DC, part two

So. Purple tights and Official Rogue Blogger. Well, someone sort of said that to me, don’t remember who it was, but I think their exact words were, “So you’re the official blogger of the group.” And they said it as we were filing into the building, so I didn’t get the chance to respond, “Yes. And your sex tape is scheduled to be posted this afternoon.” And you better believe I’m going to leave comments open.

I could start every paragraph from here on out with, “And it was just so surreal.” I kept having to knock myself into real time to soak it in, but there I was walking to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with all of these other people in expensive suits, and right inside the doorway was this set of pictures:

I may have blurted out I VOTED FOR THAT GUY! Okay, I did. I said that out loud. And when I looked around to get a HELL YEAH! I heard crickets. And a tumbleweed rolled past the open doorway.

I expected to have to survive a gauntlet of security checks, maybe be patted down by a litany of men in black suits, but getting into the building was FAR easier than boarding a plane to Las Vegas. Like, I didn’t even have to take off my shoes! And believe me, I WANTED TO TAKE OFF THOSE SHOES.

A few winding corridors later and I find myself at the door of the auditorium where I check-in, stick my name tag on my dress and step inside the door. Just then a voice from over my shoulder says, “Ms. Armstrong, you’re there in the front row.” The wahhh? Are you talking to me? Are you somehow confusing me with Lance? Perhaps Louis? Okay, Neil. Neil has got to be here somewhere.

And remember, I’m trying to stay in the moment, trying not to topple over. So I turn toward the open fan of seats in the auditorium, shake my head to focus my eyes and I see that the front row has been reserved for about 20 people. And my name is on one of those seats.

And it was just so surreal.

And as people start filling the room, some of them at this point familiar with why I’m here, I see a few of them look at me in the front row, look at the open seats behind me, and then do an actual double take. Oh yes, my friend. Purple-tighted, pantless blogger is in the front row! Did the world just turn upside down! How did she get in?! Who is in charge here?! DEAR LORD, DOES SHE HAVE MY SEX TAPE?

Now, trust me. If there had been cell service or wireless Internet access, I would have been documenting this process in real time. But I think they had some sort of special government block on the whole thing, because I could not get a damn signal. Or maybe that was the special Rogue Blogger Block. Oh my god, I’m a conspiracy theorist!

Anyway, blah blah blah, I sit there for a half hour as people network and laugh with exaggeration, and then after a brief intro by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, Michelle Obama walks onto the stage. Okay. Fact: I voted for her husband. Fact: I have always considered her a classy and strikingly attractive woman. Fact: Of course I’m going to be blown away simply by being in a room where we share the same air.

Truth: I was not prepared at all for the feeling that came over me when she walked into the room. I was not expecting to be so stunned. There was just something about her presence in the flesh that knocked the breath out of me, and I immediately got a rash of goosebumps up the side of my arm. A totally involuntary reaction, one that surprised even me.

You can watch her entire speech here at WhiteHouse.gov. But my favorite part was this:

As the parents of two beautiful young daughters, [workplace flexibility] is an issue that is particularly important to me and my husband, as you know… and it is true in our current life we are incredibly blessed. We have amazing resources and support systems here at the White House that I could have never imagined. Number one of them is having a grandmother living upstairs. We all need one of those. So can you figure that out?

(She motions her arms to the people gathered to figure this out.)

But we didn’t always live in the White House, and for many years before coming to Washington, I was a working mother, doing my best to juggle the demands of my job with the needs of my family, with a husband who has crazy ideas.

And as I’ve said before, I consider myself as many of us in this room do as a 120 Percenter. Which means that if I’m not doing something at 120% I feel like I’m failing. And I know you all can relate to that.

So while I did the best that I could at work and at home I felt like I wasn’t keeping up with either one of them enough. And I was lucky. I had understanding bosses, I had very accommodating jobs. In fact, in the last job I had before coming to the White House, I remember this clearly, I was on maternity leave with Sasha still trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I got a call for an interview for this position, a senior position at the hospitals. And I thought, “Okay, here we go.”

So I had to scramble to look for babysitting, couldn’t find one, so what did I do? I packed up that little infant, and I put her in the stroller, and I brought her with me. And I prayed that her presence wouldn’t be an automatic disqualifier. And it was fortunate for me that number one, she slept through the entire interview, and I was still breastfeeding, if that’s not too much information. And I got the job.

