Inside the Obamas' Quarantine Routine: Dinner Together (and Games) and an 'Unburdening' for the Girls
It's been a draining and disorienting year for everyone, former first families included.
But in quarantine, at least, the Obamas have each other.
On the latest episode of her new podcast, Michelle Obama talked about home life with husband Barack Obama and their college-age daughters, Malia and Sasha, amid the emotional volatility of life since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The health crisis has been twined with national demonstrations against injustice in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
"Dealing with all of this change we’re experiencing isn’t always easy and it is not always comfortable," the former first lady told guest Michele Norris, a former NPR host, on Wednesday's episode. "But what I’ve learned is that this kind of solitude can be revealing — almost healing."
Mrs. Obama, 56, went on to say that "for Barack and I, we've lived outside of the norm of regular life for quite some time and what we learned early on in the White House is that, in order to stay sane and to feel like the human that you once were, is that you have to have a schedule and a routine that's pretty lock-step."
In some ways they've kept up that schedule while social distancing at their Washington, D.C., home and in other ways they've had to be flexible.
"My sleep is off," Mrs. Obama admitted to Norris, 58.
Sometimes, "I'm waking up in the middle of the night 'cause I'm worrying about something or there's a heaviness," she said.
After a good night, she'll be awake at 6 or 7 a.m. and aim to "get a workout in," but that's not always possible either.
"There have been periods throughout this quarantine where I just have felt too low," she said. "I've gone through those emotional highs and lows that I think everybody feels, where you just don't feel yourself, and sometimes there's been a week or so where I had to surrender to that and not be so hard on myself."
"These are not fulfilling times, spiritually," she continued. "So I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression. Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife — and just seeing this [Trump] administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting."
There are bright spots, however.
"Schedule has been key, and having a regular dinner time," Mrs. Obama said. "And I'm finding that in quarantine, we look forward to that."
For most of the day, the family spreads out around the house, she told Norris on her podcast: "Barack's in his office, making calls, working on his book. I'm in my room. The girls are on their computers."
"Sometimes we're outside, if the weather permits, but we've developed this routine of, you know, we don't really worry about seeing one another in the day," she said.
And then, "right around five o'clock, everybody comes out of their nooks."
The family will do a puzzle — "puzzles have become big," the more pieces the better, with the four gathered around a table that has become the permanent puzzle station — and then have dinner, followed by ... spades.
"They've got a spades tournament," Mrs. Obama said, referring to the card game her husband and their daughters play with a friend.
"Barack has taught the girls spades, so now there's this vicious competition," she said. "They wouldn't have sat down, but for this quarantine, to learn how to play a card came with their dad."
In a way, Mrs. Obama said, the pace of quarantine life has been almost beneficial for Malia, 22, and 19-year-old Sasha. The former is finishing up her third year at Harvard University and the latter was in her freshman year at the University of Michigan. In the spring, they switched to online classes, Mrs. Obama has said.
"Have you found that, for the girls, that this has been a recalibration?" Norris asked the former first lady on Wednesday's podcast. "Where they've discovered that sometimes it's okay to just be?"
"It's an unburdening for them," Mrs. Obama replied. "You know, I don't know if they've articulated it. But there is a calm in them. It's almost like — they needed the world to stop a little bit."
"They didn't realize that they were, that the world they were on and the way they were living it, was so treadmill-like, so fast and furious. Because it was all they ever knew," she continued.
Mrs. Obama has transformed a bit, too. She's learned how to "do my own waxing, do my nails," she said.
"There's a beauty in being reminded of our own self-sufficiency, during this time."
New episodes of The Michelle Obama Podcast are released Wednesdays on Spotify.