"Becoming"

“Becoming” is a heartfelt and refreshing autobiography of one of the most highly recognizable persons of our time. In this surprisingly intimate look at the life of the former First Lady, Obama has structured the reflections of her 55 years into three parts: “Becoming Me,” a discussion of her early years growing up in South Side Chicago; “Becoming Us,” a chronicle of her marriage to Barack, the birth of their daughters and the family dynamics; and “Becoming More,” a recounting of her years in the White House and how she leveraged her position to implement philanthropic causes.

In “Becoming Me,” Michelle Robinson depicts life with her amazing parents and protective brother Craig. The Robinsons lived in a small second floor apartment in Great Aunt Robbie’s house. Fraser, Michelle’s dad, worked for the city of Chicago, at a water filtration plant that provided a middle-class income for the family. As Michelle grew older, she saw her neighborhood change as a result of “white flight” to the suburbs. Her doting brother always had his eye out for her safety.

Michelle describes her mother, Marian Robinson, as the one who kept “the flame” in her lit by raising her daughter to see endless possibilities in life. Marian convinced her that she could “go after and get absolutely anything I wanted.” Her dad’s quiet battle with Multiple Sclerosis and the courage he demonstrated as his body weakened had a major impact on her outlook on life.

Even though her high school counselor told her she was not Ivy League material, Michelle attended Princeton University, charting her own course as one of the few African-Americans on campus and graduating with honors. She went on to earn a law degree from Harvard University.

Her first employment as an attorney was at a prestigious law firm in Chicago. There she mentored an intern, Barack Obama. While she was working there she experienced the death of her father and a close friend. These factors caused her to assess what course she really wanted to take in life and led her to several jobs in public service.

“Becoming Us” is the most profound section of the book and my favorite. It is one of the most transparent and candid descriptions of family life I have ever read. This segment portrays the adjustments both Michelle and Barack had to make to the realities of marriage. Both partners’ efforts to excel at their jobs while trying to raise their two daughters is frankly depicted. The tension created by the pursuit of Barack’s political career is not downplayed or glossed over.

Her account of the medical help the Obamas sought to become pregnant and the counseling they engaged in to address stresses in their marriage discloses the interior growth each of them experienced. Her description of the 2008 presidential campaign and the necessary accommodations the family had to make to integrate the grueling electioneering process into their family life is both captivating and alarming. Her summary of the personal “slings and arrows” they had to cope with provides insights into how the American public treats presidential candidates.

The final section, “Becoming More,” is a depiction of the historic 2008 election and Michelle’s transition to First Lady. It includes how decisions were made about the formal education of Sasha and Malia and how the Obamas worked to protect their children from the press, yet give them freedom to have friends and just be kids.

Michelle used her highly visible position to implement several initiatives. Her first project was to plow up a section of the pristine White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden. The garden produced hundreds of pounds of fresh produce and became a symbol of her further advocacy for healthy diets for schoolchildren. She also promoted the gifts and rights of women and girls, worked to improve the lives of military families and encouraged businesses to hire veterans.

The book concludes with her thoughts about returning to life as a private citizen and her plans to continue to leverage her unique celebrity for positive ends.

Autobiographies always challenge me to learn more about how to live my life from studying the experiences of others. This memoir is an affirmation of loving, disciplined parenting and the value of the extended family and good friends. Because Marian and Fraser Robinson provided a strong foundation for their daughter, Michelle gained the confidence and skills necessary to be open to new ventures and has been able to adjust to the rigor of new situations throughout her life.