Maria Shriver: Reinventing the First Lady

With her husband busy in the governor’s office and her job at NBC News no longer an option, Maria Shriver had only one choice: to reinvent the role of California’s first lady (and have some fun along the way).

By Karen Breslau
For this year’s conference, Shriver tells me, she’s planning a panel of A-list actresses and designers, many over 40, to talk about being "Witty, Wise, and Sexy at Any Age." Facing ChallengesIt hasn’t all been seamless. Last fall, Shriver ruffled feathers in Sacramento with her plans to remake the failing California State History Museum into a museum of women’s history. Several board members resigned; the Los Angeles Times published a caricature of an over-reaching Shriver as shrew; and Maria, contrite and bruised, ended up going to lawmakers to get their blessing for a museum that would commemorate both California’s history and its women. She gamely sums up that episode in her new book, And One More Thing Before You Go… in Rule #3: "Learn from Your Mistakes." Written as a guide for girls graduating from high school, you get the sense that Shriver has torn a few pages from her diary from the past year. In Rule #1, titled "Fear Can Be Your Best Teacher," she admits to having "rolling waves of panic" when she became first lady. In Rule #2, "Be Willing to Let Go of Your Plan," she writes that leaving her career to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest with her husband’s new administration left her feeling as though her world was over. But, she adds, "I didn’t want to live with that feeling — resentful and so rigid that I couldn’t handle change."The word "resentment" seems to crop up a lot in Shriver’s vocabulary. It’s an obvious clue that she and her husband — despite their star status — have faced the same struggles as many other two-career couples. The morning after her senate speech, we meet for breakfast at the Hyatt Regency, just across the street from the Capitol where the couple bunks while in Sacramento (California has no official governor’s mansion). I ask whether her departure from NBC, widely reported as a leave, was in fact a firing. Shriver, who has passed on food but is sipping a cup of black coffee, pauses. "I’ve been fired before, so yeah, I’d have to say it felt similar," she says. "And for me, it was the stupid little stuff. That’s where my friends work, that’s where my office is, with all my stuff. It was my own place. And when my box of stuff came back, it was one of those passages. I once belonged somewhere and didn’t anymore. All of a sudden, I was like, ‘Now what?’" It was an uneasy time. Schwarzenegger was consumed in Sacramento establishing his new administration. Shriver, at home in Los Angeles with the couple’s four children (now age 7 to 15), was sifting through the ashes of her television career, but not yet ready to launch into first-lady mode. "I was wobbling," she acknowledges. Bonnie Reiss, a close friend of the couple’s who is now a senior adviser to Schwarzenegger, says that Maria’s first goal was to minimize the disruption to the children’s lives. "When Arnold did movies, he’d be away at most three or four months," she explains. "The other eight months of the year, he was available to drive the kids to school, to tutor them, to give backrubs at bedtime. That’s been a big loss in the kids’ lives." In her new role, Maria decided to make a very important statement: "You can be a success and still feel comfortable making the kids your top priority."Being a MomFor Shriver, that meant a quick end to the pity party. With four kids to manage, "I had about 24 hours to wobble," she says. Now she tries to spend no more than one night out each week on state business, and rarely more than a day a week in Sacramento. Despite the thousands of invitations that pour into her office every month, she says she turns down 99 percent. "Not because they are not worthy, but because they take me away from my primary job with the children." She keeps her schedule on a spreadsheet that weaves her official functions into the gaps between car pools, tennis lessons, and flag-football practice. Shriver says her girls agree with Oprah that she should, indeed, "kick it up." They’ve been urging her to take more time for herself — to have lunch with her friends and even, she howls, "to go get a facial!" But most days, it seems, she hardly has time to eat. In her Sacramento office, she keeps a drawer full of Pria bars, which she gobbles between meetings. The day she addressed lawmakers started at 5:45 a.m.

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