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.

  • 8junebugs

    I love that husband of hers with his crazy ideas.

    Michelle Obama is the first First Lady I’ve wanted to be like when I grow up. Hillary Clinton was close, but she wasn’t as much herself in the White House as she is now (and now she’s, by all accounts, phenomenal). I don’t care that I’m already a grown-up–Michelle Obama’s a good role model at any age.

    I live in Alexandria and I do sometimes take for granted that I come within spitting distance of the White House at least twice a week. Hearing about your trip–much like hosting old friends who’ve never been here before–reminds my of just how special it is to live here, where the president lives.

    …Which reminds me to consider how special it is that POTUS brought the girls to my neighborhood for frozen custard, rather just groan about the damn traffic jam I had to go around. (Here, getting caught behind a motorcade is a legitimate excuse for being late to anything.)

  • LindaLouT

    Your writing is friggin amazing!! You are the one to be in AWE of. Such talent and you should be so proud of yourself!

  • sueann41

    I loved reading this, I teared up reading it!! Love reading your experiences!!

  • Arcinian

    ! Love Michelle.

    Where there any men there at all?

    I really think that we’ll get no substantive change in policies until men are 50% or more of the people in a room discussing work life balance.

    It obviously affects men all the time but so often they aren’t in the room. When we do talk about men’s work life balance needs it’s in terms of their wife’s needs, not in terms of their own needs to take care of their child or their parents. As long as women as the default caretakers I have little hope of things changing.

    I wish Barack and or Michelle would propose legislative changes, mandatory paternal leave, things like that.

  • mom interrupted

    Something about the First Lady always made me think she’d be someone I’d love to sit down with for a cup of coffee (or something stronger). Your post confirmed it. She IS one of us. I can only imagine the goosebumps in real time because I had them just living it vicariously. Wow.

  • Scott-5×5

    Damn woman, you are one fantastic writer.

  • Jayceekay

    Awesome recounting of your story, Heather. Thanks! I love the way you just tell it how you really felt…awestruck and goofy, if you know what I mean. Oftentimes people try to act all cool when they tell a story and it’s so much more fun to feel the same giddiness you felt. I met a celebrity who was very important to me and asked to meet ME and the way you wrote your story enabled me to understand exactly how you felt ….the same way I felt when I met him.

    I completely agree with an earlier poster who said that’s how they felt when they met YOU. I KNOW I would. Thank you for sharing with us, Dooce, and making us feel like we’re sitting down for a cup of coffee with a girlfriend every day.

  • Kris Mulkey

    What an awesome experience! I felt like I was sitting in the seat next to you.

    Isn’t it crazy that all this happened because of a blog? A very popular blog, but a blog none-the-less.

  • rabbitrabbit

    HELL YEAH! Wow. That is just amazing! (I think every time I’ve commented on your DC experience, I’ve overused that word. Still! Amazing.) The first row, too! Daggone. I’m so happy for you!

  • JustLinda

    I got that same shiver in the retelling.

    Thank you for sharing your experience… it’s awesome to see it through your eyes, to feel it through your words. You did a great job sharing the feeling of it.

  • REBelProperty

    She’s amazing and so are you! :)

  • DarStar

    I felt that. Thanks for writing it.

  • paolouche

    It sounds like a one in a lifetime experience Heather! Your story telling is amazing! I love Michelle and I am 100% with Megs House: we should convince her to run for Prime Minister here in Canada!! We surely need someone like her!

  • SandraDee

    And as I put my head down on my desk and cry that I have a job with some flexibility but no guarantee that it’s going to be here in 30 days….I am hopeful that I will be able to find something….

    So proud of you Heather – keep fighting the good fight!

  • micahmaranda

    I just want to say that I am so proud of you. I’ve been reading you since, well, a long time ago, and just look how far you’ve come. As this post started, I teared up, because I was thinking of all the things in your life you have gone through, in order to be in this place, in this moment. With nothing but a willingness to share yourself with the world (when I write it, it seems so minute) comes a hoard of respect, simply for being you. Doesn’t that feel great? How many of us simply wish we could live AND be ourselves at the same time? You have gone through so much, and you were invited to The White House. Congratulations! We are all so proud!

  • Ranger

    Michelle (I mean Ms. Obama) is value added.

