Barbara Bush Talks Life in COVID-19: Hunkering Down at Her Parents’ Ranch and Volunteering as a Poll Worker
The former first daughter also reflects on the importance of service in many forms, including supporting Black Lives Matter
There's the year that Barbara Pierce Bush planned to have in 2020 and then there's the year that she — and everyone else — actually got.
The twin daughter of former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, Barbara had been set to graduate with a master's degree from Harvard University in May. But a month before graduation, with the novel coronavirus causing widespread shutdowns and sending schools to online classes, she and Coyne relocated from Boston to her parents' ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Not only did Barbara finish school there virtually, the couple (who married in 2018) and her parents ended up riding out the pandemic together, Barbara tells PEOPLE.
"We thought that we would be there for two weeks and have now been living with my parents for the past five months," Barbara said in a recent joint interview with twin sister Jenna Bush Hager and their cousin Wendy Stapleton, to discuss the annual George H.W. Bush Points of Light Awards Celebration.
"I don't think that that was something Craig anticipated when he married me, moving in with his parents-in-law for five months," says Barbara, 38.
She says she's loved binge-watching TV with them in her downtime — when she isn't focused on more pressing health and social justice issues.
She and her husband stayed part of their time in Texas before finishing out the summer at the Bush family compound in Maine. "But of course we see the huge blessing in that, that we would never have this time with my parents," she says. "So that's been wonderful."
"Probably it's more stark to me because I've been spending so much time with my parents. But we all love the same things, and it's interesting because really the same things are important to each of us," she says. " So, I definitely feel like I'm becoming more like both of our parents."
Barbara, Hager and Stapleton are co-chairs of this year's Points of Light celebration, which will be held virtually on Saturday in lieu of the traditional gala in New York City, given the pandemic.
All four former living presidents will join as honorary co-chairs of the event, which will honor a select group of individuals making an impact in their communities.
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Continuing the Bush legacy of volunteerism is important to Barbara just as much as celebrating the joy — and hilarity — of family. During the interview, the twins reflected on Hager's new book, Everything Beautiful in Its Time. It's an ode to their grandparents, three of whom passed within a year of each other (former President George H. W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush in 2018 and maternal grandmother, Jenna Welch, in May 2019).
But it's also a collection of lighter memories, like the day that Hager threw a chunky Steve Madden heel at Barbara's head.
"That moment really needed to be written down for posterity, obviously," Barbara joked.
"It did," Hager replied, just as playfully. "And you know what? I put it out into the world, and now ... I mean, you've forgiven me, but now I've forgiven myself."
Jokes aside, the Bush sisters and Stapleton are focusing on family during the pandemic. Barbara says that the energy of the Bushes' famed summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, has "definitely shifted" since her grandparents' passing. But they've also found new warmth there.
"Something that's been really beautiful is that this summer in particular, most of our cousins and aunts and uncles were up here, because we could quarantine together," Barbara says. "While it's quieter without [my grandparents], we keep them alive by telling all of our hilarious and moving stories."
She and Coyne and her parents have dug into Netflix, too.
"We really have hit [it] hard over this quarantine," she says. "Every single night after dinner, we watch one episode of a show." (They "love a murder mystery ... a dark murder mystery.")
Beyond serving as co-chair this year for the elder President Bush's foundation's awards — inspired by a phrase in his speeches — Barbara is continuing her work with her organization Global Health Corps, where she serves as board chair, and another opportunity.
"I've started a new job to work on social change issues virtually a handful of weeks ago, and I will see where that goes," she tells PEOPLE. "I'm excited through that to be able to work on health, what I've always loved, and the social determinants of health, which are critical to address right now with COVID, and also to support Black Lives Matter."
She adds: "It's very important to me to be involved with the movement for Black lives and doing what we can to support racial justice in the United States."
And, as the November election approaches, Barbara plans to serve in a new way.
"Last week was National Poll Worker Day, and we have a shortage of poll workers in the United States," Barbara told PEOPLE in her recent interview "And so my husband and I both volunteered to be poll workers. We'll see what that means for us. I don't know where we'll be. But we're fortunate that we are both healthy, and are not an at-risk population, and can quarantine ourselves after that, beforehand and after."
Her sister is all for it.
"Barbara the poll worker," Hager says. "Go, Barbara!"
The second annual celebration of The George H.W. Bush Points of Light Awards will live-stream on Saturday (8 p.m. ET).
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