But, I know that I was lucky, number one. I was interviewing with the president who had just had a child himself and was very understanding and open-minded, but I know that most folks are no where near as lucky as I was. Particularly right now with the job market the way that it is, many folks can’t afford to be picky about the jobs that they take. Many folks don’t have access to any kind family leave policies whatsoever, no flexible working arrangements, many people don’t even have a paid sick day. So they are struggling. Struggling every day to find affordable childcare, or someone to look after an aging parent which is becoming more the issue. Scrambling to make things work when the usual arrangements fall through. All of us have been through that.

I had a hard time not standing up after that last part there applauding and whistling like a mad woman. Like, perhaps, maybe, a blogger who is rogue. Or like someone who had such a violent case of postpartum depression that she wanted to commit suicide every day, and her husband wasn’t allowed to take a sick day or they’d write him up.

President Obama is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to public speaking, no question, but you can quote me when I say this: Michelle Obama is better. She makes you feel like you’ve met with her for a cup of coffee, and she’s talking to you like you’ve known each other for years, since that fourth grade teacher who used to wear polka dot suspenders every day and you’d both laugh about it during recess.

She’s straight up: Here’s what we’re facing. Here’s what needs to happen, but I can’t promise anything. Although, you can trust that I understand. And I won’t ignore it.

And then when she was done, she shook everyone’s hand who was on stage, walked down in front of the audience two feet away from me and into her seat on the front row. And she sat there with us through the next 45 minutes of the first session of the forum. Without the Secret Service surrounding her. I kept expecting a team of suits to come in and rescue her at any moment, but when it was over and we all stood up to separate out into groups, she stood up with us. No, wait. Let me write that again: SHE STOOD UP WITH US.

And you know how cool Washington likes to play it, right? Nothing fazes anyone in Washington! Whatever, rest of the country, WE MAKE THE RULES (and can be bribed to bend them, for the right price). We see the White House every day, you Mid-Western peasant, BE GONE!

It’s kind of like Hollywood this way. Like, you’re sitting in a restaurant when Cindy Crawford walks in, and no one turns a head or bats an eyelash because that would be so uncool. Because everyone in that restaurant has written a script or operates a camera or runs errands for a production company. Except, four people have pooped their pants, and everyone else is going OMG OMG OMG Cindy Crawford is ten feet away. I WONDER IF SHE’LL HAVE SEX WITH ME.

Michelle Obama stood up, and I saw the entire room look around at each other, sizing up who was gonna do it first, because everyone wanted to do it, but how uncool would that look? PSHAW! The First Lady lives ten minutes from my apartment! We share the same laundromat!

And then BOOM! She was besieged. Twenty people swarmed her. I was still waiting for the Secret Service to break things up, but she stood there alone, graciously, talking and shaking hands, smiling and making everyone feel at ease. I felt incredibly lucky to be in the presence of someone who could teach me so much in just a short time. And as I walked by in my five-inch heels, she stood only a few centimeters shorter. So, yeah. SHE IS ALL THAT.

  • Larkspur

    Heather, thanks for this vivid report. I was especially touched by Michelle’s description of scrambling around at the last minute for the job interview, and having to bring the baby along. I don’t care how top-level your career is, there’s no way a woman isn’t going to think, OMG, I’m bringing my baby to a job interview and there’s no way that’s going to be anything other than a deal-breaker.

    And that makes me think of stories I’ve read about women in very different situations (as Michelle Obama and everyone there knows, ’cause that’s why you were there) who have done desperate things – sometimes incredibly stupid things – because they had to get to work. Like the woman who put her youngster in the trunk of her car, making sure it was ventilated so the child could breathe, and leaving a juice box, a flashlight, and coloring books. That was all kinds of stupid, but it wasn’t lazy, you know?

    Also: I know how many negative comments and emails and stuff you get, Heather. I hope you can let most of it just go by. The thing is, you are remarkably accessible. You have a comments section that people know you read, and in which you often comment. Imagine that scenario with, like, Martha Stewart or Katie Couric. You are a big-time presence because you’re talented and you work hard, but you’re still kind of in the neighborhood. Mostly that’s really cool, but too often it draws nastiness. Not criticism. You can, and do, take that. But just nastiness. We have to just let it go by, and concentrate on the good stuff.

    And yes, I still cannot believe you walked all the way over there in those high heels. I’m gonna have to post pix of my bunions just to scare you.

