Presidential In-Laws

Posted in History on January 20th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In-laws have a bad stigma in our country, to say the least.  From sayings like, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives” or “When you marry your spouse, you’re marrying her whole family” to classic TV shows which depict the dreaded mother-in-law as a horrible threat or consequence for a character’s bad behavior (The Honeymooner’s, Bewitched, The Flintstones, to name just a few), in-laws definitely have a bad rap.  Scenes from these shows flooded my brain recently when I read the following article on cnn.com – seems even the leaders of the free world have had problematic situations with their mothers-in-law.  The reason the article was published is because apparently Barrack Obama’s mother-in-law, wife Michelle’s mother Marian Robinson, might move with the new first family to Washington.  So will Mr. Obama’s situation be comparative to poor Harry Truman, whose mother-in-law refused to call him anything but Mr. Truman?  Or will it be more like Dwight Eisenhower, who got along famously with his mother-in law – in a good way?  In recognition of Inauguration Day, read the following article for some interesting historical lessons about the complex familial relationships formed as a result of the union of two people:

From cnn.com, by David Holzel
(Mental Floss) — President-Elect Obama’s mother-in-law will be moving to Washington with the first family, at least temporarily, his transition team has confirmed. Marian Robinson will be the latest in a line of presidential in-laws who, for good or ill, lived under the same roof as the president.
President Dwight Eisenhower and his mother-in-law, Elivera Doud, pose for pictures with some of the grandchildren.

President Dwight Eisenhower and his mother-in-law, Elivera Doud, pose for pictures with some of the grandchildren.

Here are four stories that confirm the old truism: While America can choose its president, the president can’t choose his in-laws.

1. Ulysses S. Grant and ‘The Colonel’

You would think that the Civil War was settled at Appomattox, and no question of its outcome would have been raised in the White House of Ulysses S. Grant, who, after all, was the general who won the war.

But you would be wrong, because living with Ulysses and Julia Grant was the president’s father-in-law. Colonel Frederick Dent (his rank seems to have been self-selected) was an unreconstructed Confederate, a St. Louis businessman and slaveholder who, when his daughter Julia went to the Executive Mansion early in 1869, decided to relocate there as well.

The Colonel didn’t hesitate to make himself at home. When his daughter received guests, he sat in a chair just behind her, offering anyone within earshot unsolicited advice. Political and business figures alike got a dose of the Colonel’s mind as they waited to meet with President Grant.

When the president’s father, Jesse Grant, came from Kentucky on one of his regular visits to Washington, the White House turned into a Civil War reenactment. According to “First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives”, by Bonnie Angelo, Jesse Grant preferred to stay in a hotel rather than sleep under the same roof as the Colonel.

And when the two old partisans found themselves unavoidably sitting around the same table in the White House, they avoided direct negotiations by using Julia and her young son, named for the president’s father, as intermediaries, Betty Boyd Caroli writes in “First Ladies”: “In the presence of the elder Grant, Frederick Dent would instruct Julia to ‘take better care of that old gentleman [Jesse Grant]. He is feeble and deaf as a post and yet you permit him to wander all over Washington alone.’ And Grant replied [to his grandson and namesake], ‘Did you hear him? I hope I shall not live to become as old and infirm as your Grandfather Dent.'”

The Colonel remained in the White House — irascible and unrepentant — until his death, at age 88, in 1873.

2. Harry S Truman and the Mother-in-Law from Heck

Harry Truman and Bess Wallace met as children. He was a farm boy; she was the well-heeled granddaughter of Independence, Missouri’s Flour King. When they married in 1919, Truman was a struggling haberdasher, and Bess’s mother, Madge Wallace, thought Bess had made a colossal social faux pas. Until she died in 1952, Madge Wallace never changed her mind about Harry Truman. Her Bess had married way below her station.

Madge had plenty of opportunities to let her son-in-law know it. The newlyweds moved into the Wallace mansion in Independence, and the three lived together under the same roof until the end of Madge’s life.

When Harry Truman was elected senator, “Mother Wallace,” as Truman judiciously called her, moved with her daughter and son-in-law to Washington. In the family’s apartment, she shared a bedroom with the Trumans’ daughter, Margaret. And when Truman became president, she moved with them into the White House, where she cast her cold eye on the new commander-in-chief.

