Nevada's First Family Poses with the Easter Bunny at the Governor's Mansion in Carson City
After eight months as first family, Governor Brian Sandoval, his wife Kathleen, and their three children have settled into their new home at the governor's mansion in Carson City. Recently I sat down with the first lady to find out about life in the mansion, and how she juggles family, the kids' school, her career and the commute to Reno where she works as a program director at the Children's Cabinet.
"I don't sleep much," she laughs. "But when you love what you're doing, it makes it easier to juggle it all." The Sandovals have three children, James, a sophomore at Bishop Manogue High School, Maddy, a freshman at Manogue and Marisa who starts second grade this week in Reno. That makes for a lively household.
My first question: Who cooks? Her answer again comes with a smile, "Sometimes I cook, sometimes Brian cooks. We try to plan it in advance, but a lot of times it's just your typical family where, who knows when anyone's going to be home for dinner." I asked if the mansion is starting to feel more like home. The answer is yes. There are a few things to get used to, like the white carpet that covers most of the floors in the historic residence. "That is a huge challenge for us with three kids and four dogs."
Marisa and Maddy Sandoval
LIFE AS A FAMILY
The Sandovals have a small staff at the mansion, but there's no chef and no housekeeper. To keep things running smoothly, everyone has to pitch in. Do the kids have chores? Absolutely. "They're responsible for putting their laundry away, cleaning their rooms and doing their dishes just like anybody else," says the first mom. And they have to make their beds. (Editor's note: That question came from my thirteen year-old daughter, who is convinced that life in the governor's mansion is a piece of cake, and that there's no bed-making.)
Internet? Yes if it's school related. No TV during the week, no video games. They have a set bedtime, and homework comes first.
Governor Brian Sandoval with his son James who recently got his driver's license
James recently got his driver's license, so he helps with the drive to high school. That leaves Kathleen to make the commute to work and to take her youngest daughter to school in Reno. Time with friends takes some effort too. "Their school friends are in Reno. You can't just say I want to go to a friend's house, and be there in fifteen minutes. It requires more planning."
How has all this changed them? "I think it's matured them a bit," says Sandoval. "In terms of their friends, they don't really treat them any different. I think that's been good for them." And like typical teenagers, the older two still see their dad as just part of the family. "When they're mad at their dad, and they hear all the nice things people say about him, they're like 'Oh my gosh, they don't have to live with him.' "
It seems every day brings something different. Sandoval recalls the time one of her staff members called about her youngest daughter's toys. The staffer said, "We saw your office and it's covered with Barbies, do you want us to pick it up?" Her response? "I said no, Marisa has to pick it up."
LIFE AS FIRST LADY
As first lady, Kathleen Sandoval gets many requests to appear at events around the state. Because she works full time, she has to choose carefully and can't say yes to everything. "My kids are my first priority and we made a goal that their lives would be as normal as possible," she says. "I really focus on events that have to do with youth and children, I make them a priority to attend, because that's my passion."
Kathleen Sandoval has a soft spot for kids. Her own, and the ones she meets at the Children's Cabinet in Reno. She has two goals as first lady of Nevada, to bring resources and attention to fight substance abuse and improve mental health. "To look at what other states are doing in terms of those issues, how they're dealing with the impact of not having resources and how we can bring more resources to our state." She's seen some progress in both areas, but there's a long way to go. One of the benefits of being first lady is that people listen. "It has given me the ability to get people's ears and to really make an impact and pull people together."
Kathleen Sandoval with mural artists Darryl Helton and Jordan Bird at Children's Cabinet in Reno
Sandoval says the economy has had an impact on families in all parts of Nevada. "Lack of stability; we're seeing more families having to access the food bank or needing rental assistance. So their lives are more in upheaval and it's more difficult for kids." These are issues she sees first-hand in her work as Director of the Family and Youth Intervention program at Children's Cabinet.
OPTIMISM ABOUT THE FUTURE
There are reasons for optimism though, and at the Children's Cabinet, the first lady is actively pursuing grants and using collaboration with other agencies to bring more services to young people. "One of the things that is great for our youth is that there are a lot of different options for education, so if they don't fit into the traditional school, they have more options than they used to," she says, noting that everyone has had to be more creative in this economy.
Even at the governor's mansion there are not as many resources as there used to be. The first family has cut back on staff, but Sandoval says one of the biggest surprises about living at the mansion is the bonding that has happened between her family and the remaining staff, including the four trustees who come from the state correctional centers. The trustees are non-violent DUI offenders who help set up events at the mansion and take care of the grounds. "They've been very open about talking about what's happened to them, and the impact it's had on their lives," she says. "That's been a great education for my two older kids."
First Lady Kathleen Sandoval with her children James, Maddy and Marisa at Lake Tahoe
It's apparent that despite all the multi-tasking, the first lady is grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of Nevada. Her children have a chance to meet many people and see their state in a way that not many others do. "I'm lucky that all my kids are very giving and I think they'll continue to develop that and to develop understanding of others." They've also had to develop a thicker skin. "They see their dad in the newspaper and some negative things– you have to get a thick skin," she says.
Many people think that being governor means you live like royalty, but Sandoval says, in reality they're like many families in the Silver State. "I think that's a difference about us being a family and being in the governor's mansion– is that we are a typical working family and that we worry about what everybody else worries about, making ends meet and paying our bills." She mentions that they returned $40 thousand dollars to the general fund last year from money that was budgeted for the mansion. "Our goal was to use as little money as possible," she says.
Sandoval says she has learned to roll with the punches and stay calm when things get really hectic. "It takes a lot for me to get completely stressed out. I'm able to let things roll off my back and keep things in perspective." That definitely shows as the phone rings in her office and people pop-in several times during our interview.
What surprised me most in talking with the first lady — other than her ability to laugh at the craziness of it all, is her confession that she maintains control over the family's washing machine. "Nobody puts laundry in the washer except for me, because we had a little white coming out pink," she laughs. That may seem like a small thing, but we wouldn't want the Governor greeting dignitaries in pink shirts.