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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 9, 2008

Girls about to be swept up in a princess whirlwind

 •  Obama's Hawaii boyhood homes drawing gawkers

By Stacy St. Clair
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO The American Girl catalog couldn't write a story more compelling than the Obama family's upcoming adventure.

Malia and Sasha Obama find their lives turned upside down when their father becomes president and moves the family into the White House. Their new home is a fully-staffed mansion with a swimming pool, movie theater and bowling alley, but will the sisters ever feel comfortable inside the ornately decorated 135-room house? The First Daughters must learn to adjust so their father can concentrate on helping the country.

The story may not have American Girl's simplistic plot, but in the time it takes for Barack Obama to be sworn in as president, his daughters will be transformed from Hyde Park girls into American princesses.

"Their lives are not going to be normal," said historian Sandra Musgrove, who has written books about White House children. "It's not normal to be a president's child. When your father is the president, you're royalty in this country."

Future first lady Michelle Obama has described her upcoming role as "mommy-in-chief." Their maternal grandmother, who looked after them during the campaign, is also likely to have a regular presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Michelle Obama has said she wants the girls "have some level of normalcy."

For Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, that probably means they'll be expected to continue making their beds, setting their own alarm clocks and adhering to a strict 8 p.m. bedtime. It's unclear if they'll get a raise in their $1-a-week allowance.

The girls are expected to continue with weekly dance classes and soccer practice.

"I think you're going to see the president of the United States at soccer games and ballet recitals," said Don Shomon, a former Obama aide. "That's going to be a priority for him."

For the past two years, the Obamas have kept the girls out of the limelight, save for the rare convention or election night appearance. That will get tougher in January, when the public will want stories about the button-cute first daughters and their White House adventures.

"It's going to be hard to keep them out of the spotlight probably harder than it was even a few years ago with Chelsea Clinton," said David Hume Kennerly, a White House photographer in the Ford administration. "With the Internet and 24-hours news cycles, there's going to be a lot more exposure."

The choice of school will matter. Amy Carter attended a public school to bolster her father's everyman image, but she struggled making friends and was not allowed to play outside at recess because it was close to the street.

The Clintons avoided such problems by enrolling daughter Chelsea at Sidwell Friends, a private, Quaker-run school where she became a National Merit Scholarship finalist. The Obamas might do the same .

The girls' bedrooms most likely will be on the second floor, with a small kitchen and the family dining room. They can watch TV or play games in the third-floor solarium, a glass-enclosed room with modern furniture and stunning views of the Mall, said John Riley, of the White House Historical Association.

In the coming weeks, the Obamas will receive a large book with pictures of all the furniture in the White House collection. The girls can select their bedroom pieces from these or bring their own beds from Hyde Park.

Amy Carter selected a Victorian suite that had a princesslike quality, but the Obama girls might be more comfortable with contemporary furniture, Riley said. "If I was their age and saw photographs of these 100-year-old beds, they might look a little creaky to me," said Riley.

Malia and Sasha can paint and decorate their rooms as they please. Nothing prohibits the first daughters from hanging Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers posters in their private quarters.

The girls will have access to the outdoor pool, tennis courts and a 50-seat movie theater. Amy Carter frequently roller skated in the East Room and had a treehouse on the South Lawn.

While historians say Amy had a lonely childhood in the White House, they believe the Obama girls will fare much better because they have each other.

"There are so many nooks and crannies and hidden staircases that they can explore together," said Bonnie Angelo, author of the book "First Families."

"Girls that age are going to feel like they're living in a Nancy Drew book. It's going to be so exciting for them."