Like many of you, I have a stack of books that I either must read or want to read. So, I was glad when Michelle Obama’s Becoming finally made it to the top of my stack. If I’d known how good it is, I would have put it higher in the pile a long time ago!
I came to feel like I knew and loved Michelle Obama years ago, and reading her book Becoming made everything I knew about her come alive. Michelle is exactly the person I imagined her to be, and I’m glad to rest happily in my knowledge of her beautiful, genuine persona!
I believe that everyone—especially young parents—should read Becoming. It’s enlightening to learn how Michelle’s parents raised their children with great thoughtfulness, providing ample space for each child to live into exactly who God created them to be. Parents far too often raise children with a plan for who we want or think they should become—and we end up stifling their spirits or over-inflating their egos. Many families could be transformed by following Michelle’s parents’ thoughtful, calm parenting.
The story that most resonated with me in Becoming was about Michelle finding Middle C on the piano. In her first lessons with her great-aunt, Michelle was clever enough to find Middle C intuitively. She easily deduced that the key in the middle of the keyboard, chipped and most worn, must be Middle C. Her correct calculation supported her confidence that she could do anything.
But then came a recital organized by her aunt Robbie in downtown Chicago. Confused and bewildered by the whole affair, little Michelle sat down at the grand piano and could not find middle C on that perfect set of keys. In her moment of crisis, the very person she thought was her nemesis came to the rescue: her great-aunt Robbie. Without embarrassing or publicly correcting her, Aunt Robbie simply pointed to middle C and gracefully left Michelle to play.
Wise and experienced, a teacher of many, Michelle’s Aunt Robbie had likely seen many little people stumble at this stage in their lives. By organizing the formal recital, Robbie gently introduced her pupils to the bigger world and asked them to prove themselves—all the while standing by with love and support. Robbie taught Michelle invaluable lessons that would prepare her for the world to come.
Michelle’s story about finding Middle C speaks to so much of what children of color and poor children experience and most desperately need. Underprivileged kids learn to adapt to their environments and work with what they are given. Assuming that their environment reflects the universe, some even thrive. Yes, they have glimpses into lifestyles and worlds outside of their own, but young minds don’t give much thought to how such foreign places connect to their lives. Their skills and intellect in their little worlds embolden them. But, when that world starts to open up and they realize they’ve been succeeding in a limited arena, their tender egos run great risk of irreparable damage. Michelle reminds us that many children navigating limited environments drop off any road to success at this point. They urgently need help navigating their expanding world.
Most anyone can find Middle C when their choices are limited. But, when faced with multiple black and white keys all in a row, we need more than quick deductive reasoning. We need allies familiar with the space, who have already figured out ways forward and are loving enough to help us get through too.
For all the Aunt Robbies—teachers, pastors, coaches, and parents—who provide others with invaluable opportunities and remain nearby with love and support, praise God for you. Mentors change the world.
As we celebrate this season of love, I encourage you to reach out to women who guided you along your journey. If those who come to mind have passed on, send a simple prayer thanking God for their presence in your life—and for the preparation that they are likely doing for you in the world to come.
With love: to Granny, Moma Mert, Mrs. Jordan, Ms. Briggs, Bonnie, Ivorie, Mertis, Norma, and my Martha.