Photo Credit: Chuck Kennedy/The White House
If you are a mom, you probably haven't been able to stop thinking about the shocking case out of Cleveland -- three women missing for a decade and found alive. First Lady Michelle Obama can't stop thinking about it either.
“My heart just, it swells up with relief because just imagine first losing a child and not knowing whether they're alive or dead or in harm's way,” said Mrs. Obama during an exclusive interview for TODAY at a Washington bookstore. (We caught up with the first lady after she signed copies of American Grown, her picture book about the White House Kitchen Garden.) “And to be holding out hope for a decade and to finally have those prayers answered is just probably the best Mother's Day gift…that these families will receive.”
And then, just like us, her thoughts immediately went out to those three young women, wondering about the unimaginable wounds they would need to heal. “These families are going to have to wrap their arms around these young women and make sure that they get all the help and support they need so that they will go on and lead healthy, normal lives,” she added.
Watch more from Mrs. Obama on the Cleveland case, the Boston bombings and healthy eating in this TODAY exclusive:
Talking to Kids About Boston
When I asked Mrs. Obama if she talked to Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, about the Boston bombings, she said that “unfortunately” she has become pretty “adept” when it comes to talking with her girls about national tragedies citing Aurora, Newtown, Ft. Hood and now Boston. “But the one thing we always try to point out is that, yeah, bad things happen, and there are things in life that happen that you have absolutely no control over, but the thing we want them to remember is that the overwhelming majority of people, not just in this country but around the world, are good people doing wonderful things,” said the first lady. “So I assure them that there's no reason for them to live in fear…and what we should look at is the beauty of what comes out of people in times of tragedy, how people become heroes and they turn into givers and they sacrifice…So there's a way to turn even the saddest incident into a point of inspiration for our children.”
Message to Moms: Stop Gun Violence
The discussion about how to talk to kids about the Boston bombings led Mrs. Obama to reflect on kids growing up around gunfire – kids who are “worried about walking to school without getting shot,” she said. It was just about a month ago that she gave a very emotional speech in her hometown of Chicago, about the 15-year-old girl, Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down and killed not far from where Michelle Obama grew up. I asked if she felt there was more moms could do to help reduce gun violence in our country. Her answer was an emphatic yes. “My hope is that we empathize with other communities, with other families who have lost young people to senseless gunfire and then we think about what can we do? What’s within our power to help change that fate? How do we make things better for more families in this country? And I think that’s something that as mothers, we have a particular sensitivity to, and we can tap into that and be a voice.”
We covered a lot of other ground in our wide-ranging conversation with the first lady, chatting about her book, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s news that he had lap-band surgery to lose weight and her Mother’s Day plans. Check out some more highlights below:
The First Lady on Chris Christie: Mrs. Obama said the decision of Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey, to have lap-band surgery, which Christie said he did for his wife and children, was a “very personal matter, something between the governor and his family.” She added, “I try not to comment on people’s personal choices.” The first lady did say that millions of people, like Governor Christie himself, struggle with adulthood obesity. “And that’s one of the reasons why I think Let’s Move (her anti-childhood obesity initiative) is so important, because we want to start working with kids when they’re young, to help them and families develop the habits and understand what their relationship to food is so that they don’t have these challenges when they get older.”
Sleeping In On Mother’s Day: What’s the first lady’s ideal Mother’s Day? “I mean, like any mother, I get to sleep in, or for me, it's wake up when I feel like it,” she said, planning a quiet day consisting of a work out, spending time with her mom, and deciding what’s for dinner. “My mom and I pick our meal. So we decide what we want to eat that day. So it's our choice,” she added, indicating that doesn’t happen very often!
What My Mom Taught Me: Asked to finish this sentence, “My Mother Taught Me...," and Mrs. Obama didn’t miss a beat. “What my mom taught me and continues to teach me is patience and good humor and common sense and openness. You know, my mom is such a good listener. And she has taught me that one of the best things I can do for my daughters is to listen, not talk or always give advice, but to be there with an open ear and a warm hug and an understanding heart because I still find myself going up to my mom's room and just talking to her for hours about any and everything. And that relationship keeps me whole, not just here as first lady in the White House but it has sustained me throughout my entire life. And if I could be half that mother for my girls, then I will have done a good thing.”
American Grown: The first lady said the response has been “really good” to her first-ever book, which came out last May when she was a bit busy with other matters (hint – campaign!) and therefore couldn’t do as much publicity as she would have liked to do. That is why she signed more than 200 books at a popular Washington bookstore Tuesday, just her second ever book signing, after urging the crowd to “Buy away!” ahead of Mother’s Day.
A year later, she thinks the book which details the creation of the first White House Kitchen Garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden has allowed her to put to rest some misconceptions her critics have about her passions and Let’s Move. “Once people really hear what our goals are, they understand that this is about giving parents choices and the information to make the right choices,” she said. “It's really about information. It's not government telling people what to do.”
All proceeds from the sale of her book go to the National Park Foundation, which funds community gardens throughout the U.S. and will continue to support the White House Kitchen Garden long after the Obamas leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Best Recipe in American Grown for Working Moms? Hands down, she said her favorite recipe, especially for young mothers, is the cauliflower mac and cheese (page 252 in the book). It’s a “very healthy version” of mac and cheese, made of whole wheat pasta, cauliflower and not too much cheese. “And if kids eat this version first, they won't look for the other,” she told us.
Kelly Wallace is chief correspondent of iVillage and conducted the interview with the first lady, which is her third exclusive interview with Mrs. Obama since August 2012. You can follow Kelly on Twitter (@kellywallaectv).