Becoming a grandparent fulfilled an important goal for Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi’s entry into politics seems preordained. She comes from a family where public service is a tradition and a privileged calling. Her father, Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., served as mayor of Baltimore for 12 years, after representing the city for five terms in Congress. Her brother, Thomas D’Alesandro III, also served as mayor of Baltimore.
Pelosi graduated from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., in 1962, but her entry into politics would not come until after she married San Francisco native Paul Pelosi, relocated there and raised their five children: Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul and Alexandra. Paul and Nancy had those five children in six years.
Pelosi counts herself fortunate that her husband was a true parenting partner who was equally focused on raising their children together. Prior to her election to Congress, Pelosi served in a number of positions, including chair of the California Democratic Party. She has represented California’s Eighth istrict, which includes most of San Francisco, since 1987. On January 4, 2007, Nancy Pelosi made history, breaking the marble ceiling to become the first woman to serve as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
Still, Pelosi once told 60 Minutes, “It’s great. It’s fabulous. It was my goal in life and now I’ve achieved it.” Was she talking about becoming Speaker? No, she was talking about becoming a grandmother. Friends say if you ask her to describe herself, the first thing she’ll say is that she’s the mother of five and grandmother of six.
Being a grandparent is all I hoped it would be. It is great. My husband always says that he’d like to time my speeches to see how long it takes for me to mention my grandchildren. He knows it is going to be there. It is just a question of how soon.
My grandchildren live in Texas, Arizona and New York, which is wonderful for them, but a little far for us. I have six grandchildren: Alexander Prowda, 10, and Madeleine Prowda, 8, who live in Arizona; Liam Kenneally, 9, Sean Kenneally, 7, and Ryan Kenneally, 5, who live in Texas; and Paul Michael Vos, the new baby, 5 months old, who lives in New York. My husband and I prayed for grandchildren; we not only prayed, we begged. But we forgot to pray that they live in California near their “Mimi” and “Pop,” which is what they call us.
Mimi and Pop’s latest grandchild came into this world after the heady victory that catapulted Pelosi into becoming the most powerful grandmother in America. While the world buzzed about Pelosi’s and her party’s ascension in the House of Representatives, Mimi was thinking about the grandchild who was six days overdue.
When the phone rang shortly after the Democrats were swept into power, Pelosi assumed it was from her pregnant daughter, Alexandra. Answering the call, Pelosi asked, “Do we have baby?” The only problem was that the call was from the White House. President Bush was on the line offering his congratulations. Little Paul Michael eventually made his healthy debut, and despite a whirlwind of activities and official duties his grandmother and grandfather can’t pass up any opportunity to be with him.
Little Paul Michael is a delightful baby, and I just recently had the joy of spending Easter with him. I have a different relationship with each of my grandchildren because each one is unique, but I am very close to all of them. They are all active and full of energy, so we enjoy going out. We go to the beach, the Marina Green right along San Francisco Bay, Crissy Field in San Francisco, and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.
Liam is thoughtful and intellectual. He always reads about the countries I have visited and asks me about the people there. Sean has a lot of energy and is quite athletic. He is an aspiring musician whose role model is Bono. Ryan also has a lot of energy, and he likes to keep active. Alexander loves sports and is protective of his sister. He is the proud one. Madeleine is the only girl thus far.”
Grandson Ryan also believes in being bipartisan as well. In 2003, when he was seated next to his grandmother in the House of Representatives, he called out the name Hasert (Dennis, the former Speaker of the House) when a voice vote was called for the next speaker. Hasert was elected Speaker, and Pelosi pointed out to him that her
“grandson gave you a few votes!” Pelosi prides herself on having been on hand for the birth of Ryan and each of her other grandchildren. The miracle of becoming a grandparent is something that never gets old for her.
[The first time,] I was with my daughter Nancy Corinne in Arizona a few days before she had Alexander on what I call “baby watch.” My husband and I were blessed to see him in the hospital 10 seconds after he was born. The only thought that ran through my mind when I first set eyes on him was how happy I was for my daughter. In fact, every time one of my grandchildren was born it was like the first time. I have been there for each one’s birth or within a few hours of it. For me, my family is my top priority.
