Playing House in the White House
By JENNA and BARBARA BUSH
Sasha and Malia, we were seven when our beloved grandfather was sworn in as the 41st President of the United States. We stood proudly on the platform, our tiny hands icicles, as we lived history. We listened intently to the words spoken on Inauguration Day service, duty, honor. But being seven, we didn't quite understand the gravity of the position our Grandfather was committing to. We watched as the bands marched by -- the red, white, and blue streamers welcoming us to a new role: the family members of a President.
We also first saw the White House through the innocent, optimistic eyes of children. We stood on the North Lawn gazing with wonder at her grand portico. The White House was alive with devoted and loving people, many of whom had worked in her halls for decades. Three of the White House ushers, Buddy, Ramsey, and "Smiley", greeted us when we stepped into her intimidating hallway. Their laughter and embraces made us feel welcome right away.
Sasha and Malia, here is some advice to you from two sisters who have stood where you will stand and who have lived where you will live:
- Surround yourself with loyal friends. They'll protect and calm you and join in on some of the fun, and appreciate the history.
- If you're traveling with your parents over Halloween, don't let it stop you from doing what you would normally do. Dress up in some imaginative, elaborate costume (if you are like us a pack of Juicy Fruit and a Vampiress) and trick-or-treat down the plane aisle.
- If you ever need a hug, go find Ramsey. If you want to talk football, look for Buddy. And, if you just need a smile, look for "Smiley."
- And, a note on White House puppies--our sweet puppy Spot was nursed on the lawn of the White House. And then of course, there's Barney, who most recently bit a reporter. Cherish your animals because sometimes you'll need the quiet comfort that only animals can provide.
- Slide down the banister of the solarium, go to T-ball games, have swimming parties, and play Sardines on the White House lawn. Have fun and enjoy your childhood in such a magical place to live and play.
- When your dad throws out the first pitch for the Yankees, go to the game.
- In fact, go to anything and everything you possibly can: the Kennedy Center for theater, State Dinners, Christmas parties (the White House staff party is our favorite!), museum openings, arrival ceremonies, and walks around the monuments. Just go. Four years goes by so fast, so absorb it all, enjoy it all!
For four years, we spent our childhood holidays and vacations in the historic house. We could almost feel the presence of all the great men and women who had lived here before us. When we played house, we sat behind the East sitting room's massive curtains as the light poured in illuminating her yellow walls. Our seven-year-old imaginations soared as we played in the enormous, beautiful rooms; our dreams, our games, as romantic as her surroundings. At night, the house sang us quiet songs through the chimneys as we fell asleep. As older girls, we were constantly inspired by the amazing people we met, politicians and great philosophers like Vaclav Havel. We dined with royalty, heads of states, authors, and activists. We even met the Queen of England and managed to see the Texas Longhorns after they won the National Championship. We traveled with our parents to foreign lands and were deeply moved by what we saw. Trips to Africa inspired and motivated us to begin working with HIV/AIDS and the rights of women and children all over the world.
Now, the White House ballrooms were filled with energy and music as we danced. The East sitting room became a peaceful place to read and study. We ran on the track in the front lawn, and squared off in sisterly bowling duels down in the basement alley. This Christmas, with the enchanting smell of the holidays encompassing her halls, we will again be saying our good-byes to the White House. Sasha and Malia, it is your turn now to fill the White House with laughter.
And finally, although it's an honor and full of so many extraordinary opportunities, it isn't always easy being a member of the club you are about to join. Our dad, like yours, is a man of great integrity and love; a man who always put us first. We still see him now as we did when we were seven: as our loving daddy. Our Dad, who read to us nightly, taught us how to score tedious baseball games. He is our father, not the sketch in a paper or part of a skit on TV. Many people will think they know him, but they have no idea how he felt the day you were born, the pride he felt on your first day of school, or how much you both love being his daughters. So here is our most important piece of advice: remember who your dad really is.
Jenna Bush is a writer and educator, the author of the book 'Ana's Story' and the co-author, with her mother Laura Bush, of the picture book 'Read All About It.' Barbara Bush works for a public health-focused non-profit, Global Health Corps, and previously worked for The Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
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