First Lady

At the beginning of this election season, several of my readers urged me not to join the editorial cacophony and express an opinion. They reasoned that my column’s mission has always been to support and encourage parents in their vocations and there was no sense in dividing my readership.

This morning, I read a quote that was such an insult to all women that I’m entering the fray. According to the Washington Times, Mrs. Kerry — the wife of Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry — was asked whether she would be a different type of first lady than Mrs. Bush.

“'I don’t know that she’s ever had a real job,” Mrs. Kerry said of Mrs. Bush. 'My experience is a little bit bigger because I’m older.'

“She added: 'It’s not a criticism of her. It’s just, you know, what life is about.'”

Laura Bush was a public school teacher in Texas, working full-time in the classroom, while pursuing and earning a master’s degree in library science. During her tenure as first lady, she has been an outspoken advocate for literacy. She is still a teacher. Perhaps Mrs. Kerry doesn’t consider teaching a real job. I was a public school teacher many years ago. Believe me, it was certainly a real job.

After her marriage, Laura Bush was a full-time wife who had a career. Then, she gave birth to twin daughters. She was and is their full-time mother. Mrs. Kerry’s comment also overlooks the fact that Laura Bush has served as first lady for nearly four years and first lady of Texas before that (sound like real jobs to me).

Once her gaffe was pointed out to her, Mrs. Kerry tried to issue an apology. She said she had forgotten that “Mrs. Bush had worked as a schoolteacher and librarian, and there couldn’t be a more important job than teaching our children.” She said, “As someone who has been both a full-time mom and full-time in the workforce, I know we all have valuable experiences that shape who we are.” Even more disturbing, absolutely no value was attributed to the important work that she has done every day since her daughters were born. No time or attention was given to the real and valuable and sacred work of motherhood. With this exchange, Mrs. Kerry has managed to offend teachers and librarians of both genders, former first ladies and all mothers.

After teaching for a year, I had a baby and then went back to my classroom. I was a full-time teacher and I was a full-time mother. Mrs. Kerry, with her audacious comments, propagates the myth that there are full-time mothers and there are mothers with professional careers. What she misses is that mothers with professional careers are full-time mothers.

No mother is ever a part-time mother. From the moment a woman conceives a child, she is that child’s mother — all the time. It is her calling and her duty to protect and nurture that child all the time. There is only one kind of mother — and that’s a full-time mother.

After I left my teaching job, I embraced other employment. I have been a magazine editor, an author, a columnist, a speaker, a tutor — all interesting and challenging jobs. All jobs which have shaped, in part, who I am. But never once did I stop being a mother, even for a minute. Without a doubt, none of all the “jobs” I have had have shaped my character and my vision of the future the way motherhood has.

Mrs. Kerry, for all her age and experience, apparently does not understand at all what life is about. Life is about a baby in the womb of his mother. Life is about a child who needs the care and attention of the person to whom God entrusted him. The future of this country is in the bellies of pregnant women, at the breasts of nursing mothers, in the classrooms and the libraries. Laura Bush knows that. She has dedicated her life to that vision of what life is about.

So, how does that affect the election? We aren’t voting for first lady. We are voting for president. We are educated by our intimacies. The people closest to us are those who will influence and shape our policy, whether we are presidents or parents. No one is a more intimate companion than a spouse. John Kerry has chosen as a helpmeet an imprudent woman who seems to lack an understanding of the most basic of feminine vocations. This is the woman who wants to talk with the president late at night when he considers, before going to sleep, the safety of our children, the schooling of our teenagers, the sanctity of life. This is the person who, at the end of the day, would represent all women to the president.

No ma’am. Teresa Heinz Kerry falls so far short of my vision of what God intends for women that I shudder at the thought of having to call her first lady.

Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at

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