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When we first saw them, they tip-toed shyly on to the stage, blinking like two lost lambs in the arc-lights and clinging to their father as he introduced them to the watching world.
Earlier this week, when Barack Obama beckoned his daughters to share his election night joy again, they sashayed out to greet him with the poise and confidence of schoolgirls who – as he put it – have grown up “before our very eyes”.
With stylishly straightened hair – and almost as tall as the 1.85m president in her flat-heeled pumps – Malia, aged 14, could have passed for a child model in her flared, blue chiffon skirt. Wearing an emerald green dress and silver cardigan, her sister Sasha, 11, looked equally pretty and assured.
While four years in the White House have clearly taken their toll on the now slightly stooped and greying 51-year-old president his wife, Michelle, also appears to be thriving.
Now 48, she looked relaxed and radiant as she ushered the girls on to the podium at the McCormick Centre in Chicago and is clearly more at ease with herself now – and in even better shape – than when her husband took office.
In case we hadn’t noticed this extraordinary transformation, the president departed from weightier matters to gushingly draw it to his audience’s attention. “I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago,” he averred to wild applause.
“Let me say this publicly: ‘Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s First Lady. Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom”.’
Alluding to the public promise he made, and kept, after winning the 2008 election – to let his daughters take a new puppy with them when they moved into the White House – he added with a smile: “But I will say that for now, one dog’s probably enough.”
From the moment Obama became president, and they moved from their home in an affluent Chicago suburb to the most exclusive address on the planet, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he and his wife have striven to make their family life as normal as possible and keep the girls grounded. Though they have Secret Service protection and are educated at a Washington DC private school attended by the children of several past presidents, they make their own beds and do other household chores and their social activities are carefully controlled.
In keeping with their mother’s crusade against childhood obesity, for example, they are permitted to use computers for a maximum of two hours a day, mainly to do homework.
Their parents also insist they sit at the table for ‘gadget-free’ family meals as often as possible (though Obama is prone to breaking the rule by trawling through e-mails).
And while they are allowed to chat online to their friends, they can’t use Facebook for security reasons.
Mrs Obama also asks friends and White House staff to keep an eye on them when she’s particularly busy, to ensure they stay on track. “We fight for normalcy,” she says. “We’re living in a place that’s not used to having kids.”
The policy is clearly paying off. Now a freshman in high school, Malia is apparently a whiz at maths – her father’s weakest subject – and also enjoys dance and drama.
Sasha is very bright, too, and loves going to the gym and tap-dancing. But they also go to the movies with friends, go to the beach at weekends .
Mrs Obama’s day begins at 5am, when she goes through her daily diary and answers correspondence. She then sees her daughters off to school before a rigorous workout in the White House gym. If ever she feels like slacking, she says, she simply gazes at her most unflattering press picture and vanity spurs her on.
The formula is clearly working, because on her husband’s big night she – and her two delightful daughters – all but stole the show. – Daily Mail