Events honoring Black History Month at the White House have often seemed like Hallmark holidays. But not this year, thanks to the host: first lady Michelle Obama. Never before has there been a first lady who was descended from African slaves.
Obama welcomed 200 sixth- and seventh-graders from the Washington area into the White House Wednesday for an afternoon of conversation and music celebrating African-American history.
In the near month since she moved into the presidential mansion, Michelle Obama has brought a dose of glamour to this frumpy, buttoned-down town. In March, she will become the second first lady to grace the cover of Vogue magazine, opening up about her personal story and style.
Whether she's making the rounds at government agencies or making speeches, as first ladies do, the first lady shares in many mothers' struggles to balance work and family.
"There isn't a day that goes by, particularly after having kids, that I don't wonder or worry about whether I'm doing the right thing -- for myself, for my family, for my girls," she said at a Howard University panel discussion on women and the workplace. "Just remember, there is no one right answer. It took me a long time to figure that out. There is no one right way to do any of this."
The first lady's empathy for working and military mothers was a theme throughout the President Obama's campaign.
"I think Mrs. Obama wants to make it clear that she puts her children first and that she understands the plight of other mothers who are trying to do the balancing act," said ABC News contributor Cokie Roberts.
The juggling act of private and public responsibilities has made Obama identifiable for women everywhere.
"Michelle Obama can really be a kind of a role model for a woman who's been able to bring balance in her life and live her life in a series of phases and pauses," said Tina Brown, author and founder of the DailyBeast.com.
Still, Obama has yet to choose a formal role for herself as first lady. She doesn't seem to be a "co-president," as some have come to characterize Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. Nor is she the nation's "first hostess," a job Jackie Kennedy carried off with such style.
"What you try to be, I think, as a first lady first and foremost is the overseer of your children and supporter of your spouse who is the president," Capricia Marshall, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, told ABC News.
For now, Michelle Obama is a high-powered career woman who has temporarily put her career on hold to serve her country and be a mother of two young children in the public eye.
"She's a kind of post-feminist woman where she says, 'I have had a high power job, and I will have a high power job again. I'm not taking a back seat. I'm just taking a pause while I look at the priorities, which are home, family, husband and all the stress and all the difficulties we're undertaking,'" said Brown.
Obama seems confident she'll figure the rest out.
"The question I hate most that we ask of young people is, 'What are you going to be when you grow up?' And the truth is I still don't know and I'm 45!" she said.
Here in Washington, the overwhelming first impression is that she's a natural. And she's just getting started at one of the most prominent jobs in the world.