“Why would Harry run against that nice Mr. Dewey?” she wondered aloud, as Truman was fighting for his political life in the 1948 presidential race, according to “First Mothers” by Bonnie Angelo. And when Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur for insubordination, Mother Wallace was scandalized. “Imagine a captain from the National Guard [Truman] telling off a West Point general!”

In December 1952, shortly before Truman’s term ended, Madge Wallace died, at age 90. For the 33 years they lived together, she never called her son-in-law anything but “Mr. Truman” to his face.

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Mother-in-Law of the Year

If Truman’s story sounds like the set-up for a film noir, his successor’s relationship with his mother-in-law might have been a Technicolor musical.

Elivera Mathilda Carlson Doud, Mamie Eisenhower’s mother, was “a witty woman with a tart tongue,” Time magazine wrote, and Dwight Eisenhower thought she was a hoot. “She refuted every mother-in-law joke ever made,” Time wrote. There was no question that she would join her daughter and son-in-law in the White House.

Ike called her “Min,” the name of a character in the Andy Gump comic strip. Ike and Min “constituted a mutual admiration society, and each took the other’s part whenever a family disagreement would arise,” said Eisenhower’s son, John. The New York Times observed, “The president frequently looks around him sharply, and inquires, ‘Where’s Min?'”

Widowed shortly before Eisenhower became president, Min spent the winters in the White House and summers at her home in Denver. It was while visiting his mother-in-law’s home that Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955. Two years later, in failing health, Min returned permanently to Denver. She died in 1960, at age 82.

4. Benjamin Harrison and the Reverend Doctor

Benjamin Harrison’s father-in-law, John Witherspoon Scott, bore a double title: “reverend doctor.”

Scott was born in Pennsylvania in 1800, did post-graduate work at Yale and took a professorship in mathematics and science at Miami University, in Ohio. He was also a Presbyterian minister and an outspoken abolitionist. The reverend doctor was rumored to have shielded runaway slaves in his home as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Whatever the truth, Miami University dismissed him for his anti-slavery beliefs.

He accepted a post at Farmer’s College, a prep school in Cincinnati, where he became a mentor of a student named Benjamin Harrison. During his visits to the Scott home, Harrison became friendly with the reverend doctor’s daughter, Caroline.

Young Harrison spent so many evenings at the Scotts’ home that he got the nickname “the pious moonlight dude,” according to “The Complete Book of the Presidents” by William A. DeGregorio. He and Caroline were married in 1853 at the bride’s house. The reverend doctor officiated.

John Witherspoon Scott later became a clerk in the pension office of the interior department. He gave up the position when Harrison was elected president in 1888. A widower since 1876, Scott moved into the White House with his daughter and their family.

It was the president’s custom to lead the family in a half-hour of Bible reading and prayer after breakfast, Anne Chieko Moore and Hester Anne Hale wrote in “Benjamin Harrison: Centennial President.” When the president was absent, his father-in-law took his place.

Caroline Harrison died in October 1892, two weeks before her husband lost the presidential election. Her father died the next month, at age 92. An obituary described John Witherspoon Scott as “a man of wonderful physical vigor, tall, broad chested and well preserved mentally.”

Mystery Alaska

Posted in Movies on September 10th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

 With Alaskan Sarah Palin’s eye on the White House and all the northern exposure in the media lately, we decided to pull out one of our old favorites the other night and watched the 1999 movie Mystery Alaska.  It’s a pretty good movie and obviously has lots of replay value, at least for us, because we’ve seen it lots of times.  It was interesting watching it this time since I think this is the first time we’ve seen it since we’ve moved into a small town, and the movie is all about small town living.  The main difference between Mystery Alaska and my small town is the climate, of course.

