Perks and Travails Await Rising First Kids

A private swimming pool and bowling alley await the Obama girls in Washington.

ByEmily Friedman
November 10, 2008, 11:40 AM

Nov. 10, 2008 -- Inside the sprawling 55,000-square-foot mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. lies what most children can only dream of: private bowling alley, movie theater, children's garden and a personal chef to scoop the perfect bowl of ice cream at all hours of the day and night.

These are just some of the luxuries that await President-elect Obama's daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, when they take up residence in the White House in January.

Though the move-in date is still months away, the Obamas are wasting no time preparing for their move from their historic Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park to the most prestigious address in Washington.

Obama met with President Bush this afternoon while his wife, soon-to-be first lady Michelle Obama, toured the White House residence and reportedly scouted out schools for the girls.

Everything from which schools they will attend to which beds they will sleep in -- not to mention which of the 16 bedrooms they will call their own -- are all aspects of living in the first house that Malia and Sasha can look forward to.

But being the first daughters will have some drawbacks, too.

In addition to following the rules their parents have already set for them -- including making their beds each morning -- Malia and Sasha will also have to adjust to life in a presidential fishbowl.

Life Inside the White House: Glass House or Playground?

"[Malia and Sasha] will have wonderful advantages living in the White House," said Betty Monkman, who was a White House curator for 30 years and wrote "The Living White House."

"But the Secret Service is always there to go with them. The girls will be very well monitored," said Monkman, who said that a distinct lack of privacy comes with the territory.

Like Chelsea Clinton, who was 12 when she moved in and is the most recent presidential daughter to live in the White House full-time, Malia and Sasha will soon learn that with every presidential perk comes a price.

The Obamas have already asked the news media to be sensitive to their daughters' privacy.

Doug Wead, a presidential historian and former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, researched the life of first families inside the White House for more than 20 years. He said that first children often struggle with constantly being in the spotlight.

"Sadly, something said or done in the next few years will stick to the new White House kids like glue for the rest of their lives," said Wead, author of "All the Presidents' Children."

"The kids will hear every dirty, raunchy, ugly joke about their father," he said.

Wead told that he once asked President Bush which was worse, running for president or being the son of a president.

"[Bush] said being the son was 'much, much worse,'" said Wead. "That part is not fun. There are not many secrets."

But Malia and Sasha may find solace in the many advantages that have defined the lives of presidential children for years.

Of the almost 20 rooms in the presidential residence -- which is often described as resembling a hotel or a museum -- there is plenty of room for each daughter to have her own space.

Anita McBride, Laura Bush's chief of staff, told MSNBC that Michelle Obama thought "the rooms were beautiful and perfect for her little girls."

Laura Bush showed Michelle Obama "how magnificant the house is and what a wonderful home it can be," according to McBride.

Decorating their room with their choice of presidential memorabilia and art from neighboring museums, said Monkman, is another benefit of being a first child.

"President Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy, [who was 9 when she moved in in 1976,] selected some of the child-size furniture that had been given to the White House when Caroline Kennedy lived there for her room," said Monkman.

As for whether the girls will be allowed to paint their room -- say, in hot pink -- Monkman said that will probably be up to their mother.

To be sure, the Obama girls, who are said to relish sleepovers with their friends, won't have to say goodbye to their childhood pastimes come January.

"There are plenty of rooms to have sleepovers with their friends and there's a swimming pool and tennis courts," said Monkman. "There is a wonderful staff to take care of them and make them feel very much at home."

Asked whether the girls could choose the Lincoln Bedroom for their next slumber party, Monkman said that they wouldn't be the first White House children to do so.

According to Wead, the girls will be able to meet famous people in sports, entertainment and science.

"Mandela one day, Tiger Woods the next and Hannah Montana the next," said Wead.

Holidays are also a special time in the White House.

"Christmas has not one, but a forest of decorated trees throughout the State Floor and gingerbread houses that are masterpieces created by American craftsmen," said Wead.

"Every gadget, every toy, every game pours in," said Wead. "For young kids? The parents will need the discipline of drill sergeants to keep it under control."

The staff of 80 is available to do anything the first family needs -- from walking the Obamas' new puppy to laying out the president's clothes in the morning.

The private residence has an eat-in kitchen, said Monkman, and while former first children have helped the pastry chefs bake cookies for fun, it's unlikely that Michelle Obama will have to cook dinner for her family again -- at least for the next four years.

"Life is very easy in that respect," said Monkman. "The staff will try to please them."

First Daughters' School

While selecting a puppy and deciding how they'll decorate their rooms may be at the top of Malia and Sasha's to-do lists, deciding where the girls will attend school is likely one of their parents' chief concerns.

Malia and Sasha already attend a private school in Chicago, so it's expected that one of the elite private schools in the Washington area will likely be a choice for the girls.

Many of the schools have already dealt with the Secret Service entourage that comes with having children of presidents, vice presidents and top White House staffers in attendance.

"If the Obamas send their kids to private schools, they'll call them snobs who have betrayed all that they advocate for the public school system," he said. "If they send them to public schools, which are dangerous, they will be called inconsiderate for disrupting everything with the Secret Service tagging along."

Still, public school may not be out of the question.

Amy Carter famously attended Hardy Middle School, a Washington public school, during her father's presidency, and a Washington Post columnist today urged the Obamas to consider a public school, urging the president-elect to "see what their tax dollars are paying for."

But Wead maintains that private school will likely beat out the public schools, if only to maintain some sense of normalcy for the girls.

"My guess is that the Obamas will opt for private, which is best for their kids, and take the heat."

ABC News' Claire Shipman and Ann Compton contributed to this report.

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