Jenna Bush Hager, EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME: Seasons of Love and Loss

Jenna Bush Hager, EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME: Seasons of Love and Loss

In this special weekend re-release, Zibby interviews the former first daughter and granddaughter, #1 New York Times bestselling author, and co-anchor of the Today Show, Jenna Bush Hager. In her poignant, humorous, intimate, and sincere memoir, Everything Beautiful In Its Time, Jenna shares stories of her grandparents and the wisdom they passed on that has shaped her life.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jenna. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jenna Bush Hager: I love your podcast. Sometimes moms do have time to read. I’m so happy to be here.

Zibby: I feel like you and I are united in our desire to help other people read more. I love shouting out to good books. You pick all your books for all of America to enjoy, so I feel like we’re on the same page.

Jenna: Definitely.

Zibby: Tell listeners more about Everything Beautiful in Its Time, which, by the way, I listened to on all my walks with the dogs back and forth across the park and was so great. I was crying in Central Park. It was just amazing. You’ve been coming with me on all my walks lately.

Jenna: First of all, I have to tell you, recording that audiobook, it was in the middle of the pandemic. The book is about the thirteen months I lost my three remaining grandparents, so it was a really difficult time for me. Recording the audiobook, Henry, my husband, was like — I came home with just the puppy-est eyes. I said, “The poor recording technician who got this assignment had no idea he would be passing me Kleenexes.” He kept saying, “Do you need a minute?” He was so kind and thoughtful. It was reliving these moments that were difficult. I wrote this book, I started writing, really, for myself. The night that my grandmother, Barbara, died, I was alone in my apartment in New York City. My husband was in Texas. My sister, who at the time lived in the city, was in Texas. I was watching the news. One of the things that’s really hard and interesting that she taught us was that losing somebody publicly is difficult. I turned on the news. There were all these in memoriams and news reports about her. At first, I just couldn’t stop watching. Then I was overcome by the fact that, obviously, they were just talking about her as Barbara Bush, the politician’s wife. There was so much about our Ganny and that wouldn’t be said that night. It just wouldn’t. There was no reason for it to be except for that’s how I knew her. Nobody knew her as intimately as we did. I turned off the news, and I wrote her a letter. That was really the beginning of this book. I use a writing a lot in my own life as a way to heal, as a way to process. Then I just decided to publish it, but it started off for me.

Zibby: Amazing. That’s how the best stuff comes out. It’s truthful, from the heart, what you need. Turns out, other people need it too. Isn’t it true that you weren’t there because you had strep throat which you caught from your daughter? which is such a typical mom thing to have had happen.

Jenna: Yes. I went to the doctor. My dad was like, “If you have strep throat, you can’t go.” Obviously, my grandmother was dying, but also, my grandpa was there. I just knew I had it. My daughter, Mila, had had it the week before. Of course, moms are so close with our kids. I remember when Mila got the stomach flu. I called my parents to tell her, when she was a brand-new baby, that Henry and I were up all night cleaning up her mess. My parents just laughed knowingly. They were like, “Now you will be getting things like the stomach bug that you just haven’t had since you were in third grade yourself.” I couldn’t go to see her, but I did get to have a conversation with her before she passed away, which was profound and meaningful to me.

Zibby: What you said about it being a public occurrence at the same time, you had a scene in your book where you’re pushing Mila and holding Poppy. You’re walking down the street. You got like a hundred text messages all at the same time. You’re like, oh, no, what happened? You had to backtrack and figure it out. I could so see you just like any other mom, but here it is, a huge public figure. How do you even reconcile something like that when you have it coming at you in every direction?

