Utama Becoming

Becoming

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
Tahun: 2018
Penerbit: Crown
Bahasa: english
Halaman: 637
ISBN 13: 9781524763152
File: EPUB, 8.24 MB

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Akpan
Very inspiring. Wish girls everywhere can learn from here
26 May 2019 (18:45) 
Poudiougou
Merci d'avoir m'inscris ici
08 August 2019 (08:31) 
Band
Scam do not use! Took my money and I can't get any books.
20 September 2019 (23:53) 
A Read Black Girl
It took me over four months to read through Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I ploughed into 448 pager at the end of the last year, managing two of the three parts titled Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More.

There are many reasons why a lot of people found this book interesting. Michelle herself deals with the ideas that people had of the first black family in the White House. Black people who go beyond the boundaries set up for their failure tend to be an enigma. I should know.

When you are a certain age and speak a certain way. When you singlehandedly mother two children and miraculously manage to remain sane. When you aren’t certificated in a certain field but are able to hold your ground in a debate. When your work is efficient, everytime… There will always be someone who manages to highlight the fact that you are doing well, as compared to the rest of the basket case civilisation of black people.

I feel Michelle did well to highlight just how hard she and Barak had to work, and sacrifice, to get to a point where they leave the White House “without a major scandal.” She says those word so many time you’d swear they were more concerned with not messing up than running the country.

As a thirty-year old woman, I’m floating around a lot of circles where the women are beginning to get desperate to settle. It’s a sad situation, if you ask me. Watching intelligent, beautiful women who have everything going for them choosing to lower their standards for the sole purpose of saying to Grandma, “I too am so-and-so’s wife.”

I thought Michelle had a lot going for her. I thought she was destined for great things. I don’t feel that her ending up as the wife of the first black president of the United states did much for her independence. She highlight, with vigour, the projects that she and her team worked on in their term of office. Serious stuff that’s really commendable, but I am disappointed that she was just one of those women who gave up their lives to see a man through.

She’s very human. I’ll give her that. Her decisions are typical of many of the women I know. Wanting to get married to the man you love, raising your children with great attention to detail, worrying over the smallest detail, not having control over your life, but choosing to make the most of it. I just wish we wouldn’t give up so much of our lives, our independence, to fit into position.

I’m not happy about the lengths she goes to, in the book, to justify some of the decisions Barak and his administration made. The Osama Bin Laden incident being the most evident. It was as if she’s justifying the law of retaliation- ‘an eye for an eye’. “What’s one life, if he orchestrated the deaths of so many of our lives?” Nationalism tends to be problematic for this purpose. No where does Michelle mention the damage that US troops did to the countries where they were deployed during their witch hunt.

She spends an entire section writing about South Africa, and of course about meeting Nelson Mandela – who I am beginning to wonder whether the world would have known anything about us were it not for his circumstances. It’s interesting to note just how detached she tends to be from the people, happily escaping to the safety of her security detail when there’s less reason to complain about being stifled.

One thing I enjoyed about how her book is written is that she name-drops a lot. She makes a point of giving kudos to pretty much everyone she’s come across in her life, even friends from primary school. I think that is amazing. To recognise that every person that comes into our lives plays a certain role is to understand Ubuntu.

The book tends to be repetitive, but this is made up for by the length of the entire text. It may be a blessing in disguise that I read it over a long period, managing to read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone in the interim, as I would have found the repeated facts a bit of a drag.

I think Michelle did well to have those of us that are a distance understand the challenges and triumphs of the first black family. I think she did well to justify her position as first lady, going as far as to recognise that she is one of very few black women in the elite circles that they frequented, and – in the closing lines, stating that those that find themselves where she is should always use their privilege to open doors for others.

“I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. I’ve been lucky enough to get to walk into stone castles, urban classrooms, and Iowa kitchens, just trying to be myself, just trying to connect. For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”
06 October 2019 (12:28) 
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         20

         			
          

         			
         People ask what it’s like to live in the White House. I sometimes say that it’s a
            bit like what I imagine living in a fancy hotel might be like, only the fancy hotel
            has no other guests in it—just you and your family. There are fresh flowers everywhere,
            with new ones brought in almost every day. The building itself feels old and a little
            intimidating. The walls are so thick and the planking on the floors so solid that
            sound in the residence seems to get absorbed quickly. The windows are grand and tall
            and also fitted with bomb-resistant glass, kept shut at all times for security reasons,
            which further adds to the stillness. The place is kept immaculately clean. There’s
            a staff made up of ushers, chefs, housekeepers, florists, and also electricians, painters,
            and plumbers, everyone coming and going politely and quietly, doing their best to
            keep a low profile, waiting until you’ve moved out of a room before slipping in to
            change the towels or put a fresh gardenia in the little vase at the side of your bed.
         

         			
         The rooms are big, all of them. Even the bathrooms and closets are built on a scale
            different from anything I’d ever encountered. Barack and I were surprised by how much
            furniture we had to pick out in order to make each room feel homey. Our bedroom had
            not just a king-sized bed—a beautiful four-poster with a wheat-colored cloth canopy
            overhead—but also a fireplace and a sitting area, with a couch, a coffee table, and
            a couple of upholstered chairs. There were five bathrooms for the five of us living
            in the residence, plus another ten spare bathrooms to go with them. I had not just
            a closet but a spacious dressing room adjoining it—the same room from which Laura
            Bush had shown me the Rose Garden view. Over time, this became my de facto private
            office, the place where I could sit quietly and read, work, or watch TV, dressed in
            a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, blessedly out of sight of everyone.
         

         			
         			
         I understood how lucky we were to be living this way. The master suite in the residence
            was bigger than the entirety of the upstairs apartment my family had shared when I
            was growing up on Euclid Avenue. There was a Monet painting hanging outside my bedroom
            door and a bronze Degas sculpture in our dining room. I was a child of the South Side,
            now raising daughters who slept in rooms designed by a high-end interior decorator
            and who could custom order their breakfast from a chef.
         

         			
         I had these thoughts sometimes, and it gave me a kind of vertigo.

         			
         I tried, in my way, to loosen the protocol of the place. I made it clear to the housekeeping
            staff that our girls, as they had in Chicago, would make their own beds every morning.
            I also instructed Malia and Sasha to act as they’d always acted—to be polite and gracious
            and to not ask for anything more than what they absolutely needed or couldn’t get
            for themselves. But it was important to me, too, that our daughters feel released
            from some of the ingrown formalities of the place. Yes, you can throw balls in the hallway, I told them. Yes, you can rummage through the pantry looking for snacks. I made sure they knew they didn’t have to ask permission to go outside and play.
            I was heartened one afternoon during a snowstorm when I caught sight of the two of
            them through the window, sledding on the slope of the South Lawn, using plastic trays
            lent to them by the kitchen staff.
         

         			
         The truth was that in all of this the girls and I were supporting players, beneficiaries
            of the various luxuries afforded to Barack—important because our happiness was tied
            to his; protected for one reason, which was that if our safety was compromised, so
            too would be his ability to think clearly and lead the nation. The White House, one
            learns, operates with the express purpose of optimizing the well-being, efficiency,
            and overall power of one person—and that’s the president. Barack was now surrounded
            by people whose job was to treat him like a precious gem. It sometimes felt like a
            throwback to some lost era, when a household revolved solely around the man’s needs,
            and it was the opposite of what I wanted our daughters to think was normal. Barack,
            too, was uncomfortable with the attention, though he had little control over all the
            fuss.
         

         			
         			
         He now had about fifty staffers reading and answering his mail. He had Marine helicopter
            pilots standing by to fly him anywhere he needed to go, and a six-person team that
            organized thick briefing books so he could stay current on the issues and make educated
            decisions. He had a crew of chefs looking after his nutrition, and a handful of grocery
            shoppers who safeguarded us from any sort of food sabotage by making anonymous runs
            to different stores, picking up supplies without ever revealing whom they worked for.
         

         			
         As long as I’ve known him, Barack has never derived pleasure from shopping, cooking,
            or home maintenance of any kind. He’s not someone who keeps power tools in the basement
            or shakes off work stress by making a risotto or trimming hedges. For him, the removal
            of all obligations and worries concerning the home made him nothing but happy, if
            only because it freed his brain, allowing it to roam unfettered over larger concerns,
            of which there were many.
         

         			
         Most amusing to me was the fact that he now had three personal military valets whose
            duties included standing watch over his closet, making sure his shoes were shined,
            his shirts pressed, his gym clothes always fresh and folded. Life in the White House
            was very different from life in the Hole.
         

         			
         “You see how neat I am now?” Barack said to me one day as we sat at breakfast, his
            eyes mirthful. “Have you looked in my closet?”
         

         			
         “I have,” I said, smiling back. “And you get no credit for any of it.”

