What fun, this speculation on whether Hillary Clinton’s new status as grandmother is going to suck the spunk right out of her.
Consider this description from Peter Beinart for the Atlantic, illustrated with a picture of Clinton shading an infant’s face from the sun: “In the popular imagination, grandmothers are both caring and conservative. They dote on their grandchildren while also tut-tutting about a culture gone awry.”
As soon as this liberal grandma in Ohio stops laughing, I’m sure I’m going to have a thought or two about that lurking conservatism waiting to abduct my soul.
While the grandfather status of male candidates garners no comment from pundits, the fact that Clinton’s offspring has reproduced is considered a game-changer. Apparently, we older women are endlessly fascinating, which is jarring news to those of us who were on the verge of using our sudden invisibility in public places to launch new careers as shoplifters.
I’m a three-time grandmother, and I’m here to tell you: I’m not the least bit nicer. If anything, I’m me times three, which is the current number of my grandchildren. Everything matters more.
When my son handed me his newborn boy, my first grandchild, my heart grew two sizes that day — as did my impatience for every legislator who opposes parental leave for all families. And don’t get me started on how many nursing mothers are pumping their breast milk in office bathrooms.
This is how it goes. You look into the eyes of your new grandchild, and you finally understand what your body has been trying to tell you since the first time you rolled out of bed and landed facedown on the floor. Time is running out for your knees and for your ability to make a difference. If there’s anybody who can give you a swift bootie to the bottom, it’s a grandchild.
Like most grandmothers I know, I still get worked up about the same issues I’ve always cared about, from abortion rights to same-sex marriage. And now I don’t care what I look like when I do.
That’s the thing about seeing your children get on with their lives and have babies. It’s liberating, as if you’ve just been given permission to hone your focus with pinprick precision. Gone are the days when your kids were little and life was a messy mix of dueling priorities: school schedules, careers, family dinners and wriggling out of Spanx at stoplights. Life was stressful, and so full of distractions.
Hillary Clinton can relate to this, I’m sure. The hours she spent as first lady sorting out the media-contrived controversies over headbands and baking cookies had to be exhausting. In this campaign, we’re still going to talk about her hair because that’s what we do to women, but this time she gets to talk about income inequality, too.
My fellow grandmothers, we did it all, juggling life’s daily demands. And now we have all this energy left over because we didn’t spend our 40s trying to prove we could still play sports like the teenage jocks we never were. You want a tough and tireless commander-in-chief? Hire a grandma.
Not so fast, warns New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who has had it up to here already with the grandmother shtick.
“Hillary has zagged too far in the opposite direction, presenting herself as a sweet, docile granny,” Dowd wrote. “A clip posted on her campaign Facebook page showed her sharing the story of the day her granddaughter was born…basking in estrogen as she emoted about the need for longer paid leave for new mothers….”
Every post-menopausal woman knows the one thing we’re not basking in is estrogen.
Sure, we may post pictures of our grandchildren on Facebook. On my page, the grandkid pictures are usually wedged between threads about wage disparities and the pattern and practice of police brutality, but that’s just me, up here in Cleveland.
What we aren’t doing is pin-curling our hair at night and wobbling in rhythm with the sway of our ski-slope bosoms. Somewhere in between those stereotypes is where you’ll find us — often in heels.
Back to Hillary, who has months of sensible shoes in her near future. Andrew Zurcher wrote for the BBC that becoming a grandmother is a “humanising theme” for the presidential candidate. In the same story, Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women and Politics Institute, offered this observation: “I think it’s a way to soften her image and make her seem very relatable.”
I certainly hope that softening image means everyone now sees me through the glow of the fuzzy lens and lighting of that melodrama of my generation, “Thirtysomething.” Man, they were gorgeous on that show. Even Elliot.
The presidential race has barely begun, so this is not the last you’ll be hearing about us grandmothers. This is bound to make conservative columnist Bill Kristol want to gag.
“Am I the only one who finds Hillary’s #GrandmothersKnowBest hashtag not just cloying but creepy?” he recently tweeted. “Welcome to the nanny-state.”
Oh, I get it. This is code. “Grandmother” means “devious old lady who is not a devious old man,” and “nanny-state” is a warning that Clinton wants to wield her granny gumption to rule the land.
Works for me.
Correction: This article originally misspelled the name of Peter Beinart.