Pelosi is a hands-on grandmother, a trait she picked up from her own mother. Pelosi says her mother was her role model. Pelosi’s own grandmother, on the other hand, was much different – always dressed impeccably and not inclined to get down on the floor and play with her grandchildren. But Pelosi’s mother had a very close relationship with her grandchildren, treating them as individuals and enjoying a day-to-day special personal relationship with them. And that’s not all Pelosi learned from her mother.
Politics has always been a part of my life. From when I was a young girl until I left home to go to college, my father served in Congress and then as the mayor of Baltimore with my mother at his side. She ran his campaigns
out of our home and kept a close watch on constituent services. I also helped my father serve his constituents from our family living room, from getting a hospital bed to public housing.
As first lady of Baltimore, my mother actively used her platform to improve housing in the city. She showed me what a significant role women could play in politics, as she worked hand in hand with my father to serve the people of Baltimore.
My mother and father were wonderful role models. As deeply devout Catholics and patriotic Italian Americans, they instilled in me the values that guide my public service. My parents taught me that public service is a noble calling, and that I had a responsibility to help those in need.
Not surprisingly, Pelosi feels passionately about the welfare of all of America’s grandchildren, and she is hoping to lead a bipartisan effort to improve their lives.
My dream is that one day soon, all of America’s children will be able to grow and prosper in a strong country and safe environment with healthy bodies and strong minds. That is why we convened a bipartisan National Summit on America’s Children in Washington, to hear from national experts on recent scientific findings and how they relate to early childhood development. This summit requires a commitment to explore new approaches and to examine our government’s existing policies. This summit means a lot to me because today’s families and future generations are counting on us to make this critical commitment.
Another thing her family instilled in her was the value of a good education. While it was not uncommon in many Italian American families 40 or 50 years ago to undervalue the importance of their daughters’ pursuit of higher education, Pelosi’s family encouraged it. Pelosi firmly believes access to a college education is very important for all young people.
A crucial issue for young women, and all young Americans, is higher education. A college education is the best investment our nation’s young people can make in themselves, and the best investment our nation can make in its future. At the beginning of the new Congress, the House passed legislation cutting the interest rate on student loans in half and helping remove some of the barriers to a higher education. Our young people should be driven by their dreams, not weighed down by debt.
Pelosi also likes to encourage women to enter politics, regardless of their political affiliation.
If I have one piece of advice for women who want to get involved and make a difference, it is this: Just run. Run for student government, run for local office, run for higher office. Anything is possible for women in our country. The marble ceiling in Congress has been shattered. Having a woman as Speaker sends a message to young girls and women across the country that anything is possible for them, that women can achieve power, wield power, and breathe the air at that altitude. As the first woman Speaker of the House, I know that I will not be the last.
This Madam Speaker has brought a decidedly maternal attitude to the job. When her daughter Christine was asked how she rules the House, she described her as “motherly.” Pelosi responded, “I guess it depends on your definition of motherly. If motherly means ‘we’ll have order in the house,’ yes.”
I’ve always loved the motto “A Woman’s Place Is in the House and the Senate.” It says a lot about women and power. Women are leaders everywhere you look. From the housewife who raises her children and leads her household, to the CEO who leads a Fortune 500 company.
Still, for Pelosi it always comes back to being a grandmother. She says being with her family is “the first call on my time and what I crave.” And when asked if she could choose someone who she’d want to travel cross-country with, if not her family, Pelosi doesn’t opt for world leaders or politicians and has said without hesitation, “Somebody who wants to hear about my grandchildren the whole way!”
Sidebar: The birth of the sixth grandchild
While Democrats and Republicans were scrambling for votes during the crucial last days before the November 2006 elections, Nancy Pelosi was getting ready for the birth of her sixth grandchild and finding precious hours to help set up a nursery in the two-bedroom apartment of her daughter Alexandra and son-in-law Michiel Vos (a Dutch TV journalist). Much to Alexandra’s surprise, Pelosi even suggested they let the baby have the bigger bedroom, a suggestion that Alexandra vetoed.
The days leading up to little Paul Michael’s birth were as tense for Pelosi as any vote counting she had ever done on the House floor. Alexandra says her mom was calling her night and day for a progress report on any signs of labor. When Paul Michael (named after his father and grandfather) finally was about to be born, more than a week late, Pelosi and her husband, Paul, paced the halls of the hospital waiting for word. Alexandra says her mom was on pins and needles, “peeking around the corner” hoping to hear or see the baby. Here was the most powerful woman in American politics and all she could do was wait and pray everything would be okay.