  • Kit

    Yes D.C. is very P.C.
    You wearing purple tights (which I love that you did btw) is very non-P.C.
    People in D.C. dress up in clothes jackets/business skirt attire/ and very uppity up clothes.
    So everyone who did a double take KNEW you were NOT from D.C. ;o)
    Likewise those same people, dunno how to wear shorts and sandals for the hell of it without ‘dressing’ up to some extent when they go to the beach bar or something.

    And Michelle Obama? She rocks.
    If I could ask her one question right now it would be “So if you were juggling caring for your kids before- and you didn’t have the resources then that you do now, WHY IS THEIR GRANDMOTHER living with you in the White House now??? Because it’s an honor to be in the white house? because you want ‘normalcy’ in your children’s life- versus how was that not there before your husband was elected President of the U.S.?” That would be my super ultra intellectually smart question I would ask her. But I would probably faint before being able to finish the statement. =o)

  • goodnightirene

    DAMN. Thank you for sharing this. How awesome is it that our President and First Lady are Barack and Michelle Obama??? I have to stop and be very, very thankful as often as possible.

  • Steve O

    You went through all this and had to listen to the CEO of Campbell’s Soup?

  • PShizzo

    I love your writing.

    That is all.

    Penelope in Portland

  • kelcut

    I’m in awe with you, of you, you name it. That is such an awesome experience and it’s so cool of you to share in such detail. Just seeing Michelle’s name on the program got me squeeing!

  • tracy

    I get spontaneous goosebumps when I’m in the presence of someone really amazing, or hear a beautiful piece of music, or reading this piece, or……any number of things. I’m such a sap.

    Congrats on all of your successes Heather. You worked your ass of for them & deserve every bit of happiness that comes your way.

  • tokenblogger

    Remember that post where you told those others to suck it?

    “Ms. Armstrong, you’re there in the front row.”

    They are double sucking it now!

  • kjk72178

    Amazing! I feel the same way you do about Mrs. O: love her husband, but might be IN LOVE with her. Every time I see her (on TV, not live, obviously) I am impressed by how genuinely she comes across. You are so lucky!

  • tallnoe

    Awe.SOME. With awesome sauce on top.

    Love it. Got goosebumps reading it! Part 3?

  • MustangSally

    I kept wondering just *who* in the White House is the Dooce fan? I imagine there was this meeting when they were sitting around saying “we really need to leverage this social networking thing and the cute Bo pics on the official White House flickr website just aren’t bringing ‘em in.” And somebody said “well, what about Dooce? She’s like #23 on the Forbes list of most influential female media personalities, dontyaknow? Wrote a best-seller about her experience with PPD. Poster child for working Mom’s! She’s like Brooke Shields only with HIGHLY connected audience. That twitter and shit! And she LOVES us!”

    May have been Michelle. Or Valerie. Or maybe some unknown peon on the “new media” communications staff. Just the fact that someone in the White House knew you well enough to recommend you – THAT blows me away.

    I want to do jello shots with that person. They’ve gotta have some serious dirt to share.

  • LindseyB123

    Can we just talk for a second about how you’re IN THE VIDEO on the White House Website? THE WHITE HOUSE!

    Not only did you get invited, but YOU MADE IT INTO THE VIDEO! HECK YEA!

    I’m so proud to live vicariously through you.

  • RandomAmy

    It’s almost better than meeting them myself because no way would I be brave enough to sport the vivid tights and I would have totally geeked out all over the floor. Thanks for maintaining our style and dignity Heather.

  • Marianne

    Thank you Heather!

  • jon

    @ChezVerdurin, this is where we’ll just have to disagree. I did read Heather’s post again. I can see a “cult of personality” argument with public figures, but the argument that it’s about the office or position holds for me. Saying I’m way off the mark only indicates that I’m way off your mark. This may be one of those “had to be there” moments where Heather expresses in broad strokes and those who agree or have similar interest “get it” and those who are more skeptical don’t “get it”. I appreciate your lack of breathlessness.

    I think if you like critical opinions, you are on the wrong site. Which brings up the original objection to your tone. Usage of phrases like “way off the mark” aren’t true, nor are they helpful. But I gather that most of what Heather writes about her life is “way off the mark” for you.

    The question for me ultimately is why would you go through the trouble of signing up just to point out you disagree? I’m not sure it accomplishes what you hope. Maybe you just wanted long-winded responses from somebody?

    ;-)

  • Plano Mom

    Hope your feet recover. Glad you wore what you did. Seriously happy you shared. This post made me stop being a lurker and actually sign up.