         			
         

         			
          

         			
         In his first month in office, Barack signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which
            helped protect workers from wage discrimination based on factors like gender, race,
            or age. He ordered the end of the use of torture in interrogations and began an effort
            (ultimately unsuccessful) to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay within
            a year. He overhauled ethics rules governing White House employees’ interactions with
            lobbyists and, most important, managed to push a major economic stimulus bill through
            Congress, even though not a single House Republican voted in its favor. From where
            I sat, he seemed to be on a roll. The change he’d promised was becoming real.
         

         			
         			
         As an added bonus, he was showing up for dinner on time.

         			
         For me and the girls, this was the startling, happy shift that came from living in
            the White House with the president of the United States as opposed to living in Chicago
            with a father who served in some faraway senate and was often out campaigning for
            higher office. We had access, at long last, to Dad. His life was more orderly now.
            He worked a ridiculous number of hours, as he always had, but at 6:30 p.m. sharp he’d
            get on the elevator and ride upstairs to have a family meal, even if he often had
            to go right back down to the Oval Office afterward. My mother sometimes joined us
            for dinner, too, though she’d fallen into her own sort of routine, coming down to
            say hello before accompanying Malia and Sasha to school but mostly choosing to leave
            us in the evenings, instead eating dinner upstairs in the solarium adjacent to her
            bedroom while Jeopardy! was on. Even when we asked her to stay, she’d usually wave us off. “You all need
            your time,” she’d say.
         

         			
         For the first few months in the White House, I felt the need to be watchful over everything.
            One of my earliest lessons was that it could be relatively costly to live there. While
            we stayed rent-free in the residence and had our utilities and staffing paid for,
            we nonetheless covered all other living expenses, which seemed to add up quickly,
            especially given the fancy-hotel quality of everything. We got an itemized bill each
            month for every food item and roll of toilet paper. We paid for every guest who came
            for an overnight stay or joined us for a meal. And with a culinary staff that had
            Michelin-level standards and a deep eagerness to please the president, I had to keep
            an eye on what got served. When Barack offhandedly remarked that he liked the taste
            of some exotic fruit at breakfast or the sushi on his dinner plate, the kitchen staff
            took note and put them into regular rotation on the menu. Only later, inspecting the
            bill, would we realize that some of these items were being flown in at great expense
            from overseas.
         

         			
         			
         Most of my watchfulness in those early months, though, was reserved for Malia and
            Sasha. I monitored their moods, quizzing them on their feelings and their interactions
            with other children. I tried not to overreact anytime they reported making a new friend,
            though inwardly I was jubilant. I understood by now that there was no straightforward
            way to arrange playdates at the White House or outings for the kids, but slowly we
            were figuring out a system.
         

         			
         I was allowed to use a personal BlackBerry but had been advised to limit my contacts
            to only about ten of my most intimate friends—the people who loved and supported me
            without any sort of agenda. Most of my communications were mediated by Melissa, who
            was now my deputy chief of staff and knew the contours of my life better than anyone.
            She kept track of all my cousins, all my college friends. We gave out her phone number
            and email address instead of mine, directing all requests to her. Part of the issue
            was that old acquaintances and distant relatives were surfacing from nowhere and with
            a flood of inquiries. Could Barack speak at somebody’s graduation? Could I please
            give a speech for somebody’s nonprofit? Would we come to this party or that fund-raiser?
            Most of it was good-hearted, but it was too much for me to absorb all at once.
         

         			
         When it came to the day-to-day lives of our girls, I often had to rely on young staffers
            to help with logistics. My team met early on with teachers and administrators at Sidwell,
            recording important dates for school events, ironing out processes for media inquiries,
            and answering questions from teachers about handling classroom topics involving politics
            or news of the day. As the girls began making social plans outside school, my personal
            assistant (or “body person,” as it’s called in political parlance) became the point
            of contact, collecting the phone numbers of other parents, orchestrating pickups and
            drop-offs for playdates. Just as I always had in Chicago, I made a point of trying
            to get to know the parents of the girls’ new friends, inviting a few moms over for
            lunch and introducing myself to others during school events. Admittedly, these interactions
            could be awkward. I knew it sometimes took a minute for new acquaintances to move
            past whatever ideas they held about me and Barack, whatever they thought they knew
            of me from TV or the news, and to see me simply, if possible, as Malia’s or Sasha’s
            mom.
         

         			
         			
         It was awkward to explain to people that before Sasha could come to little Julia’s
            birthday party, the Secret Service would need to stop by and do a security sweep.
            It was awkward to require Social Security numbers from any parent or caregiver who
            was going to drive a kid over to our house to play. It was all awkward, but it was
            all necessary. I didn’t like that there was this strange little divide to be crossed
            anytime I met someone new, but I was relieved to see that it was far different for
            Sasha and Malia, who went dashing outside to greet their school friends as they got
            dropped off at the Diplomatic Reception Room—or Dip Room, as we came to call it—grabbing
            them by the hand and running giggling inside. Kids care about fame, it turns out,
            for only a few minutes. After that, they just want to have fun.
         

         			
         

         			
          

         			
         I learned early on that I was meant to work with my staff to plan and execute a series
            of traditional parties and dinners, beginning most immediately with the Governors’
            Ball, a black-tie gala held every February in the East Room. The same went for the
            annual Easter Egg Roll, an outdoor family celebration that had been started in 1878
            and involved thousands of people. There were also springtime luncheons I would attend
            in honor of congressional and Senate spouses—similar to the one where I’d seen Laura
            Bush smiling so unflappably while having an official photo taken with every single
            guest.
         

         			
         For me, these social events could feel like distractions from what I hoped would be
            more impactful work, but I also started thinking about ways I might add to or at least
            modernize some of them, to bend the bar of tradition ever so slightly. In general,
            I was thinking that life in the White House could be forward leaning without losing
            any of its established history and tradition. Over time, Barack and I would take steps
            in this direction, hanging more abstract art and works by African American artists
            on the walls, for example, and mixing contemporary furniture in with the antiques.
            In the Oval Office, Barack swapped out a bust of Winston Churchill and replaced it
            with a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. And we gave the tuxedoed White House butlers
            the option of dressing more casually on days when there were no public events, introducing
            a khaki and golf shirt option.
         

         			
         			
         Barack and I knew we wanted to do a better job of democratizing the White House, making
            it feel less elitist and more open. When we hosted an event, I wanted everyday people
            to show up, not just those accustomed to black-tie attire. And I wanted more kids
            around, because kids made everything better. I hoped to make the Easter Egg Roll accessible
            to more people—adding more slots for city schoolchildren and military families to
            go with the tickets guaranteed to the children and grandchildren of members of Congress
            and other VIPs. Lastly, if I was going to sit and lunch with the (mostly) wives of
            the House and the Senate, couldn’t I also invite them to join me out in the city for
            a community service project?
         

         			
         I knew what mattered to me. I didn’t want to be some sort of well-dressed ornament
            who showed up at parties and ribbon cuttings. I wanted to do things that were purposeful
            and lasting. My first real effort, I decided, would be the garden.
         

         			
         I was not a gardener and never had been in my life, but thanks to Sam Kass and our
            family’s efforts to eat better at home, I now knew that strawberries were at their
            most succulent in June, that darker-leaf lettuces had the most nutrients, and that
            it wasn’t so hard to make kale chips in the oven. I saw my daughters eating things
            like spring pea salad and cauliflower mac and cheese and understood that until recently
            most of what we knew about food had come through food-industry advertising of everything
            boxed, frozen, or otherwise processed for convenience, whether it was in snap-crackle
            TV jingles or clever packaging aimed at the harried parent dashing through the grocery
            store. Nobody, really, was out there advertising the fresh, healthy stuff—the gratifying
            crunch of a fresh carrot or the unparalleled sweetness of a tomato plucked right off
            the vine.
         

         			
         Planting a garden at the White House was my response to this problem, and I hoped
            it would signal the start of something bigger. Barack’s administration was focused
            on improving access to affordable health care, and for me the garden was a way to
            offer a parallel message about healthy living. I saw it as an early test, a trial
            run that could help me determine what I might be able to accomplish as First Lady,
            a literal way to root myself in this new job. I conceived of it as a kind of outdoor
            classroom, a place kids could visit to learn about growing food. On the surface, a
            garden felt elemental and apolitical, a harmless and innocent undertaking by a lady
            with a spade—pleasing to Barack’s West Wing advisers who were constantly concerned
            about “optics,” worrying about how everything appeared to the public.
         

         			
         			
         But there was more to it than that. I planned to use the work we did in the garden
            to spark a public conversation about nutrition, especially at schools and among parents,
            which ideally would lead to discussions about how food was produced, labeled, and
            marketed and the ways that was affecting public health. And in speaking on these topics
            from the White House, I’d be offering an implicit challenge to the behemoth corporations
            in the food and beverage industry and the way they’d been doing business for decades.
         

