the smell of my desperation has become a stench

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 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.

  • knewlyknitting

    2010/04/08 at 2:00 pm

    Surreal. So happy for you, what an experience!

  • MJBUtah

    2010/04/08 at 2:02 pm

    Please tell me you got to shake her hand? She has always struck me as such a down to earth person that none of that surprises me.

    Part Three: Dooce and the First Lady do jello shots? Please?

  • Anu

    2010/04/08 at 2:03 pm

    OMG!! I’m just loving it. Am so proud of you!

  • Greta Koenigin

    2010/04/09 at 12:32 am

    I WAS AT THAT CONFERENCE TOO, via streaming video, thanks to your mention of it on this site. And I agree Michelle Obama is very impressive and stunning and everything, and I got chills and tears as she spoke of the struggle of being a working mom outside of the White House, which I have been for seven years. AND I got butterflies in my stomach as I realized you have zero comments and that I might be number one. Not that I wanna be SUCH a comment whore, but the sheer serendipity alone is something that’s worth a jolt in the nervous system. Thanks. 🙂

  • kayakgrrl

    2010/04/08 at 2:04 pm

    I have goosebumps. So awesome.

  • Melodiofme

    2010/04/08 at 2:04 pm

    I love strong no-bull shit women!
    Thank you for sharing this.

  • ChristineQ

    2010/04/08 at 2:06 pm

    Wow! Goosebumps all around…

  • Ariel

    2010/04/08 at 2:08 pm

    I ADORE her. I get goosebumps when she speaks, and I’ve never even been in the same room her- she’s like the HOLY GHOST only you know, real and stuff.
    And I totally second you doing jello shots with her. And I wanna come!

  • Yoj31

    2010/04/08 at 2:09 pm

    Dude, I was just star struck READING THIS.

    I love that you rocked the tights too. She’ll remember. What if she talks about you in her next speech? Rad.

  • ChristineQ

    2010/04/08 at 2:11 pm

    @Yoj31–She can be “Heather the Blogger”. The Democrats’ answer to “Joe the Plumber”.

  • jon

    2010/04/08 at 2:11 pm

    Correction: They did write me up.

  • deanna2010

    2010/04/08 at 2:13 pm

    I love Michelle Obama!

    I’m so jealous you got to be in the same room with her. I also really appreciate the points she brought up. I’m heading to grad school and am still a few years away from the workforce, but it’s already occurring to me how difficult it will be to balance work and a personal/family life. AND I come from an upper-middle class background, so I have had/will have it easier than so many other Americans! Thanks for sharing.

  • ATXGirl

    2010/04/08 at 2:15 pm

    Hell of am experience for you!

  • KellyUtah

    2010/04/08 at 2:15 pm

    Beautiful post dooce®. Just want you to know that meeting you had a similar effect on me.

    Don’t laugh. I’m serious.

  • jilllovesbacon

    2010/04/08 at 2:17 pm

    A friend of mine was there, too! She even managed to shake Michelle’s hand and I was SO ridiculously excited for her. And now I find out that YOU were there? I can barely sit still. If only my time machine was working and I could manage an invite to this thing. Between you and her I wouldn’t know who to slobber over first.

    (On a side note, every time I sign in I have to renew my password. Every. Time. But you’re worth it.)

  • twhitten

    2010/04/08 at 6:07 pm

    Obsessed with Michelle Obama. Being one of the five black people in middle class Seattle, WA, I receive comparisons all the time 🙂 I relish it even though we look nothing alike, We do however share the beauty, attraction and obsession that is all things J.crew.

  • scargosun

    2010/04/08 at 2:19 pm

    No words really. Just OMG so cool!

  • verbalicon

    2010/04/08 at 2:19 pm

    Wow. I would have probably run over to her, wrapped my hair around her shoes and proceeded to lick them or somesuch thing. I’m classy that way.

    Glad that you’re classier.

  • Ashley_the Accidental Olympian

    2010/04/08 at 2:21 pm

    That part where you talk about her presence, a presence so powerful it gave you instantaneous goosebumps, is it weird I got them too just reading about the moment?

    Is it weird that I also find myself nearly on the verge of tears when I watch Michelle speak? That even reading about the forum sort of makes me want to just cry big messy tears?


    That sounds like an utterly life changing moment. I am thrilled you got to be apart of it, and even more, that you have a platform such as this one to share it with us.

  • aslapintheface

    2010/04/08 at 2:34 pm

    I love it that you can see your reflection in the picture of President Obama. You should call that one “a picture of me and my friend, The President”.

  • kristanhoffman

    2010/04/08 at 2:25 pm

    Go Mrs. O! Great recap, Heather, thank you!

  • Fifi Coon

    2010/04/08 at 2:27 pm

    OK – so I would have been yelling ME TOO!!! I voted for that guy!!! And I would have been offering you high fives!!! And jumping up and down and thanking God that we finally have a real human being for our President!!!

    Reading your post gave me goosebumps!!! Thanks for that!!! Can’t wait for the next installment.

  • Megs house

    2010/04/08 at 2:31 pm

    She is amazing! I wonder if we could convince Michelle Obama to run as Prime Minister of Canada – we could certainly use her.

  • girlplease

    2010/04/08 at 2:31 pm

    Congrats on your opportunity. Did you ask why the guy next to Obama isn’t Jason Sudekis?

    And that’s why they ask you and not me to these things.

  • dogsrpeople2

    2010/04/08 at 2:42 pm

    Thanks for taking us with you — vicariously!

  • bluzdude

    2010/04/08 at 2:43 pm

    Great story. I got goosebumps too!

