First Lady Welcomes Children of Executive Office Staff to White House

Senior officials credit the Obamas for setting example of work-family balance

ByYunji De Nies and Karen Travers
April 22, 2010, 3:18 PM

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2010 -- The president and the first lady both take tennis lessons, use the White House movie theater nearly every weekend and spend a lot more time together then they ever did before they moved to Washington.

That's the word from the First Lady Michelle Obama, who spent nearly an hour taking questions from 200 or so 8- to 12-year-olds in the East Room to mark the annual Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The children's parents all work in the executive branch of the government.

Michelle Obama thanked the children for the sacrifices they've had to make, because of the long hours their parents put in working for the administration.

"You guys are helping us just as much as your parents are," she said, "So thank you for being patient and making sure you're doing what you're supposed to do at home, so that your parents can do what they need to do here."

Nan Gibson, chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers, brought her daughter, Grace, to the White House for the day and the highlight for the 7-year old baking aficionado was observing the White House pastry chefs.

Grace couldn't explain exactly what her mom does at the White House, but said, "She works a lot."

"It's kind of hard, but it's for a good cause because she works for Obama," Grace said. "But she works too much."

Gibson echoed her daughter's sentiment that the long hours were for "a good cause" and said that it's nice to see the Obamas going through the same act of balancing the needs of young children with demanding jobs.

"I think they set a great example, frankly, by making sure they get to their parent-teacher conferences," Gibson told ABC News. "I think it's important for my daughter to see the people we work with, the settings that we work in and the reason why the hours are long and what we're doing. We're trying to make life better for families all over the country."

Denis McDonough, who brought his young daughter to work today, also credited the Obamas with setting an example for the rest of the staff.

"We have a boss here who understands that we also want to be good parents," he told ABC News.

Obama White House Family-Friendly

Aden Goolsbee, daughter of White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, said that she would like it if her dad "traveled less" but admitted that his job brought some pretty cool perks.

"Well, the best part is that I get to do things that other kids can't really do," the 9-year old said.

"Not everybody gets to do stuff like this. See the helicopter take off," she said, referring to the president's departure on Marine One earlier in the day from the White House lawn.

Goolsbee acknowledged that he would not recommend a White House position for "someone applying for the "Father of the Year Job," but he said his family is doing OK.

"It's about as family-friendly as it could be," he said of the Obama White House. "You've got to do a lot of work but they have a lot of events like this."

The first lady entered the room with Bo in tow, and the dozens of children in the audience leaped out of their seats to catch a glimpse of the famous First Dog. Michelle Obama tried to keep Bo at her feet, but the children often proved too distracting. At one point, Bo rolled around, belly up on the floor. "What a clown," the first lady laughed.

Michelle Obama explained that Bo was special not only because he is a special dog, but also because he was a gift from a special family friend: the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Bo was at the center of many of the questions, as was the first lady's signature "Let's Move!" anti-childhood obesity initiative. The first lady was asked what are her favorite healthy foods (broccoli, spinach, power bars and fresh juice), what grows in her garden (vegetables, herbs and honey), and whether obesity had been cured (not quite yet).

Asked what she wanted to grow up to be when she was a kid, the first lade said she wanted to be a pediatrician because she loved kids -- "never a vet" -- she said as she petted Bo, which drew laughs. She said after college she wanted to become an attorney, but never had the notion of becoming first lady.

Michelle Obama Has Beyonce, Rhianna on iPod

"There had never been any body of my race who had been first lady," she said.

At this point Bo began barking profusely, and Michelle Obama had him removed to from the East Room, much to the disappointment of her audience, who began chanting "Bo, Bo, Bo!" She promised to bring Bo back toward the end of the event.

Asked what was on her iPod, the first lady tried to itemize the music that her audience could relate to: Rhianna, Beyonce, Michael Jackson and the latest Usher album.

"Sting," she said looking around, "Anyone Sting?"

No kids responded.

One boy asked Michelle Obama if she could make recess longer, at which point the rest of the audience voiced their agreement. The first lady laughed and explained that she is working so all kids have recess, noting that some schools don't offer it at all.

As today is Earth Day, the first lady was asked several questions about the environment. She revealed that 11-year old Malia is an active lobbyist on a singular issue: saving the world's tigers.

"We talk about the tigers at least once a week, and what [the president's] doing to save the tigers," she said, "He hasn't come up with a sufficient answer yet, but he's got a couple more years to fix this problem."

The first lady also opened up about the first family's home life. The girls spend their afternoons playing sports. Sasha also takes hip-hop dance lessons, and Malia is learning to play the flute. Both girls get up every morning at 6 a.m.

"They could get up later, if they'd move faster," she said, "That's their choice: They can move up slow and get up early fast or move faster and get up later."

Michelle Obama was asked if the family had any of the White House perks (swimming pool, tennis courts, movie theater) when they lived in Chicago.

"We had nothing!" she declared. "We had each other. We had love! That's what we had."

As promised, Bo was brought in after the question and answer session ended. The first lady walked him throughout the room, much to the delight of the children.

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