NEW ORLEANS — Former First Lady Michelle Obama is perhaps a little taken aback when people often ask her, “How’d you know what to do as first lady?”
“I don’t know, maybe it was osmosis,” she joked, speaking before a huge crowd Friday afternoon at the opening of the 2018 American Library Association in New Orleans. The convention is expected to draw about 25,000 people over the next few days.
The former first lady recalled the moment she “became a spouse all of a sudden,” as if all of her own Ivy League education and extensive experience in government, academic and nonprofit leadership never happened.
“I had big jobs before becoming first lady,” she said.
Obama was in town to promote her upcoming memoir, “Becoming,” which will be released Nov. 13 and published in 24 languages.
She sat down with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden for an enlightening talk about her blue-collar upbringing, her family and her eight years in the White House. The discussion was preceded by a performance from Trombone Shorty and a brief welcome by Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
“There was no time to reflect in eight years,” Obama said. “We did so much, so fast.”
From push-ups with Desmond Tutu to meeting with Nelson Mandela to hosting state dinners, often all in the same week, the former first lady said life was so busy, “I literally forgot that I had been to Prague.”
“I argued with my chief of staff about it,” she said, noting that her chief of staff had to pull out a photo to prove the first lady wrong.
Obama credits much of her success in life to her parents: her father, a blue-collar factory worker who was able to put two kids through Princeton while living with multiple sclerosis, and her mother, who helped to raise Malia and Sasha while Michelle Obama worked high-level jobs and then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama was gone for most of the week.
“Trust … honor … honesty. I saw my father behave that way every single day,” she said.
Her mother’s strong presence continued when the Obamas moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Her mother, she said, “kept the whole White House grounded.”
“She didn’t need anyone doing her laundry. She could do it just fine,” Obama recalled. “And she taught the girls to do laundry, too.”
Obama also touched on her children and how well they adapted to life with the Secret Service by their side. It was her own children’s resilience, she said, that made her focus much of her work as first lady on improving the lives of other kids.
“It takes a lot to break a kid, and there’s a lot of broken kids,” she said. “That’s how we know how bad they’re doing. There’s no such thing as bad kids. Kids watch what you do, not what you say.”
Read more on the former first lady’s memoir here.