Barack and Michelle Obama have spent more than a thousand days on display before the nation's eyes, but the personal changes they have undergone can be hard to detect.
Up close, though, those who know the Obamas say they can see an accumulation of small shifts in the president and the first lady since they walked the inaugural parade route four years ago. The man who wanted to change the nature of Washington now warns job candidates that it is hard to get anything done there. Not so long ago, he told others that he did not need a presidential library, a tribute to himself costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Now a former aide, Susan Sher, is quietly eyeing possibilities for him in Chicago.
The first lady who wanted to forge connections with her new city found that even viewing the cherry blossoms required a hat, sunglasses and wheedling the Secret Service. In a demonstration of how difficult it can be for any president or first lady to sustain relationships, Mrs. Obama stopped taking on girls in a mentorship program she founded because of concerns that other teenagers would envy the lucky advisees, according to an aide.
When the president returned from consoling families of teachers and children killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre — he wept as they handed him photos and told him stories of victim after victim — aides could see in his face the toll of absorbing the nation’s traumas. “This is what I do,” Mr. Obama told them.
“This position has perhaps cost him more on a personal, and even energic, level than most of his predecessors, because he was most entirely an outsider,” observed the playwright Tony Kushner, a supporter who recently dined with Mr. Obama to discuss the film “Lincoln,” for which Mr. Kushner wrote the screenplay.
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