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Eight Years Old and Reporting from the White House

Six hours at the White House wilts a kid. When we got home after the event yesterday, they were listlessly staring out their car window, their eyes half-closed.

“And now we have to write?” the ChickieNob whispered.

“And now you have to write,” I told her.

Thus is the life of a kid reporter.

Actually, the ChickieNob bristles at the term “kid reporter.”  She’s a journalist; a plain journalist who doesn’t need a diminutive superlative, thank you very much.  She informed me during dinner that she’s actually half-girl, half-journalist — as if writerly genes were similar to inheriting a mermaid tail — and zero percent kid reporter.

Anyway, they’ve always wanted to come to work with me, though what they mean is not visiting me in the living room where I write, but coming with me to an event.  And then this opportunity came up where it made sense to not only bring them along but make them do most of the labour.

On Tuesday morning, we hopped on the metro and went down to the White House.  Our first stop was to wait in the press briefing room (you know, that room with the blue chairs you see on the news where they hold press conferences).  The cameraman from ABC helped them try to balance a video camera on their shoulder, and they went up on the stage and pretended to hold a press conference. (Thank you, people in the press briefing room, who gave them the step stool.  That podium is high!)

And then it was time for a pre-event, a smaller press event before the main event, where we could watch the arrivals and call over people they wanted to interview.  They had researched all the participants beforehand and knew which ones they wanted to call over.  The ChickieNob is a very quiet person who rarely speaks in school.  But I told her that while quiet was okay for her to be in everyday life, when she’s working, she has to channel someone who speaks loudly and clearly with confidence and assertion.  It was amazing to watch her transform as she politely and firmly called over kids, telling them that she had a question, and then conducting a three or four question interview with each one.

The crowning moment was when Sam Kass came into the hall.  We had been told beforehand that he wouldn’t be available for interviews, but there he was, and when the ChickieNob saw him, she called him over and not only got to ask him a few questions but he posed for pictures with them.  It was like meeting a rock star.  You see, she read that he designed the White House vegetable garden, and the vegetable garden is the first one on White House property since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden.  The ChickieNob is obsessed with anything even remotely connected to Eleanor Roosevelt, hence how seeing Sam Kass (twice — he stopped for more questions later in the day) was one of the highlights of her day.  Actually, she listed it as her favourite part.

After the pre-event, we went back to the press briefing room and had a short break.  I think it was eye-opening for them to see the back offices.  The counters with bottles of Tums and old coffee.  The bulletin boards.  The cramped desks covered with papers and computers.  By this point, they were a little tired and hungry and were starting to realize that being a journalist was actual work: a lot of work considering the pay.  That it’s not just about sitting down and writing.  That there was a lot of time spent gathering information and THEN sitting down and writing.

Then we headed upstairs to the East room for the actual event.  The kids got to experience a much more realistic press pool than the one they were in at the pre-event that only had 20 or so people.  This one was packed tight, and they had to jostle for space.  But they got to the front of the rope and tried to take in everything around them.  There was a lot that didn’t make it into their article on BlogHer due to space, pages of description that are languishing in their notepad.  They listened to the First Lady speak (she was about 15-20 feet away the whole time).  And they enjoyed Rachel Crow’s performance.  And they talked to a few more kids.

And then the president came.  I had a feeling he was going to attend the event, but I didn’t tell the twins in case he didn’t.  But there he was, striding into the room.  As he delivered his remarks, the Wolvog kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m in the room with the president.”  The Wolvog was wearing the outfit he had on when he played Barack Obama in his school play. (The child only has two nice outfits.)  And there was the real Barack Obama 20 feet away.  Craziness.

And then they realized that they weren’t going to get to meet him because he was only going around to the tables, and they were in the press.  They were crushed.  But Hannah arranged for the five kids who were in the press pool to go with her across the room to meet him.  They came back smiling these insanely wide grins: “I just shook hands with the president!”  The ChickieNob also couldn’t resist throwing out one of her hard-hitting questions, and he answered it.  So fabulous, life-changing moment (that the Wolvog couldn’t stop whispering to himself for hours afterward: “I can’t believe I just shook hands with the president!”).


President Barack Obama greets young reporters at the Kids’ State Dinner in the East Room of the White House, July 9, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And then we went out to the White House garden.  By that point, it was drizzling, and the Wolvog does not like the rain.  The ChickieNob took every chance to tease him, pretending to melt onto the lawn.  And finally, we bid goodbye to the huge cabbages and bee hives, and passed the White House playground and the Oval Office, and finally exited the White House back out the press gates.