In Mystery, residents’ lives seem to revolve around hockey (and sleeping around, but don’t let that give you the wrong idea about the movie.  Every small town has its sordid secrets).  Boys in Mystery grow up with the “goal” (pun intended) of getting to play in the famed Saturday Game.  Hank Azaria plays a former Mysterian who left town because he was never good enough to play in the game.  He becomes a writer for Sports Illustrated instead, although his success in the real world does not make him feel any more acceptance in Mystery, even if he does arrive in a helicopter.  He gets the brilliant idea to bring the New York Rangers to Mystery to play the Saturday Game, and well, you’ll have to watch the movie to see what happens.  As in any small town, there is a bit of drama, and the movie is successful with its character development as it follows the lives of the most popular residents of Mystery.  Russell Crowe, who is not normally one of my favorite actors, is pretty good in this movie as the family man / town sheriff who is growing too old to play in the Saturday Game and must face some tough decisions about what is best for his family versus what is best for Mystery and the integrity of the Saturday Game.  Burt Reynolds is excellent as the no-nonsense judge who also struggles as he raises his teenagers.  In fact, perhaps the funniest line of the movie is said to his character by his wife.  She is consoling their teenage daughter, and he wants to know what’s wrong.  “Walter,”  his wife says, “if you don’t leave, I swear I’ll tell you!”  If you have kids, especially teenagers, you can appreciate the truth and the humor in that line, more so if you see the movie and know the daughter’s issue to which she is referring.

Even if you don’t like hockey, this is an entertaining film with dramatic moments interspersed with comedy.  Its one shortcoming is the fact that there is too much adult content for it to be considered as a family film.  However, adults will enjoy the fine performances by the large ensemble cast which make Mystery Alaska a well-rounded, heart-tugging and entertaining film – definitely recommended by this blogger!

He Is Here!

Posted in Kids on July 16th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 days oldAfter months of blogging about my pregnancy, it’s finally over and with the best result possible – a healthy, beautiful baby boy!  His name is Christopher Vincent and he was 8 lbs. 2 oz. and 20.7 inches long when he was born at 2:53 pm on July 11.  He is named for his father (at my insistence because my husband felt it was egotistical of him to duplicate his name – not when others do it, just him for some reason) and his middle name is after the baby’s late grandfather, my husband’s father who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease when our oldest child was just one year old.  So we’ve been waiting a long time for a namesake for Vincent, and now little Christopher Vincent is here.  He is a perfect baby and rarely cries, although he does seem to have his days and nights mixed up.  Today he slept for almost 5 hours until I woke him up to eat.  But that’s probably because last night he woke up every hour.  I wish I had known he was going to sleep that long because I would have taken a nap!  It’s been difficult for me to sleep at night due to the extreme pain I’m feeling because of the emergency cesarean they had to do to bring little Christopher into the world.

Here’s a warning – I’m going to get a little bit graphic medically here because I feel the need to explain what happened to me.  That way, other moms searching for info about pregnancy, cesareans, etc. can happen across my site, and maybe it will help educate them and ease their fears if they know some things they can expect.  For the rest of you, I apologize, and I suggest just looking at the really cute pictures of the baby and moving on to my other posts.

So I went to the hospital Friday at 7 am to get induced…  I was really excited, but also pretty nervous.  It’s ironic that I didn’t allow myself to get as nervous as I was with my 3 previous pregnancies because my last birth went relatively smoothly, so I figured, why get all worked up when everything will probably be fine?  But it wasn’t.  Well, in the end it was, but until I got to see Christopher, Friday was one of the worst days of my life.  It all started when the nurse couldn’t get my IV in.  I always bruise like crazy from the IV, but they’ve never had trouble getting it in me before.  In fact, I seem to remember writing a post in my blog about what good veins they always say I have.  Anyway, the nurse was trying to “save me a poke” and get a blood sample at the same time she hooked up my IV.  I ended up with two holes on my right hand that swelled up like balloons – and I still had to get the IV put into my left hand.  All that and she STILL had to draw blood from the vein like a regular blood sample, thus not “saving me a poke” at all as she had promised.  But it didn’t matter because I never care too much about the blood draw since I’m used to it and my veins are so easy to find…  but anyway, after all this, I had to make a stupid comment – I said to the nurse, “I hope this isn’t an omen for how the rest of the day will go…”  Idiot.  Apparently I cursed myself because things were just going to get worse. 

