We’re coming up on Michelle Obama’s last Mother’s Day in the White House. (Unless Malia becomes President in 2033, and she asks her parents to move in with her to babysit for her own children, and I SMELL A SITCOM!) Oh, how I will miss her. She’s been the object of foul labels I won’t link to, and she’s been called all kinds of ball-busting and dehumanizing names. But she rises above it all with grace, humor and charm. I love her.
I gotta say, the sneering at her body and the assertions that she’s too aggressive and unfeminine remind me of longtime criticism of the Jewish Mother. Stereotypes about black women and Jewish women certainly differ, but both have been regarded as not knowing their place, and not conforming to The Cult of True Womanhood.
Maybe I’m talking myself into this parallelism because I really, really want to be her friend and will be bummed when she leaves the White House before she and I can have a pajama party and play pranks on the Secret Service. She’s obviously hilarious, eager to mock sacred-mom-ness as a concept: Witness her now-classic Evolution of Mom Dancing Videos (Part I and Part II with Jimmy Kimmel; she’s a funnier deliberately-terrible dancer than he is.) And I can only aspire to mortify my children the way she did when she taught less cool authority figures how to Dougie. And look at her, modeling the importance of reading aloud to kids in her Where the Wild Things Are performance with her hubby on the White House Lawn. (Also, look how great she is at it! How animated and communicative!)
She’s obviously got a great marriage—she and Barack have chemistry you can’t fake. They’re equals. Like the best Jewish dudes, he’s unafraid of strong women. And while we’ve certainly had chic First Ladies before, Michelle has taken fashion to new and daring levels, promoting relatively unknown young designers. She’s our first Ivy-educated First Lady—and now, in a move that would make any Jewish Mother proud, she’s sending her own daughter to Harvard. Not that this is the most important goal in raising kids—far more impressive is the fact that the Obama girls are smart, kind, clearly friends with each other, self-possessed, amused by the media circus around them. We’ve never seen them falling off barstools, flinching from their dad’s hugs, using homophobic slurs or getting arrested for domestic violence or getting pregnant (twice) while being a spokesperson for abstinence and criticizing other single moms.
She has a great relationship with her own mom, who lives on the floor above the Obamas (what Jewish Mother would not be thrilled with this arrangement?) and used to do the daily afterschool pickups of her grandkids. I’m super-bummed that Michelle is leaving the public eye before she had the chance to show me her weightlifting routine (there have been at least two Tumblrs devoted exclusively to her buff arms) or give me musical playlists for the gym.
But at least there’s one consolation to her departure from FLOTUS-hood: I’m excited to see what she accomplishes by next Mother’s Day. As a strong, funny, warm, maternal figure—a working mom who’s encouraged her kids to be both menschy and accomplished—she’s an exemplar for Jewish moms…and all moms.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.