Do you ever look at people and think, “What is their story?”
I sometimes find myself thinking this whenever I see someone displaying some kind of emotion.
I have thought about this when I saw someone silently wiping away tears during a bus ride.
I have thought about this when I saw someone leaving the hospital with an extra skip in their step and a smile on their face.
I have thought about this whenever I met a bully who liked to terrorize people just to make themselves feel better.
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama, teaches us the importance of owning our stories and who we are becoming,
This book begins with Michelle home alone, making a grilled cheese sandwich and eating on her porch. Of course, this is not the White House. This was a scene of her life after Barack Obama’s presidency came to an end. It was a beautiful way to open the book as it gives readers a glimpse into the transition she was going through at the time. Michelle realized in that moment of serenity that she had so much to reflect on and share.
The book is separated in three parts:
(picture from my instagram @khanlibrary)
“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” ― Michelle Obama.
To be honest, I did not know anything about Michelle’s childhood and I found this part of the book to be a delight. The way Michelle writes about her childhood is almost like she opened the front door of her house on the south side of Chicago and welcomed readers in. She introduces you to her caring mother, her strong father suffering in silence with a chronic illness and her protective big brother Craig. She shows you around the small house and takes you back to see their family car, the Buick. She takes you downstairs and introduces you to her strict Aunt Robbie who teaches piano. It really is an intimate tour of her childhood home and her close-knit family.
You understand that her parents sacrificed so much to see their children succeed. You also understand that a lot of the confidence Michelle has steamed from a supportive environment at home. There is a lot of family time in this section of the book and I smiled through it.
Michelle’s parents encouraged her to ask questions, to learn more and work hard. These are the values that you can find in later stages of her life. The values she returns to when she is told that she is not “Princeton material” by her guidance counsellor. She digs deep and pushes forward excelling in school and becoming a Harvard graduate and landing a job. She was also insightful enough to later realize that she was not feeling passionate about her job. It takes a lot of strength and determination to leave a well paying job behind and to pursue something that will give you purpose.
I think what I took away from her childhood is this: Helping a child realize they are good enough, smart enough and capable enough will instil in them the kind of confidence that will pull them up when life tries to knock them down. Michelle was knocked down many times in her life, but I truly think that her parents are one of the biggest reasons she stood back up and reminded herself that she was enough.
Alright, let me just get this out. Michelle and Barack are all kinds of adorable. It is almost as if you can feel the love between them when they look at each other. Their inauguration dance felt like some kind of political fairy-tale that left me screeching, “why are you two so cute” at the TV. It was only after reading their story that I appreciated their relationship that much more. Can I also say the choice of their wedding song made me melt? They are so darn cute!
Michelle is incredibly honest and open about her love for Barack and the struggles that come with being in a relationship with a man who has big plans for the country. She does not shy away from speaking about her feelings about politics and how it was at times a lonely place to be.
The most impactful part of this story for me was Michelle’s fertility struggles. It takes so much courage to write about something as painful as miscarriage. It also takes strength to write about fertility problems and the toll it takes on a woman. How your career takes a backseat as you go through the treatments and appointments.
You can really tell that she carried the values her parents taught her and passed it on to her two girls. You can also tell that none of it was easy. Being a working mother and the wife of a politician was difficult. Barack’s absence was felt in the household and she found it frustrating trying to keep her girls awake till their dad got home.
There is a quote in the book that reflects on when Michelle found a balance and accepted that Barack would be absent a lot of the time and how they would make the best out of it.
“I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us”
The thing I love most about Michelle and Barack’s relationship is the respect they have for each other. Things are not easy between them, but they communicate and again it boils down to that mutual respect. They are one hell of a team, and did I mention they are adorable?
“We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.” ― Michelle Obama.
I have always thought Michelle Obama was an inspiration, but what I admired most about her was her confidence. Here was a woman who seemed to know who she was and that she was enough. I was often curious as to how she had so much composure and confidence while being in the middle of the political game that was designed to tear you down.
But it did tear her down.
She was not only a woman, but also the first black First Lady. She shares with us that being the first black family in the White House meant that they needed to work twice as hard and endure the backlash that came their way. It is sad to learn how much she was stereotyped as being an angry black woman, or how she was never really asked about her own career.
Tabloids always questioned how she spoke, how she dressed and how she behaved. It is frustrating that an accomplished woman with an intelligent mind and big ideas had to endure so much of this during the campaign trail and well into her time as First Lady.
“At this point, I’d been First Lady for just over two months. In different moments, I’d felt overwhelmed by the pace, unworthy of the glamour, anxious about our children, and uncertain of my purpose. There are pieces of public life, of giving up one’s privacy to become a walking, talking symbol of a nation, that can seem specifically designed to strip away part of your identity. But here, finally, speaking to those girls, I felt something completely different and pure—an alignment of my old self with this new role. Are you good enough? Yes, you are, all of you. ― Michelle Obama.
How much do we know about Michelle Obama’s career? I knew bits and pieces but I was in awe over how much this woman accomplished in her life and how she continues to strive to make a difference. She launched missions related to childhood nutrition and girls education. She met with veterans and started mentorship programs. She strived to change things and fought to make a lot of what she wanted happen.
There are not enough words for me to describe how much I enjoyed this book and everything I took from it. All I can say is that it is an important book to read. It is not a political book. It does not dive into the political wars between the Blue and Red. I’m Canadian, so I can’t relate to how intense American politics can become, although I have seen numerous discussions get incredibly heated over the years. I truly believe that Michelle’s personal journey is powerful enough to be appreciated no matter what political party you support. There is something for everyone to learn in her journey.
Highly recommended read!