Pop Culture

My Day with Michelle Obama

I never thought I’d meet the First Lady, and I really never thought it would happen at Gwen Stefani’s house. But, that’s how My Day with Michelle (as I’ve started calling it) went down. 

In July, I heard that there was going to be a fundraiser for the Obama campaign at Gwen’s Beverly Hills mansion. If it had been any other celebrity, I would have just thought “Oh, that’s nice,” but No Doubt has been my favorite band for about 17 years now, and I think Michelle Obama is the bee’s knees. I had to go.

It was billed as a Family Day hosted by No Doubt at Gwen’s house, and you had to have two kids (at least) go with you. I have a 10-year-old niece and a six-year-old nephew, so that worked. Admission was for four, and I knew I wanted my mother to go with us (my sisters were both sadly out of luck). After deciding that $1,000 was not out of the realm of possibility to pay for this event, we decided to go. I have no regrets.

I never imagined that I would be going to a political fundraiser ““ not because I am uninterested in politics, but because of the cost. Usually, these things are thousands and thousands of dollars, and in this case, you could pay that much ““ if you wanted a private photo with Michelle. I wasn’t about to shell out $1,500 more just for that (plus, that was just for two people in the photo; it was something like $8,000 for all four), and I felt like I received a bargain once I heard that tickets for four went up to $2,500.

The closer it got to the event (which was in mid-August), the more nervous I became. Would I be able to speak with Michelle? Would I meet Gwen? Who else would be there? Would the president make a surprise appearance? I couldn’t decide what to wear, and the extreme heat didn’t help my case. I wanted to look nice, but I also didn’t want to be super covered up and then pass out on a Secret Service agent.

We weren’t given the instructions to Gwen’s house until a few days before the event. She lives in a gated community, and we had to pass through security to gain access. We checked our car in at the valet, and then started the walk up to Gwen’s house.

It was a very nice community, but I was expecting something even fancier. While Gwen’s house was behind a gate and up a longish driveway, most of the other homes weren’t. As we waited to go through security (again, which was completely understandable), I noticed that many people were there without kids, and were rabid No Doubt fans, most wearing L.A.M.B. clothes or old No Doubt concert tees. Some even had tattoos of the band’s signatures. I’m not going to lie; it ticked me off to see people who were obviously not there with children, despite the nature of the event. But, whatever, I was there and I was ready to see the First Lady.

I didn’t know what to expect once I was actually on the property. Would Harajuku Girls guide us to the party? Nah, Gwen’s house was actually rather normal looking, very modern and sleek. The event was held outside, as I expected, and the first person I saw as we turned the corner onto the grounds was Tony Kanal. I knew I had to say something to him, so I stood behind a girl taking a photo with him and then approached. He was as kind as I had always suspected, and thanked me profusely for being a fan after I thanked him for being so awesome. I took a picture, he thanked me again, and I was on cloud nine.

Her backyard wasn’t nearly as big as I expected; when I think of celebrity homes, I think of these rolling estates with acres of green grass. She had a smallish pool that seemed more suitable for short laps than for anything else. The view, however, was phenomenal. She was in the area of Beverly Hills that overlooks the San Fernando Valley, and it was simply stunning. I could have sat there and stared for hours.

The food was in the grass area, but most of the activities for kids were on the tennis court (which had a custom “GG” logo, for Gwen and her husband Gavin Rossdale, painted on the wall). We saw Gwen’s son, Kingston, at the reptile petting zoo with his nanny, who looks just like Gwen. I thought it was her at first. There was face painting, art activities, a balloon animal guy, a Lego play area, a photo area with Obama props, and more. After checking it all out, we headed to the food, which was delicious. As I ate my steak and salad, at a table next to No Doubt drummer Adrian Young and his family, I thought, What the heck? How is this happening? And why does it feel kinda normal? For some reason, I felt like I belonged in Gwen’s backyard that Sunday, like it was something I did all the time. I have no idea why I felt that way; I’m obviously not a celebrity and this was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For some reason, my inner self thinks I’m a famous person and I need to be at these fancy shindigs.

I started talking to a volunteer during lunch, and she told me that the First Lady was going to speak at a podium, and shake hands with everyone afterwards. Knowing this, I made my way to the grassy area that had been fenced off, taking the right corner spot. With my mom, niece, and nephew in tow, we waited. And waited. And waited.

I had been on the lookout for celebrities, and I saw Nicole Richie and her husband, Joel Madden, show up. All of the No Doubters were sitting in an area directly above me, so I was able to see the guys, their wives, and their adorable children. Jeffrey Tambor ended up standing next to us, and I had to tell him what a fan I was of Arrested Development. He was there with the wife and daughters of one of the show’s creators, and was just as deadpan as I had hoped he would be.

Finally, finally, finally, after more than an hour of direct blistering sunlight, Gwen and the First Lady emerged to cheers. Gwen ““ wearing the most beautiful hot pink pantsuit ever – explained that they had all met at the White House, and she loved the emphasis Mrs. Obama put on being healthy. It was a quick introduction, and then it was time for the First Lady to speak.

It was incredible. They asked that we not record, so I didn’t, but I wish I hadn’t listened like the other people who were filming on their iPhones. I was so in awe of hearing her speak that I can’t remember much. She spoke about her childhood, about growing up in a small apartment with her parents and her brother, about how proud her father was to pay for their education. As she shared her story and a little of the president’s, all I could think was, This woman is simply amazing. While our backgrounds weren’t at all similar, at that moment I felt connected to her.

