Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, BOLD & BRAVE: Ten Heroes Who Won the Right to Vote

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, BOLD & BRAVE: Ten Heroes Who Won the Right to Vote

I am thrilled to be here today with senator Kirsten Gillibrand who is a United States senator for the state of New York. She was first elected to Congress in 2006 where she served as the representative to the 20th Congressional District of New York. She joined the US Senate in January 2009 at age forty-two when she was the mother a young son. She was initially appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson when Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State leaving the seat unfilled. Senator Gillibrand then ran a special election in 2010 and won. She was reelected to a six-year term in 2012 with seventy-two percent of the vote and is currently running for reelection. She is the author of Off the Sidelines: Speak Up, Be Fearless, and Change Your World, with a foreword by Hillary Clinton. She also just wrote a children’s book which is coming out November 13th called Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote. A magna cum laude graduate of Dartmouth, she currently lives in Upstate New York and Washington DC with her husband and two sons ages thirteen and nine. Did I get that right?

Kirsten Gillibrand: Ten and fourteen. They keep getting older.

Zibby: Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” This is such a treat.

Kirsten: I’m delighted. Thank you for inviting me.

Zibby: Of course. Why did you decide to write a children’s book? Why this topic? Why now?

Kirsten: I was asked by a friend of mine who works at the publisher. I was so excited to be asked. I love the topic, the women who really ran the suffrage movement and what they accomplished and how they accomplished things. I really felt like it was important to write this book at this time. I really wanted to capture what people were feeling after the election and the fact that we elected Trump, which has not represented our values as mothers, as daughters, as sisters, and has really undermined women’s rights. I wanted to talk about that women have overcome moments like this. Talking about each of these women and what they accomplished was something I was really excited to do.

Zibby: How did you pick this selection of women?

Kirsten: I read a ton of biographies about the suffragists and what they accomplished. I picked ten women who I felt really did something unique and did something particularly brave at the time or particularly bold at the time. I wanted to represent how widespread the women’s suffrage movement was and that there were women trying to accomplish this fundamental right for women, the right to vote, all across America, across two generations.

Zibby: If there was a children’s book being written fifty years from now, who do you think in our generation might be profiled, aside from you, as a crusader for women’s rights?

Kirsten: We’ve had a lot of extraordinary advocacy in the last year or two years across the board on all issues. There’s a lot of really effective writers right now. Rebecca Traister, feminist author, writes for New York Magazine and just published a book called Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. I also think activist Ameena So has been very provocative and aggressive in coming up with new narratives about what women’s rights actually mean and really profound statements. Brittany Packnett’s doing the exact same thing. It’s changed the nature of the debate about why women’s empowerment and intersectionality, particularly between sexism and racism, is so important to not only address, but to talk about. I also think some of the younger generation is doing pretty amazing things. The fact that you’ve got young women like Emma González trying to talk about why she believes it’s our right to have safe schools, and gun violence. There’s a lot of women who are working in making campuses safe for sexual harassment, sexual assault. Those young women are doing amazing things. There’s a whole generation of women out there who are trying to change things and great authors who are writing about it.

Zibby: In your book Off the Sidelines, in the beginning you wrote something I thought was really great. You said, “So here’s my blunt truth. I’m angry and I’m depressed and I’m scared that the women’s movement is dead or at least on life support. Women talk a lot these days about shattering the glass ceiling, but we also need to focus on cleaning the so-called sticky floor making sure all women have a chance to rise.”

Kirsten: That’s exactly how I felt when I wrote that.

Zibby: Do you still feel this way?

Kirsten: No. I feel like since Trump’s been elected, the women’s movement has changed. It’s been reborn. It’s been energized. People are really doing different things. I look at the more traditional activists that have been working in the trenches for a really long time, groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, , they’ve been fighting these battles for a long time, for a decade I’d say. Those women are now bringing a whole new generation of women along with them. What we’re seeing is this emergence of almost a new conversation that’s amplifying everything that’s been done before, but ones that I think are building on the hard work of what’s happened in the generations before us.