         			
         The truth was, I really didn’t know how any of it would go over. But as I directed
            Sam, who’d joined the White House staff, to begin taking steps to create the garden,
            I knew I was ready to find out.
         

         			
         My optimism in those first months was primarily tempered by one thing, and that was
            politics. We lived in Washington now, right up close to the ugly red-versus-blue dynamic
            I’d tried for years to avoid, even as Barack had chosen to work inside it. Now that
            he was president, these forces all but ruled his every day. Weeks earlier, before
            the inauguration, the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh baldly announced, “I hope
            Obama fails.” I’d watched with dismay as Republicans in Congress followed suit, fighting
            Barack’s every effort to stanch the economic crisis, refusing to support measures
            that would cut taxes and save or create millions of jobs. On the day he took office,
            according to some indicators, the American economy was collapsing as fast as or faster
            than it had at the onset of the Great Depression. Nearly 750,000 jobs had been lost
            that January alone. And while Barack had campaigned on the idea that it was possible
            to build consensus between parties, that Americans were at heart more united than
            divided, the Republican Party was making a deliberate effort, in a time of dire national
            emergency no less, to prove him wrong.
         

         			
         			
         This was on my mind during the evening of February 24, when Barack addressed a joint
            session of Congress. The event is basically meant to be a substitute State of the
            Union for any newly inaugurated president, a chance to outline the goals for the coming
            year in a speech televised live during prime time, delivered in the hall of the House
            of Representatives with Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, military generals,
            and members of Congress present. It’s also a tradition of high pageantry, in which
            lawmakers dramatically express their approval or disapproval of the president’s ideas
            by either leaping to their feet in repeat standing ovations or remaining seated and
            sullen.
         

         			
         I took my seat that evening in the balcony between a fourteen-year-old who’d written
            a heartfelt letter to her president and a gracious veteran of the Iraq war, all of
            us waiting for my husband to arrive. From where I sat, I could see most of the chamber
            below. It was an unusual, bird’s-eye view of our country’s leaders, an ocean of whiteness
            and maleness dressed in dark suits. The absence of diversity was glaring—honestly,
            it was embarrassing—for a modern, multicultural country. It was most dramatic among
            the Republicans. At the time, there were just seven nonwhite Republicans in Congress—none
            of them African American and only one was a woman. Overall, four out of five members
            of Congress were male.
         

         			
         A few minutes later, the spectacle began with a thunderclap—the beating of a gavel
            and the call of the sergeant at arms. The crowd stood, applauding for more than five
            minutes straight as elected leaders jostled for position on the aisles. At the center
            of the storm, surrounded by a knot of security agents and a backward-walking videographer,
            was Barack, shaking hands and beaming as he slowly made his way through the room and
            toward the podium.
         

         			
         I’d observed this ritual many times before on television, during other times with
            other presidents. But something about seeing my husband down there amid the crush
            made the magnitude of the job and the fact he’d need to win over more than half of
            Congress to get anything done suddenly very real.
         

         			
         			
         Barack’s speech that night was detailed and sober-minded, acknowledging the grim state
            of the economy, the wars going on, the ongoing threat of terror attacks, and the anger
            of many Americans who felt the government’s bailout of the banks was unfairly helping
            those responsible for the financial crisis. He was careful to be realistic but also
            to sound notes of hope, reminding his listeners of our resilience as a nation, our
            ability to rebound after tough times.
         

         			
         I watched from the balcony as Republican members of Congress stayed seated through
            most of it, appearing obstinate and angry, their arms folded and their frowns deliberate,
            looking like children who hadn’t gotten their way. They would fight everything Barack
            did, I realized, whether it was good for the country or not. It was as if they’d forgotten
            that it was a Republican president who’d governed us into this mess in the first place.
            More than anything, it seemed they just wanted Barack to fail. I confess that in that
            moment, with that particular view, I did wonder whether there was any path forward.
         

         			
         

         			
          

         			
         When I was a girl, I had vague ideas about how my life could be better. I’d go over
            to play at the Gore sisters’ house and envy their space—the fact that their family
            had a whole house to themselves. I thought that it would mean something if my family
            could afford a nicer car. I couldn’t help but notice who among my friends had more
            bracelets or Barbies than I did, or who got to buy their clothes at the mall instead
            of having a mom who sewed everything on the cheap using Butterick patterns at home.
            As a kid, you learn to measure long before you understand the size or value of anything.
            Eventually, if you’re lucky, you learn that you’ve been measuring all wrong.
         

         			
         We lived in the White House now. Very slowly, it was starting to feel familiar—not
            because I’d ever grow accustomed to the vastness of the space or the opulence of the
            lifestyle, but because this was where my family slept, ate, laughed, and lived. In
            the girls’ rooms we’d put on display the growing collections of trinkets that Barack
            made a habit of bringing home from his various travels—snow globes for Sasha, key
            chains for Malia. We began to make subtle changes to the residence, adding modern
            lighting to go with the traditional chandeliers and scented candles that made the
            place feel more like home. I would never take our good fortune or comfort for granted,
            though what I began to appreciate more was the humanity of the place.
         

         			
         			
         Even my mother, who’d fretted about the museum-like formality of the White House,
            soon learned that there was more there to be measured. The place was full of people
            not all that different from us. A number of the butlers had worked for many years
            in the White House, tending to every family that came through. Their quiet dignity
            reminded me of my great-uncle Terry, who’d lived downstairs when I was growing up
            on Euclid Avenue, mowing our lawn dressed in wingtips and suspenders. I tried to make
            sure that our interactions with staff were respectful and affirming. I wanted to make
            sure they never felt invisible. If the butlers cared about politics, if they had private
            allegiances to one party or another, they kept it to themselves. They were careful
            to respect our privacy, but also were always open and welcoming, and gradually we
            became close. They instinctively sensed when to give me some space or when I could
            stand some gentle ribbing. Often they were talking trash about their favorite sports
            teams in the kitchen, where they liked to fill me in on the latest staff gossip or
            the exploits of their grandchildren as I looked over the morning headlines. If there
            was a college basketball game playing on the TV in the evening, Barack came in sometimes
            to join them for a little while to watch. Sasha and Malia came to love the convivial
            spirit of the kitchen, slipping in to make smoothies or pop popcorn after school.
            Many of the staff took a special shine to my mother, stopping in to catch up with
            her upstairs in the solarium.
         

         			
         It took some time for me to be able to recognize the voices of the different White
            House phone operators who gave me wake-up calls in the morning or connected me with
            the East Wing offices downstairs, but soon they, too, became familiar and friendly.
            We’d chat about the weather, or I’d joke about how I often had to be roused hours
            earlier than Barack to have my hair done ahead of official events. These interactions
            were quick, but in some small way they made life feel a little more normal.
         

         			
         			
         One of the more experienced butlers, a white-haired African American man named James
            Ramsey, had served since the Carter administration. Every so often, he’d hand me the
            latest copy of Jet magazine, smiling proudly and saying, “I got you covered, Mrs. Obama.”
         

         			
         Life was better, always, when we could measure the warmth.

         			
         

         			
          

         			
         I’d been walking around thinking that our new house was big and grand to the point
            of being over the top, but then in April I went to England and met Her Majesty the
            Queen.
         

         			
         This was the first international trip Barack and I made together since the election,
            flying to London on Air Force One so that he could attend a meeting of the Group of
            20, or G20, made up of leaders representing the world’s largest economies. It was
            a critical moment for such a gathering. The economic crisis in the United States had
            created devastating ripples across the globe, sending world financial markets into
            a tailspin. The G20 summit also marked Barack’s debut as president on the world stage.
            And as was often the case during those first months in office, his main job was to
            clean up a mess, in this case absorbing the frustration of other world leaders who
            felt the United States had missed important opportunities to regulate reckless bankers
            and prevent the disaster with which all of them were now dealing.
         

         			
         Beginning to feel more confident that Sasha and Malia were comfortable in their routines
            at school, I’d left my mother in charge for the few days I’d be abroad, knowing that
            she’d immediately relax all my regular rules about getting to bed early and eating
            every vegetable served at dinner. My mom relished being a grandmother, most especially
            the part where she got to throw over all my rigidity in favor of her own looser and
            lighter style, which was markedly more lax than when Craig and I had been the kids
            under her care. The girls were always thrilled to have Grandma in charge.
         

         			
         Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, was hosting the G20 summit, which included
            a full day of economic meetings at a conference center in the city, but as often happened
            when world leaders showed up in London for official events, the Queen would also have
            everyone over to Buckingham Palace for a ceremonial hello. Because of America and
            Great Britain’s close relationship and also, I suppose, because we were new on the
            scene, Barack and I were invited to arrive at the palace early for a private audience
            with the Queen ahead of the larger reception.
         