She went on to speak about the importance of health care for all, equal opportunities for women, staying healthy, and more. I cheered along with everyone else, especially when she spoke about women’s health care, something that touches me deeply. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else than right there, with the First Lady, as she spoke about issues that affect myself, my friends, and my family.

Once she was done speaking ““ I would say it was about 20 minutes or so ““ she started shaking hands and taking photos. It took her a bit of time to get to us, so I took more photos of her with other people and some of the surroundings. When she finally got to us, the First Lady leaned down and said to my nephew, “Thank you for being so patient!” Let it be known that this was probably the first time my bundle-of-energy nephew had ever heard this, and most likely also the last. At this point, I don’t remember what else was said, because I was freaking out. My inner monologue was something along the lines of: Oh my God, Michelle Obama is talking to Eric. Oh. My. God. What do I do? Take a picture. TAKE PICTURES!!!! AHHHHH.

She told him to “look at mom,” thinking I was his mom, and I was not about to correct the First Lady. I snapped the most adorable picture ever of the two of them, and then shoved my niece in her direction, making sure to clarify “Here’s my NIECE.” Mrs. Obama told her “You look so beautiful!” which made my niece’s life. I got a photo of them, and then one of the two of them and my mother. She hugged all of them, and then I realized that I was about to miss the photo train.

“Wait! I need a photo!” I said. I threw the camera at my mother, who at that moment in time magically forgot how to press the “shoot” button. I reached my arm around the First Lady, since she had hers around me, but a Secret Service agent pushed it back. Feeling awkward, I kind of leaned away, which didn’t ruin the photo my mom finally took of me, but sure did make me look like I don’t know how to properly stand.

I barely remember shaking her hand and telling her how nice it was to meet her. I don’t remember anything else I said, but it must not have been too terrible, because I know my niece would tease me about it. After the whirlwind of emotions, we all sat down at one of the tables on the grass, yapping nonstop about what had just transpired. The weird thing is, although it was finished for us, the First Lady was still talking to people, and I was jabbering about meeting her while she was still literally eight feet away from me.

Yes, I got teary-eyed a few times during the event, and I’m actually tearing up a little writing about it. What she said resonated with me, but it also scared me, because everything from reproductive rights to social safety nets are at risk. I am terrified that all of the gains that have been made in the past 50 or so years will be erased. I am also scared of people who hate the First Lady, her husband, and her family so much that they disparage them and make them out to be some hateful monsters. They are nothing of the sort.

The First Lady was gracious and kind, and yes, her arms are even more killer in real life. I loved that she got down to my nephew’s eye level, which was such a mom thing to do. She was so at ease, which is crazy when you think about it. How could you be comfortable going around and meeting a bunch of people you don’t know, several times a day, all over the place? I was in awe of her, and I still am today.

So, that was my day with Michelle Obama at Gwen Stefani’s house. The one downside to the whole thing was that Gwen didn’t really interact with anyone, but I can’t say I blame her; she is by far the most famous person in No Doubt, and there were some super fans there who would have scared me away, too. The most important thing to me was to meet the First Lady and share that experience with my family, and I enjoyed every second of it.

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

20 replies on “My Day with Michelle Obama”

What an amazing and surreal experience! I can vouch for the insaneness of such an experience and the coolness of Michelle Obama, as well. During the 2008 campaigning, she spoke in front of the building I worked in (a hundred year old downtown staple that now houses a theatre company). We got to know our Secret Service point man quite well in the week leading up to it and on the day of, we got to stand on the steps of our historic building behind her as she spoke. She had the crowd in the palm of her hand. You think it’s powerful to watch her speak on television? It’s nothing compared to feeling the electricity of the crowd when she speaks.  After her speech and shaking hands and such, she was shuffled into our cinema to do some interviews and we gathered in our gallery to get a quick picture before she was whisked off to three more stops in the state that day. She came in, we formed around her, the cameras snapped, and her people started to shuffle her out. She turned around and saw the 8 month old daughter of one of the employees. She stopped in her tracks, said “Ooh, baby!” and reached for the little girl. She stood there talking to us for about five minutes before she handed the baby back and left. It was an amazing moment. Not a political maneuver, just a mom wanting to cuddle a baby. And it meant the world to all of us that she spent those valuable five minutes with us. She is an amazing lady.

That’s so awesome! I can only imagine the prep work that goes into getting a place ready for her to visit, especially when it’s in a public place. And that’s adorable about the baby…you can tell that while she was happy to meet the adults, she loved talking and interacting with the children.

That sounds amazing!

This may not be the place to say this, but when it asks me how the articles make me feel, I often feel want to press ‘smash’ (and in this case, I did) because it makes me feel like, ‘bam! awesome! that’s great!’  but I’m not sure that’s what it’s supposed to mean.

But for me, this is ‘smash!’  She is excellent and I’m very jealous you got to hear her speak in person.  My mom went to a few fundraising events for them when he was running for senator, and I’m also very jealous of her.

Haha, I took ‘smash’ to mean “I’m so angry after reading this, I could smash something!” I like your way of thinking better. :) I’m jealous of your mom, too! In those days, you probably were able to get a lot more face time with both of them.

Wow – I’m impressed, and envious!  I share your admiration for Michelle Obama (for her politics, her ‘normal-ness’, and her incredible arms).   Thanks for letting us have a glimpse into what that event was like! (I’m a new Persephone writer, doing political comedy, so as you can imagine, this election cycle has provided tons of inspiration – but thank you for reminding me that there are genuinely positive moments too!)  Nice to be part of such a clever group of women!

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