Photo Credit: Chuck Kennedy/White House
Spend an hour with First Lady Michelle Obama like I had the pleasure of doing Monday, along with a small group of other online reporters, and you see how raising Malia, now 13, and Sasha, 10, in as normal a way as possible inside the White House bubble remains her top priority.
"They're terrific girls, they're poised and they're kind and they're curious," said the First Lady from the Old Family Dining Room in the East Wing. "And like any mother, I am just hoping that I don't mess them up," she added, leading to laughter, because of course, every mom in the room, this one included, worries about the very same thing. She'll call friends after the kids visit and ask, "How do the girls seem?" And the answer is always this. "No, they're the same kids, they're the same girls," Mrs. Obama said, repeating what she hears from friends. Never settling, she'll say, "Okay, good, just tell me if you see anything -- just let me know."
Fight for Normalcy
The First Lady said when it comes to the girls, she and President Obama really "fight for their normalcy" and that includes traveling with them, when possible, "outside of this bubble." She also tries to make the girls' home as normal as possible, even though it is the White House. "The first thing is establishing rules among the staff that they're not little princesses," she told us. "They have to make their beds, they have to clean up their rooms, they have to -- Sasha has started doing the laundry, Malia was supposed to be doing it but (Sasha) is really into laundry. My mom still does her own laundry," she said.
Making the rooms really kid-friendly also helps, she said, but ultimately "it's really the interaction that we have as a family that makes it feel like a home." Yes, it will feel like a normal American family when you hear this. "It's sitting down at the dinner table and having Barack's day be really the last thing anyone really cares about," she said to laughter. "So he's sort of the throw-on piece. It's like, 'Oh yeah, Daddy, and what did you do today?"
TV Time and the Kardashians
Like most moms, Mrs. Obama regulates television and screen time. The first daughters are not allowed to watch television or be on the computer during the week unless it is related to schoolwork and they can watch limited television on weekends. Are any shows off limits? "Barack really thinks some of the Kardashians -- when they watch that stuff -- he doesn't like that as much," said the First Lady, "but I sort of feel like if we're talking about it, and I'm more concerned with how they take it in -- what did you learn when you watched that. And if they're learning the right lessons, like, that was crazy, then I'm like, okay."
As for the First Couple's habits, she says "Barack is the worst" when it comes to his BlackBerry but says the girls will call him out on it and say, "We're having dinner, put that down." She is not on the computer much, she says, but tends to send emails early, very early, around 5 a.m. ET, which made Kristina Schake, her communications director, smile. At that point, the First Lady said, "I'm trying to let people know, you don't have to answer me," at that hour. "I'm just getting it all out."
Living a normal life is no easy task when you are the First Family, and the First Lady revealed that what she misses most about her pre-presidency life is "the ability to walk out through a door and go for a walk on any given day." She added, "It's also being among people in a normal set of interactions. You forget how important that is just in establishing who you are in the world." Asked about her recent trip to Target, Mrs. Obama said she thought her cover was blown when a woman walked over and said, "Can I ask you?" But instead of asking if she was the First Lady, she asked, "Can you help me reach something on the top shelf?" And Obama was thrilled to help out and get her some detergent. "So me being able to sneak out and do that -- standing, ordering an ice cream cone and having the kid behind the counter ignore me just like he's ignoring everyone else he's serving -- it's refreshing."