It must be tough being First-Lady-in-Chief.

Breaking tradition by doing something more than ordering new china and engaging in some White House redecorating could earn the president's spouse an unkindly comparison to Hillary Clinton. Likewise, for many, reaching beyond the typical female concerns of home, health and interesting meatloaf recipes means the first lady has overstepped her bounds and is using her marital status to push her political agenda - assuming a woman can have a political agenda.

What's a girl to do?

Such is the dilemma of Laura Bush, who, ironically, is stepping into the limelight shortly before the moving van is scheduled to roll up in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Better late than never.

Laura, the former librarian whose gentle voice and quiet concern makes us want to curl up on the sofa and go night-night, has ventured into unfamiliar territory.

She's speaking out.

And for doing so, is taking a few hits.

Recently, the First Lady has gone so far as traipsing through the Middle East on a mission to bring awareness to breast cancer - a disease that ravages mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters and girlfriends the world over. Only three members of the American media were invited to accompany her on the visit that took her to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan.

Besides leading impressive careers as journalists, the lucky chosen happen to have another thing in common - they are all women.

Laura chose to bring Greta Van Susteren, Robin Roberts and Kathleen Parker along for the ride.

Is it possible that Laura simply needed a little girl time? A getaway from her hubby that would involve fits of giggles, nail polish and gossip?

Maybe, but probably not.

Emerging as a woman with more to offer than people give her credit for, Laura is taking on a leadership role that has some scratching their heads and wondering where the lil' missus has gone.

Why some have applauded her traditional White House role, others have been disappointed, wishing she would use her position a little more, well, liberally.

And now she is - by packing up her suitcase and spearheading a unique campaign in a part of the world where women need all the help they can get.

But it's not been easy.

The media has been critical of Laura's trip, insinuating that a photo taken of her wearing an abaya somehow indicates her approval of tyranny - and the need to conform - as women are often expected to do.

According to the reporters who know the truth, however, Laura's brief donning of the abaya was nothing more than a kindly gesture she made after receiving it as a gift. They're calling it good manners.

Meanwhile, Laura seems to have retreated back into her familiar domain and one has to wonder what she's thinking when she reads the criticism.

Let's hope it is something more meaningful than what to throw in her meatloaf.

SARA VANDEN BERGE is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 240.