I finished reading the book “Becoming” with my Carlton Book Club in September.
I enjoyed the book “Becoming”; it is a biography of the Former United States first lady Michelle Obama, and it was published in 2018. All of our book club members thought the book used a personal tone and drew people closer since Michelle’s background is average. She does not come from a prominent family, and none of her parents or grandparents graduated from Ivy League schools. She is more like most of us, born in an ordinary family, or even slightly under average family, but she made her way up from that rental home to be the United States’, former first lady. She used a storytelling method and invited us into her world.
Who is Michelle Obama?
She is the 44th first lady in the USA. She was the first African American woman who became the First Lady. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, raised by a modest family and loving spirits. She is an ordinary person from an ordinary family but she made a journey to become an extraordinary first lady.
She was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, an area with lots of black blue-collar people residing. Her parents spent their whole lives in the area. Her family of four – mother, father, brother, and herself shared one of the two floors with her aunties in the same small house. She learned piano from her aunt on an old piano with a middle C key not working well. Her mom was a full-time housewife, and her father was a blue-collar worker, and he died relatively young at the age of 55 years old, due to a long-term illness.
How could her life lead her to enter into the world’s most famous address – The White House? What factors, experiences, life events, and support systems led her to be the extraordinary Michelle Obama?
Here are my key takeaways:
Michelle & her brother, Craig had a lot of love from both parents. It’s not like many overseas Chinese immigrants, whose children have their mom staying with them and their father staying in China. Their means of connection have to be via video conferencing.
Michelle said her mom gave her a stable life. She mentioned when she showed up at home, there’d be food in the fridge. Her mom’s love came in the form of reliability. She drove Michelle home and offered food if she were hungry. Her mom was like shelter to Michelle, a place to seek refuge.
Her mom clearly had her own idea of raising her children. She said, “I am not raising babies. I am raising adults”. Neither Michelle nor Craig got spoiled.
When Michelle was old enough she realized that all the hours her mom gave Michelle and Craig were hours she didn’t spend on herself.
It got me thinking, are we moms like shelters to our children?
Her father, Fraser Robinson III, had been a blue-collar worker all his life. He had a great work ethic, and he was never late for work in his entire life. He still tried to manage to get up and leave home for work, even with his deteriorating health.
He gave up his study and joined the army to support his brother’s study. However, he profoundly understood that study is the root foundation to have a good life for his children, and it would be the game-changer for his children; although he had no one in his family as a role model.
He pushed his son, Craig, to seek out the toughest basketball competition he could find; And Craig got admitted to Princeton. Craig was a key player at the basketball club there.
For the whole of their lives, Michelle’s parents didn’t own a house. The children were their investment. Michelle and her brother Craig both went to Princeton, and Michelle went to Harvard Law School. Michelle’s parents both instilled in her that her future was worth the hard work and effort.
It was heartbreaking to read Michelle’s words after she lost her loving dad. She described, “It hurts to live after someone has died. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth. Food tastes like nothing. Colors go flat. Music hurts, and so do memories….grief is so lonely this way.”
Optimistic, confident, and determined
As an African American, Michelle has met with racism all her life. She realized that her skin color made her vulnerable, and this is something people of color always have to navigate throughout life.
She showed her optimism and determination through life events. I am very impressed by her story, especially when she was told by the high school counselor “I am not sure that you’re Princeton material.” when she expressed her goal was to go to Princeton.
Instead of being discouraged, she was determined to not let one person’s opinion dislodge everything she knew about herself. At that moment, her only thought was, “I’ll show you.” In the end, she got admitted to Princeton – her dream school.
She is an action person toward her big dreams. She mentioned that in her head she has a to-do-list which goes with her everywhere. She assesses her goals, analyzes her outcomes, counts her wins.
In our lives, it’s very common that people get discouraged by others’ opinions. When I was a kid, I liked to sing, and I wanted to be a singer. I sang in front of my family, my friends, and my classmates. But one day, I was told that I didn’t sing well, so then I stopped singing. Sometimes, other opinions can have a range of small to big impacts on one’s life journey.
Michelle is a person who is aware of her choices. She described that “One missed paycheck could leave you without electricity; one missed homework assignment could put you behind and possibly out of college.” She mentioned, due to her family, she learned to make practical decisions.
As an African American student, she was aware there are challenges for minority and underprivileged students. But as she was optimistic, she also knew it needs energy, effort, and an extra level of confidence to handle those challenges.
She also recognized that not many students were smarter than the rest of them; although some kids were from wealthy families and seem quite intelligent, successful, and confident. She said, “being rich didn’t protect you from failure. Around me, I saw students dropping out -white, black, privileged, or not.”
Self-awareness is an essential characteristic of our lives. It’s like an old saying in Chinese, “Know the other party, know yourself, and you will win. “
Marriage and Family
After, Michelle met with Barack Obama, who is also from an ordinary family from Hawaii. He was a graduate student at Harvard Law School. She mentioned he was breezy in his manner but powerful in his mind.
