Barbara and Jenna Bush on What It Was Like Growing Up in the White House

Barbara and Jenna Bush on What It Was Like Growing Up in the White House
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Thursday at the Women in the World Summit in New York City, former First Lady Laura Bush was joined on stage by daughters Barbara (middle) and Jenna Bush Hager (left), both 34, to talk about something you don’t often hear about: what the Bush women are up to these days.

True to form, Laura was a pillar of grace talking about her new book, We Are Afghan Women ($21; amazon.com), in support of her Afghan Women’s Project, while Barbara (CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps.) and Jenna (mother of two and Today show correspondent) radiated a relationship that would make any two sisters smile, nod, and cry in agreement. As it turns out, the Bush sisters are criers, something that became clearly evident when moderator Savannah Guthrie asked what it was like growing up in the White House. Here, the intimate details of what Barbara (known as “Turquoise” to Secret Service) and Jenna (code name “Twinkle”) shared:

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On mom Laura:
“It's not like my parents sat us down and said ‘this is the map to be the type of person we want you to be,’” Jenna said. "It was more like they showed us, and I always think about this now that I’m a mom—OK now I’m going to cry. Barbara and I do this! [Laughs.] My mom has this gift about her where she doesn’t force. She’s gentle and leading, which is really good as a mother because anybody who was ever a teenage girl—and maybe teenager girls like us, if you know what I mean, the kind that made a mistake or two—she just showed [us what to do].”

On what it's like having your dad run for president:
“When our dad [George W. Bush] was running we were seniors in high school, which is a particularly selfish time because you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life,” said Jenna. “We said, 'we don’t want to campaign,' we also said, ‘you’re not going to win,’ and stuff like that, and so we didn’t really do much during the [first] campaign. But then [with his second run for office], I had accepted a job in Harlem to teach and Barbara was moving to Africa, but we postponed all that because four years later—which shows you how much you grow up between 18 and 22, although I still stuck my tongue out and I don’t regret it one bit—we realized that our dad had given us everything. He made us feel like we could do whatever we wanted, so how could we not help the man who had given us that gift, and so we campaigned, and those are some of our fondest memories as a family.”

For Barbara’s part, she said, “For us, it never felt overwhelming that my dad was running for president because we had someone going through the exact same thing."

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On grandma and grandpa (former President George H.W. and First Lady Barbara Bush):
“When we were little and my grandfather was president, I thought everyone’s grandfather was president,” Barbara said.

“That speaks to how normal our grandparents were,” said Jenna. “They babysat us the night before one of his huge debates when he was vice president, and Barbara lost her stuffed animal—which she still has at 34—and my grandpa, instead of prepping for the debate, went on a search with flashlights because she wouldn’t fall asleep. Of course Barbara thought everybody’s grandfather was president—he is a normal, wonderful man.”

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