Jill Biden on Joe As President, Her Military Family and Her New Children’s Book

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L.: Dennis Drenner

They may live in the elegant Vice President’s residence at Number One Observatory Circle, but Joe and Jill Biden consider themselves  a “regular” military family. Their son, Beau, the Attorney General of Delaware, was deployed to Iraq in 2008 with his National Guard unit, and spent a year there, leaving behind his wife and two small children. As the Second Lady, Jill Biden has worked endless hours with Michelle Obama to help service members and their families. Now, Biden. who has a doctorate in education, has written Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops (Simon & Schuster), a sensitive children’s book about the feelings of Natalie, a five-year-old girl whose father is called to serve. TIME spoke with Biden yesterday in Manhattan at a tea thrown by her publisher at the St. Regis Hotel about her book, the lure of the White House, and how she feels about a particular Republican gripe with her and her husband. (TIME submitted questions to Biden before the interview.)

Why did you decide to write a children’s book?

I’m a teacher, and I thought it would be the best way to educate and create awareness in children as well as their parents. If parents or kids say, “Gosh, we don’t know about military families. Mommy or Daddy, what can we do?”—there are suggestions in there for both the kids and the parents on where to go and what they can do. I really tried to educate and inspire.

How did your granddaughter Natalie feel about being the main character in the book?

Oh, she loved it! She was a little shy about it at first, but she’s very proud of the book. She’s very proud of her daddy.

Did she have a hard time when he was away?

She had some anxiety. I think that when you read the book, you can feel that anxiety until her daddy comes home. Our family only had to go through this once. But for so many military families, the moms or dads are deployed three, four, five, six times. You definitely do feel that anxiety when your loved one is in a war zone.

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What’s the main thing you’re hoping readers take away from the book?

An understanding of the strength and the resilience of military families and what they go through. This [situation] isn’t just going to be this year, or next year, or the following year. When these soldiers come home, the problems are going to go on for years to come.

Congratulations on your daughter Ashley’s wedding last weekend! Did you and your husband enjoy it?

Let’s say it was a labor of love. It was a lot of work. The reception was at our home [in Greenville, Delaware], and we haven’t been home that much in the last four years because we’ve been doing other things. So if you’ve ever hosted anything at your home, you look around and think, ‘Oh my God, look at the screens—There are holes where the dog has poked through.’ Or things that needed to be painted. I’m a gardener, and I love to plant. So I was planting up all of these flower boxes and gardens, and Joe was shellacking the teak outdoor furniture. We were definitely busy.

You’ve continued to teach (at Northern Virginia Community College) despite being the Second Lady. Is there ever a conflict between those two roles?

Actually, I think maybe they complement one another… Teaching is what I’ve always done. This is going to be my 32nd year of teaching. I think it actually grounds you…I’m at a community college and I teach English. My students are working one, sometimes two jobs. They have kids. They’re going school. They’re dealing with real everyday problems. They are inspiring because they’re trying to get ahead and make a better life for themselves and their kids. I love that part of my life. I was in the classroom four days after the inauguration, because I said to Joe when we got elected, ‘Joe, I really want to continue to teach.’ And he said, ‘Absolutely. You should be doing what you love.’ Politics—that’s Joe’s life, really, his love. But teaching is mine.

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Republicans have criticized you and the Vice President for not giving enough money to charity. You’re giving the proceeds of this book to charity…

Yes, I’m giving all of the proceeds to scholarships for military children who have lost their parents, or to children of wounded warriors.

So is the criticism unfair?

I think we’ve decided on the charities we wanted to give to, so I felt we were doing our fair share.

Would you ever like to be First Lady?

(Laughs) Well, I do think Joe would make a great President. I mean, I went out and campaigned for him twice when he ran for President. But right now we’re focused on this election, and getting back and continuing what we’re doing with Joining Forces [a national initiative for service members] and the things that are important to me and Joe and Barack and Michelle.

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