Chelsea displays confidence for all the world to see

February 04, 1997|By Susan Reimer

IF YOU ARE raising a teen-age daughter, you know how painful it is for her when she is noticed.

She would trade a closet full of her favorite outfits for the cloak of invisibility. She lives life feeling like everyone is staring at her and her psyche burns under the X-ray vision of a million pairs of eyes.

But this awful self-consciousness passes -- to the great relief of teen-age girls and the mothers who suffer with them -- and it appears to have passed for Chelsea Clinton.

Somehow, the First Teen-ager found the courage to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue -- in a mini-skirt and high heels, no less -- during her father's second inauguration. The eyes of the world were on her, thanks to CNN.

I am not sure it was a signal that she was ready for the comic pages, but Chelsea Clinton is there, too, starring in a recent Garry Trudeau spin off the road. Trudeau spent several days chronicling Chelsea's college search in his strip, "Doonesbury." Was her application to Mike Doonesbury's struggling alma mater, Walden College, simply the prank of a classmate or the tip of a new scandal? Stay tuned.

If I'm Garry Trudeau, I'm hoping all my tax returns are in order about now.

The Clintons have not cocooned their only child for four years to see her fair skin peeled by the acid wit of Trudeau on the eve of her departure from the nest.

The timing of Trudeau's story line was certainly coincident, but it came at the close of what has been an elaborate, yearlong coming out for Chelsea Clinton. And Chelsea Clinton, who turns 17 this month, is turning out very nicely.

The Clintons were horrified at the prospect of raising their only child in the City of Knives, and they erected unyielding protections around her privacy. Reporters were told to keep their distance and, to the surprise of many inside and outside the Washington press corps, they did.

But last winter, Chelsea phoned her father's secretary and asked for a ticket to the State of the Union speech. During spring break, she went with her mother to Bosnia, war-whooped on a USO stage and traded quips with rowdy soldiers.

She attended her first state dinner in June, wearing the dress she wore to her junior prom.

She spent part of the summer with a church group fixing up the homes of the poor in Kentucky, and her parents speak with unrestrained pride of her social conscience, her "big heart."

Chelsea has been touring college campuses with the rest of the high school seniors and hanging out at Washington's Planet Hollywood with her friends. We have heard that she is dating.

She traveled with her parents on the campaign train and was there, bigger than life, on the Jumbotron during the Democratic Convention in August in Chicago.

She stepped out of the limousine during the inaugural parade, shed her full-length coat and walked alongside her father in a skimming mini-suit that would have caused a mother-daughter screaming match in my house.

She took a seat beside Strom Thurmond at a Capitol Hill Inauguration-Day luncheon and she danced the night away in a simply cut, ice-blue satin sheath. Gone were the puff sleeves, bows and bustle of the 1992 Chelsea. Her father smiled into her face as if it were her wedding dance.

Though it sometimes has the deliberate pace and choreography of a Jane Austen novel, Chelsea Clinton is emerging into young womanhood.

Gone are the braces and the self-conscious smile. The frizz has given way to curls and years of ballet have paid dividends for this tall girl. She is not pretty in any cheerleader sense, but she radiates a kind of confidence that is hard-won for any teen-age girl.

Those who know her well dare not say much about her, but she is described as self-disciplined, generous, well-mannered, well-spoken and comfortable with adults. She is not arrogant or class-conscious and appears to understand that the attention she draws is due to her parents' accomplishments, not her own.

Chelsea is this administration's family value -- kind, smart and polite. No matter what you think of her father's guile or her mother's remoteness, it appears the Clintons have done well with Chelsea. Even their critics give the Clintons high marks as parents.

My husband is one of those critics, but when he heard that the First Father told Chelsea, "No," the first time she asked to get her ears pierced, he almost voted for him. It was more than that, I think. Clinton adores his daughter, and any other father knows that feeling when he sees it.

The president is as smitten with love when he is caught looking at his daughter as mine is when he watches his. It is all that Chelsea's dad and Jessie's dad have in common. But it is a fundamental thing in men, I think, and more than any stage-managed White House adolescence, that adoration is what has given Chelsea Clinton the courage to walk down the street on CNN. She'll probably call Garry Trudeau and ask him to send her an autographed original of his strip.

So when my daughter was on fire with embarrassment and crying the scalding tears of shame, I was not surprised to hear how her father comforted her.

Be brave when you feel the world is watching you, he said. Just like Chelsea Clinton.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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