In the Summer of 2009 I reflected about the woman I knew for years in Chicago as just Michelle. Tonight she will take the stage of the Democratic National Convention as the First Lady of the United States of America. In honor of her I am reposting my reflection, for the Michelle I knew then and the one the World will see tonight remains the same beacon of love, determination and loyalty to her family, her friends and her country. SMILE On Michelle Obama!
Tonight I will finally getting around to watching the NBC News Special I tivoed a few weeks ago, Inside the Obama White House. It’s really interesting. Such an intimate glimpse into the fast paced, high energy world of our executive government. It’s really quite amazing when you begin to understand the sacrifices of the individuals who are contributing to the betterment of this Presidency. Watching I feel closer to the action, in touch with the heartbeat of our central force known simply as Obama. I felt so compelled to watch this special given the historical nature of this presidency, but also for a more personal reason, because I have a known this first family in part for the last 8 years. Surreal. And so I reflect upon the beginning.
My relationship with the Obama family dates back to an exercise class at a local dance studio. It was a perfect class for me since I could take it with my youngest child at the time, in her car seat at my feet, while my older child took a creative movement class in the next room. Apparently I wasn’t the only mother who appreciated the simultaneous opportunity. Next to me most weeks was a tall, attractive woman known only to me as Michelle. As is the case with many interactions we busy mothers have, I knew only her first name. Our talk was centered around our children, and our meetings were relegated to those brief encounters sandwiched between child events and commitments. This went on, off and on, for a year, during which time I gave birth to another child, started teaching some dance classes at the studio myself, and conceived the outline for my own CAMPUS Classes.
Fast forward to April 2004. It is time for the primary election for our Senate race in my fair city of Chicago. Truthfully I had been preoccupied with my day to day life and so I shamefully had not been paying attention to the races in general, and the candidates specifically. Although, I had seen posters all around for candidate Obama. I knew he was young and a democrat, and that many of the people I respected were voting for him. So, earlier that day I hurriedly cast my ballot for him as well. When the results came in later that evening I was in front of the TV watching Obama’s acceptance speech. When the television shot widened so did my eyes. There, standing on the stage with this candidate who is new to me, is another person who is not. My Michelle is standing on the stage with little Sasha and Malia at her side. I ask out loud, unbelieving, “What is Michelle doing there?”. It took a moment for my brain to catch up to the images on the screen. I could certainly see what she was doing there, she was supporting her husband; her husband the Democratic nominee for Illinois Senator in 2004. Well I’ll be. Go figure.
Over the next 4 years Michelle and I continue to cross paths for dance recitals and soccer games. Our children grow up in the same community, and we share many of the same friends and contacts. We come together on the field for a kiss, a hug and a chuckle. A few times over the years I even run into her husband, at East Bank, on the UIC Athletic field, and in the theatre audience. He is very kind and communicative, but unless his wife is there to whisper into his ear, (as is the case for many husbands), I am simply another constituent with a somewhat familiar face. Certainly to be expected. But that’s OK, because in truth, it is his wife that I am most interested in, mother to mother.
Michelle is a formidable woman. I have always been drawn to her, but much to my chagrin, our lives never quite meshed beyond strong acquaintances. We did have one really great full length conversation. We happened upon each other at a restaurant. She and I had both had the independent idea to get away for a movie with our girls and stop at Lucky Strike for a pre-show dinner. My girls and I arrived at the restaurant and found Michelle and her girls halfway into their meal. Michelle was very gracious and invited us to join them. Our girls shared french fries while she and I huddled in a booth for an impromptu conversation. We talked about the usual motherly things; such as the difficulty of mothering while on the fly. (At the time I was traveling incessantly doing appearances for PBS, and she was traveling on the campaign trail.) We were walking very different paths that presented very similar difficulties. Made for plenty of conversation material, but somehow we happened upon a political conversation, one we had never had the opportunity to have before. This was around the time when the “Jena Six“ discussion was heating up. Michelle’s husband was being challenged to comment about the situation and side with people of like color. (I understood those expectations, having been faced with them myself over the years about various subjects.) She talked to me quite candidly, beyond the party line, about her personal beliefs. She explained to me that this was yet again one of those documentable situations that point out how important it is for each and every one of us to take an interest in government, and do our part to affect change. “We can’t be mad about a system if we don’t do anything to try and make it better.” Michelle said. Hard to argue with that.
We continued to bump into each other, albeit less frequently. We saw each other again at the Ralph Lauren restaurant. I was meeting with the heads of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Healthy Smiles Healthy Children campaign to sign on to be their Ambassador, and she was lunching with Melody Hobson, and Bill Bradley, most likely discussing strategy and support. The months raced on and soon it was late October 2008, time for the SAY Chicago Soccer Finals. (My children hadn’t played that season, but we attended many games in support of our friends.) This blustery night was to be the final game, and Michelle’s eldest daughter Malia’s team was playing in the playoffs. I had had an extremely full day as usual. My intention was to attend the game to support a friend of my son’s, but also in part because I knew that Michelle would be there. I really wanted to see her and tell her how proud I was feeling, not just of her husband, (as to be expected), but of her. I was so proud of how she was conducting herself on the campaign trail. So proud of how she was maintaining normalcy for her children in this tornado of activity. Proud of how proud she was making me feel to be a woman of color in America today. But my exhaustion took me over and I wimped out. I didn’t rise to the occasion and brave the frigid air to attend the game. Instead I stayed home nestled deep under the covers of my warm bed. However, my son and his father went, and sure enough they saw Michelle, and even her husband, at the game cheering Malia on. As usual Michelle was extremely gracious and intimate. She always makes you feel like you have her complete undivided attention. My son told me that Michelle asked about me, my girls and my work with Miss Lori’s CAMPUS, and she sent her love my way.
I have regretted that wimpy decision of mine, because I knew deep down, even then, that it would be the last chance I would have to steal a personal moment with the Michelle I had known for the last 8 years. Sure enough, just a few weeks later the deal was sealed. Her husband was elected the 44th President of the United States, and thus the World immediately changed, mine and everyone else’s. No longer would I have the great fortune to run into my old friend at an exercise class, a soccer game, a dance recital, or an impromptu movie. Now, like most everyone else, I am relegated to seeing Michelle on television news specials. I am thrilled with what I see though; her work with children, her focus on healthier eating and family togetherness. (We share the same passions, as my performance work is centered on raising an activated generation through my songs, videos, literary and production work.) Truth be told I feel I have lost something personally, but at the same time I know in my heart that I have gained communally. Because my friend Michelle is now the World’s friend, and we will all be better for it.
Miss Lori can be found Musing from her Minivan at MissLori.TV , Wearetherealdeal.com , YoungChicagonista ,ChicagoMomsBlog , and ChicagoMoms.com. You can also see her Activating to Be Great at Miss Lori’s CAMPUS on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter , TOUT and LinkedIn.