I was told I was the coolest mum ever not because I got them into the White House or coached them on how to conduct an interview or helped them get through six hours of work or asked if there was any chance they could meet the president. No, what made me the coolest mum ever was that I took them out for doughnuts despite the fact that we should have gotten a healthy meal after spending that much time around quinoa and lettuce wraps.  But we were all starving and though I am usually queasy over the mere thought of doughnuts, I scarfed one down, pointing out that the life of a journalist usually consists of grabbing odd meals at odd hours.  Anything to chase the story.  So ending the day with a doughnut was fitting.

I asked them if they still wanted to be writers after this first writing assignment.  The Wolvog loved meeting the president and working the equipment, but probably will end up setting up his own computer company.  But the ChickieNob is hooked.  She pointed out that she now knows that it’s not a glamourous job as she once thought.  It’s a hard job that sometimes takes you to glamourous locations or situations that make it feel as if it’s not really work.  And yeah, she’s right.  When we clearly know the story we need to write, and we get to meet the president and see the First Lady (and interview Sam Kass!  Did I mention that we got to interview Sam Kass and it blew the ChickieNob’s little mind), and the day ends with doughnuts, it doesn’t really feel like work.

Until you get home and you have to sift through over 500 images and listen to the interview recordings and figure out how to tell people about the event.  Then it feels like work.  But they went to bed, their bodies still buzzing over a job very well done.

We were insanely proud of them before we actually got down to the White House.  And now that they’ve actually nailed their first writing assignment… there are no words.  Just happy sounds.  I loved having them with me, seeing them in action and getting to include them in that world.  I am so incredibly lucky that I get a front row seat to their lives.


1 Casey { 07.10.13 at 7:52 am }

That’s just awesome, Mel. The Wolvog’s incredulity reminds me of when he received an email from Apple’s head honcho. 🙂 Glad your kids had a great day, and you could make that happen for them.

Take care,


2 a { 07.10.13 at 8:50 am }

That photo of the kids with the president is endearing and hilarious – the expression on the photographer’s face! The little guy on the end in his suit! The mini 1950s newsman in hist hat! I would bet the whole day was like that – the picture captures it perfectly.

It sounds like a pretty amazing day – it’s wonderful that you could make that happen for your children.

3 Egg Timer { 07.10.13 at 8:54 am }

What an absolutely amazing experience for them!

4 Gail { 07.10.13 at 9:50 am }

I saw that on CBS This Morning and thought that it was so cool for those kids to be a part of that. I had no idea your kids were part of it. Cool!

5 Delenn { 07.10.13 at 10:05 am }

This is so awesome! What a great experience…also, Eleanor Roosevelt…one of my favorites too! And yes, great mom’s give doughnuts! 😉

6 deathstar { 07.10.13 at 10:54 am }

Holy cow! How utterly amazing! What great kids and what a great mum! I had no idea of who Sam Kass was by the way so I just googled him and he is hot! Meeting the President? You must be so proud of your kids. What’s funny is that they were thrilled by the experience and may have no idea that most people (and even the most powerful, rich or famous) will never get that kind of opportunity in their lives. So do you think The Wolvog can get me an autographed picture of the President?

7 luna { 07.10.13 at 11:15 am }

I just love this so hard. I don’t even know these kids and I adore them!
you are giving them wonderful life skills, and that was an experience of a lifetime!

8 loribeth { 07.10.13 at 11:28 am }

What an amazing, amazing experience for them — not just going to the White House & meeting the President but the whole day — getting first-hand journalistic experience like that. Not many reporters can say their first professional experience was covering an event with the President at the White House!! 🙂 I love that ChickieNob not only overcame her reserve (me too) but fired a question at the President — AND got an answer.

I think I am a bit jealous, to be honest. ; )

9 jjiraffe { 07.10.13 at 11:52 am }

Whoa! I don’t know of anything really that could top this experience for a kid or for a journalist, really.

Although, since you are their mother, there’s a chance even better things will come their way. 😉

Congrats ChickieNob and Wolvag! You did something that would challenge most adults, and you did it with exceptional professionalism.

PS: I like the way you told ChickieNob to channel her inner loud reporter. That’s a good technique to use for quiet/shy children…

10 Karen (formerly Serenity) { 07.10.13 at 12:33 pm }

What an experience – for all of you. So awesome, on so many levels.


11 Siochana { 07.10.13 at 1:54 pm }

I read their article – great job! Tells the story and gets right to the point. What a wonderful experience for them – they will never forget that!

12 Mali { 07.10.13 at 3:37 pm }

That’s brilliant. And as a 50 year old woman, who once wanted to be a journalist, I am so happy (and a teensy bit jealous) of those kids having that experience. And their article was great too!

