MIchelle Obama on Oprah mag

Michelle Obama and Oprah on the O Magazine April 2009 cover

What a pretty cover. What fantastic women. You can read the whole interview here. Or, below, some highlights:

Oprah: And how are you adjusting? What are your days like?

Michelle Obama:
My day is structured so that I’m usually not working until 10 or 10:30.
That gives me time to get the girls out of the house. My mom is taking
them to school because it’s less of a scene for her. With all the
security involved, it’s a more normal experience for them when I don’t

Oprah: What do people at school call you? First Lady? Mrs. Obama?

Michelle Obama:
When I introduce myself, I usually say, “Hi, I’m Michelle—Malia and
Sasha’s mom.” And then when you sit down with another parent and have a
conversation, all the titles melt away anyway, and you’re just talking
about your kids. But to get back to your question, after I see the
girls off, I usually work until 3 or 4. Then they’re back and we start
in on homework. Then Dad comes home and we all have dinner. That’s the
beauty of living above the office: Barack is home every day. The four
of us sit down to eat as a family. We haven’t had that kind of normalcy
for years. And now I can just pop over to his office, which sometimes
I’ll do if I know he’s having a particularly frustrating day.


Oprah: You pop over to the Oval Office?

Michelle Obama:
Yes. I’ll just pop over and say hi. And all of this—this being together
as a family—is what has made the transition easy. We have each other,
in a really fundamental way.

Oprah: And how is your mother doing? I am so impressed with her.
We had a conversation right before you moved, and she said she was
going to make sure you all had your dinners as a family—but that she
would not be at the table.

Michelle Obama: I know.

Oprah: When I asked her why, she said, “Because that’s Michelle’s family.”

Michelle Obama: My mom has some really wise approaches to family. But there are times when we’re like, “Mom, come down here.”

Oprah: She originally wanted her own apartment.

Michelle Obama: And I told her, “You can live right here and never even see us if you don’t want to!”

She told me that the reason she decided to live here is that she didn’t
want you and the president to have to pay for her to have her own

Michelle Obama: Oh, that’s good. We’re cheap, for sure. And I bet she said so!

Oprah: But there is a lot of room here.

Michelle Obama:
Plenty of room. There are many times when she drops off the kids, we
hang out and talk and catch up, and then she’s like, “I’m going home.”
And she walks upstairs.
Oprah: What’s it like to walk into a world where you have so
many people available to handle your every need? You’ve gone from doing
everything, managing your whole household, getting the kids off to
school, picking up your own cough syrup…

Michelle Obama: Going to Target…

Oprah: Going to Target—and now you walk into this world…

Michelle Obama: Where, if you want pie, there’s pie. If something breaks, it’s fixed. In an hour. Look, I appreciate it.

Oprah: How many people are on the staff?

Michelle Obama:
There are about 95 people who manage the residence. But I want it to
feel like home, so it’s important for me to get to know the people we
work with, to be able to joke with them and tease them.
Oprah: Before you moved in, you said you wanted the
girls to keep making their own beds and doing chores. Is the staff on
board with that?

Michelle Obama: It took a second. At
first they were like, “Are you sure?” But if these girls don’t learn
how to make a bed or clean a room, what are they going to do when they
go to college? It can’t be foreign to them to be part of a working
household. So in the first few days, I gathered my East Wing team and
the residence staff—the folks who clean the chandeliers, the people in
the kitchen, everyone—and thanked them for helping us transition
through the move. Then I talked about our vision for this house: that
it would be filled with life, that we’d have people in and out, that
the kids would roam around. I want the kids to be treated like
children, not little princesses. I told everyone that they should make
their beds, they should clean their plates, they should act
respectfully—and that if anyone on the staff sees differently, they
should come to me. So the girls help set the table, they help bring the
food out, they work with the butler staff, and they’re in the kitchen
laughing and making their toast in the morning. And everyone has
adjusted to the rules. Now I joke with the staff: “Don’t spoil
them—spoil Mom!”

Oprah: How are they with each other?

Michelle Obama:
There’s genuine love and affection. I’m big on the idea that their
sister is all each of them has. Even when they argue, I want them to
act with respect. I say, “Do you know how painful it is for a mother to
watch her two children, who she loves equally, arguing?” I say, “You
don’t see it much, but the one or two times you’ve seen Dad and me
disagree, you started falling apart.” And they get it.

Oprah: Are there fewer arguments between you and the president now that you don’t have to fix things around the house?

Michelle Obama:
Absolutely. That was kind of a growth point in our marriage that I’ve
talked about before—the stress of needing help, and then finally
realizing that the help doesn’t necessarily have to come from your
husband. It can come from anywhere.

Oprah: It’s hard to travel when you’re First Lady.