  • chickahgogirl

    Heather, you really need to send a copy of your DC posts to your EX boss with a bouquet of flowers and on the card write “Thank you so much for FIRING me!”
    hee hee. BABY, LOOK AT YOU NOW !!! You were invited to DA WHITE HOUSE. How totally rad is that? Love your blog. Been reading it since Leta was in your tummy. And look at her now. Loved your video of Marlo crawling too. They grow up so fast.
    Hugs.

  • Leball

    This almost made me cry. Everything she said, what you said. What a great opportunity. The points, how this affects me and alot of woman. THank you for sharing! Ah, I just LOVE reading this, I wish I could hug you and say THANK YOU! And congrats, I’m sure you looked fuckin’ hot too. :)

  • geelizzie

    I was getting goosebumps just reading about it, can’t imagine what would happen if I actually saw MICHELLE OBAMA! in person! She is just so awesome!

  • Petra

    I just watched the video and saw your purple tights as Michelle Obama walked right past you. Like everyone else, I got goosebumps reading your post. And when I watched the clip I had to fight back tears when she talked about wanting to give 120%, and always feeling like she wasn’t doing a good job at either. It makes me feel better not to be alone with that feeling.

  • MichelleC

    That must have been freaking awesome. I would love to meet Michelle Obama. She seems like a woman of such class and grace. I’m jealous of the fact that you got to hear her speak as well. But congrats on the opportunity to attend the forum. That must have been one hell of an awesome experience, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was both totally jealous and yet excited for you the entire time I was reading that post :)

  • tiny apple

    i would have given you a hell’s yeah back there in the lobby for sure. and you describe washintonian’s to a t – we’ve all had our run-ins with politicos and we try to play it so cool :)

  • NG

    So I love that I can see you in the White House video in the front row in your purple tights and you look like YOU ARE CHEWING GUM!! I am totally calling my fourth grade teacher and yelling into the phone IF HEATHER CAN CHEW GUM IN FRONT OF THE FIRST LADY THEN WHY DID I GET SUCH GRIEF ABOUT DOING IT IN YOUR CLASS??!?

  • heymamas

    Wow, that is so freaking awesome and I got the goosebumps just reading her speech, can’t even imagine what it was like live.

    Sadie at heyMamas

  • Dogmom

    God, Heather. Bravo is all I can say. We are so proud of you. What a great story!

  • JasmineStar

    This is the most Washington I’ve ever experienced. And I’m sure a few of those words in the last sentence would have air quotes if I was talking to you in real life.
    But, really. I wish they invited you to every.single.meeting because I’d know more about my country, President, and tall Mrs. President in one blog post than..well…longer than I’d like to admit.
    j*

  • Lucy mom

    It’s amazing to me how effectively you engaged your readers in this story (yes, I read through all the comments, this experience was that important). And I believe the issues around family flexible work policies cut across all political lines – you (and Michele Obama) were incredibly articulate on the importance of balancing work and home in a sane way.

    It struck me when I read Jon’s comment that he DID get written up for taking a sick day to care for you when you were in crisis. All your readers can recognize how brilliant Jon is in his work – why would an employer be so short-sighted to risk losing someone like him over allowing him a basic benefit in a time of great need for his family? It makes no sense.

    Thanks Heather for sharing the forum with all of us, more people need to be part of this discussion and you have provided people with a way to do just that.

  • pnelop1

    i second all these comments and this is my first one!! i can feel the energy just reading your words and i have to say that i love purple tights!! mine have sparkles!

  • RachelV

    I’m from Iowa and we have incredible access to candidates, which I’m very appreciative of, but meeting Michelle was amazing. I had actually met her husband (yeah, the President!) before I met her, but when I heard her spoke, I knew that I was with someone who understood the things that were going on in my life–like shopping at Target and having student loans. She was accessible, both literally and figuratively and she gave a great hug. We’re so lucky to have her as a first lady. And to have real people in the White House. Thanks for representing so many of us and being there.

  • Jay

    F’ing awesome. ‘Nuff said.

  • maire17

    Is it weird that I started to cry while reading her speech and what you wrote about Mrs. Obama. She is a class act!

  • elegantandchic

    What a great experience that must have been. Can’t wait to hear more about the DC Trip.