         			
         			
         Needless to say, I had no experience meeting royalty. I was given to understand that
            I could either curtsy or shake the Queen’s hand. I knew that we were to refer to her
            as “Your Majesty,” while her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, went by
            “Your Royal Highness.” Other than that, I wasn’t sure what to expect as our motorcade
            rolled through the tall iron gates at the entrance to the palace, past onlookers pressed
            at the fences, past a collection of guards and a royal horn player, through an interior
            arch and up to the courtyard, where the official master of the household waited outside
            to greet us.
         

         			
         It turns out that Buckingham Palace is big—so big that it almost defies description.
            It has 775 rooms and is fifteen times the size of the White House. In the years to
            come, Barack and I would be lucky enough to return there a few times as invited guests.
            On our later trips, we’d sleep in a sumptuous bedroom suite on the ground floor of
            the palace, looked after by liveried footmen and ladies-in-waiting. We’d attend a
            formal banquet in the ballroom, eating with forks and knives coated in gold. At one
            point, as we were given a tour, we were told things like “This is our Blue Room,”
            our guide gesturing into a vast hall that was five times the size of our Blue Room
            back home. The Queen’s head usher one day would take me, my mother, and the girls
            through the palace Rose Garden, which contained thousands of flawlessly blooming flowers
            and occupied nearly an acre of land, making the few rosebushes we so proudly kept
            outside the Oval Office suddenly seem a tad less impressive. I found Buckingham Palace
            breathtaking and incomprehensible at the same time.
         

         			
         On that first visit, we were escorted to the Queen’s private apartment and shown into
            a sitting room where she and Prince Philip stood waiting to receive us. Queen Elizabeth
            II was eighty-two years old then, diminutive and graceful with a delicate smile and
            her white hair curled regally away from her forehead. She wore a pale pink dress and
            a set of pearls and kept a black purse draped properly over one arm. We shook hands
            and posed for a photo. The Queen politely inquired about our jet lag and invited us
            to sit down. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about after that—a little bit
            about the economy and the state of affairs in England, the various meetings Barack
            had been having.
         

         			
         			
         There’s an awkwardness that comes with just about any formally arranged meeting, but
            in my experience it’s something you need to consciously work your way past. Sitting
            with the Queen, I had to will myself out of my own head—to stop processing the splendor
            of the setting and the paralysis I felt coming face-to-face with an honest-to-goodness
            icon. I’d seen Her Majesty’s face dozens of times before, in history books, on television,
            and on currency, but here she was in the flesh, looking at me intently and asking
            questions. She was warm and personable, and I tried to be the same. The Queen was
            a living symbol and well practiced at managing it, but she was as human as the rest
            of us. I liked her immediately.
         

         			
         Later that afternoon, Barack and I floated around at the palace reception, eating
            canapés with the other G20 leaders and their spouses. I chatted with Angela Merkel
            of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy of France. I met the king of Saudi Arabia, the president
            of Argentina, the prime ministers of Japan and Ethiopia. I did my best to remember
            who came from which nation and which spouse went with whom, careful not to say too
            much for fear of getting anything wrong. Overall, it was a dignified, friendly affair
            and a reminder that even heads of state are capable of talking about their children
            and joking about the British weather.
         

         			
         At some point toward the end of the party, I turned my head to find that Queen Elizabeth
            had surfaced at my elbow, the two of us suddenly alone together in the otherwise crowded
            room. She was wearing a pair of pristine white gloves and appeared just as fresh as
            she’d been hours earlier when we first met. She smiled up at me.
         

         			
         “You’re so tall,” she remarked, cocking her head.

         			
         “Well,” I said, chuckling, “the shoes give me a couple of inches. But yes, I’m tall.”

         			
         The Queen then glanced down at the pair of black Jimmy Choos I was wearing. She shook
            her head.
         

         			
         			
         “These shoes are unpleasant, are they not?” she said. She gestured with some frustration
            at her own black pumps.
         

         			
         I confessed then to the Queen that my feet were hurting. She confessed that hers hurt,
            too. We looked at each other then with identical expressions, like, When is all this standing around with world leaders going to finally wrap up? And with this, she busted out with a fully charming laugh.
         

         			
         Forget that she sometimes wore a diamond crown and that I’d flown to London on the
            presidential jet; we were just two tired ladies oppressed by our shoes. I then did
            what’s instinctive to me anytime I feel connected to a new person, which is to express
            my feelings outwardly. I laid a hand affectionately across her shoulder.
         

         			
         I couldn’t have known it in the moment, but I was committing what would be deemed
            an epic faux pas. I’d touched the Queen of England, which I’d soon learn was apparently
            not done. Our interaction at the reception was caught on camera, and in the coming days it
            would be reproduced in media reports all over the world: “A Breach in Protocol!” “Michelle
            Obama Dares to Hug the Queen!” It revived some of the campaign-era speculation that
            I was generally uncouth and lacking the standard elegance of a First Lady, and worried
            me somewhat, too, thinking I’d possibly distracted from Barack’s efforts abroad. But
            I tried not to let the criticism rattle me. If I hadn’t done the proper thing at Buckingham
            Palace, I had at least done the human thing. I daresay that the Queen was okay with
            it, too, because when I touched her, she only pulled closer, resting a gloved hand
            lightly on the small of my back.
         

         			
         The following day, while Barack went off for a marathon session of meetings on the
            economy, I went to visit a school for girls. It was a government-funded, inner-city
            secondary school in the Islington neighborhood, not far from a set of council estates,
            which is what public-housing projects are called in England. More than 90 percent
            of the school’s nine hundred students were black or from an ethnic minority; a fifth
            of them were the children of immigrants or asylum seekers. I was drawn to it because
            it was a diverse school with limited financial resources and yet had been deemed academically
            outstanding. I also wanted to make sure that when I visited a new place as First Lady,
            I really visited it—meaning that I’d have a chance to meet the people who actually
            lived there, not just those who governed them. Traveling abroad, I had opportunities
            that Barack didn’t. I could escape the stage-managed multilateral meetings and sit-downs
            with leaders and find new ways to bring a little extra warmth to those otherwise staid
            visits. I aimed to do it with every foreign trip, beginning in England.
         

         			
         			
         I wasn’t fully prepared, though, to feel what I did when I set foot inside the Elizabeth
            Garrett Anderson School and was ushered to an auditorium where about two hundred students
            had gathered to watch some of their peers perform and then hear me speak. The school
            was named after a pioneering doctor who also became the first female mayor elected
            in England. The building itself was nothing special—a boxy brick building on a nondescript
            street. But as I settled into a folding chair onstage and started watching the performance—which
            included a Shakespeare scene, a modern dance, and a chorus singing a beautiful rendition
            of a Whitney Houston song—something inside me began to quake. I almost felt myself
            falling backward into my own past.
         

         			
         You had only to look around at the faces in the room to know that despite their strengths
            these girls would need to work hard to be seen. There were girls in hijab, girls for whom English was a second language, girls whose skin made up every shade
            of brown. I knew they’d have to push back against the stereotypes that would get put
            on them, all the ways they’d be defined before they’d had a chance to define themselves.
            They’d need to fight the invisibility that comes with being poor, female, and of color.
            They’d have to work to find their voices and not be diminished, to keep themselves
            from getting beaten down. They would have to work just to learn.
         

         			
         But their faces were hopeful, and now so was I. For me it was a strange, quiet revelation:
            They were me, as I’d once been. And I was them, as they could be. The energy I felt
            thrumming in that school had nothing to do with obstacles. It was the power of nine
            hundred girls striving.
         

         			
         When the performance was done and I went to the lectern to speak, I could barely contain
            my emotion. I glanced down at my prepared notes but suddenly had little interest in
            them. Looking up at the girls, I just began to talk, explaining that though I had
            come from far away, carrying this strange title of First Lady of the United States,
            I was more like them than they knew. That I, too, was from a working-class neighborhood,
            raised by a family of modest means and loving spirit, that I’d realized early on that
            school was where I could start defining myself—that an education was a thing worth
            working for, that it would help spring them forward in the world.
         

         			
         			
         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. I told the students of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson that they’d touched my heart. I
            told them that they were precious, because they truly were. And when my talk was over,
            I did what was instinctive. I hugged absolutely every single girl I could reach.
         

         			
         

         			
          

         			
         Back home in Washington, spring had arrived. The sun came up earlier and stayed out
            a little longer each day. I watched as the slope of the South Lawn gradually turned
            a lush and vibrant green. From the windows of the residence, I could see the red tulips
            and lavender grape hyacinth that surrounded the fountain at the base of the hill.
            My staff and I had spent the past two months working to turn my idea for a garden
            into reality, which hadn’t been easy. For one thing, we’d had to persuade the National
            Park Service and the White House grounds team to tear up a patch of one of the most
            iconic lawns in the world. The very suggestion had been met with resistance, initially.
            It had been decades since a White House Victory Garden had been planted, on Eleanor
            Roosevelt’s watch, and no one seemed much interested in a reprise. “They think we’re
            insane,” Sam Kass told me at one point.
         