Michelle Obama:
It is. You know, you asked me when it hit me that all this was really
happening. I’ll tell you when it hit me. There was a moment before our
first visit to the White House, when we came to meet the Bushes. I had
flown in early to visit a school, and then I went back to the airport
so Barack and I could ride to the White House together. As we drove up,
my Secret Service agent said, “There’s the president-elect’s
motorcade.” And there were like 20 cars! There was everything in that
motorcade except the caboose! Now I tease Barack: “You’ve got the horse
and carriage, the dogsled, the airplane, the bike…”

Oprah: And the kids know he’s home when they hear his helicopter landing.

Michelle Obama:
Once someone on my staff e-mailed to tell me that the president was on
his way. But you could already hear the helicopter, so it was like,
well, no kidding.

Oprah: “Dad’s home!”

Michelle Obama: The girls don’t move. I’m like, “You want to see Daddy landing in the helicopter?” “No, that’s okay. We already saw it.”

Oprah: Did you change your diet during the

Michelle Obama: When we first started
running, my big concern was making sure we ate well on the road. So we
started looking at our diet, trying to eliminate junk, getting seasonal
fruits and vegetables that were grown locally. We walked the kids
through reading labels. We talked about why one juice might be better
than another.

Oprah: What foods did you give up?

Michelle Obama:
Things with artificial ingredients. That’s a tough change for a lot of
families, though, because so many foods aren’t real anymore. But lots
of people don’t have access to a farmers’ market, or can’t afford to
shop at one, so this is a bigger issue. It’s really big,
because changing your diet makes such a difference. I’ve seen it in my
own family. We have more energy. And I caught only one cold during the
last year of the campaign, even after shaking millions of hands!

Oprah: On the campaign trail, weren’t people offering you every kind of food imaginable?

Michelle Obama:
Yes, and a lot of times, I’d eat it. Hey, I love pie. I love a good
candy bar. And sometimes when you’re working so hard, the only thing
you have is that candy bar and those potato chips. But if I went home
to a balanced diet, then those days wouldn’t kill me. I feel the same
about the girls. If they’re eating healthy most times, I don’t panic
when they get popcorn at the movies. I don’t want them freaking out
about food.

Oprah: That’s right. In addition to eating well, do you work out?

Michelle Obama:
Yes. There’s a small gym here that has everything we need. I work out
about four or five days a week—and Barack does six. He’s a workout

Oprah: Well, you look better than ever—despite the rumors that you’ve got a baby bump.

Michelle Obama: [Laughter.] I know—I was like, “Baby bump? As hard as I work on my abs?!”

By the way, nobody would be happier if you were pregnant than Gayle
King. Out of nowhere, she’ll tell me, “Oh God, I really hope Michelle
gets pregnant—and that it’s a boy!”

Michelle Obama: [More laughter.] Here’s the scoop: Not pregnant. And not planning on it.

Oprah: Not pregnant.

Michelle Obama: Not pregnant.

Oprah: Okay, so that’s settled. Back to exercise. You do treadmill?

Michelle Obama: I do treadmill, I do weights—

Oprah: I think anyone who saw you on the cover of Vogue knows you do weights. Those arms!

Michelle Obama:
I also do some jump rope, some kickboxing—and I’d like to take up
Pilates, if I could figure out whether there’s time. After I had Malia,
I began to prioritize exercise because I realized that my happiness is
tied to how I feel about myself. I want my girls to see a mother who
takes care of herself, even if that means I have to get up at 4:30 so I
can do a workout.

Oprah: When you first told me that a few years ago, I was like, “You get up at 4:30 to work out?”

Michelle Obama:
Well, I just started thinking, if I had to get up to go to work, I’d
get up and go to work. If I had to get up to take care of my kids, I’d
get up to do that. But when it comes to yourself, then it’s suddenly,
“Oh, I can’t get up at 4:30.” So I had to change that. If I don’t
exercise, I won’t feel good. I’ll get depressed. Of course, it’s easier
to do it here, because I have much more support now. But I always think
about women who don’t have support. That’s why work-family balance
isn’t just a policy conversation; it’s about changing the expectations
of who we have to be as women and parents.

Oprah: It seems that every woman I speak to—black, white, older,
younger—says the same thing about you: “She’s just like us.” People
feel an affection for you that I find so touching.

Michelle Obama:
I’ve always thought that what I owe the American people is to let them
see who I am so there are no surprises. I don’t want to be anyone but
Michelle Obama. And I want people to know what they’re getting.

What I see in you is a confidence that comes from such an authentic
place. A reporter who interviewed me 10 years after she’d first met me
said, “Gee, you’re the same person—but it feels like you’ve become more
of yourself.” When did you get to be this much of yourself?

Michelle Obama:
I think in my 40s, I started feeling very comfortable in my own skin.
Motherhood helps, marriage helps—those learning curves that force you
to be better. And my hope is that my 50s will hone that. I never
consider myself a finished project.

O: So what do you know for sure, Michelle Obama?

Michelle Obama:
I know that all I can do is be the best me that I can. And live life
with some gusto. Giving back is a big part of that. How am I going to
share this experience with the American people? I’m always thinking
about that.

[source: O magazine]


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