That passing of the baton has been really, really powerful, which is why people like Cecile Richards have carried that baton for a long time. Now, they’re passing it to the next generation of people to continue the work. It’s meaningful. I grew up thinking about Hillary Clinton and all she accomplished and looking at people who had been in the civil rights movement and then in the women’s right movements of the seventies and eighties. Those women are people that inspired me to do the work I’m doing. I always admired Gloria Steinem and thought the battles that she accomplished were extraordinary. I loved reading her most recent book about what that was like. We stand on the shoulders of all those who were working for the last decade, two decades, three decades.

Zibby: Tell me about your own personal family history. I know you were really influenced by your family that wrote in the children’s book Bold & Brave. Your great grandmother Mimi — which is what my kids call my mom, I have to say that or she would kill me if I didn’t mention that right now — she told you all about how she worked in the factory when all the men went off to fight in the war and how your grandmother Polly founded the Democratic Women’s Club in Albany and worked very closely with Mayor Corning. I liked how you described their relationship and whatever it may be in the book. You left a lot of question marks, which was entertaining, and how she would roller skate in the New York State Capital where she worked and that they both taught you to fight what you believe in. Your mom was a black belt in karate, which is sort of terrifying to have a mom like that.

How did their actions shape you and your career?

Kirsten: I grew up with extraordinary role models. My mom was one of the few women in her law school class. As one of the women who had a career outside the home, she was a role model for a lot of us in my generation, five out of six of my best girlfriends growing up all went to law school because that’s what my mom did. She did things differently. She taught me to be bold and to dare to be different. She was a second-degree black belt in karate. She practiced law. She did a lot of things that women in her generation didn’t often do, which inspired me to not worry about being just like everybody else. I could charter my own path.

My grandmother was interested in politics. The fact that she loved politics and worked on a grassroots level throughout her life, I found very inspiring. She took me to my first campaign headquarters. Watching a bunch of ladies work on a campaign and stuff envelopes to tell voters that they need to vote and who their candidate was inspired me. I loved the fact that she had strong opinions about what to do with your time and how to help people who needed your help. She cared deeply about her church and her faith and worked with her church to help the most at-risk and most at-need people. They really gave me these core values. We should care about one another. What you do with your time does matter. Women’s voices matter. Making sure women are organized and participating is fundamentally important. Both my mom and my grandmother were those strong role models for me.

Zibby: You wrote this amazing memoir. I don’t remember what year it was published. I didn’t write it down. You wrote something I thought was really fantastic in chapter two. “If you’re like me, you’re reading this book because you want to find out how to get where you want to be in your own life by learning how someone else got where they wanted to be in theirs.” — 2014, thank you. In 2014, sorry. I thought I did all my research — “I keep stack of books next to my nightstand about female leaders and always I have one question, ‘How’d she do it?’ Too often I don’t find useful answers, and I close the book annoyed. I wish I could offer you the perfect parable on how to get from A to B, but I can’t, so this is my idiosyncratic story of growing up and building the life I wanted along with a few lessons I hope someone can use.” You’re so relatable and likeable. Reading this book, it’s like chatting with a friend, yet here you are this powerful senator.

Kirsten: That’s what I wanted to create. The book I’m reading right now is Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage. I love the book so much because she literally opens her life to you to understand what does intersectionality mean in her life. How has she handled racism? How’s she handled institutional racism? How’s she handled sexism? How has she dealt with it in her own community and how she navigates life? I so appreciate that she took the time to write the book. It allows me to live a small slice of her life. What was it like in high school? She went to a predominantly white high school. How did her friends treat her? How did that make her feel? I can have a window into her life which allows me to be a better legislator. It allows me to be a better leader and to understand what other people’s lives are like. That’s what I tried to do in my book.

