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Counting Her Blessings

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In general, she says, it's been harder for her than for Richard to give the kids freedom since they've become teenagers. "Especially with driving," she says, "which is the first big step in going away. In a way, having him leave for college was easier than having him learn to drive." Now she's giving lessons to Gabriel, who's just turned 16. "We're still in the parking lot stage," Vieira says. "Maybe we could stay there."

Her relationship with 14-year-old Lily is "really lovely," she says. "She's serious about stuff, on the shy side, and she has a head on her shoulders. She has Richard's gift for writing and she's interested in theater. She has a beautiful voice — we don't know how that happened." Vieira worries about whether her daughter will grow away from her — "because I went through that stage with my mom." The two of them talk openly and candidly. "She knows everything about me. My mom was part of an older generation. When I was at the age when I would get my first period, a Kotex box appeared in the mail with a pamphlet she'd written away for. So Lil and I have always talked. I'm hoping, as she gets older, we stay close."

A fierce nurturing instinct and a healthy competitive drive seem to coexist comfortably in Vieira. Her consistent, rock-steady commitment to family has always, it seems, defined, if not trumped, her impressive accomplishments as a journalist. Illustrating the paradox that strength can be soft and softness strong, this is a woman at once stiff of spine and marshmallow of heart. "I'm a mother first," she says. "I didn't always know that, but when I was put to the test, I figured it out about myself."

In 1989, already a successful television journalist, Vieira was offered a job as a correspondent on 60 Minutes. Having mourned three miscarriages, she took then-4-month-old Ben to lunch with Don Hewitt, the show's creator and executive producer, and left with an agreement that she'd work part-time at home and part-time in the office, sometimes with Ben. That flexibility wouldn't last. When Vieira turned down an assignment that required flying (she was pregnant with Gabe), the chill at 60 Minutes grew frostier, and a line was drawn. In 1991, Vieira left, choosing family over fame until The View tapped her for its on-air ensemble in 1997.

Perhaps because she has lived through public dissections of her own career choices, she's quick to defend Katie Couric, the subject of negative media scrutiny since taking over the CBS Evening News and failing to lift the show out of third place. "I think it's unfair to be put under the microscope the way she has, and I feel bad for her," Vieira says. "Things don't turn around overnight." Vieira says she knows how hard it is to move to a new job and get your feet planted. "There's a learning curve, and an acceptance curve, with everything. They hype and hype, then at the first sign of slippage, people start to write stories."

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