The next weeks went by quickly as the family prepared to change their lives. Laura and George Bush welcomed Michelle and Barack to the White House, giving them a tour and comforting words of understanding at the great task and changes they were about to undertake. Malia and Sasha started at their new schools, always accompanied by Secret Service agents, which was quite an adjustment. Thankfully, they seemed happy and comfortable settling into a routine.
Michelle had insisted that her mother accompany them to Washington, and Marion had complied for the children. However, she refused to remain in the spotlight, preferring her independence. She declined Secret Service agents, did her own laundry, and left the grounds whenever she wanted to. If someone recognized her and asked if she was Michelle Obama’s mother, she’d merely say, “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
The Bidens and Obamas became fast friends. Although Barack and Joe had been political rivals for the Presidency, they fell into an easy friendship afterwards as President and Vice President. Michelle connected with Jill Biden immediately.
The inauguration ceremony was another event that Michelle remembers occurring in slow motion. She recalls lifting Lincoln’s Bible and Barack placing his hand on it, vowing to protect the United States Constitution. He told the crowd, “we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”
The night was a flurry of preparations, and various balls were held in honor of the new President of the United States. Barack and Michelle stayed at each ball a short time, and each one had the same format: Barack was introduced as “Hail to the Chief” played, he spoke briefly, and then he and the new First Lady danced to “At Last.” Through it all, Michelle was comforted by the fact that they were still the same couple they always were, the “yin and yang duo” of twenty years of marriage. The last party was a private affair for friends and family, but Michelle was too exhausted to enjoy it. Barack assured her that she didn’t have to attend, and she promptly went to bed.
Barack wasted no time getting to work. During his first month as President, for instance, he signed the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to protect workers from age, gender, and race discrimination. Despite his busy schedule, he dined with the family—a feat he hadn’t always managed to accomplish for years.
Michelle began working early on, too. She learned to coordinate with staff in planning events, such as the Governor’s Ball and the Easter Egg Roll. She began a garden right away to raise awareness for nutrition.
It was very important to Michelle that she be viewed by other parents as Malia and Sasha’s mom, not as the First Lady. Although her staff was responsible for daily activities or arranging playdates, Michelle made it a priority to also invite her daughters’ new friends’ parents for lunch or community events. There were uncomfortable moments, such as when Secret Service agents did security sweeps before the girls attended a party or when parents were required to give their Social Security numbers in order to bring children to the White House for a playdate. The children, however, did not care—they just wanted to play.
Barack and Michelle intended to make the White House open and comfortable for everyone. For instance, they added more tickets to the Easter Egg Roll for military families and children at city schools. The staff was always welcoming and respectful to the Obama family, and Michelle tried to make sure that no one felt invisible....
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The family enjoyed interacting with the various staff members: Barack would watch basketball and talk sports with the butlers, Malia and Sasha would make smoothies in the kitchen, and everyone was pleasant and joked with each other.
If the White House was intimidating, Buckingham Palace was much more so when Michelle and Barack first visited Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip for the G20 Summit in London. With its 775 rooms, it was fifteen times the size of the White House. Michelle was overwhelmed by how breathtaking the Palace was. After a private visit with the Queen and Prince, they attended a reception with the other G20 leaders and spouses. While there, Michelle and the Queen, and they commiserated over their uncomfortable shoes. It was a bonding moment, and Michelle placed her arm around Queen Elizabeth’s shoulder; the Queen, in turn, rested her hand on Michelle’s back. Michelle was unaware of protocol—no one was supposed to touch the Queen. However, the press captured the moment and reported that Michelle had dared to hug the Queen.
In England, Michelle visited an inner-city girls’ school and was touched by the children’s performances. She identified with the girls, most of whom were minorities, and recognized that they would need to struggle to be seen and heard in life. She was impressed by how optimistic they were, and she told them they were all important. Then she hugged as many people as she could.
When they returned home from their trip, Michelle worked with a group of fifth graders to plant a garden on the South Lawn of the White House. It was important to her to send a message of health, but she realized there were no guarantees that the seeds they planted would grow.
One evening, Barack and Michelle went on a date in New York City. This was a change of pace for them, as they had given up their customary date night since Barack was too busy working. Michelle was excited to be spending an evening alone with her husband. Although the Secret Service planned every move and went along with the couple, it was still a special night for them. They enjoyed dinner, conversation, and time to themselves. When they stood up to leave the restaurant, the other diners applauded them. Michelle was uncomfortable, because although it was a kind gesture, it was not necessary; she also considered that some of the diners were happy they were leaving. She realized then that they had disrupted people’s lives simply by going on a date. As their motorcade drove along the closed streets, her discomfort increased. At the theater, she saw that the performance began late because of the necessary security checks. Michelle recognized that they could not simply go on a date without causing disruption. She also knew that the Republican Party would claim that “[their] date had been extravagant and costly to taxpayers.” As a result, she felt guilty for having wanted time alone with her husband.
Michelle became aware that people watched and judged her every move. She wondered how her predecessors had dealt with life in the public eye. She was determined to not let public opinion or the media change her. She worked with the children in the garden and donated food to the homeless. The Obamas held a Halloween party for over 2,000 children that year. Michelle and her staff developed the Let’s Move! Campaign to end childhood obesity, and she advocated for nutritional information on packaging. In this way, Michelle found numerous ways to make her time in the White House productive and to take advantage of the opportunities she had to enact change.