Obama girls take White House childhood in stride
The Obama girls have quietly made a mark of their own: shielded from public over-exposure, they are growing up with rules and responsibilities and making it look easy, even though they live in the White House.
Malia and Sasha Obama were 10 and seven respectively when they followed their father Barack Obama into the White House, which after his re-election will remain their home for another four years.
"I am pleasantly surprised at how normal they are," their mother Michelle Obama said in a recent ABC News television interview.
"I did worry what this life would be like for them -- could I keep them normal, could we instill in them the values that we learned growing up: humility and decency and treating people with respect," she said.
"They are wonderful young women. We are so proud. They are level-headed, they work hard, they care about people. They are good solid kids."
Malia now, at 14, is almost as tall as her father, while Sasha, 11, who four years ago was the youngest kid in the White House since John-John Kennedy in the early 1960s, often appears smiling with her dad's arm lovingly around her.
Their parents routinely rave about, but jealously guard their privacy -- a task made easier by a willingness among American news media to keep the spotlight of publicity well away from the girls.
For the past four years they have only appeared before the cameras when their parents were present -- at the lighting of the national Christmas tree, for instance, or on stage at the Democratic convention, or boarding or disembarking from Air Force One.
Under constant Secret Service escort, they attend the private Sidwell Friends school.
The school, with Quaker roots and little in common with Washington's struggling and much-berated public schools, charges nearly $35,000 a year for tuition and a daily hot lunch, according to its website.
Outside of class, Malia plays tennis and Sasha basketball. Neither is known to be on Facebook, but they have slept over at friends' houses, gone to summer camp and competed in athletic events.
They also both like Beyonce, who will sing the National Anthem at Monday's public inauguration of Obama's second term.
(Another former child resident of the White House, Chelsea Clinton, now 32, will attend the inauguration as honorary chair of the National Day of Service aimed at getting more Americans to do volunteer work, organizers said.)
Lately, in terms of fashion, the younger Obamas -- perhaps taking cues from their mother, a national fashion icon -- have revealed a penchant for belts, cardigans and flared skirts.
Despite living in stately splendor, Malia and Sasha are, according to their mother, still expected to make their beds and tidy their rooms before heading off to school.
Television is off-limits on weekdays, when they can only use computers for homework.
At the dinner table, said Michelle Obama, who campaigns against childhood obesity, "the girls have to eat their vegetables -- and if they say that they are not hungry, they cannot ask for cookies or chips later."
"From all outward appearances, the president and first lady have done an extraordinary job of parenting in a difficult position," Doug Wead, a former adviser to president George Bush senior and author of several books about presidential families, told AFP.
"I say 'from outward appearances' because, as one who has worked in the White House and as a historian, I am well aware of the fact that much of the personal detail of the first families is not known until many years later."
But Wead added: "I have interviewed many of the children of presidents -- and they remember the time as the best in their lives... Daddy is home almost every night."
As for the president himself, he recently told Newsweek: "Now, I worry about them when they're teenagers ... and dating I think will be an issue because I have (Secret Service) men with guns surrounding them at all times."