         			
         Eventually, though, we got our way. We were at first allotted a tiny plot of land
            tucked away behind the tennis courts, next to a toolshed. To his credit, Sam fought
            for better real estate, finally securing an L-shaped eleven-hundred-square-foot plot
            in a sun-splashed part of the South Lawn, not far from the Oval Office and the swing
            set we’d recently installed for the girls. We coordinated with the Secret Service
            to make sure our tilling wouldn’t disrupt any of the sensors or sight lines they needed
            to protect the grounds. We ran tests to determine whether the soil had enough nutrients
            and didn’t contain any toxic elements like lead or mercury.
         

         			
         			
         And then we were good to go.

         			
         Several days after I returned from Europe, I hosted a group of students from Bancroft
            Elementary School, a bilingual school in the northwestern part of the city. Weeks
            earlier, we’d used shovels and hoes to prepare the soil. Now the same kids were back
            to help me do the planting. Our patch of dirt sat not far from the southern fence
            along E Street, where tourists often congregated to gaze up at the White House. I
            was glad that this would now be a part of their view.
         

         			
         Or at least I hoped to be glad at some point. Because with a garden you never know
            for sure what will or won’t happen—whether anything, in fact, will grow. We’d invited
            the media to cover the planting. We’d invited all the White House chefs to help us,
            along with Tom Vilsack, Barack’s secretary of agriculture. We’d asked everyone to
            watch what we were doing. Now we had to wait for the results. “Honestly,” I’d said
            to Sam before anyone arrived that morning, “this better work.”
         

         			
         That day, I knelt with a bunch of fifth graders as we carefully put seedlings into
            the ground, patting the dirt into place around the fragile stalks. After being in
            Europe and having my every outfit dissected in the press (I’d worn a cardigan sweater
            to meet the Queen, which was almost as scandalous as touching her had been), I was
            relieved to be kneeling in the dirt in a light jacket and a pair of casual pants.
            The kids asked me questions, some about vegetables and the tasks at hand, but also
            things like “Where’s the president?” and “How come he’s not helping?” It took only
            a little while, though, before most of them seemed to lose track of me, their focus
            centered instead on the fit of their garden gloves and the worms in the soil. I loved
            being with children. It was, and would be throughout the entirety of my time in the
            White House, a balm for my spirit, a way to momentarily escape my First Lady worries,
            my self-consciousness about constantly being judged. Kids made me feel like myself
            again. To them, I wasn’t a spectacle. I was just a nice, kinda-tall lady.
         

         			
         			
         As the morning went on, we planted lettuce and spinach, fennel and broccoli. We put
            in carrots and collard greens and onions and shell peas. We planted berry bushes and
            a lot of herbs. What would come from it? I didn’t know, the same way I didn’t know
            what lay ahead for us in the White House, nor what lay ahead for the country or for
            any of these sweet children surrounding me. All we could do then was put our faith
            into the effort, trusting that with sun and rain and time, something half-decent would
            push up through the dirt.
         

         		
      

      	
   
      		
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            This is my family, sometime around 1965, dressed up for a celebration. Note my brother
               Craig’s protective expression and careful hold on my wrist.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            We grew up living in the apartment above my great-aunt Robbie Shields, pictured here
               holding me. During the years she gave me piano lessons, we had many stubborn standoffs,
               but she always brought out the best in me.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            My father, Fraser Robinson, worked for more than twenty years for the city of Chicago,
               tending boilers at a water filtration plant on the lakeshore. Even as his multiple
               sclerosis made it increasingly difficult for him to walk, he never missed a day of
               work.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            My dad’s Buick Electra 225—the Deuce and a Quarter, we called it—was his pride and
               joy and the source of many happy memories. Each summer we drove to Dukes Happy Holiday
               Resort in Michigan for vacation, which is where this picture was taken.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            When I began kindergarten in 1969, my neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago was
               made up of a racially diverse mix of middle-class families. But as many better-off
               families moved to the suburbs—a phenomenon commonly known as “white flight”—the demographics
               changed fast. By fifth grade, the diversity was gone. ABOVE: My kindergarten class; I’m third row, second from right. BELOW: My fifth-grade class; I’m third row, center.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Here I am at Princeton.

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I was nervous about heading off to college but found many close friends there, including
               Suzanne Alele, who taught me a lot about living joyfully.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            For a while, Barack and I lived in the second-floor apartment on Euclid Avenue where
               I’d been raised. We were both young lawyers then. I was just beginning to question
               my professional path, wondering how to do meaningful work and stay true to my values.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Our wedding on October 3, 1992, was one of the happiest days of my life. Standing
               in for my father, who had passed away a year and a half earlier, Craig walked me down
               the aisle.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I knew early on in our relationship that Barack would be a great father. He’s always
               loved and devoted himself to children. When Malia arrived in 1998, the two of us were
               smitten. Our lives had changed forever.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Sasha was born about three years after Malia, completing our family with her chubby
               cheeks and indomitable spirit. Our Christmastime trips to Barack’s home state of Hawaii
               became an important tradition for us, a time to catch up with his side of the family
               and enjoy some warm weather.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Malia and Sasha’s bond has always been tight. And their cuteness still melts my heart.

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I spent three years as executive director for the Chicago chapter of Public Allies,
               an organization devoted to helping young people build careers in public service. Here
               I’m pictured (on right) with a group of young community leaders at an event with Chicago
               mayor Richard M. Daley.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I later transitioned to working at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where
               I strove to improve community relations and established a service that helped thousands
               of South Side residents find affordable health care.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            As a full-time working mom with a spouse who was often away from home, I became well
               acquainted with the juggle many women know—trying to balance the needs of my family
               with the demands of my job.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I first met Valerie Jarrett (left) in 1991, when she was deputy chief of staff at
               the Chicago mayor’s office. She quickly became a trusted friend and adviser to both
               me and Barack. Here we are during his U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            From time to time our kids came out to visit Barack on the campaign trail. Here’s
               Malia, watching through the campaign bus window in 2004 as her dad gives yet another
               speech.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Barack announced his candidacy for president in Springfield, Illinois, on a freezing-cold
               day in February 2007. I’d bought Sasha a too-big pink hat for the occasion and kept
               worrying it was going to slip off her head, but miraculously she managed to keep it
               on.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Here we are on the campaign trail, accompanied as always by a dozen or more members
               of the press.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I liked campaigning, energized by the connections I made with voters across America.
               And yet the pace could be grueling. I stole moments of rest when I could.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            In the months leading up to the general election, I was given access to a campaign
               plane, which boosted my overall efficiency and made traveling a lot more fun. Pictured
               here with me (from left) is my tight-knit team: Kristen Jarvis, Katie McCormick Lelyveld,
               Chawn Ritz (our flight attendant that day), and Melissa Winter.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Joe Biden was a great running mate for Barack for many reasons, including that our
               two families instantly hit it off. Jill and I began talking early on about how we
               wanted to be of service to military families. Here we are in 2008, taking a break
               from campaigning in Pennsylvania.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            After a difficult spring and summer on the campaign trail, I spoke at the 2008 Democratic
               National Convention in Denver, which allowed me to share my story for the first time
               before a massive prime-time audience. Afterward, Sasha and Malia joined me onstage
               to say hello to Barack via video.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            On November 4, 2008—election night—my mom, Marian Robinson, sat next to Barack, the
               two of them quietly watching as the results came in.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Malia was ten years old and Sasha just seven in January 2009 when their dad was sworn
               in as president. Sasha was so small, she had to stand on a special platform in order
               to be visible during the ceremony.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Officially POTUS and FLOTUS, Barack and I hit ten inaugural balls that night, dancing
               onstage at each one. I was wiped out after the day’s festivities, but this gorgeous
               gown designed by Jason Wu gave me fresh energy, and my husband—my best friend, my
               partner in all things—has a way of making every moment we have together feel intimate.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Laura Bush kindly hosted me and the girls for an early visit to the White House. Her
               own daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were there to show Sasha and Malia the more fun
               parts of the place, including how to use this sloping hallway as a slide.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            This image of Sasha’s little face peering through ballistic-proof glass as she headed
               to her first day of school stays with me to this day. At the time, I couldn’t help
               but worry about what this experience would do to our kids.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            It took some adjustment to get used to the constant presence of U.S. Secret Service
               agents in our lives, but over time many of them became dear friends.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Wilson Jerman (shown here) first came to work at the White House in 1957. Like many
               of the butlers and residence staff, he served with dignity under several different
               presidents.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            The White House garden was designed to be a symbol of nutrition and healthy living,
               a springboard from which I could launch a larger initiative like Let’s Move! But I
               also loved it because it’s where I could get my hands dirty with kids as we rooted
               around in the soil.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I wanted the White House to be a place where everyone would feel at home and kids
               could be themselves. I hoped that they’d see their stories reflected in ours, and
               maybe have a chance to jump double Dutch with the First Lady.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Barack and I developed a special fondness for Queen Elizabeth, who reminded Barack
               of his no-nonsense grandmother. Over the course of many visits she showed me that
               humanity is more important than protocol or formality.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Meeting Nelson Mandela gave me the perspective I needed a couple of years into our
               White House journey—that real change happens slowly, not just over months and years
               but over decades and lifetimes.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            A hug, for me, is a way to melt away pretenses and simply connect. Here I’m at Oxford
               University with the girls from London’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I’ll never forget the spirit of optimism and resilience that lived in the service
               members and military families I met during visits to Walter Reed Medical Center.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Hadiya Pendleton’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, did everything right but still
               couldn’t protect her child from the awful randomness of gun violence. Meeting her
               before Hadiya’s funeral in Chicago, I was overwhelmed by how unfair it was.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            I tried as often as possible to be home to greet the girls when they came back from
               school. It was one benefit of living above the office.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Barack always maintained a healthy separation between work and family time, making
               it upstairs for dinner nearly every night and managing to be fully present with us
               at home. In 2009, the girls and I broke down the barrier and surprised him in the
               Oval Office on his birthday.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            We made good on our promise to Malia and Sasha that if Barack became president, we’d
               get a dog. In fact, we eventually got two. Bo (pictured here) and Sunny brought a
               sense of lightness to everything.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Each spring I hoped to use my commencement speeches to inspire graduates and help
               them see the power of their own stories. Here I am preparing to speak at Virginia
               Tech in 2012. In the background, Tina Tchen, my tireless chief of staff for five years,
               can be seen as she often was: multitasking on her phone.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            The dogs were free to roam throughout much of the White House. They especially loved
               hanging out in the garden and also in the kitchen. Here they are in the pantry with
               butler Jorge Davila, probably hoping to get slipped some food.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            We’re deeply grateful to all of the staff who kept our lives running smoothly for
               eight years. We came to know about their kids and grandkids and also celebrated milestones
               with them, as we did here with assistant usher Reggie Dixon on his birthday in 2012.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            Being the First Family came with unusual privileges and some unusual challenges. Barack
               and I sought to maintain a sense of normalcy for our girls. ABOVE LEFT: Malia, Barack, and I cheer on Sasha’s basketball team, the Vipers. ABOVE RIGHT: The girls relax on Bright Star, the call sign for the First Lady’s plane.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            We made sure our girls had the opportunity to do standard teenage things, like learning
               to drive a car, even if it meant having driving lessons with the Secret Service.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            The Fourth of July always gives us a lot to celebrate, since it’s also Malia’s birthday.

