When I realized that President-elect Barack Obama would be moving into the White House with children the same age as my young’uns (10 and 7), my palms got sweaty and butterflies fluttered wildly in my gut.
That’s because my two are accidents waiting to happen. Especially my 7-year-old boy, who has never met an appliance he didn’t want to take apart or a fine piece of china not worth trying out as a Frisbee. He has a black eye at the moment from, he says, “getting in a fight with the concrete floor.” When he was 2, he accidentally called 911. He was delighted when a fire truck, police car and ambulance came flashing and howling up our quiet North Asheville street. No telling who he’d manage to dial from the White House. Maybe Nicolas Sarkozy?
In truth, the Obama girls — Malia and Sasha — seem remarkably poised already. They were amazing on election night. If I’d made my kids stay up until midnight, put on party clothes and smile and wave in front of millions of people, there would have been tears. Or a tantrum on national television. Or my girl would need to pee really badly the exact moment she was supposed to walk on stage.
I confess to thinking, “Thank goodness the Obama kids are girls.” Not that girls can’t be rambunctious. But in my experience, they aren’t the perpetual motion machines that little boys are. As my pediatrician once said, “A little testosterone goes a loooong way.”
But what an experience for those Obama kids! And what a nightmare for their parents! In addition to worrying about breakage of irreplaceable historic items, trying to provide the girls with a somewhat normal childhood will prove challenging.
Then again, I wonder if Secret Service agents do double duty as baby sitters. Do they intervene if their assignee’s about to get in a black-eye-producing fight with the floor? Or only if the situation seems life-threatening? Having Secret Service dudes following my 7-year-old around 24/7 might be a good thing.
Presidential kids intrigue me, particularly since they aren’t my kids, so I decided to research those who spent part of their youth at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Here’s your history lesson for today: When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, he brought two sons with him who were the same ages as the Obama girls — Willie was 10 and Tad was 7.
The Lincoln boys set the standard for mischievousness in the White House. Tad was credited with setting all the bells in the White House to ring at once, thus confusing everyone who worked there (pre-intercom days). He also once harnessed a pair of goats to a kitchen chair and rode through the East Room. Tad and my boy would have had a ball together.
Teddy Roosevelt brought six kids to the White House with him in 1901. Although four of the six were male, it was oldest daughter Alice who proved to be most rambunctious. Roosevelt said of her, “I can be president of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”
John F. Kennedy Jr. was born just 16 days after his father was elected. He remains one of the few kids to spend his infancy in the White House. Caroline Kennedy was 3 when JFK was elected in 1960. The public’s reaction was similar to that of 100 years earlier with the Lincoln children—the kids became mini-celebrities and remained so after (and possibly partially because of) their father’s assassination.
The last person to spend part of her childhood in the White House was Chelsea Clinton (the Bush twins were already in college when mom and dad moved to D.C.). Chelsea was a precocious 12-year-old who, despite growing up in the middle of a media maelstrom, has become a polished, articulate young woman. If I were Michelle Obama, I’d be talking to Hillary about girl-raising in the White House.
Before Chelsea, there was Amy Carter. Amy was 9 when she moved into the White House, close to the ages of the Obama girls. She, too, turned out well, despite four years as the nation’s little girl.
That’s pretty much it as far as kids growing up in the White House over the past 150 years or so. Until now, Americans have preferred their presidents to be older white men. Barack Obama had his kids later in life (he’s now 47), but he’s still one of the younger presidents elected.
Along with the rest of the world, I’ll be watching Obama grow into his role. And I’ll be watching the Obama girls grow up in the White House as my kids grow up in our Green House. And I’ll remain glad it’s not us in the nation’s capital, our every move scrutinized. Though I’m still weighing the pros and cons of the Secret Service.
The Obamas also plan to bring a puppy with them to D.C. I haven’t even begun to get my head around house-training a puppy in the White House.
Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com..