  • Kelly East Coast Canada

    (Megs house, totally agree with you, boot Harper, bring in Michelle to be our top dawg)

    Heather thank you for sharing that snip of speech, what a REAL woman she is, how lucky you Americans have her in a place where she can make change happen. With all the news coverage about US Health Care it reminds me of what a sweet deal we have here in Canada. Granted, we PAY handsomely for it, but its there, for all, and its worth it.

  • mightymarce

    I almost skipped over this post, and I am so glad that I did sit down and read the whole thing. I am so glad you were there. I am so in awe of our President and his First Lady. I am so glad to hear of this forum, that these issues are being talked about, as my sister anticipates her first baby and might maybe get 6 weeks of leave if she scrapes all of her vacation and sick time together to afford it.

    This. Is. So. Needed.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Michelle Obama seems like such an incredible, amazing woman. I cannot wait to see what she does in this position she has. They are such amazing people, both of them.

  • JillyLly

    I love how much you embrace yourself Heather! You are not afraid to be you even when you are going to the WHITEHOUSE!! So cool! I love hearing experiences like these. It reassures me of my choice to vote for Obama. Its refreshing to hear especially because I have a very right wing republican boss who tries to get into political debates with me all the time and thinks Obama is creating socialistic healthcare and going to ruin this country.

  • Jentle

    i simply don’t understand why i’m not crying right now… that was amazing… and dude. srsly? HOW did we get HERE from where you started sharing your life with us way back when???

    thank you so much for sharing your life.

  • francabollo

    Yeah, Michelle’s the real deal, isn’t she?

  • brendadog

    Thank you, seriously, for sharing this. This is so completely cool, interesting, fantastic. I so love your approach and what it is “really like”. Honestly, that sounds snarky but I am being 100% honest. I’ve read your stuff since Leta was born and this is the first time (other than when you write about depresseion) that I am so thankful for your writing. Even though I don’t have children and actually work in a place that is pretty understanding and very flexible with schedules, t This was a seriously cool opportunity. I’m awed that you could share this like you have.

    As I was reading this, first thought was “Is Michelle Obama taller than Heather?”. Knowing you were tall and hearing reports that she was tall, as well. Funny that you answered that question!

  • cmpab

    I just LOVED this. Thank you for sharing.

  • Catherine McP

    Wow! So glad you got to go, lucky duck!

  • kristinbuel

    I was actually vacationing in DC the same time you were there (all those middle schoolers were making me INSANE), and my husband and I had arranged for a White House tour. It was terribly boring and not worth the time we waited in line. But at the same time it was so…moving, I guess, to be in the same house as the Obamas. When we have kids, I hope we’re just like them. Or the Cosbys.

  • Googooboyy

    It seems like your being there, *made* everyone be there as well, through your blog. Magnificient!

    Though Washington may be a place that I’ll never even set foot on, and Michelle may be a mom that I’ll probably never meet in person, this was a cool experience indeed.

    Everyone felt it.

  • ChristinaV

    I want to thank you, as a woman of child bearing age, who is getting married this summer, for participating in a debate about ways to improve the work place. I don’t even have children and I find it hard to balance work and life.

    I do want to say though that this kind of bothers me:

    “We see the White House every day, you Mid-Western peasant, BE GONE!”

    I was born right outside D.C. and went to college there and am actually sitting about a mile away from the White House in my apartment. But, I don’t think this way and most of the people I know don’t think this way. I do think that assuming that we all think this way is how people who work in the government end up getting vilified and it concerns me. I realize that in the 12 step program to becoming a tea party-r this is like step 0.25 on the hating government scale.

    I’m not trying to be one of those unfollow-ass-holes, just hoping you can consider being part of the country that tries to help us improve our image in this town. Really, I don’t think I’m cooler than anyone else. We have just as many snooty jerks here as everyone else does, it just so happens that most of ours are on cable TV.

  • Sassafras Mama

    Every time I hear Michelle Obama speak or read something she’s written, I’m just so proud that she’s our first lady. Proud because I think she truly understands what it’s like to be a regular person. I admire her so much already and your post just re-affirmed that.

    Glad you were there!

  • mommartz05

    ooh I like you so much more now. And I LOVED you before!!

  • Steve O

    I like Michelle more then Barry. He’s a slacker compared to her. LOL . . I’m sure she keeps him in line though.

  • Karen Chatters

    I totally would have expected you to jump her, or, you know, go over and shake her hand.

    I think it’s amazing that you were not only invited to go but you wore the purple tights. Way to represent!

