How Michelle Obama Made Me a Bad Mother

The first lady’s all about work-life balance. But for one working mother/journalist, being part of the East Wing press corps meant that her personal work-life balance got thrown out of whack.

US President Barack Obama, First Lady Mi

I want to call this story: How Michelle Obama Made Me a Bad Mother.

But that wouldn’t be fair to Mrs. Obama, whom I temporarily covered from behind the velvet ropes of the press corps during the early days of the new administration.

With my apologies to Mrs. Obama for my title, I think I will tell the story any way.

It begins on a cold day in February.

I had promised that I would pick up the kid after school on time at school aftercare, but like many of my promises as a mother after this assignment, they were weak. Promises often sprinkled with “but” and “if,” as in, if I can finish my work, if there are no events today, if I can fly across town. Impossible promises.

As a journalist, I had no set hours and so I worked all the time–morning, noon, middle of the night, weekends. All. Of. The. Time.

When I promise I will pick the kid up on time, he looked at me as if he didn’t trust me. His confidence is wavering.

But then I tell him, “Call me. If I can’t make it, you will just have to walk.”

The morning of that promise melted into afternoon.

The call came on time. (The kid, who is a young teen, is the responsible one):

“Hey Mom! Where are you?”

“At Arlington Cemetery.”

“What are you doing there?

“Well, Michelle Obama has a program here on women in the military, and I’m writing about it.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Honey, you are going to have to walk home.”

“But it’s cold.”

“I know.”

“And my face is cold.”

“I’m sorry.”

“But my coat doesn’t have a zipper.”

“I know, honey, I meant to get that fixed, but I didn’t have time.”

“It’s cold.”

“I know, but you can do it. I know you can.”

He hung up. And that cold guilt that any working mother has felt shot up my spine. I tucked the guilt back in with the other emotions, behind the folders that can’t properly contain a mother’s guilt neatly. The emotions are always spilling over. A mother’s love is this way sometimes. Messy.