Clair Speaks Out

This isn't 'The Cosby Show.' Michelle doesn't have to do it all.

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claire

Dear Michelle,

You may not remember me, but I'm Sondra Huxtable's mom. I met you and your family during parents' weekend back when you and Sondra were at Princeton together.

Words can hardly express the type of joy I felt upon seeing you and Barack and your beautiful children walk onto that stage on Election Night to claim your rightful place in American history. My husband, Cliff, cried like a baby. And I did, too. Cliff, Sondra, the whole family, we are so proud of you and Barack.

But listen, there's something that's been on my mind for a few days that I wanted to talk to you about. It has to do with motherhood, womanhood, black womanhood and the way people like to talk about women's choices. I read an article the other day by a young lady named Rebecca Traister on Salon. (My son, Theo, turned me onto the Web site to get my news!) Anyway, Ms. Traister seems to be a very intelligent young woman, but I am afraid she missed the mark by implying that somehow the decision to stay at home with lovely little Malia and sweet little Sasha was not your own. She seemed to feel that a highly educated woman like you with a law degree and a high-powered career is receiving the short end of the stick by choosing to spend a few years at home with her family as first lady. First lady!

I accept some of the blame for this. All of these notions about women's identity coming primarily from their work, well, they used to not really involve African-American women. Then people got to know me and my family. I did it all—or seemed to anyway. It seems like since then, you and Sondra and your whole generation have gotten tangled up in these senseless, judgmental wars. I'm sorry about that. It's not what I intended.

Do you know you will be the first black woman to live in that White House that won't be expected to clean it (unless you want to)? To me, that in itself is a victory. I don't blame you, Michelle, for wanting to make sure you're there for Malia and Sasha while Barack gets down to business. This is as big of a transition for your children as it would be for anyone's. What a blessing it is that your own mother can come along to Washington to help out, and that you all could afford hired help if you choose it. But at the end of the day, there is only one you. And your girls are still young; they'll need their mom.

It's all about choices, Michelle, and I and everyone who came before me worked to give you and our own daughters as many choices as possible. I enjoyed having my career and then coming home to my kids each day. Don't tell Cliff, but many days, I preferred my law office over our kitchen—it was more relaxing! (Smile.) But I could afford to be at the office more, with Cliff working from home much of the time. Don't get me wrong—he worked hard delivering those babies and caring for our own, but it's not like he was the president of the United States!

What I'm trying to say is, don't worry about all of these people who say you might not be holding up your bargain by not "representing" (that's what they call it, right?) feminists, or black women, or working mothers, or whomever. We all know how accomplished you already are, and we admire you for that. We also know that you could have chosen to ignore that little mentee of yours way back when if you'd wanted to, and gone about having a single and fabulous life. But you didn't, and look what happened. Believe me. You're admired even more, especially by black women, for having your professional experience plus a wonderful husband who loves you to pieces and a beautiful family, to boot.

The next four years are a flash in the pan in the scheme of most adult lives, but they will be monumental in those of your daughters. I applaud you for making them your top priority. So the next time you hear some criticism about wanting to take some time from the office to handle family matters, just tell them that they must have you mistaken for someone else—me. Let me tell you, they never really knew me anyway. And I got my share of criticism, too. Too perfect. Not a "real" black mom, like Florida Evans. But, they didn't know her either. They felt so confused by us and our tight, loving families, that we all eventually got pushed aside. Until now.

Don't let them stereotype you—good, bad or otherwise. Go out and join Mocha Moms if you want to! You're your own woman, and you're going to be plenty busy with the job of first lady and mom in chief. You're going to redefine both titles and make us even more proud; I just know it. And you're going to do it your way. We'll see.

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