Jenna: I don’t know. It’s so funny. Probably just like any other mom. We live in a place where we’re walking everywhere around, New York City. There’s just been so many moments where — I really do try to put my phone away and be — especially when they were really little and they didn’t get the fact why I was holding this thing and looking here instead of at them. That day, I put my phone away. I played with them at the park. I watched them play. I hadn’t been looking at anything. Then when we got up to leave, I checked the phone to see the time. I had so many text messages from, I was telling Hoda the other day, one from our old boss who was like, “Let me know if you need me.” That was the first text. I was like, why would I need anybody? My parents had tried to call, but my phone was away. My grandmother had said she was going to seek comfort care. I had never really even heard those words. I didn’t have context for them. I didn’t know what that meant. The five blocks home was very distracted. I tried not to be that way, but I just was trying to figure out what was happening while I had one scooting child and one toddler in her stroller.

I feel like moms, dads, parents, but maybe particularly moms, we just have to make it work. I remember when I had little kids and I got sick for the first time. I was like, wait, what’s going to happen? It’s like, you’re not going to be sick. A parent, no matter what, you have to parent through it all. It’s sometimes an exhausting part of it all, when you’re grieving, when you are hurting. I know so many people right now feel exhausted by everything. Also, kids can be the most beautiful distraction. The things that they say, my girls healed me, what they said. Now I have a baby boy, but I didn’t have him at the time. What they said about their great-grandparents, all three of them, who they lost, who I lost, little things that they said which I wrote down in this book — I’m so happy because otherwise, I would never remember. The little things they said and did brought me this beautiful peace. They’re so wise, our children are. If you want to feel good, put your phone away. Try to not think about the news of the day. Listen to what your kids say. Write it down. They say the most hilarious, beautiful things. I knew they’ve been a major comfort to me. I hope I don’t put that on them. I’m not like, how should I feel better? Just by listening to the funny, quirky, beautiful way they see the world, I feel like it can be a wonderful comfort.

Zibby: I completely agree. I went through a loss recently. I have four kids. They were so amazing. They can be supportive. They’ll come over and hug. Then they just say the crazy things that they say because they’re kids. I wasn’t smart enough to write all of them down.

Jenna: Write them down when we get off. Write them down when we’re done today because you’ll want to remember them I later.

Zibby: I know. It’s so true. Grief is so unpredictable. You had so much so quickly, such a huge part of your family. It’s nice to have had that outlet, at least. Of course, you’re not using them for it, but you just have to. You don’t have the choice to stay in bed and dwell in it. You can’t as a parent. You just have to figure out how to make it all work at the same time. Even you, you wrote in the book about having a meeting at work and then almost missing the bus pickup for your daughter. I feel like I’ve been in that same situation so many times, like, , pickup! It’s so relatable.

Jenna: I know. Why is pickup the most stressful of all things? This particular day — actually, it’s so funny because the people that I was at this lunch meeting with — I remember, I felt like I was on fire. It was the beginning of the year. I had a to-do list. I was wearing heels. I wear heels every day at work. Then I take them off and I put on, they’re thrown right here on the ground, these clog mom boots. I can run in these things.

Zibby: Those are cute, though.

Jenna: Thank you. I can run in those. I cannot run in high-heel knee-high boots. It was the beginning of January. I was wearing them to prove to myself that this year was going to be new, was going to be a different year. Of course, I forgot Mila at the bus stop. The amount of times even in the short months — weeks. It feels like months. It’s been a couple weeks since my kids have been in school. The amount of times I’ve been racing to the bus stop, I can’t even tell you, almost every day.

Zibby: I once ran through the Central Park transverse where the cars are to try to get to curriculum night on time all dressed up and all this stuff. It’s just so funny when you think about the city and all these moms running, not just moms, but all the running to get to places on time and what we do to make it work here.

Jenna: I know. By the way, that was a moment where I really, and I have them often, but really loved New York City because I was running and the UPS guy was like, “You got it, girl!” Another mom was like, “I’ve been there.” To feel supported by your community in a moment of complete panic and shame is .

Zibby: Yes, as opposed to driving like a maniac and all that risk. Another part of your book that I really responded to is when you were talking about your Aunt Dory and how she bought the dress for the funeral. Your grandmother was more of a spendthrift. She didn’t want people to waste money on clothes. She bought this special dress and then went to the mirror. The mirror fell on the ground. She took it as a sign that her mom was upset, and she went and returned the dress. You had a beautiful message to her of what your interpretation of that was. Can you just share a little of that?

