So what will it be like for the new kids in the White House? What can the children of Obama or McCain expect?
It’s a fishbowl. And what happens in those few short years will stick to you for lifetime. Take, for example, Chelsea Clinton’s braces. A good parent will get braces for their kid so that when they grow up and life really matters, their teeth look good. But more pictures will be taken of Chelsea Clinton wearing braces and more people will see her in those years than ever will when she is “grown up.” Fishbowl. The Bush twins and their underage drinking, Amy Carter’s choice of schools, “Fat Alice” Tyler and then there are Nellie Grant’s famous bosoms.
Nellie arrived at the White House at age 13 and turned into a beauty. To the outrage of her parents, word spread around town that the president’s daughter was turning out to be an especially well endowed young lady. Imagine growing up in front of the whole world? Today’s youth would not be impressed with Nellie’s problem but this was a day and age when doctors had not yet become gods and one had to take what nature gave you, and apparently it gave abundantly to the president’s daughter who, living in the White House, had nowhere to hide. She married and moved to England.
Amy Carter is now a 41 year old wife and mother but she is destined to be remembered for a comment her father made in a presidential debate. “I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was [and she said it was nuclear proliferation."] The president was trying to show that even his young daughter could see the importance of the issue but it was an awkward moment that didn’t quite work.
Margaret Truman became one of the most popular mystery writers in American history but when she died at age 86 much of her obituary recounted her most famous moment when, during her life in the White House, her singing debut was ridiculed by a music critic which enraged her father, the president.
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. That part is not fun. Not many secrets, although Jack Ford told me they smoked pot in the WH and no one knew at the time. So hurray, some secrets survive that short period.
Constant cousins. Christmas all year round. Lots of relatives and friends. Never a lonely moment. They will meet every famous person in sports, entertainment, art and science. They come and go daily from the sprawling WH-EOB compound. Mandela one day, Hannah Montana the next. They will have their own personal theatre with first run movies, their own team of chefs, all the cotton candy their mom and dad don’t know about, travel, access to staff, and entertaining people. Christmas has not one, but a forest of decorated trees throughout the State floor and gingerbread houses that are masterpieces. Every gadget, every toy, every game pours in over the transom. For the younger kids? The parents will need the discipline of drill sergeants to keep it under control.
Jackie Kennedy’s admonition to keep them out of the limelight and out of the WH as much as possible. She didn’t even allow pictures of her children. Those famous Oval Office shots that show on websites, with the caption, “typical day in the White House”? They were taken when she was out of the country and they were decidedly atypical.
President Zachary Taylor once said, “I don’t want my son to be seen in Washington, D.C. when I am president. And Richard Taylor, the son, who went onto become a great Civil War general is one of the few presidential children to be written about in history without the sobriquet, “son of the president.” Young Taylor stands on his own feet.
When I sat with George W. Bush in his office after his father had won the election and tried to talk about the White House, his eyes glazed over. His mind was already in Texas and his own life. If he had gone into the White House and worked with his father, as many sons, including one of the Carters, had done before him, he would never have been president himself.
First big decision?
For the McCain’s it will be when and how to bring back their son from dangerous combat. And that goes for Sarah Palin’s son as well. Eisenhower was confronted with the same problem. It is dangerous to put the commander in chief in possible hostage crisis with his own flesh and blood. It is not just their lives that are endangered but many others. My guess? They will bring them both back.
For the Obama’s? It will be private school or public. If they send their kids to private schools they’ll call them snobs who have betrayed all that they advocate for the public school system. If they send them to public schools, which are dangerous, (there are drug deals and even murders within walking distance of the WH,) they will be called inconsiderate for disrupting everything with the secret service tagging along. My guess? The O’s will opt for private, which is best for their kids, and take the heat.
That’s when many of these kids pay the piper. Many lose their identity and become dependent on the father. Some daughters never marry (Margaret Wilson) others only when their dad is dead (Fanny Hayes) and others might as well have not been married because they were always with their father. (Martha Johnson.) Some resist, like Patti Davis who changed her name. And others take back their family, presidential, name after marriage. (Luci Johnson, Fanny Hayes, etc.) Some die when their presidential father dies. Within five years of the death of William Henry Harrison, 9 of his 10 children were dead. The light had gone out of their lives.
But some founded colleges, wrote books, won the Medal of Honor, founded great companies, became multi-millionaires, artists, actors and actresses, senators, congressmen, governors, ambassadors, cabinet officers. Nine almost became presidents themselves and two did it.
What can the children of McCain or Obama expect in the next four years? Anything and everything, the sky will be the limit.
(See the website Upstairs at the White House. www.upstairsatthewhitehouse.com )
(See Connie Chung interview on White House kids.