I wanted to tell young women, or women of any age, some of the challenges that I’ve faced and how I dealt with them. Some I won. Some I lost. How do you deal with adversity? How do you manage your life as a mom and as a person who works full time outside the home? How do those two things fit together? How do you be a good senator? How do you be a good parent? It’s hard. Although, my life is much easier than a lot of people who work ten, fifteen, twenty hours a day. I have a lot more flexibility. I talk about that too. I have the benefit of a husband who has a flexible schedule. I have the benefit of running my own office. I can set my hours if I need to on a given day.

Biographies in general are so helpful because you want to learn how someone else figured it out. That’s why I wrote the Bold & Brave book for young children. I wanted young kids to see these are women who sacrificed everything to do what was right, to do what was needed, to do what was important at the time. Because of those sacrifices and because of their bravery, we now have a voice in politics. We can not only vote, but we can run for office. We can run for Senate. We can run for president. We can run for anything and have a say in our community’s lives. That’s important. Because of these women’s sacrifices, now young girls who read this book will know, “I can be anything when I grow up. I can change anything when I grow up. I can make the world better.”

Zibby: So inspiring. I feel like I need to leave here and start taking on the world. I’m so empowered. By the way, this book is so beautifully illustrated. How did you end up teaming up with Maira Kalman for this?

Kirsten: It was a little bit of serendipity and good karma. We had an event at the Brooklyn Museum. The woman who’s the director there, Anne Pasternak, we were talking about this children’s book I was about to do. She said, “I know a lot of children’s book illustrators.” I said, “You do? We haven’t chosen ours yet.” She said, “Yes. My best friend’s Maira Kalman.” I nearly fell over. Maira Kalman is the illustrator I wanted, but I didn’t think she’d be available because she’s considered a fine artist and wouldn’t necessarily do this children’s book. Because of Anne, she introduced us. Maira signed on within a week. It was so exciting. As you can see as you look through the illustrations, they make the book. They bring these characters to life as these young women who did extraordinarily hard things so amazingly well. Her illustrations is what allows a child to not only see themselves in these stories, but imagine themselves as doing these great things too.

Zibby: I like how you included details of “this person used to wear this type of thing.”

Kirsten: Susan B Anthony loved her red shawl. That was something that Maira put into the book. She said, “Listen, you need small facts that kids can relate to about each person. Think of one thing that could be interesting.” That’s why I include the story of my grandmother who liked to roller skate on the marble floors in the state capital when she was a secretary as a twenty-something-year-old. That was the story my mom told me that I thought was really interesting and funny. That was the picture that Maira decided to paint about my grandmother.

Zibby: That’s great. It’s perfect timing for this book. I can’t wait to have all my kids — I’ve only read it to one so far. In addition to the book Off the Sidelines, you have a whole organization, Off the Sidelines, and the website where you list all sort of ways for women to get involved, not just women, but young girls from every age in whatever way you can be politically active or just helping other people and focusing on accomplishing great things for the community. You even had a podcast for a while called “Off the Sidelines.” I saw you had six or seven of those. What happened to that?

Kirsten: I think we’re going to renew it. What it began to be for me was a book club. I was always reading books with the young women that I work with. They’d pick a book that was all the rage. We’d all read it and talk about it. I thought we should do this for Off the Sidelines. We should pick books by female authors and talk to the author about their book and why they wrote it. I really loved it. I think we will renew our podcast idea. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I like podcasts. It’s a great way to create a conversation about why women’s voices matter and why being engaged in our elections matter. I may renew it.

Zibby: Excellent. You have made tackling economic issues facing young families a key focus of your legislative agenda. You fought for universal pre-K, affordable high-quality daycare, equal pay for equal work, and national paid family and medical leave. Can you tell me a little more in general about your passion for improving the lives of young families in this way? Also, give me an example maybe of one of the things you were working so hard on accomplishing and getting passed, like the 9/11 Health Bill, what does that feel like to you?

