My boys made fun of me as I teared up watching President Obama give his farewell speech in Chicago on January 10. It was the moment he praised his wife Michelle, the moment when he acknowledged the life she has led over the past eight years has not been of her own choosing. But that she has more than risen to the challenge, that she made it her own 'with grace, and with grit and style, and with good humor'.
This was the moment most women would long for, a moment truly in the world's spotlight, a moment to savour, to relish, to prolong. But where was Michelle Obama's immediate focus? It was on the 18 year old beside her, trying to wipe away unbidden tears, the 18 year old who was then also thrust into the world's spotlight when her father praised his children for their kindness and thoughtfulness. An 18 year old who still has her own life to lead, her own path to make, but whose past will be known to everyone she meets along the way because of the last eight years. And the mother that was Michelle Obama drew her close, and rubbed her arm in that gesture all parents everywhere understand - 'It's OK, I'm here, hang in there, you're doing great'.
My family arrived in the United States the year President Obama was first elected; during that time our daughter has entered and graduated both High School and university. So I've seen how at major milestones a seemly confident, well-traveled, intelligent young woman can quickly become the young girl again, the one in dire need of a hug, and an arm rub, and a reminder that we're still there and that they're doing great.
The Malia Obama sitting next to her mother last night was that little girl again, a far cry from the grown-up young lady descending the steps of Air Force One or attending state banquets. And in Michelle Obama's concerned face, the only thing on her mind at that moment, in the midst of thousands of people cheering for her and her husband, of millions watching on TV or the internet was to help her daughter through the moment.
I have never liked Michelle Obama more. That little gesture was a clear reminder that eight years in the White House are just that - eight years. President Obama may be called President for the rest of his life, but it will be in name only. Not so as the father of two young girls who have yet to really start theirs. No matter what the Obamas do after they leave the White House, it would appear clear their children remain their main focus. Staying in Washington to allow Sasha to finish High School may be seen by some as a convenient excuse to remain close to the political action. But as a parent whose youngest has moved schools seven times because of our wanderings, I can totally understand if they feel this is the least they can do after the years of monitoring and scrutiny both girls have been subjected to - and will continue to be subjected to, whether they like it or not.
But somehow I get the feeling they'll be alright. Because no matter what, they know there's someone there ready to pull them close, rub their arm and say 'It's OK, I'm here, hang in there, you're doing great'. No matter how many millions are watching. That's being a mother first, then a First Lady.
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