Jenna: Sure. My grandmother was a force. She took on things, private pain, things we didn’t know. She took it on. She was an enforcer. We didn’t necessarily know why she was the way she was. She was private and also very transparent at the same time. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Towards the end of her life, we were in Maine one summer. I came down the stairs early. I still picture her when I think about her in this screened-in porch. Early in the morning, she would write in her journal and write letters to her friends and do a little bit of work, read the newspaper. When I think of her now, that’s where I imagine her. I came downstairs. It was early. It was before the sun came up. She was in a particularly sharing way, sharing mood. She told me a lot about her growing up. She grew up with a mother that would say things like, “Martha,” who was her sister, “is the beauty. You are the funny one.” Then her mother passed away in car accident. She had a stepmother that reinforced that. Luckily, she had a dad who thought she was brilliant and hilarious and told her she could do anything she ever wanted to. I do think — and I don’t know. This is just my opinion. When I heard these stories, I felt her pain. I just couldn’t imagine, as a mother myself and as somebody that’s been raised by a woman who was gracious and loving and loved Barbara and I unconditionally and equally even though we were so different — we were never compared, thank goodness for me. I just couldn’t imagine being that little girl that heard over and over, “Don’t eat that, Barbara,” and felt less than in her appearance.

My grandmother definitely had a way about her where she would sometimes make comments. I could tell afterwards she would feel like, why did I do that? She would comment on our clothes. Maybe after freshman year in college when everybody gains a little bit, there would be a comment about how we would look. What I understood about her in that moment sitting having that conversation about her childhood was that any of that part of who she was, was really a reflection of how she raised and that she was, in some ways, talking to that little girl. She was saying to herself, why do you look like that? She didn’t mean it to us. When my Aunt Doro bought this dress and thought, god, Mom would think this is too expensive, I should take it back, and the mirror fell — and that was Doro’s interpretation. I said, “Maybe she was thinking, stop worrying about the way you look.” The interesting thing about her is that she was a complicated woman. She didn’t, in some ways, worry about the way she looked. She famously said talking about your hair is boring. She let her hair go gray probably before she was even my age, in her thirties. I do think deep down there was some pain that was never really resolved. I think she was telling my aunt, who is beautiful and incredible, don’t waste your time on earth worrying about things like that, which is so hard because so many of us as women have that little voice in us that berates us for certain things. I think what she was saying is, don’t waste your time looking in the mirror criticizing yourself.

Zibby: I love that. It’s giving permission to stop self-flagellating in a way, being so self-critical. I recently started, in addition to this podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight” because I feel like so many moms, with COVID in particular, have been at home and gaining weight and in their closets all upset and all the rest. Then as I was focusing on that and listening to your book, I sat at my computer and then I saw that now you’re doing Move with Jenna at eleven o’clock on the Today Show. I’m like, this is amazing.

Jenna: I’m doing Move with Jenna. I’m not the one that’s actually working out, but yes, we are doing it. I always like to move for mental health. I like to go for long walks. Hoda and I have been doing outdoor classes here in the city right after work. Otherwise, it’s hard to go. Once you get home and you’re with the kids, and I have a new baby who’s always home, forget it. Once I see his little face, it’s hard to motivate to go away from him. I always think it’s important to move. Granted, I will tell you that I did the show from home on Zoom for two months, three months. When you’re at home on Zoom, you’re wearing sweatpants on the bottom. You don’t have to zip up a dress. All of a sudden, the world comes back and you’re like, whoa, wow, that cacio e pepe I’ve been cooking from Joanna Gaines’ cookbook has really caught up with me. You’re right. It’s best to not dwell. Just do things that make you feel good. If you do that, then hopefully the COVID fifteen, the COVID nineteen as I like to say, will come off.