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice. I tried
               my best to speak the truth and shed light on the stories of people whoare often brushed
               aside.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      		
      
         			
         
            				[image: ]
            			
         

         			
         
            				
            In 2015, my family joined Congressman John Lewis and other icons of the civil rights
               movement in commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the march across the Edmund
               Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. I was reminded that day of how far our country has
               come—and how far we still have to go.
            

            			
         
         		
      
      	
   
      		
      		Becoming More

      	
   
      		
      		
      
         			
         			
         7

         			
          

         			
         Home gradually began to feel more distant, almost like a place in my imagination.
            While I was in college, I kept up with a few of my high school friends, most especially
            Santita, who’d landed at Howard University in Washington, D.C. I went to visit her
            there over a long weekend and we laughed and had deep conversations, same as we always
            had. Howard’s campus was urban—“Girl, you’re still in the hood!” I teased, after a giant rat charged past us outside her dorm—and its student population,
            twice the size of Princeton’s, was almost entirely black. I envied Santita for the
            fact she was not isolated by her race—she didn’t have to feel that everyday drain
            of being in a deep minority—but still, I was content returning to the emerald lawns
            and vaulted stone archways of Princeton, even if few people there could relate to
            my background.
         

         			
         I was majoring in sociology, pulling good grades. I started dating a football player
            who was smart and spontaneous, who liked to have fun. Suzanne and I were now rooming
            with another friend, Angela Kennedy, a wiry, fast-talking kid from Washington, D.C.
            Angela had a quick, wacky wit and made a game of making us laugh. Despite being an
            urban black girl, she dressed like a preppy out of central casting, wearing saddle
            shoes and pink sweaters and somehow managing to pull off the look.
         

         			
         			
         I was from one world but now lived fully in another, one in which people fretted about
            their LSAT scores and their squash games. It was a tension that never quite went away.
            At school, when anyone asked where I was from, I answered, “Chicago.” And to make
            clear that I wasn’t one of the kids who came from well-heeled northern suburbs like
            Evanston or Winnetka and staked some false claim on Chicago, I would add, with a touch
            of pride or maybe defiance, “the South Side.” I knew that if those words conjured
            anything at all, it was probably stereotyped images of a black ghetto, given that
            gang battles and violence in housing projects were what most often showed up in the
            news. But again, I was trying, if only half consciously, to represent the alternative.
            I belonged at Princeton, as much as anybody. And I came from the South Side of Chicago.
            It felt important to say out loud.
         

         			
         For me, the South Side was something entirely different from what got shown on TV.
            It was home. And home was our apartment on Euclid Avenue, with its fading carpet and
            low ceilings, my dad kicked back in the bucket of his easy chair. It was our tiny
            yard with Robbie’s blooming flowers and the stone bench where, what seemed like eons
            ago, I’d kissed that boy Ronnell. Home was my past, connected by gossamer threads
            to where I was now.
         

         			
         We did have one blood relative in Princeton, Dandy’s younger sister, whom we knew
            as Aunt Sis. She was a simple, bright woman who lived in a simple, bright house on
            the edge of town. I don’t know what brought Aunt Sis to Princeton originally, but
            she’d been there for a long time, doing domestic work for local families and never
            losing her Georgetown accent, which sits between a Low Country drawl and a Gullah
            lilt. Like Dandy, Aunt Sis had been raised in Georgetown, which I remembered from
            a couple of summer visits we’d made with my parents when I was a kid. I remembered
            the thick heat of the place and the heavy green drape of Spanish moss on the live
            oaks, the cypress trees rising from the swamps and the old men fishing on the muddy
            creeks. There were insects in Georgetown, alarming numbers of them, buzzing and whirring
            in the evening air like little helicopters.
         

         			
         			
         We stayed with my great-uncle Thomas during our visits, another sibling of Dandy’s.
            He was a genial high school principal who’d take me over to his school and let me
            sit at his desk, who graciously bought me a tub of peanut butter when I turned my
            nose up at the enormous breakfasts of bacon, biscuits, and yellow grits that Aunt
            Dot, his wife, served every morning. I both loved and hated being in the South, for
            the simple reason that it was so different from what I knew. On the roads outside
            town, we’d drive past the gateways to what were once slave plantations, though they
            were enough of a fact of life that nobody ever bothered to remark on them. Down a
            lonely dirt road deep in the woods, we ate venison in a falling-down country shack
            belonging to some more distant cousins. One of them took Craig out back and showed
            him how to shoot a gun. Late at night, back at Uncle Thomas’s house, both of us had
            a hard time sleeping, given the deep silence, which was punctuated only by cicadas
            throbbing in the trees.
         

         			
         The hum of those insects and the twisting limbs of the live oaks stayed with us long
            after we’d gone north again, beating in us almost like a second heart. Even as a kid,
            I understood innately that the South was knit into me, part of my heritage that was
            meaningful enough for my father to make return visits to see his people there. It
            was powerful enough that Dandy wanted to move back to Georgetown, even though as a
            young man he’d needed to escape it. When he did return, it wasn’t to some idyllic
            little river cottage with a white fence and tidy backyard but rather (as I saw when
            Craig and I made a trip to visit) a bland, cookie-cutter home near a teeming strip
            mall.
         

         			
         The South wasn’t paradise, but it meant something to us. There was a push and pull
            to our history, a deep familiarity that sat atop a deeper and uglier legacy. Many
            of the people I knew in Chicago—the kids I’d gone to Bryn Mawr with, many of my friends
            at Whitney Young—knew something similar, though it was not explicitly discussed. Kids
            simply went “down south” every summer—shipped out sometimes for the whole season to
            run around with their second cousins back in Georgia, or Louisiana, or Mississippi.
            It seems likely that they’d had grandparents or other relatives who’d joined the Great
            Migration north, just as Dandy had from South Carolina, and Southside’s mother had
            from Alabama. Somewhere in the background was another more-than-decent likelihood—that
            they, like me, were descended from slaves.
         

