CHICAGO — First lady Michelle Obama, touting her first book at a signing in Washington Tuesday, reached back to her Chicago childhood growing up in South Shore to push for more community gardens.
"There’s a community garden in one of the parks that I grew up using as part of the camp project. Rainbow Beach day camp has one of the first-ever community gardens. And I didn’t even realize that until I started writing this book and doing the research," Obama said at the Politics & Prose bookstore.
Obama's book, "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen and Gardens Across America," features a number of references to her South Shore childhood, though she acknowledges "life in my old neighborhood has changed a great deal since I was young."
The changes have had adverse effects on the health of children in many ways, Obama, 49, writes in the book.
"At my old elementary school, as in many others across the America, outdoor recess has been eliminated, and many kids no longer walk to school. While my parents never thought twice about sending us outside to play, parents in that neighborhood today worry about letting their kids venture too far out of their sight.
"And kids there, like everywhere these days, are probably a lot more likely to huddle around a video game console than join in a game of Double Dutch,” Obama writes.
As a child, Obama played softball and played “chase,” which she described as “basically boys chasing girls, and then girls chasing boys.”
Bike riding “for hours” was another pastime: “It was especially exciting to ride through the alley behind our house. It was dark and filled with shadows that made all the houses look spookier as we raced past them,” she wrote.
She recalled riding 20 blocks to Rainbow Beach with her friends.
“In the summers I would don my white Chicago Park District camp shirt and head off to day camp at Rainbow Beach, where campers from around the city would come together for a big Olympics competition,” she recalls in the book.
She laments unhealthy eating habits, a situation she links to overworked parents.
“I've been one of those mothers, anxiously looking at my watch while waiting in the drive-through lane or popping something into the microwave while finishing up a conference call,” she said.
Then known as Michelle Robinson, the first lady attended Bryn Mawr School, now Bouchet Math and Science Academy at 7355 S. Jeffery Blvd. She graduated from Whitney Young Magnet High School and attended Princeton University and later Harvard Law School.