When I told London, my six year old, that we would be meeting President Obama, she desperately begged us to bring her along. When I told her that would not be possible, she desperately asked that at the very least could I please, please, please cut off just a little bit of his hair and bring it back for her. If you think that is odd and creepy, just wait.
Because it gets worse.
When I inquired as to why on earth she would need some of the President of the United State's hair, she replied condescendingly, "ummm, so I can put it in a baggie to compare it to Donald Trump's when I get some of his." She said this with the full confidence of someone who has been diligently harvesting politicians' hair for comparison for years, and has no intention of letting me or anyone else prevent her from doing her life’s work.
I am not known to have the best filter, so I am not exaggerating when I admit that NOT telling President Obama this story was possibly the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Still, I didn't want to be escorted out of the United Nations because I was a perceived threat to Obama’s sideburns, so I kept that wonderfully strange 6 year old's request for presidential trimmings, all to myself.
Here's what did happen though.
My friend, Melissa, works for the State Department in Manhattan and does really important and official government things. I could go into detail about her job, because I totally understand what she does for a living. I'm not being evasive because I don't understand, that would be ridiculous and super embarrassing. It's more that I'm afraid that others won't understand because of all the big words that I would have to use, and I don't want to exhaust my readers with my deep and impressive knowledge of the inner-workings of our government offices.
Okay fine, I have no idea what she actually does. I think maybe she's a spy?
But she's more than your run of the mill spy friend. She's also a super thoughtful, generous and wonderful friend... so she snagged tickets for my husband, Tom, and I to join her at a St.Lucia concert. The concert was Tuesday, but we were able to arrange for my mother-in-law and my friend Lexi (two other super thoughtful, generous and wonderful, non-spy, women in my life) to tag-team watching our five kids so we could visit with our favorite spy for a few days. Before we left, we had this text exchange:
Melissa: Hey I threw you on the guest list to meet Obama, so I need you guys to pack one professional outfit for your visit.
Tom: Ok, I'm already panicking.
Me: It's hilarious that you think I own professional wear.
This is how we found out that we were going to be meeting POTUS.
So Monday afternoon we were going to meet the president. Tom and I spent Monday morning very close to the epicenter of the bomb that went off on Saturday night, so navigating that part of the city was much slower and a bit more high-intensity than we have experienced during previous visits. There were heavily armed law enforcement all around the active crime scene, as well as throughout the city because Obama and all the other important people were in Manhattan for the UN General Assembly.
Tom and I had to sit in our car for an hour and a half waiting to move it in case the street sweeper came through, and we passed that time watching The Blacklist on my phone.
My friend Julie got us completely hooked on the show because she thinks my husband Tom looks like the character from the show, who is also named Tom. We have been binge-watching it on Julie’s recommendation ever since. So, there we are, sitting in our car watching this intense crime-thriller about an FBI profiler who is working with a notorious fugitive as covert operatives for a secret counter-terrorism unit. And we are basically in the middle of a live episode unfolding around us, complete with an active bombing site and snipers on the roof above us. The only thing missing was Agent Navabi kicking some terrorist tail.
By the time we were in the clear to leave our car parked on the street, we got ready to meet the President. We were both excited and a little nervous that I would mention London's strange request. I kept replaying my conversation with her, especially the ending when she panic-added one final plea, "Come on, I'll even take a little pit hair if you can get it!" (How does this child expect that I might happen upon a pit hair sample?) But I digress... the point is that we were already nervous that I would get arrested by secret service for saying/doing something foolish. On top of that, we were just generally amped up about meeting Obama. Then, our anxieties were heightened because there was a terrorist at large who was responsible for planting multiple bombs in the area. And finally, we were binge watching a TV show that depicted all of our worst nightmares coming true. Let's just say we were all on high alert.
So, you can imagine my concern for Tom's growing paranoia as we are in a room in the US Mission to the UN, waiting to hear the President speak, when he is suddenly sure he sees Agent Navabi. Except he wasn't being paranoid at all. AGENT NAVABI WAS ACTUALLY THERE.
At this point I don't know what's TV and what's reality because as far as I can tell, I am about to hang out with Barack Obama and Agent Navabi. It was very disorienting. But I pulled it together and went to speak with the beautiful Mozhan Marnò (aka Agent Navabi), who is even more fabulous in person than she is on the show. I chatted with her for a few brief minutes - just to confirm that I was not having a hallucination - and the guy with her took a picture of us with my phone. It was blurry, so we chastised him playfully and realized that us two, tall, gangly women have arms that are basically like selfie sticks, and we took our own pictures. Ya know, how old friends (like Mozhan and I) do.
Shortly after this surreal moment, John Kerry and Samantha Power came in with THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Barack Obama. I don’t care what anyone’s political views are, you have to admit that it’s pretty cool to be in the same room as the leader of the free world.
I definitely got caught up in the moment, because as Obama was thanking all the spies and other important government people like Melissa and Agent Navabi and their colleagues, I forgot that I was there as a guest just “thrown” on the list, willy nilly, at the last minute. I forgot that I don’t actually work for the government. In that moment, I believed President Obama when he thanked us all for a job well done and told us that our hard work mattered and was noticed and appreciated. When I came out of my fog, I realized he was probably talking to Melissa for, ya know, doing stuff like going to Sierra Leone on the Ebola Crisis Response Team. Twice. So when I came to and realized that he maybe wasn’t talking about all the laundry I do, I felt a little deflated. Still, when he said to give ourselves a round of applause, I let myself participate because it seemed unpatriotic not to feel just a little appreciated by the President. Besides, I do a butt-ton of laundry for this country.
After his little speech, he kissed babies and shook hands and then there, right in front of me, was my opportunity.
So I shoved my hand out to Obama and proceeded to tell him (a little too loudly) the only interesting anecdote about him that I had - that didn’t involve me procuring a sample of his pit fibers. I told him that my son, Harper, used to believe that President Obama and Whitney Houston were his birthparents.
I want to assure you that Harper has joyfully given me permission to share this story with you all because he finds it as amusing and adorable as we do. It’s actually quite common for children who were adopted to fantasize about who their birthparents might be. And for Harper, no fantasy was more impressive than being the love child of Whitney and Barack. Obama joked that Michelle might be irritated to discover this and that he and Harper could at least be buddies. He was a good sport, and basically made all of Harper’s dreams come true by initiating the start of their friendship.
I’d say that although our exchange was brief, conveying to the first black president in our nation’s history that my black son admires him to the point of wishing for his paternity, it was pretty memorable.
Maaaaybe not as memorable as if I had then snagged a hair sample for DNA testing… but, we can’t have it all.