Kirsten: A lot of my job is advocacy. I talk to my constituents. I travel around my state a lot. I go to all sixty-two counties. The stories that I heard from those first responders were so crushing, how they were losing everything they loved because they did the right thing. They came to ground zero day after day, week after week, month after month, and unfortunately are now quite ill. A lot of first responders have cancers. They desperately need healthcare. I was propelled into that advocacy because their stories were so gripping and so urgent. I wanted to make sure every one of my colleagues in the Senate understood what was at stake. These are men and women who raced up towers when everybody else was coming down. The hard work afterwards, they were exposed to horrible toxins when the towers fell. When you actually accomplish something for them, I know that I’m doing my job well. That’s what my job’s about, helping people, making a difference in people’s lives and protecting them and defending them and speaking for them.

Even when I’m not successful, I still know I’m doing the right thing if I’m carrying someone’s story with me, if I’m telling someone’s biggest hurdle/worry/impediment/challenge and trying to change it or fix it or make it better. A lot of times I hear from women. That’s why I often work on issues that affect family’s lives overwhelmingly. A lot of women, we focus on “Are my children happy, healthy? Is the school they’re going to good? Do they have access to clean air and clean water? My young son has asthma. What I do about that? How can I change that?” They’re real worries.

I only got involved in trying to solve the marijuana crisis, to actually get the medical marijuana in my state in this country, decriminalize marijuana, because I heard stories. You’re hearing from a mom whose child has dravet syndrome, who has a hundred seizures a day, knowing that any one grand mal seizure could end their life, and knowing that she has to go to a state that has legal marijuana to buy it, and then brings it home and has to test it to make sure it’s the right amount. That’s absurd. It should be a medicine that’s available to everyone. Then hearing from mothers about sons who are arrested because they have a small amount of marijuana in their pocket. That fact that black or brown people in this city of New York City are ten times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession even though the usage rate is the same regardless of your race. That really breaks my heart. It’s how I get involved in a lot of issues.

Simple things like having national paid leave, we’re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have paid leave. It hurts workers. It hurts our economy and particularly overwhelms the caregivers who are often women, not being able to be with a newborn, not being able to be with a parent when they’re dying, not being able to be with a sick child or a sick spouse. Those are real life things that happen every day to everybody. Not having paid leave means that for a lot of women they have to make that tough choice between doing their job, providing for their family, or being with their loved one when they are needed. If you have to make that choice, for a lot of women, they just quit their jobs. If you don’t have vacation days or sick days, it’s sometimes your only option. Every time they ramp on, they ramp on with less seniority, less pay.

That’s the sticky floor. They cannot get off the sticky floor. They cannot get out of those low wage jobs. It’s why two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. I do a lot on the economic things like national paid leave, equal pay for equal work, affordable daycare, universal pre-K, higher minimum wage would all overwhelmingly help women in the workplace and the US economy. Seven out of ten moms are working. Four in ten moms are primary or sole wage-earners in their families.

Zibby: As a mom of four kids, I feel like I should give you a hug right now.

Kirsten: I would like a hug. I love hugs.

Zibby: Thank you so much. What you’re doing, it’s like having a team captain out there fighting for all of us. It’s just so amazing. I love how in the book, also, you talked about your squash coach and how she had made you, in college, play at the number two rank even though you were number four.

Kirsten: I was not ready for that.

Zibby: You learned that the point wasn’t to win necessarily.

Kirsten: It was to push myself and to not be afraid to lose and to play my absolute best even if I was going to be crushed. It really did help. I’m not afraid to lose. I’m not afraid to take on tough challenges that might take years to accomplish. That’s why these stories about the suffragists is so important. Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton never got to see the right to vote. Neither did Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth. They worked on it their whole lives to make a difference. It took the next generation to carry the baton just across that finish line in their own ways of shaking things up. That’s why I loved your first question about who the suffragists of today, who are those great civil rights leaders of today? For a lot of these younger women coming up, they’re doing extraordinary things. They’re doing and saying things that would not have been said in the last generation, would not have been done in the last generation. I do think it’s true that each one of us builds on the legacy of those who come before us. It matters immensely.