The contractions started getting pretty painful and I called for the epidural, which if you don’t know, is a pain elimination procedure (supposedly) administered directly into the spine.  It’s very uncomfortable to receive one, although it’s nothing compared to the pain of the contractions it relieves, provided someone poking around in your spine doesn’t bother you.  Except that mine didn’t work, which I’m told is rare, so don’t worry, just research other options before you go…  But for me, this is where things go from bad to worse.  Once we’ve all determined that the epidural didn’t take, they make a call for the anesthesiologist to come back and discuss options.  Except that, lucky for me (sarcasm), there was a shift change, so the person who messed up my first epidural was no longer around to mess up a second one.  And, of course the new anesthesiologist didn’t want to do one on a patient who had been done by someone else.  And I should note that every time they call the anesthesiologist, it takes forever and a day for them to come because they’re usually doing other patients in the hospital or who knows what.  I wonder if it’s like that at larger hospitals…  Our hospital is quite small, and I’ve often wondered if there are certain aspects of care that could be better as a result.  Anyway, so the 2nd anesthesiologist is explaining my options to me, and she is talking so slowly, I swear I was close to kicking her – I could still feel my legs, after all, and that was their fault, not mine.  As she’s explaining my options to me (not that there were many left), the nurse decided to check me and that’s when she discovered we didn’t have time to do anything – the baby was coming!  The anesthesiologist was shooed away and the doctor was called, but of course with the way things had been going that day, she had gone home and so we had to wait for her to get back to the hospital.  She got there and I was finally able to start pushing, except the baby wouldn’t budge.  I think the pain was worse than it’s ever been, and I could tell the baby wasn’t being pushed, and then the worst news yet – the baby’s heart rate started dropping.  Everyone started running around, honestly, it was total chaos, but I couldn’t even think straight through all the pain.  They wheeled me into the surgery room where there were like 10 people wearing surgery masks all doing different things.  I was actually in favor of them knocking me out – the sooner, the better.  Of course because of the epidural not working, I felt them cut me open, but in retrospect I don’t know if it hurt more than I was freaked out about being able to feel them cut me open.  My arms and legs were tied down and I will be honest – it was a horrible experience – I couldn’t sleep my first night in the hospital because right when I’d fall asleep, I’d have a flashback of the experience and jolt awake.
Then, I smelled something funny in my oxygen mask and the next thing I know, I’m being wheeled out of the room – it was over!  They had gassed me after all – lucky for everyone involved!  But now I’m stuck with the awful recovery process of a c-section.  One of the worst things about it besides the pain is the fact that I can’t lift heavy objects – including kids.  The second I got home, my 21-month-old reached her arms out and said “Mommy!” with a big smile, and promptly started crying when I couldn’t pick her up.  Between the lack of sleep, the hormone changes, and me missing her, I started crying, but luckily grandma saw me lose it and stepped in to rescue us; giving my daughter ice cream to feed me that made it all better for both of us.  Now, only 2 days later, my daughter seems used to not being picked up, and the pain seems to be getting better, finally.  Yesterday the pain was getting worse instead of better; when I woke up, every square inch of my body throbbed with pain, and I couldn’t move at all – it was awful and totally discouraging.  But, I had forgotten that the doctor said to also use ibuprofin along with my pain meds, so ever since I’ve been trying that, it’s been working for me.  But believe it or not, another pain remedy is baby-smelling.  You just sniff the head of the newborn baby and give him kisses and it makes the pain better too!  The worst part of the whole thing is that I had really wanted more kids, but after Friday, I just don’t know if I have it in me to go through something like that (or worse!) again…  But for now, I am enjoying mommyhood immensely, and the girls LOVE their new little brother.  Taylor and Sammie want to hold him all the time, and Sammie especially can’t keep her hands off him.  She’s always petting his head or touching his hands, or softly kissing him…  she is so gentle; it’s very sweet.  And Disney, being almost 2, is getting her own ideas on how to care for Christopher as well.  Yesterday she tried to insist that he be put into his car seat and of course she threw a tantrum when it didn’t go her way…  But overall, things are going great and wil be even better once we unmix Christopher’s days and nights and get some more sleep!

Oh, and one more hint that will give you a fun momento for the baby book.  If you mail a birth announcement to the White House, they will send you a congrats card from the President!  Signed by an intern, of course, but hey, for some people in the ’90’s, that would have been Monica Lewinsky!  Here is the address you send it to, you can also do this for wedding invitations, though I’m not sure the address is the same.  I would just do a google search for “white house wedding announcement” or something like that.

Send your baby’s name, birthdate and address to:

White House Greetings Office
Room 39
Washington, DC 20500