  • Nina Amelia

    Thank you for sharing

  • esab
  • mightyko

    Actually, you are all that. That is a room filled with woman power. No wonder it felt so surreal!

  • EyesOpenMama

    I also watched the video and saw you and the purple tights, BTW. What a thrill!

  • Walter Helena Photography

    What an amazing experience; reading this is reminiscent of the feelings our grandparents must have had about government. Somehow (well, I know how) the respect and awe is not as present at the surface as it once was.

    I’m having a fine art giveaway of one of my photographs at the end of the month and would love you to drop by my blog to enter, if you’d like :)

    Thanks for sharing your kooky insights into all things.

  • renata_armindo

    Hi Heather, I haven’t been able to read your blog for the past week because I just moved, I have a small son (1y8m old) and I also work from home. So, this week was specially hard.
    But I now I took a few minutes to see what I missed, I am sorry I haven’t been able to read all the posts, but I did read “Because it needs to be said”.
    I don’t want to suck up to you or anything, but I really admire you and your family, I think it’s very brave to open your lives to EVERYONE like you do, specially when you know there’s all this negative energy and envy towards you.
    So, I just wanted to say that I got goosebumps reading this post, that you can bet that some of us are rooting for you and I wish I’ll be able to meet you someday.
    BTW, I live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where it never snows, so if there’s another snow storm, you’re all welcome to come here and stay at my place. ;-)
    Congrats on all you have achieved. I wish you all the best!
    Love,
    Renata

  • Daily Cup of Jo

    Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!! I’ve got chills. You’re living a dream. Thanks for letting us dream with you.

  • nobody

    Wow, Heather finds it exciting to visit a high profile advocate for benefits she would like to have. That’s quite an endorsement.

    The job Ms. Obama was interviewing for was “community affairs” for a hospital, which is another way of saying political liaison. Her chief qualification for this job was her marriage to a politically connected and rising state senator. She could have arrived for that interview in five inch heels and purple tights and she would have gotten the job.

    Her entire career has been accumulating political influence and information, and selling same. Her job basically is to build and sell a kind of popularity. She has zero understanding of the world where people and businesses must produce to make their way.

  • micahmaranda

    @nobody, we here in the Dooce Community like to keep this a place of support, not criticism. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, and we all appreciate our differences, but there’s never a need to put someone’s experiences down or be insulting toward anyone.

  • ChezVerdurin

    @maggles: What was “insulting” about the previous post? From yours it seems that “here in the Dooce community” everyone’s entitled to their own opinions so long as they mesh with the majority. Hope that’s not the case.

    Mrs. Obama’s speech was nice but the world has heard many nice speeches nothing came out of, so for me the jury’s still out on this one. She’s very likeable, sure. That bit about “120 Percenters”, though – ugh. People need to unlearn using this self-congratulatory, phony phrase. And the behavior it refers to.

  • jon

    I think this might be a great place to recommend that members take a look at this document:

    http://community.dooce.com/dooce®-community-guidelines

    That includes you, @nobody (I know you don’t like the Obama family and I’m well aware of your political views. You can still be nice to person who never in her life thought she’d be invited to participate in a forum that might affect policy).

    @ChezVerdurin, I’ll block you (again) without hesitation if your “disagreements” venture into personal attack and trollish behavior. You especially need to read the guidelines. If you have an issue with your membership or questions about what is acceptable here, you should take it up with community@dooce.com.

    @Maggles is right, the community is about being supportive and positive, even if you disagree. Disagreements are expected. Being mean is not expected or accepted.

    p.s. Happy Monday everybody! ;-)

  • OldGrayMare

    Incredibly well done writeup, Heather. THANK YOU. For everything.

  • nobody

    I don’t see what is so “not nice” about my note. It’s sarcastic and contrary and has an embedded point, and seeks to undermine the acceptance of an established authority figure. But I think I might have read a few posts like that on this site.

    That said, your sandbox, your rules, and I doubt I’ll trouble you here any longer.

    I hope Heather understands that her post is _advocacy_. She’s telling a story, and on one axis it’s “holy louie how did I get here?”, but on another it’s “all the cool people are behind this workplace flexibility jazz.” Maybe she didn’t intend that, but it’s there nonetheless. It seemed to me that a story about the coolness of all this invites a response about the not-coolness of it. And if those other stories don’t get told, then it’s no surprise that some think only Neandertals could possibly oppose the Obamas.