Zibby: I want to ask some more questions about being a mom and a senator. I understand you have a more flexible schedule. You can control your hours more. How does it work? Are you able to go to all the soccer games? Do you want to do that stuff? How do you balance it all? Are you doing homework with the kids at night?

Kirsten: Yes, yes, and yes.

Zibby: I want a visual, a slice.

Kirsten: I’ll give you a slice of life. As a mom and a public servant, I decided very early on that my focus was going to be how to do both well and building my work life around the needs of my family. My day job is different than most other senators. I go to different things. I schedule myself differently. It’s because I have young kids and I really want to be present. In the morning, I will make breakfast for Henry and Theo. I will get them ready for school. I will bring them to school. I would then go to work. I might not get to work ‘til nine o’clock. A lot of my colleagues will get to work at eight o’clock or seven o’clock because they like to have those morning things. I don’t take morning meetings very often. If I need to, I will make sure Jonathan’s in charge. He will do the children’s routine with them. Then I’ll go to work and go to hearings, meet with constituents, do all the work of a senator, vote. Then I try to leave in time to pick the kids up from school. I would typically leave by five o’clock, pick up the kids from school, bring them home, make them dinner. Then if I had evening votes or evening meetings, I would leave after that. When they were little it was really important, books in bed. That’s the time that you really want to be home.

I had this one circumstance when I first got appointed to the Senate. I was nursing Henry. Henry was only six months when I was first appointed. The floor staff of the US Senate said, “You need to sit in the chair and preside over the Senate between five and seven.” I couldn’t do five to seven because that’s when I was nursing. I was only nursing twice a day at that point. He was six months, so I nursed in the morning before work and then I would nurse at five o’clock. I couldn’t explain to these twenty-something-year-old male staffers that I need to breastfeed between five and seven. There’s no chance I’m not going to breastfeed. Not only is it physically very difficult not to breastfeed on your schedule, but I needed to be with Henry at that moment. I said, “I just need a different time. I’ll do two hours. Can I have two hours during the day or two hours later at night?” They were persistent, just said, “No. You have to take the time you’re given.” I had to take it into my own hands. I called all my other junior senators who had to preside as well and traded times with them. Mark Udall was really the knight in shining armor at that moment. He said, “Of course, Kirsten. Take my nine AM time.” I said, “Great.” I got to open the Senate at nine thirty, which I really loved. It was all because a male colleague really was kind and thoughtful and said, “Of course I’ll change with you.”

The other challenges I’ve had in this particular job and balancing is when the boys were younger, they were in daycare before school. Daycare pickup was between five and six, and school, actually, pickup’s between five and six. When they were little, it was harder because I had to vote during that time. I would pick them up and when Theo was little, he’d come with me to the House chamber. I had Henry. He was five. He’d like to vote for all the house members. In the House, you vote by sticking your ID card into a voting machine where you push yea, nay, or present. Theo would ask all the other congress members, “Can I do your vote?” He’d push red or green. He had a blast. They used to have this room in the back where you could get hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and yogurt and ice cream. There was many evenings when Theo would have dinner with me between five and six because they just happened to call votes between five and six often that year. It was all the time. Theo came with me to vote for that hour because I had to get him from daycare. Over time in the Senate, votes weren’t as often.

