By: Alexandra D’Ecrole
When President-Elect Barack Obama is inaugurated into office in January 2009, it will be the first time an African-American First Family lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; it will also be the first time in 48 years that a pair of young children have moved in. Most presidents have not been young enough to have small children. Malia and Sasha Obama, ages 10 and seven, will be the youngest twosome to run around the Oval Office since President Kennedy’s Caroline and John Jr.
Betty Monkman, author of The Living White House, told the Associated Press that “A young family creates a whole different atmosphere.” The media outlet reported Monkman’s memories of Amy Carter carving pumpkins on Halloween and the recollection a historical scavenger hunt for Chelsea Clinton on the night of her father’s inaugural ball.
Malia and Sasha, who have already talked of slumber parties at the executive mansion, will be able to show their guests around their 135-room home complete-with pastry shop, bowling alley, and swimming pool. The White House also includes a movie theater in its East Wing. During the Reagan administration, according to People Magazine, the movie theater recieved a $150,000 makeover and began giving the first family their choice of first-run features.
Malia and Sasha can anticipate a number of exciting events and traditions at their new home. The annual Easter Egg Roll, which dates back to Rutherford B. Hayes, is open to the public and attracts thousands of guests to the White House lawn. Douglas Wead, White House historian and author of All the President’s Children, said in People that Malia and Sasha would love it. “It’s a great opportunity for them to interact with so many different kinds of children.”
Based off the 19 presidential children he has interviewed, Wead stated that Malia and Sasha “can have a good life in the White House, but it won’t be normal.” Challenges that face the Obama children may include their fashion mishaps, moving to a new school, and constant surveillance by the Secret Service.
Public exposure is a large issue that the Obamas will have to confront as a First Family. The family recently struggled with the media, regretting a decision to allow the girls to be interviewed on Access Hollywood. Jackie Kennedy was notorious for disallowing her young children to be photographed by the paparazzi.
When the Malia and Sasha move into the White House, they will be putting their lives under the media’s watchful eye. “They will want to take pictures on the first day of school, for instance,” said Bonnie Angelo, author of the book First Families.
Despite the spotlight, the Obamas are taking a couple of methods to keep the girls grounded. Michelle Obama has emphasized that “mom-in-chief” will be her top priority. She said before the election that “we’re going to make sure they’re protected and that they have some level of normalcy.” The girls will follow their usual household routines such making their beds, clearing the table, and sticking to an 8 p.m. bedtime. The family also plans for their daughters to continue their full schedule of activities—acting and soccer for Malia, and dancing, piano, and tennis for Sasha.
Marian Robinson is expected to move to Washington to keep her granddaughters grounded, Michelle Obama told the Associated Press. Mrs. Obama had credited her mother with helping to keep stability in her daughters’ lives during campaign. Marian Robinson told the Boston Globe in March that “if somebody’s going to be with these kids other than their parents it better be me.”
Another perk that the girls have been granted to make the transition easier is the promise of a First Pet. The President-Elect announced to his girls during his Chicago victory rally, “I love you more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.” The White House has been a home to numerous pets, dating back to the George Washington years. The hypoallergenic shelter-dog that the Obama family has talked about adopting will join the long list of animal companions that have lived at the White House.
Like they did during the presidential campaign, the President-Elect and his wife will adjust their schedules whenever possible to attend to their daughters’ activities. The Obama girls are expected to make a smooth transition into the executive mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the pitter-patter of little feet will finally be heard again.