         			
         			
         The same was true for many of my friends at Princeton, but I was also coming to understand
            that there were other versions of being black in America. I was meeting kids from
            East Coast cities whose roots were Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican. Czerny’s relatives
            came from Haiti. One of my good friends, David Maynard, had been born into a wealthy
            Bahamian family. And there was Suzanne, with her Nigerian birth certificate and her
            collection of beloved aunties in Jamaica. We were all different, our lineages half
            buried or maybe just half forgotten. We didn’t talk about our ancestry. Why would
            we? We were young, focused only on the future—though of course we knew nothing of
            what lay ahead.
         

         			
         Once or twice a year, Aunt Sis invited me and Craig to dinner at her house on the
            other side of Princeton. She piled our plates with succulent fatty ribs and steaming
            collard greens and passed around a basket with neatly cut squares of corn bread, which
            we slathered with butter. She refilled our glasses with impossibly sweet tea and urged
            us to go for seconds and then thirds. As I remember it, we never discussed anything
            of significance with Aunt Sis. It was an hour or so of polite, go-nowhere small talk,
            accompanied by a hot, hearty South Carolina meal, which we shoveled in appreciatively,
            tired as we were of dining-hall food. I saw Aunt Sis simply as a mild-mannered, accommodating
            older lady, but she was giving us a gift we were still too young to recognize, filling
            us up with the past—ours, hers, our father’s and grandfather’s—without once needing
            to comment on it. We just ate, helped clean the dishes, and then walked our full bellies
            back to campus, thankful for the exercise.
         

         			
         

         			
          

         			
         Here’s a memory, which like most memories is imperfect and subjective—collected long
            ago like a beach pebble and slipped into the pocket of my mind. It’s from sophomore
            year of college and involves Kevin, my football-player boyfriend.
         

         			
         Kevin is from Ohio and a near-impossible combination of tall, sweet, and rugged. He’s
            a safety for the Tigers, fast on his feet and fearless with his tackles, and at the
            same time pursuing premed studies. He’s two years ahead of me at school, in the same
            class as my brother, and soon to graduate. He’s got a cute, slight gap in his smile
            and makes me feel special. We’re both busy and have different sets of friends, but
            we like being together. We get pizza and go out for brunch on weekends. Kevin enjoys
            every meal, in part because of the need to maintain his weight for football and because,
            beyond that, he has a hard time sitting still. He’s restless, always restless, and
            impulsive in ways I find charming.
         

         			
         			
         “Let’s go driving,” Kevin says one day. Maybe he says it over the phone or it’s possible
            we’re already together when he gets the idea. Either way, we’re soon in his car—a
            little red compact—driving across campus toward a remote, undeveloped corner of Princeton’s
            property, turning down an almost-hidden dirt road. It’s spring in New Jersey, a warm
            clear day with open sky all around us.
         

         			
         Are we talking? Holding hands? I don’t recall, but the feeling is easy and light,
            and after a minute Kevin hits the brakes, rolling us to a stop. He’s halted alongside
            a wide field, its high grass stunted and straw-like after the winter but shot through
            with tiny early-blooming wildflowers. He’s getting out of the car.
         

         			
         “Come on,” he says, motioning for me to follow.

         			
         “What are we doing?”

         			
         He looks at me as if it should be obvious. “We’re going to run through this field.”

         			
         And we do. We run through that field. We dash from one end to the other, waving our
            arms like little kids, puncturing the silence with cheerful shouts. We plow through
            the dry grass and leap over the flowers. Maybe it wasn’t obvious to me initially,
            but now it is. We’re supposed to run through this field! Of course we are!

         			
         Plopping ourselves back in the car, Kevin and I are panting and giddy, loaded up on
            the silliness of what we’ve just done.
         

         			
         And that’s it. It’s a small moment, insignificant in the end. It’s still with me for
            no reason but the silliness, for how it unpinned me just briefly from the more serious
            agenda that guided my every day. Because while I was a social student who continued
            to lounge through communal mealtimes and had no problem trying to own the dance floor
            at Third World Center parties, I was still privately and at all times focused on the
            agenda. Beneath my laid-back college-kid demeanor, I lived like a half-closeted CEO,
            quietly but unswervingly focused on achievement, bent on checking every box. My to-do
            list lived in my head and went with me everywhere. I assessed my goals, analyzed my
            outcomes, counted my wins. If there was a challenge to vault, I’d vault it. One proving
            ground only opened onto the next. Such is the life of a girl who can’t stop wondering,
            Am I good enough? and is still trying to show herself the answer.
         

         			
         			
         Kevin, meanwhile, was someone who swerved—who even relished the swerve. He and Craig
            graduated from Princeton at the end of my sophomore year. Craig would end up moving
            to Manchester, England, to play basketball professionally. Kevin, I’d thought, was
            headed to medical school, but then he swerved, deciding to put off schooling and instead
            pursue a sideline interest in becoming a sports mascot.
         

         			
         Yes, that’s right. He’d set his sights on trying out for the Cleveland Browns—not
            as a player, but rather as a contender for the role of a wide-eyed, gape-mouthed faux
            animal named Chomps. It was what he wanted. It was a dream—another field to run through,
            because why the heck not? That summer, Kevin even came up to Chicago from his family’s
            home outside Cleveland, purportedly to visit me but also, as he announced shortly
            after arriving, because Chicago was the kind of city where an aspiring mascot could
            find the right kind of furry-animal suit for his upcoming audition. We spent a whole
            afternoon driving around to shops and looking at costumes together, evaluating whether
            they were roomy enough to do handsprings in. I don’t remember whether Kevin actually
            found the perfect animal suit that day. I’m not sure whether he landed the mascot
            job in the end, though he did ultimately become a doctor, evidently a very good one,
            and married another Princeton classmate of ours.
         

         			
         At the time—and unfairly, I think now—I judged him for the swerve. I had no capacity
            to understand why someone would take an expensive Princeton education and not immediately
            convert it into the kind of leg up in the world that such a degree was meant to yield.
            Why, when you could be in medical school, would you be a dog who does handsprings?
         

         			
         But that was me. And as I’ve said, I was a box checker—marching to the resolute beat
            of effort/result, effort/result—a devoted follower of the established path, if only
            because nobody in my family (aside from Craig) had ever set foot on the path before.
            I wasn’t particularly imaginative in how I thought about the future, which is another
            way of saying I was already thinking about law school.
         

         			
         			
         Life on Euclid Avenue had taught me—maybe forced me—to be hard-edged and practical
            about both time and money. The biggest swerve I’d ever made was a decision to spend
            the first part of the summer after sophomore year working for basically nothing as
            a camp counselor in New York’s Hudson Valley, looking after urban kids who were having
            their first experiences in the woods. I’d loved the job but came out of it more or
            less broke, more dependent on my parents financially than I wanted to be. Though they
            never once complained, I’d feel guilty about it for years to come.
         

         			
         This was the same summer, too, when people I loved started to die. Robbie, my great-aunt,
            my rigid taskmaster of a piano teacher, passed away in June, bequeathing her house
            on Euclid to my parents, allowing them to become home owners for the first time. Southside
            died a month later after having suffered with advanced lung cancer, his long-held
            view that doctors were untrustworthy having kept him from any sort of timely intervention.
            After Southside’s funeral, my mother’s enormous family piled into his snug little
            home, along with a smattering of friends and neighbors. I felt the warm tug of the
            past and the melancholy of absence—all of it a little jarring, accustomed as I was
            to the hermetic and youthful world of college. It was something deeper than what I
            normally felt at school, the slow shift of generational gears. My kid cousins were
            full grown; my aunts had grown old. There were new babies and new spouses. A jazz
            album roared from the home-built stereo shelves in the dining room, and we dined on
            a potluck brought by loved ones—baked ham, Jell-O molds, and casseroles. But Southside
            himself was gone. It was painful, but time pushed us all forward.
         

         			
         

         			
          

         			
         Each spring, corporate recruiters descended on the Princeton campus, aiming themselves
            at the graduating seniors. You’d see a classmate who normally dressed in ratty jeans
            and an untucked shirt crossing campus in a pin-striped suit and understand that he
            or she was destined for a Manhattan skyscraper. It happened quickly, this vocational
            sorting—the bankers, lawyers, doctors, and executives of tomorrow hastily migrating
            toward their next launchpad, whether it was graduate school or a cushy Fortune 500
            training-program job. I’m certain there were others among us who followed their hearts
            into education, the arts, and nonprofit work or who went off on Peace Corps missions
            or to serve in the military, but I knew very few of them. I was busy climbing my ladder,
            which was sturdy and practical and aimed straight up.
         