    So there is nothing personal about any of this. When you step on the lacrosse field, the other kids aren’t going to be playing soccer. The whacks you get have nothing to do with like or dislike, and everything to do with the fact that it’s just a different game. Heather thinks Michelle Obama is keen, and she has her reasons, and that’s dandy. I think . . . differently, and I have my reasons, and that’s . . . well, it’s your server, so it’s up to you to decide what to do with that.

    All that said, I would sincerely regret if anyone took personal offense at my remarks, as that was not point.

    Godspeed.

  • Daddy Scratches

    Just got around to reading this today. Great story, Heather. Thanks for sharing it. Glad you had such a cool experience. :)

    To think: You met The First Lady and *ME* both within the span of a couple months. You are truly blessed. 2010 is clearly your year. ;)

  • paxton4evr

    I think Michelle Obama is amazing, too. You are pretty awesome yourself and this website is one of my absolute favorites. I wish I could RE-FOLLOW you for every time someone else un-Follows you.
    RE-FOLLOW RE-FOLLOW RE-FOLLOW RE-FOLLOW RE-FOLLOW :)

  • ChezVerdurin

    I can’t help it, this kind of abject adoration of a woman who hasn’t yet *done* anything relevant or remarkable on the national scale seems… just weird. Sure, she’s a mom. Sure, she’s married to the President who seems, all things considered, not a bad guy. Sure, their girls are cute. Sure, she has well-toned arms and wears mostly attractive clothes. She seems like a fairly nice person. But is that enough to worship her in this really intense way? (“Goosebumps just reading it”?)

    I donno, to me it just seems… bizarre and a bit unsettling. Brings to mind personality cults and such. Sorry if that offends.

  • jon

    All I am suggesting is that there is a tone to take here when disagreeing:

    “Do be nice”

    “We’re all people, here. We are all different, but deserve to feel comfortable. We may not always agree, but we need to agree to disagree with respect and courtesy. Be polite and considerate.”

    That’s all I’m suggesting in regards to tone and the notion of “disagreeing”.

    I would also suggest that people are not goose bumpy for Michelle Obama as much as they are Heather and for the idea of meeting the First Lady. I believe this is more about the office and position than the individuals involved. I could be wrong, but I’d ask you to consider the following:

    While we do have a historic first in terms of African Americans in the White House, there is a historic respect for those positions. Many people voted for Mr. Obama and for many people, the idea of visiting somebody you voted for would be goose bump inducing.

    People saying they “like” the First Lady doesn’t mean they are walking zombies. They just like the First Lady.

    Heather is sharing this experience with her readers. She doesn’t “worship” or suggest her readers do the same. The perspective is that of a normal person, popular online, sure, being selected to attend a forum at the White House. Regardless of your political leanings, certainly that’s a big deal and would be for many people. No need to crap on the experience because you didn’t vote for or don’t like the current residents of the White House.

    Also: tone. We’re trying to change the tone of comments here. That’s why we have Community Guidelines and that’s why I suggested re-reading it.

    Finally, Ms. Obama has a few more years to make her mark. Her efforts with childhood obesity should be commended, particularly in light of a great number of comments around healthcare reform; one of the biggest single factors in reducing healthcare costs is education and application of a healthy lifestyle. That starts when we are young. Is it a success? Is Ms. Obama a success? Time will tell.

    I can’t help but think that the remarks in this thread by @ChezVerdurin have little to do with Heather or her experience as a small business owner, entrepreneur and more about @ChezVerdurin’s own feelings regarding the political landscape. You certainly are welcome to offer those opinions, but if people here detect a tone that isn’t in keeping with the community we’re trying to build, they will speak up. No one is saying you can’t have your opinion. We’re just saying that if you want to be active here, you’ll need to measure your tone.

  • nobody

    Jon, the opinions that chiefly concern me are yours and Heather’s. It’s your deal here. Whether I agree with your rules or not, I don’t intend to break them.

    Here, we disagree on the degree of separation between appreciation of the First Lady’s charisma and agreement with her politics, and, possibly, on the authenticity of the image projected to generate that charisma.