When I had little Henry, I had to pick him up from daycare. He couldn’t be left alone. He’s a little kid. You can’t leave a baby or a toddler alone unattended. You can’t bring children onto the Senate floor, whereas the House floor, you could bring children onto the floor. I would have to sometimes have Henry in my arms, or when he was toddler, in my hand, and I’d have to lean into the door on the Senate to vote from the chamber door. I couldn’t let go of his hand. As he got older, I used to leave him in Harry Reid’s office which was when he was the minority leader and the majority leader. It’s right off the Senate floor. It’s now Chuck’s office. I’d ask Theo or Henry or both, “Just sit right here while Mommy runs in and votes.” The good news is we now have more senators who have newborns. One of the things that Tammy Duckworth did was made sure she could bring an infant on the Senate floor. The permission’s only good while they’re an infant, which is ridiculous, but it’s progress. It’s better than me not being able to bring Henry on the floor when I needed to. Tammy’s accomplished that for the next mom that decides to be a senator.

Zibby: You worked up until the day…

Kirsten: I did. I was in a house hearing. It was the Armed Services hearing where you mark up the yearly Armed Services Authorization Bill. It’s usually a nine to midnight thing. I said to the chairman, “I will sit ‘til nine PM.” I know by nine PM I’ll be just dead. I sat there all day. I was so uncomfortable. I was having all these pains. I was just plowing through it. I finally left at nine. I went home. I went to bed. Sure enough, my water broke that night. It was definitely some early labor pains.

Zibby: I read somewhere they gave you a standing ovation.

Kirsten: I brought Henry back to the floor a few weeks later. Since I had a c-section, I waited ‘til I felt comfortable. A few weeks later, I had a vote that I wanted to vote on. I brought Henry back. Speaker Pelosi gave me one minute to introduce Henry to the House members. It was very exciting. I brought little Henry. I was a little worried he was going to spit all over me. He didn’t. He was very well behaved. He slept through the whole thing.

Zibby: You should try to push that through as a law. All places of work should give a woman a standing ovation when she comes back after having a baby. Next on your agenda, please.

Kirsten: I was only the fifth member of Congress ever to have a baby while in office. They hadn’t seen a young mom and a baby in a while. They thought it was worth clapping for. Hopefully in this new election when we flip the house, we’re electing a lot more young women to the House and even the Senate. We have Kyrsten Sinema running for the Senate, who’s a young woman. We have a lot opportunity which I’m very excited about.

Zibby: Are you getting worried about this election? It’s very soon.

Kirsten: I’m very hopeful. I’ve been travelling not only around my state talking to folks, but the number of people who are turning out at townhalls to protest, coming to Washington to do the women’s marches, coming to Washington to protest Judge Kavanaugh, you saw thousands and thousands of women who are on fire because they are so concerned about the future of this country, particularly under President Trump. You’re also seeing women willing to run for office. You have more women running now than ever before in the history of ever.

You have new advocacy organizations. One young woman created a group called Run for Something. They have seen unbelievable participation, thousands of people participating, wanting to run campaigns, run for office, an exponential increase. She created that out of nothing when she saw what happened in the election. She wasn’t going to sit and do nothing. She decided, “I’m going to fight back.” That’s what she accomplished. You’re seeing it across the board with what Amanda Litman did, but also you see it in the number of women running for office. Groups like Higher Heights double the number of African American women running for congress. Traditional groups like EMILY’s List, exponential increases. They would be working with a thousand candidates at this point in the cycle. They’re working with over forty thousand candidates right now.

You have over two hundred women running, alone, for Congress right now who are running as nominees in their party. You’re going to see a different players list. That transformation’s going to help the country. We’ll focus on issues that maybe haven’t been top-ten issues like paid leave or universal pre-K or affordable daycare, some things that really would help the economy grow and help all families. The lens that they will bring to their job will be different. That will be good for outcomes.

Zibby: I feel like there’s this, maybe, misconception that you lose your sense of privacy once you run for any sort of public office and that as a woman if you were to run, would you be able to protect the privacy of your kids or your family? The more in the public eye you get, the more vulnerable you become. Have you found that to be an issue at all?