Barack is a book lover and has a strong dedication to reading. He can flip 6-7 different books at the same time while flipping the newspaper, cover to cover. He reads late into the night, and in his youth his money went mostly toward books.
I always appreciate people who keep the reading habit. I have told my son that books are a forever true friend.
After Michelle became a mom, motherhood came naturally to her, and she became motivated as a mom. Although she stopped working for a while, after returning to work and having two daughters, she started to juggle between the busy work, busy life, and everything else.
She painted a picture of their life:” We had two kids, three jobs, two cars, one condo, and what felt like no free time. We both served on the boards of several nonprofits.”
She mentioned there were times when she’d sit in the parked car and eat her fast food alone with the car radio playing.
It resonated a lot with me as a reader that after becoming a mom, I need to multitask and be protective of my time. I agree with her that there are always moments I am super proud of my efficiency; although I have an audience of no one. As I mentioned in my other blogs, I can cook 3 dishes and 1 soup in half an hour after work, as I need to accommodate my son’s eating time, class time, and sleeping time.
Michelle is a smart wife who adjusted her schedule after noticing Barack’s plan did not work for the family.
In the beginning, she wanted to accommodate Barack Obama’s crazy schedule. She waited for him to have dinner with the family. She had two young daughters waiting for dad to give them a good-night kiss before sleep.
Soon she found it frustrating as Barack could not make the time from time to time. She discovered her calmness and strength back after making the adjustment. What she did was she flipped over and changed the game. She asked Barack to catch up with her instead of waiting desperately for him.
She also adjusted herself to the philosophy that, in a family, the husband is “yang,” and the wife is “yin.” The wife carved routine and order, and she needed the boat, and the husband could live in the ocean.
I am quite impressed by her interpretation of a husband and wife’s relationship, as lots of women may not see this in their marriage.
Like many parents, Michelle’s hope was that her daughters would grow up to be bright and energetic; optimistic like their father and hard-driving like their mom. She mentioned, “more than anything, I wanted them to be strong, to have a certain steeliness, the kind that would keep them upright and forward moving, no matter what.”
As a mom, that’s also my hope for my son. I hope he is optimistic, bright, energetic, and strong.
Reflection of becoming me
I recently keep thinking about what things contributed to “Becoming Me” after reading Michelle Obama’s journey?
I used to be a dependent girl who depended on my father when I was young, and I relied on my husband after getting married. After getting married, I didn’t cook. I had my first job at Cisco Systems and worked my way from entry-level receptionist to be the regional marketing manager. But I couldn’t manage all the housework and cook well, so I hired workers to work for me.
Now all my friends say that I am very independent and capable. I can invite 10 guests to my home and prepare 10 dishes, 1 soup, and 1-2 desserts. What are the things that changed me then I become the current me?
Like Michelle, I have my loving parents, who stayed with my brother and myself until sending us to university. My mom was a shelter at home. My dad quickly returned home after a business trip for us kids. I think loving parents are crucial for kids, and I have been thinking that when lots of Chinese immigrants overseas have one parent staying with kids and the other appears on the screen most of the time, what does the feeling look like to a child? Having a stable family and loving and supporting parents enables me to be more optimistic, confident, and determined.
My life page was flipped after I came to Vancouver as an immigrant.
1. I needed to work harder in another country. I realized that as a Chinese with a heavy accent initially, it was hard to get my ideas accepted as my English level was not good.
2. I was not confident in the beginning when I went to the MBA class, as a new immigrant in this country, a minority in the class (I was one of the two Chinese in the class, plus I was one of the few females among all the males). I did not dare to express myself, and I tried to check my writing for grammar mistakes before submitting any writing assignments.
That’s why I started this blog, and this is my 100th writing. My confidence went up gradually after I wrote a lot and spoke a lot. In my MBA program’s second part, after I improved my reading, writing, and comprehension, I got lots of As (in the beginning, most of my grades were B-)
3. I am the only parent to look after my son in another country. I cannot wait to discuss with my husband when something happens which needs my immediate action. I have to make all the decisions as I am the only adult in the family in Vancouver. Thus, my independence and capability appear. And my dependence disappears.
4. I want to have a fulfilling life, no matter how busy I am. I told a few of my friends that I learned a lesson from a mother, who I knew in my first year in Vancouver.
She stayed with her son for 10 years as a full-time mom. Her husband is in China, and she and her son are in Vancouver. After sending her son to university in another province, she recognized that her whole world was her son and her son’s school in the past 10 years. She cannot speak English well and after spending 10 years being a full-time mom she is disconnected from the outside society.
I realized from that day that I cannot have that journey. No matter how busy I am, I need to have some space for me. I need to work, read, exercise, blog, and explore new habits such as playing the piano.
I have limited time due to being the only parent for my son plus having my full-time job; I have to be very creative to spend my time. Thus I have become more efficient and need to maintain high energy. I am always multitasking, speaking with my mom when I do housework such as ironing; listening to an audiobook when I am preparing dinner. My reading speed and learning capability have increased since I don’t have much time.
This is my reflection after reading “Becoming” and how I have become the current me.