“We have really cornered the sister market,” Jenna Bush Hager announced with a smile on Monday night as she and Barbara Pierce Bush surveyed the audience in attendance for the launch of their new children’s book, Love Comes First.
As part of Vanity Fair and Creative Artists Agency’s “Conversations at PAC NYC” series, the twins took the stage with author and Instagram executive Eva Chen for a conversation at the Perelman Performing Arts Center, where Hager and Bush traded stories about their upbringing as the daughters (and granddaughters) of two former presidents. It was just a couple of weeks shy of their 42nd birthday, and the mood was decidedly sentimental as the twins reflected on the lessons they wanted to carry into parenthood themselves.
A glimpse of twins sitting in the front row already had Bush, who’s now a board member and cofounder of Global Health Corps and the vice president of social impact for the NBA, teary-eyed. “Our previous books that we wrote together were always about sisterhood because that’s how we saw the world,” she told Chen. “We don’t know the world without each other in it.” Bush explained how The idea for Love Comes First, the fourth book the sisters have coauthored, came amid their last book tour: “We noticed that we would meet people in line when we were doing signings, and often they would say, ‘I don’t have a sister, but my cousin is like my sister.’ Or ‘I brought my best friend, and he’s like my brother.’ So we wanted to write a book that was about love in all the ways love can show up.”
“I do feel like you can earn sisters throughout your life,” Chen added.
As mothers themselves now, Bush and Hager reflected on their own favorite childhood memories, both of the quotidian type (even the Bush sisters were not spared from early-age bowl cuts or middle school squabbles where a chunky Steve Madden heel may or may not have gotten thrown) and the ones of, say, trick-or-treating on Air Force One.
“We feel really lucky because we grew up in a time before cell phones, and so even though the people in our families had big jobs, they weren’t coming home from work tweeting,” Hager, who currently hosts NBC’s TODAY with Hoda & Jenna and is founder of the Read with Jenna book club, said. “That is something that is really important to us, is to try to show up for our kids in being present. Not always looking down, but into their eyes.” From the sisters’ perspective, unconditional love not only requires that level of presence, but also the ability to let kids fail. “It’s such an important message to impart to kids—allow kids to make mistakes.”
Hager then brought up the example of the twins’ infamous margarita incident—back in 2001, when their dad, President George H.W. Bush, was still fairly newly installed in the White House, Bush and Hager had gotten in trouble for drinking underage at a bar in Austin. “It was stupid, we were total idiots,” Hager explained. She and Bush debated whether they’d been 19 or 20, before Hager joked, “I mean we can Google it.”
Chen wanted to know if it was a spicy margarita.
“It was before spicy margaritas existed! Way before skinny margaritas existed!” Hager explained. “It was like, a thousand-calorie margarita in Texas, which we were going to enjoy quite deliciously, but we were illegally drinking.” The tabloids, naturally, had a field day, and Hager recalls how their photo wound up on the cover of People magazine. “That felt shameful,” Hager added. “But we had parents who were like, ‘No, no, no, it’s okay. You’re allowed to fail.’ And thank goodness, because how could we be normal, well-adjusted adults without being able to make mistakes?”
“It’ll be a learning lesson one day when you’re talking to your 20-year-old daughter,” Chen said. “You can slide that vintage copy of People magazine, like ‘Mommy has a story to tell you.’”
“I won’t show her the picture of when I had to go to court, and I wore a toe ring,” Hager said with a deadpan tone. “Nobody told me that toe rings didn’t look fancy! I thought it was an extra jewel!”
Chen then asked Bush and Hager for advice they’d give to each life stage they’ve lived through. For teens, Hager’s message was directed to the parents: “Allow your teens to be curious and independent and think for themselves,” she said. “That’s what our parents did for us, which surprises people, because I guess they would think they would just want us to fall in line. But our parents did not do that to us.” As for teens themselves, “try not to be so mean to your mom,” Hager advised. (“I’m giving that advice because I’m hoping my kids will listen!”)
For those in their twenties, Bush brought up the pressure to establish a career immediately. “I feel like in your twenties, you should be training to gain as much exposure as possible, and take the pressure off of yourself,” she said. “That one thing is going to be right for you forever, it won’t be right.”
For those in their thirties, Hager also had career advice. “I love who I work with, but it’s also because we make an effort to be close—I mean, Hoda and I go in and spend our mornings chatting. We’re like, commercial break isn’t long enough! I think cultivating strong relationships at work is really important because it makes your life so much more dynamic.”
As for being in your forties, Chen offered her own advice to the twins. “What I find that’s really important to do, in this decade, is to maintain friendships,” Chen said. “It could just be a text to a friend, it could be I’m just thinking of you, that’s all you need to do.”
As all three women looked ahead to the holiday season, Chen asked the sisters about their favorite traditions.
“Well, our main holiday tradition is that we eat Mexican food for Christmas, because why would you eat a turkey when you can eat a taco?” Hager replied. Still, the extended Bush family does do traditional holiday desserts, apparently: “I make the pumpkin pie straight off the back of the Libby can,” Hager said. “One year, we did a competition where it was a blind taste test of Libby’s pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin from Martha Stewart. Do not tell Martha who won, but it was the Libby one.”
The sisters’ other holiday hack: cinnamon whipped cream. “I actually made it last night,” Bush added. (“Barbara, don’t show off,” Hager said.)
Per Bush: “All you do is pour heavy whipping cream in a bowl, and then you get the…”
For a millisecond, all three power women were at a loss for naming the kitchen appliance in question.
“The blender?” Chen tried.
“The beater?” Hager asked.
“The whipper!” Bush insisted.
At last, the answer came, yelled out from the audience.
“A mixer!” both sisters agreed.