Kirsten: No. I don’t feel more vulnerable. For a lot of women, they might not have run for office because they don’t like the negativity of campaigns. They don’t like the constant bickering. The whole job of being an elected leader seems too adversarial. Most women like to do things by consensus. They like to bring people together. I think they’ve traditionally avoided running for office for those reasons. Because the nature of this moment is so intense and so frightening, and the country is going is exactly the wrong direction on so many issues — this president continues to divide the country. He wants to build a wall. He wants to keep out Muslims. He wants to find moral equivalencies where there are none in Charlottesville. Won’t stand up to white supremacists. Doesn’t do the right thing in terms of our transgender troops and wants to not allow them to serve. He keeps dividing this country on every line.

That’s particularly offensive to a lot of women, and disturbing, and so they’re willing to run. They’re willing to be the one that will run. Who controls the House of Representatives overturn? Who controls the Senate, and their local school boards and their local elections? They’re running across the board. I’ve been to a dozen states and seen incredible local candidates running and trying to help them be successful. It was one of the reasons why I founded Off the Sidelines six years ago. I wanted to ask more women to participate, to create that call to action to say, “I need you to vote. I need you to run. I need you to support other women who are willing to run.” Through our Off the Sidelines efforts, we’ve raised over seven million dollars for women candidates.

Zibby: That’s amazing. There have been whispers that you’ve denied that you are thinking of running for president in 2020.

Kirsten: I’m just focused on Senate. That’s something I can think about later. I really believe that everyone should be focused on this election right now. If we’re not, we’re going to miss the opportunity to really hold President Trump accountable and actually create a bulk word against the worst things he wants to do.

Zibby: A personal question to end. You have all this stuff going on in your life and with your kids and your family. Do you get any time for yourself? Do you get to work out and get your hair done? Do you get to do any of those basic things like other women?

Kirsten: Yes. I did have my mommy time, which I decided long ago was really important to sanity. I like to work out. I have a group of ladies that I work out with. I have a little text group called Exercise Ladies. They’re my best friends. I get to work out with them most mornings. We all sign up for different classes. I do Pilates. I do biking classes. I like biking classes. I found a new group of people to play tennis with. I play tennis once in a while, maybe once a week. I also like to play squash. I need to find some more squash partners soon. I stay fit. I do an hour each morning, usually six AM though. That’s when my family’s still sleeping. I leave my house at five forty-five and go to a class, come back at seven, then I make breakfast for everybody. I do that.

I try to find time with my husband. We try to get away once in a while at for a night or two. Every few months we’ll find time. I do try to keep that time protected on Saturdays, almost always for the last several years, is reserved just for the boys. On Saturdays I like to go watch their soccer games, watch their baseball games, and maybe see a girlfriend for breakfast or something after our Pilates class. That’s what we do. My girlfriends are important to me. I’ve got girlfriends all over my state, great girlfriends in New York City, great girlfriends in Upstate New York and Albany, and then girlfriends in DC. Those groups of women keep me sane. I also spend time in my faith. That’s another thing that I use to keep me centered. In Washington, I do bible studies a couple times a week with women and men who are senators, mostly republicans. I try to go to church on Sundays. That keeps me sane as well.

Zibby: It sounds like you’ve gotten this whole thing figured out.

Kirsten: Not really. I make it up as I go along. Every year I make different refinements on what is necessary to keep me whole this year. Life changes. Your kids change. They get older. You’ve got to meet their needs in a different way. Every era of being a parent is different. I now have a teenager. Theo is fourteen in high school. It’s very different. Henry’s ten. He’s in fifth grade. He’s just entering middle school with all those challenges. My kids need different things from me. I try to really meet them where they are and be the best mom I can be.

Zibby: Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” This has been so interesting for me. I’m so inspired by you and thankful for all the things that you do for not just women, but women and men everywhere. It’s really fantastic.

Kirsten: Thank you for everything. Appreciate it.

Zibby: Thank you. Of course.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, BOLD & BRAVE

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, BOLD & BRAVE