bed by now?
- What? She’s in your bed?
- You changed him where? On the hood of your car?
- Your three-year-old still has a bottle?
- Your four-year-old boy wears pink?
- Your five-year-old girl refuses to wear pink?
It’s endless and annoying and so, with this in mind, I offer the following unsolicited advice to a friend of a friend, a woman I have never met, one so famous that she’s in the single-name league of Madonna and Beyoncé, the rock star of politics and world’s most famous new grandmother, Hillary.
“I’m baaaack,” you sang to the steak-fry crowd in Iowa. ReadyforHillary—not to mention 656 pages of Hard Choices—seems to answer the question of whether you’re running. But all of that was pre-Charlotte.
Today you are now like me (sorta kinda: mine had preemie twins; no one can spell my last name while yours is all but a verb), Hillary, grandmother to the child of your daughter, who is setting off into the rainforest of parenting—unexpected showers, strange storms of illness, odd creatures (which is how first-time parents often feel about their quirky newborns)—with abundant resources but no experience, because you are not a mom or dad until you really are one.
Until you’ve done it a hundred times, you don’t really know how to change a diaper without really waking up, or how to swaddle a baby, or whether to call the doctor for the millionth time because this one might really be the really real thing and what if you don’t, who knows, your baby might be really dead before they call back?
Your daughter will be a natural, of course, because that’s what we all say—and feel— about our daughters because in the end it is a very natural human thing to give birth—i.e. how could 100 billion have made it out of the womb in the past 50,000 years unless it were relatively ordinary? But the data is incontrovertible: until you’ve done it, you don’t know jack—or Charlotte.
Which is why your daughter will be calling you every twenty minutes or so for the next several years, asking you questions that begin, “Did I…” at which point you will spiral down into The Abyss of Guilt Just Over the Cliff of Forgotten Memories. I’m sure you, unlike me, kept a daily baby book recording every one of your daughter’s projectile vomits and major accomplishments: first time sleeping more than two consecutive hours, first time unclenching her fists, first time rolling over. And you, being a strong global figure and role model extraordinaire, won’t be hurt when she yells at you for not remembering.
Even with a staff to help her because what new mother doesn’t need an overnight baby nurse, a daytime nanny, a cook, a housekeeper, and a personal secretary (if only! if only!), she will still need one particular person who can’t be hired: you.
Which brings me to the point of this unsolicited advice: You need not to miss this. You need not to miss the tiny advances, the first time Baby Charlotte does this, that, and the other thing, the first time your back aches from holding her because nothing hurts so good.
Yes, you can be president of the most powerful country the world has ever known. Yes, you can sit at the big desk and put Putin in his place. Yes, you can out-Kissinger Kissinger but you won’t be there for those first kisses. Might it be a tad awkward as president to take Baby Charlotte’s first phone call, which is not that long from now because just as you can’t comprehend that your baby has just had a baby, you will not believe how quickly the little twitchling goes from blob to blogger, if you’re in the Situation Room watching ISIS cowards being taken out?
Trust me: I want a woman in The White House. And I want you to have the same freedom to make the choice to run that your husband had. You do. And if that’s what you choose, you’ll probably win but what you’ll lose may well be far more profound.
Rock that baby, Hillary. Don’t run. It will make you all much happier.