For the first time in more than half a century, a president-elect has a young son, and if he moves into the White House, his fellow 10-year-olds have a lot of suggestions for him.
“It’s really big there, so you can run around and do lots of things,” says Chiara MacDonald, 10.
“I would throw huge parties and invite all my friends,” says Grady Harris, 10.
Although President-elect Donald Trump plans to settle into his new digs immediately after his inauguration, his wife, Melania, and their son will stay in New York at least until Barron finishes the school year. But then he could become the first “first son” to live there since John F. Kennedy Jr., who was an infant when his father took office in January 1961.
We asked several 10-year-olds what they imagine Barron’s White House life might be like. We also checked in with Edward Lengel, chief historian of the White House Historical Association, for some historical context.
– Privacy and personal space
What kids think: Imagine, a house constantly bustling with people and activity and importance. “It would be fun getting to hang out with the Secret Service,” says Dylan Henry. Or not: “It would probably feel stressful,” says Dacy Matarasso.
But Barron’s peer group shared bold ideas for decorating a new bedroom – one of the few personal spaces for a first kid in the White House.
“I would install a chandelier in the ceiling, and I would decorate my bed with colored sheets, like turquoise, and I would put in a desk and a dresser and some stuffed animals,” says Josey Long. “A king-size bed, and a soft-serve ice cream machine,” says Walker Woodward.
“I’d paint my whole wall blue and make it space scenes,” adds Dylan, “with little planets hanging from the ceiling and a spaceship and stuff.”
Only Emily Dever acknowledged that such a move could be tough. If it were her, she’d try to re-create some of the simple comforts of home. “All my walls are tan with a white trim along the top, and my ceiling is bright magenta,” she explains. “I like how my room is, so I’d keep my room the same.”
What it’s really like: It’s definitely not easy for a kid to find privacy in the modern White House, Lengel says. But historically, there have always been nooks and crannies to stake out.
“Before Harry Truman did his massive renovation of the White House, it really was a ramshackle old building,” he says. “Teddy Roosevelt’s kids were notorious for finding cracks where they could get in between the walls, and crawl around in there.”
Amy Carter, Jimmy Carter’s daughter, had a treehouse built on the grounds; Chelsea Clinton had a secluded breakfast nook. The children’s bedrooms are private, and yes, kids can decorate their own spaces (though history does not record any personal ice-cream dispensers).
“If you’re in your room on the third floor, you have as much privacy as any kid who goes in her room and closes the door,” Susan Ford, who was a senior in high school when her father took office, once said. Though, of course, as Lengel notes, “there’s still someone right outside the door.”
What kids think: If you’re the child of a president, your parents are probably pretty busy – so why not have a few furry friends to help keep you company? “Since there’s so much space, I’d like to have a million pets,” Walker says. “Lots of dogs and cats.” Added Dylan: “I don’t know if we could have pigs, but if we could get a pig, that would be really cool.”
“I would want more pets if I was in the White House. I kind of want a cat,” Emily says. “My neighbor has a cat, and the cat is really nice. And maybe a hamster or a gerbil or something like that.”
What it’s really like: Good news, Dylan: You probably could have a pig at the White House, assuming your parents are onboard. There’s certainly precedent for unusual pets. Seven years old when his father took office, Tad Lincoln brought his pony into the White House, and one of his pet goats slept beside him in bed. “In the past,” Lengel says, “there really weren’t any rules.”
But Teddy Roosevelt’s family takes the prize for Most Pets at 1600 Pennsylvania: a macaw named Eli Yale; a slew of dogs, snakes, cats, birds and furry critters; and a pony named Algonquin who famously rode the White House elevator.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say that they would not allow a pony in the building now,” Lengel says. “But certainly dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, birds, I think, would be fine.”
– Pressure and proper behavior
What kids think: One downside: There’s probably a lot of pressure on a first kid to behave properly at all times, the surveyed 10-year-olds agreed.
“Really, the only problem is that if you break something, oh boy, that’s more than just a time out,” Dacy says. And if you mess up, “then it’s going to be everywhere – ‘oh, the president’s kid is doing something bad!’ ” says Grady. “You have to be really good.”
Walker worries that first kids might get singled out or picked on by peers or the press. “They might want to tease me for some reason,” he said. “You’re the son of a president – that’s a lot of pressure.” Plus: “There might be specific stuff that you have to wear, not just what you want to wear,” Chiara notes gravely.
“You probably don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Emily concedes. “But, like, if your parents are in a meeting, you should be on your best behavior, and not fight with your little brother.” She sighs. “Which is hard.”
What it’s really like: First kids definitely face pressure to behave a certain way – and when they don’t, it does tend to draw attention. It’s usually older children who get into actual trouble – the Bush twins for underage drinking and fake IDs, or Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s grown daughter, for ditching the Secret Service. But even the younger ones have been scrutinized: Amy Carter drew side-eye from a few foreign dignitaries when she showed up to a formal state dinner with a couple of books to entertain herself through the formal toasts.
“That’s one of the reasons that the Clintons and the Obamas have tried to keep their kids out of those official functions as much as they possibly can, because there is a pretty strict code of decorum and behavior that’s expected,” Lengel says. “They still have to wear nice clothes – they can’t come to a formal dinner wearing a Snoopy shirt or something. And they have to eat carefully, in a certain way. They have to be polite and shake hands.”
What kids think: Given the amenities available to White House families (A bowling alley! A private theater! A pool! A special plane!), a few key priorities emerged:
“I’d bowl with my little brother,” says Emily.
“I would travel the whole world,” says Chiara.
And hey, no having to scrub the bathroom or load the dishwasher, right? “There are people who do the chores for the president,” says Owen Benz.
With all that free time, Dylan would go ghost-hunting. “I’d set up a sleeping bag in the Lincoln Bedroom,” he says. “I’d wake up and see if anything moved.” And if he did see the spirit of Lincoln? “I’d ask him, ‘What does it feel like to be the president and make all those changes throughout civilization?’ ”
Josey says she would fill a special room with guitars and a piano and host a concert as soon as possible.
What it’s really like: Kids, you forgot about the snacks.
“They get awesome food, that’s for sure, and – if their parents allow it – they can have whatever they want,” Lengel says. “They get to meet famous people. Think of all the celebrities. Obama brought sports heroes and musicians into the White House.”
They can also host some pretty killer sleepovers. “If there’s a movie that’s going to be coming out in theaters two months from now and you really want to have some of your friends over to watch it now,” Lengel says, “I’m absolutely sure that their father or mother could pick up the phone and get a screening.”
And it’s true, they probably don’t have to do chores expected of other kids – no dusting, no dishes, no taking out the trash. And yet …
“Their parents would expect them to fold their clothes and put them away, and they would expect them to keep their rooms clean. They might have much less freedom in that regard,” he says. After all, “you can’t have a presidential first kid room looking like a cyclone hit it.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Caitlin Gibson