Zibby: Yes. Tell me a little bit more about writing. When do you like to write? Where do you do it? Is it in your bed at night? Give me a visual here.

Jenna: I’m a morning writer, for sure. I work in morning television, so I’m already waking up early. I always write in a journal. One thing that my husband and I do which we brought back today — although, he hasn’t texted me back. We didn’t need to do it for a while because we were never away from each other, never apart. Now that I’ve started coming back to work, we text each other three really specific things that we’re grateful for. I like waking up that way. I like having my mind focused on the really good instead of the bad. I also like sharing those little insights with him and having him share his with me. They’re not about each other, necessarily. Although, sometimes they are. I always write in a journal in the morning. For this book, when I was “writing” writing, I would set the alarm for about four in the morning. I would write in our little office/guest room/playroom. It’s the New York, where you have nowhere to write except for this one little den where I wouldn’t wake up the kids and Henry. I did that at least three days a week. Then right after the show at eleven, I would go over to my office at 30 Rock and I would try to continue for an hour or two before my mind had nothing left to give. I read at night. I read for pleasure and for fun every night before I go to bed. I want it to be fun. I don’t want it to be work. I cannot write at night. I can’t really do much at night. I have this much left to give because my mornings are so big. Then by the time the kids go to bed, I just have an hour or two with Henry to try to decompress, and then that’s it.

Zibby: I have so much respect when people are like, let’s go meet up at this time. Why don’t you do all your emails late at night? I’m like, I am fried. That’s it.

Jenna: I agree. I also think even any sort of arguments, any sort of anything that’s not great happens in those hours where your rope is done. It’s shortened to just a tiny fuse.

Zibby: It’s so true, oh, my gosh. Tell me about the reading for Read with Jenna. How do you pick your books?

Jenna: It’s been such a really fun part of my job because I just love to read. I’m reading now for January and February. I read about six months in advance, which is so fun. I love that I get to get some of these books in galley forms and read them and be one of the first, maybe besides the editors and other people that have book clubs and obviously the indie bookstore owners, who get to read this work. It feels really like a privilege. We look for books that are debut authors in many cases. We want new voices, voices that may not always get the attention. We like diverse voices, voices from all over the world or country, people that look different and have different experiences, and then just books that move us, books that move me, books that I stay up late into the night reading, books that I know will inspire. I’ve been in a book club throughout my life in different iterations in different towns. I know what will inspire really cool, wonderful conversations. That’s really what goes into it. It’s just so much fun.

Zibby: You have to come to my book club. I started a virtual book club. I have like a thousand members. Anyway, you should come. It’s really fun.

Jenna: I’m in. Why don’t you choose — I’m looking around my office. I don’t know if you’ve read Leave the World Behind.

Zibby: Yes. I just had Rumaan on my podcast yesterday. I haven’t released it yet.

Jenna: I love Rumaan. I hope you told him I said hi. You probably didn’t. He is brilliant. He is so awesome. Did you read this with your book club?

Zibby: We haven’t yet, but you know what? We should do it. We hardly have any male —

Jenna: — Have you read it?

Zibby: I read it myself, but I haven’t assigned it to my book club yet. I think that’s a really great idea.

Jenna: It’s so, so good, isn’t it?

Zibby: Yeah. Maybe we will do that. That’s a great idea.

Jenna: Okay, good. If you ever need help, call me up. I’m happy to be part of a book club one month. Let me know.

Zibby: Do it. Maybe the two of you can do it together or something. That’d be neat. I’m sure you’ve interviewed him. That would be awesome. So you have so much going on. What’s coming next for you? You are churning out books and kids and TV shows.

