Linda and Hillary.
On November 8, I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton. And it’s going to break my heart.
No, I’m not in the “Bernie or Bust” camp. And it’s not because of any specific issues with Hillary herself. It’s because deep down, I know my mom would be crushed.
A few people know that my mom went to high school with Hillary Clinton (well, technically Hillary Rodham). In the fall of 1961, they both started at Maine East Township High School in Park Ridge, Ill., Hillary’s hometown. My mom was from its less glamorous next-door neighbor, Niles–the Pawnee to Park Ridge’s Eagleton.
When this fact became known to our family during the 1992 campaign, my brother and I asked my mom if she had been friends with Hillary. “Are you kidding?” she said. “While she was at student council meetings, I was having a smoke at Bob’s Big Boy.”
My mom, a lifelong Republican, was not inclined to like Hillary on party affiliation alone. But as the campaign went on, and Hillary started gaining praise from prominent feminists, my mom’s opinions became more personal. They came to a head when Hillary made her infamous comment about being a working mom and how she “could have stayed home and baked cookies” instead of having a career.
My mom did stay at home and baked cookies. She was the traditional, nuclear-family mom feminism had fought so hard to liberate. But, my mom asked, if feminism is about letting women make choices, why not celebrate her choice to stay home as much as Hillary’s choice to have a career? Why look down on the women who made motherhood their full-time job?
From then on, my mom saw herself and Hillary on two paths diverging from the same starting point. I could sense the resentment she felt not just for Hillary, but for her own parents and their lack of encouragement. Looking back on her years working as a registered nurse, my mom once told me, “It never occurred to me that I could have been a doctor.” Nobody had presented her with the possibility–any possibility–of reaching for more.
After the Clintons were in the White House, Bill appeared on the “Today” show in 1994, taking questions from the plaza crowd via satellite. One woman nervously approached the microphone.
“Mr. President,” she said. “I went to high school with Hillary. Our 30th reunion is coming up next year, and we’d just love to have it at the White House.” Bill gave a twinkling chuckle and replied, “I think she’d like that!”
Lo and behold, a few months later my mom gets a packet in the mail. THEY’RE DOING IT. July 1995. Washington, DC. Class of ‘65 Reunion. Now, before Hillary’s senior year, she and several other classmates transferred to a new school, Maine South. But the two schools, East and South, had always had combined reunions, and this one would be no different. Mom was having her class reunion with the President!
We went as a family trip. The reunion itself, held at the Department of the Interior, was only for alumni and spouses. Hillary addressed her classmates from the stage. “I had terrible vision in high school and I hated wearing my glasses,” she told them. “So if I passed you in the hall and didn’t say hi, it’s only because I couldn’t see you.” (Mom: “Yeah, right.”)
Afterward, Bill and Hillary made their way down a receiving line. Everyone had giant name badges with pictures of themselves (or their respective spouses) from their high school days. Bill walked through the crowd with Hillary’s black-and-white yearbook photo around his neck. When he got to my mom, she turned into a giggling schoolgirl. “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President.” He smiled back at her. “Thank you, Linda.”
“He said my name!” she would later gush to us. She said regardless of your politics, the President is the President. And that President Clinton looked like he had a spotlight on him. Unfortunately, Mom didn’t get a picture with Bill or Hillary; her best friend, Teri, did.
The next day, all of the families got a tour of the White House before assembling on the front lawn. There, Hillary gave a few more remarks before turning with Bill and climbing onto Marine One to head to Camp David. As the helicopter took off, Hillary waved through the window to all of her classmates staring up from below.
My mom turned to us. “Well, I guess she wins.”
Since my mom died, I’ve often wondered if she lived the life she wanted to live. And I think she did. One of her friends shared with me that my mom made frequent mention that the years when my brother and I were little were the happiest time of her life.
She loved being a mother, and now as I raise Archie, I appreciate even more that my mom absolutely had a full-time career. She implemented strategies and tactics to keep our household running at optimum efficiency. She anticipated the needs of stakeholders and took proactive action. Holiday dinners and celebrations were her annual performance reviews, her time to demonstrate the indispensable value she brought to the company throughout the year.
As excited I am about the history Hillary is making, I can’t help but channel the anger my mom would feel at the personal unfairness of it all. Here’s Hillary, poised to be the first female President, and where is my mom? Gone, vanished, buried under the sod on a hill in Illinois. My mom, who spent her whole life dedicated to her family, didn’t even get to meet her grandson. Hillary gets to be both a celebrated leader AND a grandmother. Of TWO.
My mom would wonder what she did to deserve this. And of course, she didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, her last few days were a reflection of everything she did right, as longtime friends and family exchanged stories of her thoughtfulness, generosity and humor. Someday, when it’s Hillary’s time, my guess is her family won’t read off a list of her accomplishments, and that like us, they’ll be focused solely on love.
Watching Hillary take the stage to accept her historic nomination, my mom likely would have once again felt a sting of jealousy toward her former classmate. But for me, my envy will be with Chelsea, who, after the party is over, simply gets to go home and hug her mother.