by Shari MacDonald Strong
As a progressive, feminist mother with three young children and a passion for changing the world, but no time in which to do it, I get a bit frustrated at times. I keep an eye on the casualties in Iraq, and I drive my boys to Kindergarten. I watch footage of the bombings in Gaza, but make sure the channel is changed and the TV off before meeting my daughter at the bus after school. I plan to write to my congressman, but discover that my stamps have been used as stickers and my printer paper was used up in the making paper doll chains.
I am that unique creature: Political Mom in Need of an Outlet. No -- that’s not it. There are hundreds of organizations and opportunities to which I could devote my energy, if I had any. But grocery shopping, laundry, school drop-off and pick up, housecleaning, budgeting and bill-paying, writing and editorial projects, teacher conferences and snow days leave me prostate on my couch. How do other moms who care about the world manage to do anything to bring about change? Last year, I edited an anthology of essays by politically-inclined moms, just so I could be inspired by their stories. And I was. Still, I long for a media-noticed role model I can look to, day to day, for inspiration and motivation. A brilliant, involved, political woman who loves her children and carves out a life with some semblance of balance – one that looks not only possible, but maybe even enjoyable.
Enter Michelle Obama.
Like so many others, I first fell for the other adult Obama. When he first saw the Barack-promoting music video by Will.i.am , a conservative friend of mine said he thought: “Uh oh.” The song itself was a work of genius (props to Will.i.am), but it was Barack Obama’s words that made the video something truly meaningful. Much more than a cultural artifact, it was (and is) a snapshot of a desperately longed for future. A reason to keep fighting the good fight. A prayer. It was Barack Obama’s words that hooked me. He had me at “Yes, we can.”
For her part, Michelle Obama had me at “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country,” which she famously uttered early in 2008. The media, of course, tore her to pieces for the sentiment. But as a mother who has anxiously wondered what kind of a country my kids are growing up in, I thought I understood. Because it’s one thing to be nationalistic, to think of one’s country as the “best,” without deconstructing what that means. We all have the capacity to do that. It’s a whole other thing to think critically. In my own social circle, I’m irresistibly drawn not to people who think they’re perfect, but to the ones who know they’re flawed, who admit their failings, and who work hard to improve themselves. I long for that same sense of self-awareness, of “we can do better,” in our society. Though I would never presume to speak for her, I got the feeling that this is, in part, what Michelle was alluding to that February day.
But it was her words at the Democratic National Convention that sealed the deal for me. She began simply by telling us all who she was: Sister. Wife. Daughter. And Mother. Always when Michelle speaks, she reminds us that she is a mother. Not because she is matronly (far from it), but because her daughters are the center of her world, and her words attest to that fact.
“I think about how one day, they'll have families of their own,” Michelle said that night, and I felt like she was reading my mind, living out my experience – which, as a fellow mom, she kind of is. “One day, they (Sasha and Malia) -- and your sons and daughters -- will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. They'll tell them how this time, we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming.”
The dream is alive and well at our house. “Yaaaaay, Obama!” my son Macky still says, whenever Barack’s image shows up on the TV or computer. “Yes,” I say. And I think about the failed economy, about the various bailouts, about media pundit attacks, about criticism of Michelle Obama’s election night dress and ridiculous speculation about what she’ll wear to the Inauguration. I think about unrealistically high expectations of a new president who is, despite all his strengths, still just human. And I wonder if and how we all can continue to keep the dream alive.
I sneak a peek at my email in-box, and there is an email to me (and, I assume, to a million other Americans) from Michelle Obama. I follow video link to a message from Michelle , inviting me to participate in a National Day of Service on January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s a day when I usually am home with the children, trying to find ways to keep them busy and occupied, and not bored.
On the website , I look for service projects in our area and finally select park clean up. (I can take the kids; they can collect litter; and it makes sense – we use city parks a lot!) Signing up makes me a little nervous. At heart, I’m basically shy – and, I have to admit, a little lazy. Maybe I’m even a little anxious about putting myself out there. What if I invest my time and it doesn’t help?
But Michelle’s face is still looking back at me from the screen, and I don’t click away. The problems we as a country face are, it’s true, deeply overwhelming. But I can do this one small thing. And after that, maybe I can do something else. I think, Maybe we really can make a difference. In fact, the more I think about it, I feel pretty sure of it. Barack and Will.i.am got our attention. But the idea wasn’t, “Yes, he can,” or “Yes, they can.” It’s we. We can. Election year was a time of dreaming. Now, it’s time for doing.
Barack has been, in many ways, my inspiration. But in this, in the acting, fellow-mom Michelle is my soulmate. We are busy mothers, and we can do this. Yes. Yes, we will.
As for what Michelle will wear to the Inauguration, the day after the Day of Service? Who knows? Does it really matter? Maybe it will be blisters on her fingers, from raking at a park clean up. Or a Band-Aid on her arm, from giving blood. Personally, I picture her wearing the sort of satisfied expression one wears after completing an important job. And that smile. Always that smile of hope.