It was okay. Little Paul Michael was delivered by natural childbirth and weighed in at 8 pounds 10 ounces. It was Alexandra and Michiel’s first baby. It wasn’t long before Pelosi was busy buying gifts for her newest grandchild. One of her favorites was a mobile for the baby’s crib that plays classical music.
Alexandra is a celebrated documentary maker who followed the campaign of George Bush in the documentary
Travels with George. So, while Pelosi was cuddling and cooing with little Paul Michael, another VIP call was put through to the nursery after the baby was born. President Bush offered his congratulations and, after hearing what the baby was named, joked, “I gather my efforts to call him Georgie have failed.” They had.
Sidebar: Powerful GOP grandmothers
Nancy Pelosi isn’t the only powerful grandmother wielding power in Washington. On the other side of the political aisle, these two grandmothers are setting national policy and making waves.
Linda Chavez, chairperson of the Center for Equal Opportunity
A grandmother of eight, Chavez chairs the PAC Latino Alliance
Republican and political activist Linda Chavez was born in Albuquerque, N.M., on June 17, 1947. She received a
Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Colorado in 1970. She is married and is the mother of three grown sons, David, Pablo and Rudy, and grandmother of eight.
Chavez authored Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation (Basic Books, 1991). National Review described Chavez’s memoir, An Unlikely conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal (Basic Books,2002), as a “brilliant, provocative, and moving book.” In 2000 Chavez was honored by the Library of Congress as a “Living Legend” for her contributions to America’s cultural and historical legacy.
Currently Chavez is chairperson of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a non-profit public policy research organization in Sterling, Va. She also writes a weekly syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country and is a political analyst for FOX News Channel.
Chavez has held a number of appointed positions, among them chairman, National Commission on Migrant Education (1988-1992); White House Director of Public Liaison (1985); and Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1983-1985); and she was a member of the Administrative Conference of the United States (1984-1986). Chavez was the Republican nominee for U.S. senator from Maryland in 1986. In 1992, she was elected by the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission to serve a four-year term as U.S. Expert to the U.N. Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
Chavez was also editor of the prize-winning quarterly journal American Educator(1977-1983), published by the American Federation of Teachers, where she also served as assistant to AFT president Al Shanker (1982-1983) and as assistant director of legislation (1975-1977).
Chavez serves on the board of directors of ABM Industries, Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride, and IDT Capital, a subsidiary of IDT Corporation, as well as on the boards of several non-profit organizations. Chavez is also active in the Republican Party and chairs the Latino Alliance, a federally registered political action committee.
Congresswoman Kay Granger, 12th District of Texas
A grandmother of two, Granger is the GOP’s deputy whip in Congress
Kay Granger is the congresswoman for the 12th District of Texas and is the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives. She has three grown children and two grandsons.
Before coming to Congress, Granger served as mayor of Fort Worth for five years and as a member of the city council for two years. Granger owned and operated a successful insurance agency formore than 20 years and is also a former teacher.
Congresswoman Granger is the only Republican woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. Long active in local, state and national government as well as civic affairs, Congresswoman Granger is widely recognized for her energetic and sensible leadership.
In November 2006 she was elected to the Republican House leadership for the 110th Congress, serving as vice chair of the Republican Conference. In that role, she acts as a spokesperson for the party.
Congresswoman Granger is a published author. Her book, What’s Right About America, praises American values and how we live out those values.
Congresswoman Granger stepped into a national leadership role in the War on Terrorism based on her work with Iraqi women. She is co-chair of the Iraqi Women’s Caucus. In the course of three congressional delegation visits over two years to the Middle East, she worked with and mentored Iraqi women who now either hold elected positions or are leaders in their communities.
Granger sits on the Appropriations Committee and serves on the Energy and Water Development, Homeland Security and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittees. Granger co-chairs the Anti-Terrorism Caucus and serves as a deputy whip. She serves on the boards of Southwestern University and the U.S. Air Force Academy Board of Visitors. Today, she is considered one of the House of Representatives’ leading defense experts.
Congresswoman Granger has been inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.
Originally published in GRAND Magazine Issue 1
MARY ANN COOPER