    Of course, had I been in the room with her, I probably would have peed my pants…

  • Jalima

    I have to say FUCKING SURREAL!

    What incredible experiences your career has afforded you. I hope you are very proud of yourself dammit :)

  • gretchie

    Rock on, sister! That’s it. That’s THE story. The story that your kids and aaaalll your grandkids are going to have to suffer through every single Thanksgiving until you kick the bucket. And even then, those same kids will keep telling it to their kids. Awesome job. Congratulations. These are the moments that make a life better than, “pretty good.” Thanks for having the presence of mind and humility for really and truly savoring (and sharing!) these experiences.

  • jessica.gg

    Ahhh, bless. I don’t usually comment, but you’ve made me all teary. I feel so proud of you! And jealous, obviously.

  • melomania

    Ah, Dooce, you’re such a crazy liberal! And I totally love you for it, even if I may disagree with you at times. Thank you for bringing things like this to the attention of my often my out-of-touch brain, and making me really think about what I think and why I think it. I appreciate your ability to do that with your sense of humor!

  • dolphy36

    Freakin’ awesome! What a cool story and experience. Michelle rocks, and I think you nailed it as to why. She connects. She gets it. And she is oh, so cool. (PS…you rock, too!)

  • The Prima Momma

    I second what kellyutah said: Meeting you was just as surreal for me. Thank you for taking the time out of OMG BEING INVITED TO THE WHITE HOUSE to meet up with some of your devoted readers.

    I would love a DC part III in which you tell us about the chili! Had I known that was in store, I would have stayed longer!!

  • Finola

    WowWowWow. Great description of how it felt to be there. If I could have I would have voted as you did.
    But can I focus on your last paragraph where you use both inches and centimeters in the same sentence?
    Sorry if this sounds frivolous, but are you sure you aren’t Canadian?

    From,
    Your Canadian Friend.

  • vvlkova

    You are such a good person. I can feel that every time that I read your blogs. Thank you for sharing your experiences, you deserve everything that you have!

  • bsheep

    I’ve said it before — to everybody who would listen — but it is so amazing to have a couple in the White House that is just like us. She gets it! I like Barack, but it’s really his family that I’m in love with. Michelle and the girls are so real and it’s so refreshing to have a young family in the White House, one that understands the reality of TODAY for other families. Thanks for letting us into your experience, Heather.

  • eecantyjones

    Michele Obama is like Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan all wrapped up together.

    http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2008/02/25/fey

    http://jezebel.com/368633/tracy-morgan-to-tina-fey-black-is-the-new-president-bitch

    High-five on the voting for Obama.

  • KellyKel

    wow! I am a huge fan of the president, but never gave much thought to the first lady. How cool that they are both awesome. Thanks for opening my eyes to that.

    And.. Heather… You are awesome too.

  • Carolina

    I’m jealous! But at the same time I’m really happy you got to go. If I had been able to go (snort – yeah… right, like I would get that call) I totally would have given you a, “Hell Yeah!” when you said you voted for Barack. And I must admit, I have a mega crush on Michelle.

    Very excited to read part 3.

  • mrs.notouching

    Amazing. I LOVE her and I cannot even imagine being so close to her.

  • HeckYes

    This brought me to tears. Your description of your experience is wonderful and I love the quote. I’m a working mother as well and I am very fortunate that my employer is flexible and sympathetic to family issues. But even still I struggle every day to balance my desire to be the best employee, wife and mother that I can be. I fall short most days.

    I have heard others describe Michelle Obama similarly; she is an inspiration. Even though I get crap from my conservative friends and family members, I am so proud that I voted for Obama too.

  • Tirzah

    Wow, that sounds like quite the experience!!! The First Lady seems pretty awesome, it’s nice to know that you feel the same way after seeing her in person!

  • monkeymama11

    you fuckin rule

  • seekingelevation

    I love that this happened, that you were there, and (mostly) that you appreciated the opportunity like you did.

  • Cool_Mable

    Heather, good God, you know how to write. I felt utter excitement for you as you relayed your experience. Thank you!

    I remember when I was set to give birth to my second child, my husband informed his boss that he would need to be out to experience THE BIRTH OF HIS CHILD. She said – completely seriously, “well, I don’t know, we’ll see what we can do. I’m not sure I can give you any time off.” Like – any time off.

    Needless to say, he gave his notice shortly after.

  • EyesOpenMama

    So awesome to read. What an amazing experience for you.