    Michelle was probably thinking, “I wish they’d let ME wear purple tights…”

  • Trish has 3 girls

    2010/04/08 at 2:43 pm

    So very cool! Were you trying to be all cool and surreptitiously take those pics or did you just fire ’em off? Who else was in the FIRST ROW?! So cool!

  • Cheryld

    2010/04/08 at 2:44 pm

    WOW! I’m so incredibly jealous! What an awesome experience! I can’t wait to hear DC part 3!


  • ThatGirlCrystal

    2010/04/08 at 2:48 pm

    You are so 100% right about Michelle Obama. However cool Barack is, Michelle is exponentially cooler.

    When they were on the campaign trail, she spoke at the building I worked at. After she spoke, they gathered the staff in to the building to get a picture with her after her phone interviews and before she jetted off to the next place. You could tell that she was on a really tight schedule, without a second to spare. She took the picture with us and then, as she was leaving, saw the baby of one of the staff. She pretty much went “Baby!” and reached out to hold the baby and then stood there and talked with us for a minute while she did. You could tell it wasn’t a politician kissing a baby for a photo op moment… it was a genuine, mom who loves babies wanting to cuddle one moment.

    It was awesome.

    She is awesome.

  • Sivy

    2010/04/08 at 2:49 pm

    i got goosebumps just reading this! and you just know she would totally dig the purple tights and stripper heels.

  • PunkinP

    2010/04/08 at 2:49 pm

    Wow, I got a tear in my eye reading that. And chills. Way to go Heather. You did the first lady proud! I love her even more now.

  • amotschall

    2010/04/08 at 2:50 pm

    Is there going to be a part 3?

  • Candace16

    2010/04/08 at 2:59 pm

    Amazing … you just captured it so well that it truly gave me goosebumps, too!

  • Daddy Scratches

    2010/04/08 at 3:00 pm

    What a completely amazing and surreal experience.

    The White House has been Dooced! (I’m surprised this hasn’t yet become a talking point on FOX/Rush Limbaugh/ etc.)

  • adrienne jackson

    2010/04/08 at 3:05 pm

    i almost stood up and applauded after, “All of us have been through that.”

    so impressive. even for this cynical, canadian, SAHM.

  • djgonzales

    2010/04/08 at 3:06 pm

    Oh, this part deux is even MORE AWESOME, then Une!

    Sorry about being written up, Jon. What heartless bleeps you worked for! Talk about a chain gang!

    So, I guessing that Michelle should run for President!

  • littlebrowndog

    2010/04/08 at 3:07 pm

    I have seen her speak twice and I’ve seen the President speak once– Both at campaigning events before he was elected. I’m sure this is partly impacted by the fact that her events were smaller and more intimate and his was chaos on a college campus, but I totally agree. I thought he was the most amazing speaker I’d ever seen, until I saw her. She’s incredible. Michelle Obama 2016!!! Plus, she tickled my kids, so that’s cool.

  • josephine

    2010/04/08 at 3:12 pm

    I am star struck just READING this post and incredibly jealous that you got to be in Michelle Obama’s presence. HOW COOL!! Congrats on such an honor – I’m glad you were picked!

  • Midnight

    2010/04/08 at 3:14 pm

    I’m so glad you had the opportunity to go to the conference and I’m so glad I get to read about it here. Thanks!

  • Becca

    2010/04/08 at 3:17 pm

    I get goosebumps from Hilary, too, but not in a good way…

    so cool. and really? Jon got written up for staying home with a wife who was suicidal? they should be ashamed.

  • RathrBeAtWrigley

    2010/04/08 at 3:17 pm

    Incredible story. Simply incredible. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  • hender_sk

    2010/04/08 at 3:26 pm

    Great experience! I didn’t vote for her husband, but I think she is way cool. I especially appreciate her comments about being a 120%-er. I can totally relate. I often think that THAT is what I need to work on – the fact that everything (work, kids, house) needs to be 120% perfect. If I could adjust that down, life would be so much more manageable.

  • katopio

    2010/04/08 at 3:28 pm

    I got goosebumps reading this myself! Heather, you and Michelle Obama are truly cut from the same loin. I adore you both for the crusades you both take. I’m a proud fan!

    p.s. I totally feel the same way about how Michelle talks to everyone as if we’re all long-time girlfriends catching up at a coffee house!

  • lovingthismomstuff

    2010/04/08 at 3:29 pm

    Incredible!! I’m so glad you got to experience that. Not something you’ll ever forget, I imagine.

    Loving This Mom Stuff

  • Nothing But Bonfires

    2010/04/08 at 3:32 pm

    I was walking home from work one day and these police cars were blocking off the street. I waited on the sidelines with everyone else, and a rumor went through the crowd that Michelle Obama was about to drive through. And then suddenly there she was, waving to everyone from behind the tinted windows of a car, and I just got that FEELING, the one you described, the one that came out of nowhere and knocked me flat. And man, that was only seeing her drive by slowly in a car, so I imagine yours was magnified a hundred times.

  • Trasherati

    2010/04/08 at 3:35 pm

    Dude. I’d have bought her a good bourbon, too. You are both ALL THAT.

  • Caffeinerd

    2010/04/08 at 3:37 pm

    Okay, I must break out an OH. EM. GEE when responding to this post, as ridiculous as it may look. Because reading about this was just plain incredible—loved living vicariously through you. I can’t even IMAGINE what I would feel/do (/what ridiculous expressions would appear on my face) if Michelle Obama was so close! What an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing it!

  • J. Bo

    2010/04/08 at 3:40 pm

    That is just nineteen kinds of awesome and wonderful! Can’t decide which I feel more– gleeful happiness that you got to be there, or abject venal jealousy that you got to be there…

  • Larkspur

    2010/04/08 at 3:51 pm

    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

    2010/04/08 at 4:00 pm

    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)

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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