White House Life: Notable Presidential Kids
by Jen O'Neill
As Malia and Sasha Obama anticipate their move to the most famous address in the United States, Americans look forward to the new energy the 7- and 10-year-old will bring. In this feature findingDulcinea provides a glimpse into the “fairy-tale” lives of White House children that Susan Bales Ford once spoke of, and discusses some of the challenges the children of the president face.
When Tad Lincoln moved into the White House at age 7, he romped his way through the west halls with older brother, Willie, embarking on one adventure after another. Tad was known to suit up in soldier attire, imitating the Civil War soldiers who stood outside of his home protecting it. According to the Web site Everything Lincoln, although Abraham channeled a “kids will be kids” attitude, his colleagues regarded Tad as a “little devil,” particularly after an infamous event in which Tad opened fire on the president’s cabinet with a toy cannon. President Lincoln fed into the fun by bringing home a pair of goats for Tad, who rode them throughout the house, ultimately offending dignitaries, nobles and other White House visitors.
In 1901, all six young members of the Teddy Roosevelt clan—and their pets—moved into the White House. They managed to turn every inch of the White House into a rumpus room: “From the basement to the flagpole on the roof, every channel and cubbyhole was thoroughly investigated,” the site Eye Witness to History recounts. The mischievous Roosevelt children pushed staff members to their limits and pulled a range of stunts, including giving their pony a ride in the elevator, using furniture as a trampoline and flying down the stairs on dinner trays.
After a 50-year dry spell of young children residing in the White House, 4-year-old Caroline Kennedy, and baby John Jr. became the youngest children to ever live in the White House. Yet, underneath the facade of safety and comfort, Jackie Kennedy was constantly worried about her children, and even decided to “organize kindergarten for Caroline inside of the White House,” a CBS article reports. Taking cues from his mother, John Jr. comfortably sought refuge under his father’s Oval Office desk while he worked.
The Huffington Post’s Danny Miller proclaimed that Amy Carter became his “favorite White House first kid,” after seeing her “brilliant” deadpan response when a reporter asked her if she had a message for the youth of America and she replied with, “No.” Amy refused to give up her childhood during her years at the White House, and was adamant to remain a regular kid. Although she had friends, she was just as comfortable creating her own ruckus by roller-skating in the East Room or climbing trees on the White House grounds. “More than any of the others, she seemed unscathed by her experience in the public eye,” Miller observed.
“My daddy’s the president,” Jenna Bush announced at a New York City party, reported New York Magazine. The article went on, “Clearly both are W.’s daughters, at least the hard-living, fun- loving frat boy W. used to be.” The dynamic duo barely lived in the White House during their father’s two terms, and eagerly ditched politics to pursue fun. They found themselves up against the law on more than one occasion, the The Smoking Gun reports, alluding to a few “drinking incidents,” including one where Jenna Bush received a citation for using someone else’s driver’s license to order liquor at a restaurant. Yet, many Americans are willing to cut them some slack, since over time the Bush twins have grown up before the country’s eyes to become responsible citizens.
Living in the White House might be every child’s dream, but living there comes with a price; presidential kids are subjected to scrutiny and criticism, and will forever be a part of U.S. history. Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis, who became known for her stint in drug rehab, asserts, “When you are part of a public family, a different standard applies. Every part of your life is regarded as accessible.” In a Time magazine interview, Davis explains that after leaving the White House limelight, she grew angry and wrote an autobiography about her family, stating, “We were still a family in turmoil and while I did write about healing and letting go of the past.” In the 2003 interview, Patti said that as her father lay on his deathbed she declared, “We will continue to cherish the fact that we walked away from our old battlegrounds and discovered how much better peace feels.”