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Chelsea Clinton: Just Another 12-Year-Old

November 6, 1992

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Chelsea Clinton, like many 12-year-old girls, likes ballet and plays a solid third base in softball. She eats macaroni and cheese and broccoli, and she giggles and dotes on her father.

But she’s not just any 12-year-old. She’s the daughter of the man who was just elected the 42nd president of the United States.

President-elect Clinton, now the Arkansas governor, and his wife, Hillary, have worked hard to give their eighth-grader a normal life, despite living so close to the public eye. She attends a public school, pals with children of not-so-famous parents and is rarely seen in a political setting.

″Her parents have made an effort to make sure she remains a teen-ager and not grow up too fast,″ said Bill Trice, a family friend whose son plays with Chelsea.

″She’s not a snob - not what you would expect,″ said Lea Russ, head of the PTA at Mann Magnet Junior High School.

″They are very protective of her private life,″ said longtime friend Skip Rutherford. ″The result is a very nice, very polite, very well-adjusted young woman.″

Another result is that the public knows very little about Chelsea, other than what adults say about her.

She’s 5-foot-2, wears braces and size 5 shoes. Her long, curly brown hair whips from side to side when she dances with her girlfriends - ″sort of a crazy slam dance,″ Trice said.

At last check, she wanted to be a scientist.

Chelsea prefers T-shirts and jeans, but can get dressed up for the right occasions.

For Clinton’s 1990 inaugural as governor, Chelsea wore a new, floor-length purple gown described by her mother as ″every little girl’s dream of a dress.″ She arrived in New York for the Democratic National Convention wearing a short skirt that was in marked contrast to the more girlish dresses she favored previously.

Rutherford remembers Chelsea bounding into the kitchen one night. ″Need some school clothes, Mom,″ she said. Mrs. Clinton rolled her eyes and smiled.

Clinton has always taken Chelsea into the voting booth, and old Election Day pictures show tiny feet and lacy skirts below the voting booth curtain. This year, it was faded jeans and big tennis shoes - father and daughter shuffled their feet nervously in time together.

While waiting in line, Clinton pulled a necklace out of his pocket and handed it to his wife. Chelsea flung her stringy hair from back to front while her mother fastened the necklace.

Still waiting, Clinton pulled his daughter close to his side and kissed the top of her head.

During a break in the campaign this summer, Clinton met with Thomas F. ″Mack″ McLarty, a utility executive who has known Clinton since kindergarten. He noticed that Clinton was distracted.

″What’s wrong, Bill?″ McLarty said.

″I can’t get through to Chelsea,″ Clinton said, fumbling with the telephone. Chelsea was not answering the telephone where Clinton thought she should be.

He dialed for 10 minutes, before Chelsea finally answered. The color returned to his face and his eyes lit up.

″Gosh, I’m so glad to hear the sound of your voice,″ Clinton told his daughter.

Chelsea played in the Hillcrest Softball League again this year. In keeping with the tradition, Mrs. Clinton threw out the first ball.

″As we were walking away, somebody wondered out loud if she would open next year’s season on the White House lawn,″ said Rutherford, whose daughter plays in the league. ″Hillary’s eyes lit up and she said, ’Wouldn’t that be great?‴

Friends say the Clintons are worried about how well they can shelter Chelsea from the spotlight and keep her close to them. It was certainly on Clinton’s mind in July 1991, when he was considering whether to enter the presidential race.

″If lightning should strike and I win, she loses me,″ Clinton said during a quiet moment.

Asked a year later about that statement, he said, ″I was worried about her losing her childhood and her access to her parents.″

Could he prevent that in the White House? ″We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,″ he said.

He’s come to it.

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