Jenna: Churning out books and kids. With each book, there’s a new kid. No, nothing is next for me. I’m just going to slow down a little bit. Obviously, the show is on every single day, which is so much fun. It’s been a really wonderful distraction in this world that we live in to sit next to somebody that I admire as much as Hoda and have conversations that feel light and, I hope, filled with goodness and positivity. That’s so awesome. Before the pandemic, we were in a studio with lights and people and music and a DJ and Oprah. It was the pinnacle of where we wanted the show to go. Then all of a sudden, I was at home on a ring light with my phone and Hoda on FaceTime, and it didn’t matter. I missed being close to her. I missed our team. I missed the audience and the studio. Regardless, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed our conversations. What this has shown me is that it stripped down to what’s really important. Thanks goodness she and I really like each other and have fun talking to each other. Otherwise, it would’ve been really difficult. I think it’s proven to all of us that it’s stripped things down and only the most important things matter. I feel so lucky that even with the ring light and a phone and us separated by distance it was still such a pleasure to do the show every single day.

Zibby: So funny that you didn’t even think you wanted this job to begin with. Wasn’t it your grandfather who was like, “Maybe we should watch the show”? which is so funny.

Jenna: The most obvious. Also, it’s a humiliation that that wasn’t something that would’ve come into play, but I was teacher. He was like, “Do you ever see this thing they call the Today Show?” I was like, “Nope, I’m at school by seven in the morning.” We watched it together. They gave me great advice. My grandmother was like, “You just always take the meeting.” Even though I just want to be home, as we said, in my pajamas by 8:08 PM, I think that advice of always taking the meeting, being ready for whatever life’s going to throw at you next is really good advice.

Zibby: So it’s always take the meeting, but try to schedule it in the morning.

Jenna: Exactly.

Zibby: What other advice might you have for aspiring authors?

Jenna: I just think, write. Write all the time. This was the advice of my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Cunningham, in Dallas, Texas. She said, “You are a good writer.” Nobody had really told me — I have a sister who is an academic who got into every Ivy League school she applied to. She missed one question on the SAT. She’s brilliant. I struggled in math. My dad would sit around the kitchen table and be like, “Let’s get to multiplication.” To have somebody put that faith in me, like, this is where you’re going to go, this is what you’re interested in, and you have talent in this, I will never forget it. What she said to me, the advice is read, read, read. Good writers, brilliant writers — it’s so true. Now I get to and you get to, I’m sure, talk to all of these brilliant authors who I have crushes on.

Zibby: Me too. I’m the same way. Sometimes I even get nervous. I’m like, oh, my god, Nicholas Sparks!

Jenna: I know. By the way, a friend asked me, they were like, “Who has been the best?” I’m like, “Oh, this person. Kevin Wilson’s so good. Ann Patchett’s my good friend. I love Emma Straub.” All of them are kind and generous of time and of talent, and brilliant. All of them share the same quality which is that they love books. They read incessantly. They read everything. That’s my advice, is to read constantly. It makes sense. If you want to be a great artist, you study art. You study the great artists. If you want to be a great writer, you study the beautiful pieces of writing that we get to read. I just feel like I’m happiest in my bed with a book, possibly a sleeping child. The child needs to be asleep, though. Otherwise, as you know, moms don’t have time to read. If there’s a cat thrown in there, that’s it. That’s my very perfect day. If you believe in the afterlife, that’s where I’ll be, in a bed with a cat, a sleeping child, and a book.

Zibby: I might be there with a dog. Maybe with some chocolate on my bedside table.

Jenna: Yes. I was going to say a cheese plate. Add some cheese plate and a glass of wine. There we go.

Zibby: That pretty much is it. That’s all we really need in life. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for all your great books and entertainment and all the great work you do and for highlighting all the authors, so many of whom I’ve had on my podcast and who I love. It’s amazing.

Jenna: I loved talking with you. I love your podcast. I love that you’re trying to get moms reading.

Zibby: I’m trying. Thank you.

Jenna: Thank you so much. It was so nice to meet you. Thank you.

Zibby: So nice to meet you too.

Jenna: Bye, everybody. See you.

Zibby: Bye.

Jenna Bush Hager, EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME: Seasons of Love and Loss

EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME: Seasons of Love and Loss by Jenna Bush Hager

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