Growing up in the White House bubble

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They might be the new First Children – and the youngest children to live at the White House since the days of JFK – but there's little chance of Malia and Sasha Obama becoming spoilt brats. The rules governing daily life in the Obama household were laid out in an interview that the future president and his wife gave early in the campaign.

"Whining, arguing or annoying teasing" are definitely banned, Barack and Michelle told People magazine. The girls must also set their own alarm clocks, get themselves up in the morning, and make their own beds. In return, Malia, 10, and Sasha, seven, receive pocket money of $1 (60p) a week. However, the system seems open to some abuse. "I'm out of town for weeks at a time," their father revealed. "So they will say, 'Hey you owe me for 10 weeks.'"

That brand of skilful entrepreneurship is sure to serve Malia and Sasha Obama well as they cope with the demands of life inside the bubble that is the White House. The winsome pair were on stage with their President-elect father last night in Grant Park, capping off an almost note-perfect performance on the campaign trail.

Sure there was odd dozing off during one of Mr Obama's speeches; or the time when they could barely conceal their disappointment when the surprise appearance at the Democratic Convention turned out to be not the Jonas Brothers, but their dad. But these only added to their appeal as sweet, confident girls.

Away from the spotlight, they have a list of hobbies that sounds almost comically precocious: soccer, dance and drama for Malia; gymnastics and tap for Sasha; piano and tennis for both.

Though the girls are reportedly popular among their classmates – they currently attend one of the most prestigious private prep schools in the country, the University of Chicago Lab School – their father's grasp of child social etiquette leaves something to be desired. Or at least so Malia claimed during a recent interview with the television show, Access Hollywood.

"My friend Sam, she came over," Malia recalled. "Daddy has never met Sam before... He's like 'Hi', and so he shook her hand, and I was like, 'You know Daddy, you really don't shake, you know, kids' hands that much. You shake adults' hands.' And he's like, 'Then what do you do?' You just wave or say 'Hi'." Despite that level-headedness, growing up in the White House is unlikely to be without incident.

In 1963, three years after JFK became president, his six-year-old daughter Caroline, and three-year-old son John Jnr were required to attend their father's funeral. As the world watched, his toddler son solemnly saluted the coffin.

While the Kennedy infants did much to propagate their father's glamorous image, the next presidential youngster had a more mixed track record. Amy Carter was nine when her father Jimmy became president, and quickly became the subject of worldwide media attention. The First Girl owned a Siamese cat called Misty Malarky Ying Yang, and famously invited classmates to slumber parties in a tree-house on the south lawn. After her father had left office, she became a noisy left-wing activist. In the late Eighties, she was arrested in an anti-CIA protest.

A more recent alumnus of the Presidential Daughters' Club was Chelsea Clinton. She was a shy, awkward 12-year-old with frizzy hair and braces when father Bill was elected, but by the time he left office Chelsea had become a striking, straight-haired bombshell.

The younger Clinton benefited from a "media hands off" policy. As Malia and Sasha begin the same journey, there are signs that their father has already begun to adopt a more protective line. On Halloween, he complained about photographers following his girls trick-or-treating.

Puppy love: The other new arrival

It's bye-bye Barney and Ms Beazley and hello... well we don't have a name yet for the new First Dog. Weighty decisions indeed to be made by the Obamas, as they ponder their move to Washington.

The promise made by the President-elect to his girls, Malia and Sasha, to let them have a puppy at the White House shows that not every tradition is being torn up. Continuity will be there with the presidential pooch. Mr Obama's predecessors have often had panting friends on the rug in the Oval Office. There have been a few cats, too. Socks had to hold her own against the chocolate Labrador Buddy when Bill Clinton was the master in town. Famous White House dogs have included Richard Nixon's Checkers and Ronald Reagan's Lucky. Jill Biden has been promising husband Joe a "big dog" in the event he won the keys to the vice presidential residence, the Naval Observatory, on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. She even taped pictures of different breeds in front of his seat on his campaign plane to help him choose.

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