Tanking stock markets, home foreclosures and rising unemployment aside, we Americans cannot seem to get enough of things Obama.
  We have learned about our president’s penchant for scrimmage basketball and his ironclad attachment to his Blackberry — the current version having been put on security steroids by an ultra cautious Secret Service.
  We can hardly wait to see what the First Lady is wearing. The unveiling of her official portrait in a sleeveless dress and ladylike pearls generated a national debate over the propriety of bare limbs in the White House. I am old enough to remember that Jacqueline Kennedy was also fond of the sleeveless look.
  Then there are the little girls, Malia and Sasha, whose inaugural outfits upped the stock price of the company who made them.
It seems, though, that the First Parents are firmly set on making their daughters’ routines and daily lives “normal.”   
  Being fascinated by all things Obama myself, I devour every article on life in the White House I can find, and there are plenty. Recent ones have reported that the First Lady has given instructions to the White House staff that the girls are to make their own beds. Bedtime is 8 p.m. sharp, and they must set their own alarm clocks and get themselves up and dressed for school on time. What’s more, when the First Mutt finally arrives, it will be Malia and Sasha strolling him on the grounds, rain or shine, with the requisite plastic bags at the ready in their pockets. The president and First Lady are presumed to be nowhere in sight. If what my children refer to as “parental units” are not available, their maternal grandmother is living in to make sure the girls’ lives are just so.
  All of this reading made me think of my own childhood in Fayetteville. I know my sister and I had household responsibilities, although I am a bit hazy on exactly what they were. The one I do remember well was taking care of my dog, Angel, a Pekingese I received for my ninth birthday. This involved feeding him and keeping him clean, a task which was much harder in pre-leash law days when dogs roamed the neighborhood just the way the children did, sometimes with us, sometimes on their own.
  {mosimage}Anyone who thinks a Pekingese is a Paris Hilton, teacup sort of pet has never known one. Ten pound Angel was the leader of a pack of neighborhood pooches which included Dalmatians, Weimaraners and a hefty German shepherd. Angel was simply oblivious to the fact that he looked like a girlie dog, and he was always dirty and matted.
  Angel’s personal hygiene was complicated by the fact that a 9-year-old was not only not particularly interested in washing and brushing him, but not very good at it either. My patient mother and I had many “discussions” on this topic and Angel had many less than sparkling clean days; eventually, I got the idea that he was my dog and my responsibility.
  I also recall that my sister and I had set bedtimes, because I cheated on this regularly. I was an under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight reader and I learned to sense when my mother was coming down the hall. In retrospect, she and my father probably chuckled over my bad habit, but she always confiscated that flashlight and I always found it the next day.
  All of this reminiscing made me ponder the critical importance of routine and structure in the lives of young children. As much as I procrastinated about washing and brushing Angel, and even worse cutting the mats out of his soft under hair, I learned that having a pet is more than just snuggling with him and giving him a biscuit. And as much as I wanted to read one more chapter, I was secretly relieved some nights when my mother made that decision for me and I could drift safely off to sleep.
  A friend has taken in foster children for years. Many of these children arrive in her home having had both difficult family situations and next to no structure in their young lives. They are shocked to their little cores when my friend announces “homework before anything else” and pulls the plug on television, video games, computers and the like to meet the assigned bath and bed times. Some newcomers rebel, even kick and scream, but every single one of the children she has fostered has adapted and thrived in the daily structure of her household for the duration of their stays.
  Malia and Sasha strike me as smart little cookies, and I suspect they are going to read with flashlights, fudge on the pooper scooping, and otherwise push their limits — not to mention their parents’ tolerance levels in ways we will never know.
  I salute and admire their parents for keeping the lights low in the White House fish bowl and for striving for normalcy, whatever that is in any American family.
  They will not be sorry, and neither will their beautiful girls.

Contact Margaret Dickson at editor@upandcomingweekly.com 

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