Barack Obama: The audacity of toast – my first breakfast at the White House

As told to Chris Joseph...

Sunday 25 January 2009 01:00

The alarm clock sounds a peal of hope. Of renewal. Of change. This is a new dawn. A bright new day for the American people. I look at the clock. It tells me it is 8.17am. This is our time.

I swing my feet out of bed and look down at my legs. I am wearing pyjamas – or "Ojamas" as my sweet daughter Sasha calls them – bearing the presidential crest. Forty-three Americans have now worn these pyjamas. Not this actual pair, of course.

Those 43 men have got up in times of prosperity and peace. They have nodded off in times of internal division and under the threat of violence and hatred. One of them – I mention no names on this great day – completely slept through Hurricane Katrina. Still, I am humbled that the American people have trusted me with this sleepwear.

I stand up to go to the bathroom, honoured, as ever, by the support my legs give me. I perform my ablutions. They are many, and they are serious.

We are a young country. And I have a young family. I join them in the kitchen for breakfast. First of all I humbly and gratefully accept a good morning kiss from my beautiful wife Michelle. Then I say hello to our daughters – our hopes for the future – who are bundled up in woolly sweaters and scarves. "Can't we turn up the heating just one degree, Barry?" asks Michelle. "It's minus 12 outside!"

Solemnly but smilingly I shake my head. "We have squandered this planet's riches, and shirked these hard choices for too long. We must all work together to build a new age." Michelle rolls her eyes at the girls, who giggle.

Sasha is reading The Hungry Caterpillar. Soon it will be time for her to put away such childish things and move on to more mature reading, like The Declaration of Independence. Malia, meanwhile, is reading a math primer. For some time Malia had a nagging fear that failing her math test next week was inevitable. I told her there was nothing to fear but fear itself. I told her about her great-grandmother, who taught me about duty, respect, and long division. I told her about Martin Luther King, for whom the 11 times table was almost as important as Scripture. I told her two plus two is four. Eventually she agreed to study harder "as long as you just shut UP, Dad. Jeez." Kids. They humble you.

I sit down at the table and we say a quick grace. Then I look around me in wonder at this great breakfast table of ours. "Look, children, at the toast," I say, "brought to us by American farmers and factory workers with inadequate healthcare benefits, who still take pride in what they produce. Look at the cereal packet, probably designed by a Korean student working to support his poor family back home.

"The coffee reminds us of our responsibility to other nations who look to us for leadership. The orange juice reminds us that wherever there is political corruption and conniving – like there was in Florida – we must root it out. Yes, there may be those who want to take our jam, who envy our waffles, and would stamp on our blueberries. But we will not apologise for our breakfast. It is an American breakfast. It is the food that sustains us on this great journey.

"Let it be said by our children's children that, when faced with a challenge, we did not skip breakfast. We did not grab a glass of milk as we were running out the door. We did not falter. Instead, with our eyes fixed on the newspaper, and God's grace upon us, we carried forth the great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations, so that they, too, can have breakfast, whatever their race, creed, colour, education, level of healthcare benefit or political beliefs. Except Republicans."

I chortle at my own joke, but the whole family just stares at me. "Dad," says Malia, "can we, like, finally eat now?" I realise two hours have gone by. So I spread wide my arms, and look at each family member in turn. "Yes," I say, "we can!"

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