By KATE HAMMER
Toronto Globe and Mail
January 20, 2009
They will be ushered to bedrooms filled with familiar toys and furniture from their previous home in Chicago, but there will be many changes in store for 10-year-old Malia and seven-year-old Sasha Obama, who may be in need of some reusable adhesive.
"You could throw a Jonas Brothers poster on the wall but you'd have to do it with the adhesive, the little stick 'em putty," said Ann Stock, former White House social secretary to the Clintons. "You can't drive nails into the wall and you can't put scotch tape on the historic walls, but other than that, you can decide to hang anything you want to hang."
Through the long months of their father's presidential campaign, the Obama girls have already sampled some of the perks and perils of life as first daughters, but their move to the White House will introduce new trials as well as new possibilities.
Life in the White House promises "Hannah Montana one day, Nelson Mandela the next," Doug Wead, a former special assistant to the first president George Bush and author of All the Presidents' Children, wrote in an e-mail.
Chelsea Clinton held sleepover and pizza parties, and Susan Ford hosted her high school prom at the White House.
"It's a wonderful place for kids to grow up because -- it sounds trite -- but they're actually every day living history," Stock said. "But at the same time, you really do want to keep their lives as normal as possible."
Michelle Obama has repeatedly expressed her desire to maintain some normality for the girls, and shortly after their father won the election, she brought the girls to Washington for a tour of the White House to start getting them settled.
Since Amy Carter, presidential children have all been sent to private school. Amy was slightly younger than Malia when she went to live in the White House, and was hounded by photographers throughout elementary and middle school.
The Obama girls have already begun classes at Sidwell Friends, a Quaker private school that Chelsea attended, where students have been warned not to take pictures of other students with their cellphones.
But there will be no yellow school buses pulling up in front of the White House: The girls travel to school in a motorcade, and a security detail will remain at hand as Malia, codename Radiance, and Sasha, codename Rosebud, attend classes.
In Wead's interviews with 19 of 27 living presidential children, nearly all of them looked back on their time in the White House with fondness, recalling viewing movies before their premieres, having jets dispatched to bring them home, and toys and gadgets of all shapes and sizes.
Most of the children to take up residence in the White House, all of them girls since an infant John Kennedy Jr. moved there in 1961, have been immortalized in a seminal moment or photograph.
Margaret Truman, despite being an accomplished mystery writer, will always be remembered for a critically panned vocal performance, Chelsea for walking between her parents, holding their hands, in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and John Kennedy Jr. for saluting his father's casket three days before his third birthday.
Many children spend the rest of their lives trying to forge an identity separate from their famous fathers and to define themselves outside those iconic images, according to Wead.
And adolescence can be a particularly precarious time to live in a fish bowl: Chelsea's braces; the drinking habits of the Bush twins; and Nellie Grant's bosom were all scrutinized during their fathers' tenures as president.
Malia and Natasha, who prefers to be called Sasha, have already generated some iconic moments and ignited trends: Malia at the Democratic National Convention, disappointed by a surprise satellite appearance from her father rather than the Jonas Brothers; Sasha with her small turquoise plush toy called an Uglydoll.
Doubtless, as the commander-in-chief faces formidable obstacles such as the economic crisis and the war in Iraq, the Mom-in-chief will tackle the glare of the paparazzi and the Internet's insatiable appetite for images.
White House children
The White House is the U.S. president's office and also the family's home. These are some of the children who have lived there while their fathers worked: Chelsea Clinton was 12 when her father became president. Her family's appeals to the media to keep a distance from the shy teen were largely respected and she was widely seen as a White House childhood success story.
-- Amy Carter, the youngest of Jimmy Carter's three children, was 9 when she moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Some foreign guests took offense when she buried her nose in a book during a state dinner at the White House.
-- Susan Ford was 17 when Richard Nixon resigned and her father Gerald became president. Her parents were in Europe when she hosted more than 70 friends in the East Room of the White House for her senior prom.
-- Caroline Kennedy was 3 when her father became president. Her brother, John Jr., was born 16 days later after Kennedy's term began.
-- The six children of Theodore Roosevelt were between the ages of 3 and 17 when he was sworn in in 1901. The oldest, Alice, was a popular socialite and source of some controversy, and when asked to rein her in, Mr. Roosevelt once answered "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."
-- James Rudolf Garfield, the
third of seven children, was 15 in 1881 when his father took
office. James Jr. was at his father's side when he became the
second U.S. president to be assassinated, only a few months later.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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