         			
         			
         If I’d stopped to think about it, I might have realized that I was burned-out by school—by
            the grind of lectures, papers, and exams—and probably would have benefited from doing
            something different. Instead I took the LSAT, wrote my senior thesis, and dutifully
            reached for the next rung, applying to the best law schools in the country. I saw
            myself as smart, analytical, and ambitious. I’d been raised on feisty dinner-table
            debates with my parents. I could argue a point down to its theoretical essence and
            prided myself on never rolling over in a conflict. Was this not the stuff lawyers
            were made of? I figured it was.
         

         			
         I can admit now that I was driven not just by logic but by some reflexive wish for
            other people’s approval, too. When I was a kid, I quietly basked in the warmth that
            floated my way anytime I announced to a teacher, a neighbor, or one of Robbie’s church-choir
            friends that I wanted to be a pediatrician. My, isn’t that impressive? their expressions would say, and I reveled in it. Years later, it was really no different.
            Professors, relatives, random people I met, asked what was next for me, and when I
            mentioned I was bound for law school—Harvard Law School, as it turned out—the affirmation
            was overwhelming. I was applauded just for getting in, even if the truth was I’d somehow
            squeaked in off the wait list. But I was in. People looked at me as if already I’d
            made my mark on the world.
         

         			
         This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think: It
            can put you on the established path—the my-isn’t-that-impressive path—and keep you there for a long time. Maybe it stops you from swerving, from ever
            even considering a swerve, because what you risk losing in terms of other people’s
            high regard can feel too costly. Maybe you spend three years in Massachusetts, studying
            constitutional law and discussing the relative merits of exclusionary vertical agreements
            in antitrust cases. For some, this might be truly interesting, but for you it is not.
            Maybe during those three years you make friends you’ll love and respect forever, people
            who seem genuinely called to the bloodless intricacies of the law, but you yourself
            are not called. Your passion stays low, yet under no circumstance will you underperform.
            You live, as you always have, by the code of effort/result, and with it you keep achieving
            until you think you know the answers to all the questions—including the most important
            one. Am I good enough? Yes, in fact I am.

         			
         			
         What happens next is that the rewards get real. You reach for the next rung of the
            ladder, and this time it’s a job with a salary in the Chicago offices of a high-end
            law firm called Sidley & Austin. You’re back where you started, in the city where
            you were born, only now you go to work on the forty-seventh floor in a downtown building
            with a wide plaza and a sculpture out front. You used to pass by it as a South Side
            kid riding the bus to high school, peering mutely out the window at the people who
            strode like titans to their jobs. Now you’re one of them. You’ve worked yourself out
            of that bus and across the plaza and onto an upward-moving elevator so silent it seems
            to glide. You’ve joined the tribe. At the age of twenty-five, you have an assistant.
            You make more money than your parents ever have. Your co-workers are polite, educated,
            and mostly white. You wear an Armani suit and sign up for a subscription wine service.
            You make monthly payments on your law school loans and go to step aerobics after work.
            Because you can, you buy yourself a Saab.
         

         			
         Is there anything to question? It doesn’t seem that way. You’re a lawyer now. You’ve
            taken everything ever given to you—the love of your parents, the faith of your teachers,
            the music from Southside and Robbie, the meals from Aunt Sis, the vocabulary words
            drilled into you by Dandy—and converted it to this. You’ve climbed the mountain. And
            part of your job, aside from parsing abstract intellectual property issues for big
            corporations, is to help cultivate the next set of young lawyers being courted by
            the firm. A senior partner asks if you’ll mentor an incoming summer associate, and
            the answer is easy: Of course you will. You have yet to understand the altering force
            of a simple yes. You don’t know that when a memo arrives to confirm the assignment,
            some deep and unseen fault line in your life has begun to tremble, that some hold
            is already starting to slip. Next to your name is another name, that of some hotshot
            law student who’s busy climbing his own ladder. Like you, he’s black and from Harvard.
            Other than that, you know nothing—just the name, and it’s an odd one.
         

         		
      

      	
   
      		
      		
      
         			
         			
         12

         			
          

         			
         Barack and I got married on a sunny October Saturday in 1992, the two of us standing
            before more than three hundred of our friends and family at Trinity United Church
            of Christ on the South Side. It was a big wedding, and big was how it needed to be.
            If we were having the wedding in Chicago, there was no trimming the guest list. My
            roots went too deep. I had not just cousins but also cousins of cousins, and those
            cousins of cousins had kids, none of whom I’d ever leave out and all of whom made
            the day more meaningful and merry.
         

         			
         My father’s younger siblings were there. My mother’s family turned out in its entirety.
            I had old school friends and neighbors who came, people from Princeton, people from
            Whitney Young. Mrs. Smith, the wife of my high school assistant principal who still
            lived down the street from us on Euclid Avenue, helped organize the wedding, while
            our across-the-street neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and their jazz band played later
            that day at our reception. Santita Jackson, ebullient in a black dress with a plunging
            neckline, was my maid of honor. I’d invited old colleagues from Sidley and new colleagues
            from city hall. The law partners from Barack’s firm were there, as were his old organizer
            friends. Barack’s rowdy Hawaiian high school guy posse mingled happily with a handful
            of his Kenyan relatives, who wore brightly colored East African hats. Sadly, we’d
            lost Gramps—Barack’s grandfather—the previous winter to cancer, but his mother and
            grandmother had made the trip to Chicago, as had Auma and Maya, half sisters from
            different continents, united in their affection for Barack. It was the first time
            our two families had met, and the feeling was joyful.
         

         			
         			
         We were surrounded by love—the eclectic, multicultural Obama kind and the anchoring
            Robinsons-from-the-South-Side kind, all of it now interwoven visibly, pew to pew,
            inside the church. I held tightly to Craig’s elbow as he walked me down the aisle.
            As we reached the front, I caught my mother’s gaze. She was sitting in the first row,
            looking regal in a floor-length black-and-white sequined dress we’d picked out together,
            her chin lifted and her eyes proud. We still ached for my father every day, though
            as he would’ve wanted, we were also continuing on.
         

         			
         Barack had woken up that morning with a nasty head cold, but it had miraculously cleared
            as soon as he arrived at the church. He was now smiling at me, bright-eyed, from his
            place at the altar, dressed in a rented tux and a buffed pair of new shoes. Marriage
            was still more mysterious to him than it was to me, but in the fourteen months we’d
            been engaged, he’d been nothing but all in. We’d chosen everything about this day
            carefully. Barack, having initially declared he was not interested in wedding minutiae,
            had ended up lovingly, assertively—and predictably—inserting his opinion into everything
            from the flower arrangements to the canapés that would get served at the South Shore
            Cultural Center in another hour or so. We’d picked our wedding song, which Santita
            would sing with her stunning voice, accompanied by a pianist.
         

         			
         It was a Stevie Wonder tune called “You and I (We Can Conquer the World).” I’d first
            heard it as a kid, in third or fourth grade, when Southside gave me the Talking Book album as a gift—my first record album, utterly precious to me. I kept it at his house
            and was allowed to play it anytime I came to visit. He’d taught me how to care for
            the vinyl, how to wipe the record’s grooves clean of dust, how to lift the needle
            from the turntable and set it down delicately in the right spot. Usually he’d left
            me alone with the music, making himself scarce so that I could learn, in privacy,
            everything that album had to teach, mostly by belting out the lyrics again and again
            with my little-girl lungs. Well, in my mind, we can conquer the world / In love you and I, you and I, you and
               I…

         			
         			
         I was nine years old at the time. I knew nothing about love and commitment or conquering
            the world. All I could do was conjure for myself shimmery ideas about what love might
            be like and who might come along someday to make me feel that strong. Would it be
            Michael Jackson? José Cardenal from the Cubs? Someone like my dad? I couldn’t even
            begin to imagine him, really, the person who would become the “you” to my “I.”
         

         			
         But now here we were.

         			
         Trinity Church had a dynamic and soulful reputation. Barack had first started going
            there during his days as an organizer, and more recently the two of us had formally
            become members, following the lead of many of our young, professional African American
            friends in town. The church’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, was known as a
            sensational preacher with a passion for social justice and was now officiating at
            our wedding. He welcomed our friends and family and then held up our wedding bands
            for all to see. He spoke eloquently of what it meant to form a union and have it witnessed
            by a caring community, these people who collectively knew every dimension of Barack
            and every dimension of me.
         

         			
         I felt it then—the power of what we were doing, the significance of the ritual—as
            we stood there with our future still unwritten, with every unknown still utterly unknown,
            just gripping each other’s hands as we said our vows.
         

         			
         Whatever was out there, we’d step into it together. I’d poured myself into planning
            this day, the elegance of the entire affair had somehow mattered to me, but I understood
            now that what really mattered, what I’d remember forever, was the grip. It s