Listening to Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush tell goofy stories of their childhood and life in the public eye, you’d think they were sitting comfortably in their own living room.
The twins, now 35 years old and promoting their new book, “Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life,” came to the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas recently to share stories and get candid about the lessons they’ve learned from having two presidents in the family.
But that night wasn’t a normal stop on their national tour for their New York Times best-seller. As the sisters giggled, joked and occasionally choked up while reliving some of their fondest memories, their parents, who were celebrating their 40th anniversary, and even some childhood friends joined them, adding to the intimacy of the event.
The sisters, who were 18 when their father, George W. Bush, entered the White House, sat side by side in front of a sold-out audience as they talked about their special bond while periodically cringing at the awkward family photos that appeared on the screen behind them.
Here are some highlights from their talk.
▪ On one another:
Jenna: One of the things that people think about Barbara is that she’s quiet, which is not true. I mean any of her friends that are here would say she’s hilarious. She’s an incredible public speaker. She’s given a TED Talk, which is complicated, and she did it so beautifully. She has an incredible heart.
Barbara: I think no one will be surprised by this, but Jenna is the most fun human I know. She has made my life so fun, you’ll read about it. She’s always been an entertainer, so even though we were all surprised she joined NBC, I wasn’t actually surprised because she loves entertaining people and she really loves telling stories. She’s loved it all of her life … What she really wanted as a child was to be a Broadway star. She wanted to be a performer. Particularly, she wanted to be in ‘Les Miserables.’
Jenna: I never had a chance. I looked like a well-fed blonde Texan, tanned, and nothing about that screamed “French Revolution.”
▪ On their first memories of the White House and presidential life:
Barbara: I actually believed that everybody’s grandfather was president. I didn’t know that it was our grandfather that was president. I thought that you became president when you were a grandfather.
Jenna: We weren’t allowed to order food there. Our grandmother caught us going into the bowling alley (at the White House) and ordering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We were waiting for them to come and all of the sudden it was not the sandwiches, but our grandmother burst in and said, “Under no circumstance do you order anything. This is not a hotel, this is a temporary home!” And we were like, “Yes, ma’am!”
▪ When their parents told them their father was running for president:
Barbara: We cried. We said you were going to lose.
Jenna: We told him he was going to lose twice. First to Ann Richards; we said he was going to lose because we heard she was popular. We were like, “People at school are telling us that she is very well liked and you’ll probably lose.” So when he said he was going to run for president, it was kind of a shock. We cried. We told him he was going to ruin our lives. But then I think we really quickly realized the privilege of living history, and we apologize. We’re very sorry for saying you were going to lose.
▪ On their college experiences:
Jenna: We were not prepared at all. We thought of ourselves as so normal … When I got in trouble, I called my dad the first time and was like, “Dad, I’m so sorry … ” And he was like, “No, I’m sorry. I promised you normalcy and this isn’t going to be normal … ” I do really thank my parents for allowing us to make mistakes because I think it’s really important for people to make mistakes so they can learn and grow. And I don’t know how I could be a parent myself if I was raised with some expectation of perfection.
▪ On home:
Barbara: Texas is home. And I haven’t lived in Texas for 18 years.
▪ On their parents:
Jenna: Our parents definitely wanted us to be individuals, and maybe, I don’t know, I don’t think it was a conscious decision. They weren’t like discussing it, or I don’t think they even read any books where they were like, “How do we raise our children to have their own opinions?” But I know it was something that they did and they wanted us to think for ourselves and be curious and independent and use our voices in ways that we thought were going to help people and make a difference. I think it’s a really brave way to parent because it’s so much easier to just have kids that believe the exact same thing as you.
▪ Laura Bush on her daughters:
Laura: For their entire lives, Jenna and Barbara have had each other. They’ve been playmates, confidants, cheerleaders, sounding boards and dreamers. They’ve been partners in persuasion, right down to their relentless lobbying to get their ears pierced, though only Jenna lobbied me to get a perm.