|Kennedy Family at Camp David (source: Wikimedia Commons)|
It’s not surprising that I wound up writing a story about a pair of first daughters; I am a First Kid superfan. My interest in children in the White House has been lifelong–I remember seeing old photographs of the Kennedy children in the Oval Office when I was a kid and being fascinated by them. Same for ones of Amy Carter. Chelsea Clinton is not much older than me, and when President Clinton was in office, I soaked up every tidbit I could (harder to do, in the pre-Internet era) about her tweenage life at 1600.
I also have strong memories of some of the media scrutiny Chelsea faced as a first daughter. There were SNL skits that meanly mocked her, and snide comments from journalists like this tone deaf essay from Frank Rich at the NYT, “The Chelsea Show.” Yes, a grown man publicly called out her “gawkiness, frizzy hair, and orthodontically transitional smile.” It appears he was trying to be sympathetic to Chelsea’s plight in his “humorous” essay, but dude: what an ass.
Margaret Truman Daniel, a former first daughter herself, wrote a famous Letter to the Editor to chastise him. It was part of the reason why the media generally stopped reporting on the children of presidents. (The NYT describes that as an “informal pact” between the press and the White House in their article on how Malia Obama’s spring break trip almost became news. It clarifies that unless the girls are with their parents, they are considered off-limits by much of the media.)
I’ve had a lot of impulses over the past couple of years to blog about the Obama girls, for obvious reasons (they are first kids, and they also seem like very cool kids). I’ve tried to hold back. The thing is, it’s a different situation to write about historical first daughters (those that are now deceased), former first daughters (those who are now adults), and the current two. It’s clear that the information released about the Obama girls is closely guarded, as it should be. Administration officials must work very hard to protect a little privacy for the first family, and that is an admirable thing. Perpetuating public interest in the Obama girls–even simply through linking to photos or articles on other sites on my humble blog–doesn’t seem fair. The smidge of privacy they maintain has been hard-won, and it’s important to respect that.
I hope to start sharing more of the information I’ve learned about life at the White House and famous first kids over the next TK-many months until When Audrey Met Alice comes out. Only the fun stuff, though–I promise not to bore you! But one thing you won’t read about here are the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, unless it’s a link to or sourced by some kind of official information.
What do you find interesting about First Kids*?
*A nerdy little grammar note: So far as I can tell, it is not grammatically correct to capitalize unofficial titles such as first daughter and first kid. Even First Lady is not an official title, although it is commonly treated as such and therefore capitalization is accepted. Sometimes I do capitalize first daughter or first kid, though, as a stylistic choice to highlight the title. The copy editor part of me is annoyed by this. I should probably start being consistent.
I remember the media with Chelsea Clinton and a lot of the coverage was horrible – adults mocking her over things she had no control over (namely braces and adolescence). I’m really glad that sort of scrunity over first kids has been put in check.
Chelsea Handler (Chelsea Lately Show) mentioned that the only downfall to Obama’s reelection was the first kids having to spend all their teen years in the White House.
The oldest, especially, just had all her high school years taken up with this second term…I hadn’t thought of that before.
There are benefits, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t want to live with the threat that every awkward teen/tween moment could get publicized.
I still remember Chelsea Clinton getting mocked all the time on TV, and to this day it bothers me. How cruel can you possibly be? Most of us got live those years in private, and if we were gawky or awkward it wasn’t splashed all over the media. Margaret Truman Daniel’s letter was great.
Looking forward to hearing the little tidbits you post about first daughters. 🙂
I remember Chelsea Clinton being mocked in the press as well, and I remember feeling so bad for her. It’s sort of amazing that she turned out to be an apparently strong and classy adult.
I’m fascinated by the whole “first kid” experience. It’s such an exclusive little club, one that’s impossible to really understand unless you’ve been initiated. That said, I love all the bits of information you’ve been posting, Rebecca!
I think I’ve always been most struck about how hard it must be being a teen with all that attention while one goes through one of the most awkward times of life. Even after one is a teen: I remember that when I was in school when Chelsea was dating a man from our school. When she was in town, one would hear squeals about who was in the Feve. I always thought that sort of attention would probably make a normal date even harder than the presence of the Secret Service at the next table.
I love this post! And I want to read your book right now! Not an exaggeration!
Calming down: I also have a fascination with presidential kids 🙂 and I’m really glad that the Obama’s have kept their kids out of the spotlight for the most part. Even though I was not a fan of Sarah Palin, I really felt like the media exploited her and her family. Sure, now that Bristol’s a few years older she can do whatever reality TV she wants, but I felt like the attacks on Palin’s family were cruel, and sadly some of their own defensive statements just fueled the fire.
I was a teen when Chelsea was in the white house and I also felt for her. That would be so tough to be in the spotlight at such a young age! She’s really turned out to be a classy, very cool woman. I love that she motivated Bill to eat healthier.
I also found out about your grammar note to not capitalize first lady; my YA is set in 1963 and mentions President Kennedy and the first lady quite a bit.
Chelsea Clinton is an amazing woman now, and I think as a teen she handled the (probably unwelcome) spotlight with a lot of maturity and grace. It makes me happy that you all were/are as interested in her and other first kids as I am 🙂
This is a great post. I’m so glad you care so much about the current first daughters to respect their privacy, and I’m so excited for your book!
Being a teen is hard enough, but being a teen when you are thrust into the spotlight (and not when you sought it out, like teen celebs) has to be such a nightmare. I always admired Chelsea Clinton, and I’m glad she turned into such an awesome woman.
Looking forward to your posts about first children of the past! I agree that it’s admirable that the administration maintains the Obama girls’ privacy. They should be allowed to be just kids, even while living in the White House.
It has to really hurt to have not only kids your age judge you (as all kids do) but the entire free world, too. I wonder, though, if the kids’ ages play a role in our curiosity. Like, do we not care about the inside details of the Obama girls’ lives as much as we would if they were teens and could get into trouble? I remember when the media would write about the Bush twins and whatever they were doing. I wonder if the Obama girls were older if the media would still respect their privacy or go out of their way to catch their first kiss/drink of beer.