Sasha and Malia, we were seven when our beloved grandfather was sworn in as the 41st President of the United States. We stood proudly on the platform, our tiny hands icicles, as we lived history. We listened intently to the words spoken on Inauguration Day service, duty, honor. But being seven, we didn’t quite understand the gravity of the position our Grandfather was committing to. We watched as the bands marched by — the red, white, and blue streamers welcoming us to a new role: the family members of a President.
We also first saw the White House through the innocent, optimistic eyes of children. We stood on the North Lawn gazing with wonder at her grand portico. The White House was alive with devoted and loving people, many of whom had worked in her halls for decades. Three of the White House ushers, Buddy, Ramsey, and “Smiley”, greeted us when we stepped into her intimidating hallway. Their laughter and embraces made us feel welcome right away. Sasha and Malia, here is some advice to you from two sisters who have stood where you will stand and who have lived where you will live:
— Surround yourself with loyal friends. They’ll protect and calm you and join in on some of the fun, and appreciate the history.
— If you’re traveling with your parents over Halloween, don’t let it stop you from doing what you would normally do. Dress up in some imaginative, elaborate costume (if you are like us a pack of Juicy Fruit and a Vampiress) and trick-or-treat down the plane aisle.
— If you ever need a hug, go find Ramsey. If you want to talk football, look for Buddy. And, if you just need a smile, look for “Smiley.”
— And, a note on White House puppies–our sweet puppy Spot was nursed on the lawn of the White House. And then of course, there’s Barney, who most recently bit a reporter. Cherish your animals because sometimes you’ll need the quiet comfort that only animals can provide.
— Slide down the banister of the solarium, go to T-ball games, have swimming parties, and play Sardines on the White House lawn. Have fun and enjoy your childhood in such a magical place to live and play.
— When your dad throws out the first pitch for the Yankees, go to the game.
— In fact, go to anything and everything you possibly can: the Kennedy Center for theater, State Dinners, Christmas parties (the White House staff party is our favorite!), museum openings, arrival ceremonies, and walks around the monuments. Just go. Four years goes by so fast, so absorb it all, enjoy it all!
For four years, we spent our childhood holidays and vacations in the historic house. We could almost feel the presence of all the great men and women who had lived here before us. When we played house, we sat behind the East sitting room’s massive curtains as the light poured in illuminating her yellow walls. Our seven-year-old imaginations soared as we played in the enormous, beautiful rooms; our dreams, our games, as romantic as her surroundings. At night, the house sang us quiet songs through the chimneys as we fell asleep.
In late December, when snow blanketed the front lawn, all of our cousins overtook the White House. Thirteen children between the ages of two and 12 ran throughout her halls, energized by the crispness in the air and the spirit of the season. Every room smelled of pine; the entire house was adorned with thistle; garlands wound around every banister. We sat on her grand staircase and spied on the holiday dancing below. Hours were spent playing hide-and-go-seek. We used a stage in the grand ballroom to produce a play about Santa and his reindeer. We watched as the National Christmas Tree was lit and admired the chef as he put the final icing on the gingerbread house.
When it was time, we left the White House. We said our goodbyes to her and to Washington. We weren’t sure if we would spend time among her historical walls again, or ever walk the National Mall, admiring the cherry blossoms that resembled puffs of cotton candy. But we did return. This time we were 18. The White House welcomed us back and there is no doubt that it is a magical place at any age.