13 Kasey Attianese { 07.10.13 at 4:21 pm }

This really is awesome! What an amazing exprience your childeren had- they will always have memories of it I am sure! The article was perfect 🙂

14 Chickenpig { 07.10.13 at 5:19 pm }

How amazing!!! It brought tears to my eyes!

And I love, love, love how President Obama leans in to talk to the young reporters…taking them seriously and yet realizing that he is rather tall and should get closer. A good President, a good parent, and a good listener 🙂

15 Gradualchanges { 07.10.13 at 6:03 pm }

Love this!

16 Sara { 07.10.13 at 6:16 pm }

Such an amazing experience! I read their article and think that they did a great job. It’s hard to believe they’re only 8! Great job all around.

(So, I’m guessing that you and Josh decided to relax your usual policy about allowing your kids to be photographed on this occasion? If so, I’m proud of you guys too for not letting a good rule get in the way of an amazing first-in-a-lifetime opportunity.)

17 Peg { 07.10.13 at 9:32 pm }

So very cool. Their article was very impressive.

18 Shannon { 07.10.13 at 10:39 pm }

What an amazing experience for your kids! I love their article – it sounds like they had a great time.

I am most jealous that they got their picture taken by (and that you got a picture of) Pete Souza. He’s my photog nerdgirl crush. 🙂

19 Magpie { 07.10.13 at 11:00 pm }

So totally cool.

20 Mrs green grass { 07.10.13 at 11:27 pm }

Oh my gosh, your kids just showed up in my FB newsfeed (the pic above). “Barack Obama” shared it. So cool!

I read the post earlier today and kind of teared up! If I was a kid I would have thought what your kids did today was the coolest thing ever. Hey, I feel the same way today… I hope I can offer my son some equally awesome opportunities!

21 St. Elsewhere { 07.11.13 at 2:05 am }

What an amazing day for them!

Am awed at the fact that they met the President. Am also awed at the sense of self that both your children have.

Must be good parenting. 🙂

22 Kathy { 07.11.13 at 2:41 am }

Love this! So cool to get the back story to your kids’s first piece for BlogHer! You are such an awesome mom and are raising such interesting, creative and well-rounded children. In another life, I would love to be your child. Thank you for giving us the inside scoop and kudos again to your budding journalists. I look forward to watching them bloom and hopefully read more of their work soon! 🙂

23 Elizabeth { 07.11.13 at 5:53 am }

That is insanely fabulous!

I have to ask though – inane question but I’ve wondered for years – why do you use British/Canadian/Commonwealth spelling on your blog?

24 nonsequiturchica { 07.11.13 at 11:10 am }

What an amazing experience for the twins!! I am jealous that they got to meet the President as well. 🙂

25 Catwoman73 { 07.11.13 at 12:25 pm }

This really is awesome. Even I’m proud of them, and we’ve never met! What a great opportunity!

26 Jeanna { 07.11.13 at 12:56 pm }

Wow, just wow. An incredible experience for all of you! I second some of your commentors in their praise of your parenting. Your kids seem so grounded and just all-around-good. I know that phrase lacks sophistication, but as a teacher I see so many kids who lack grounding and any sense of morality.

27 Natalie { 07.12.13 at 2:10 am }

I love your children… So intelligent and full of energy and vibrance. And you clearly are the coolest mom ever. Seriously.

28 marwil { 07.12.13 at 4:36 am }

Wow, what an experience for them, meeting the president and writing this article. Just amazing.

29 missohkay { 07.12.13 at 10:16 am }

What an amazing experience for them! I read the post on BlogHer and it was great! Better than many adults could do. ChickiNob is right, no “kid” title necessary — they are full-fledged journalists! 🙂

30 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.12.13 at 10:21 am }

Somehow, the fact that there are no words for an experience that was all about words (well, not all), well, that’ so fitting.

Good job, mama. Good job, regular-old journalists.

31 Mina { 07.12.13 at 4:21 pm }

It seems your children share your ability to place themselves in the midst of some quite spectacular experiences. I am happy for and proud of all of you: you and Josh for having raised them so well so far, them for having had the wits to make all of these puzzle pieces fall into place and having had this fantastic chance to meet president Obama. Well done, Fords, big and small! What say I, not well, brilliantly done! Congratulations!
Oh, and the article on blogher is very promising. I am looking forward to reading more.

32 Amel { 07.13.13 at 3:32 pm }

SUPER COOL!!! What lovely memories! 😀

33 Cherish { 07.14.13 at 10:33 pm }

What an amazing experience!

34 Steadfast Warrior { 07.15.13 at 4:16 am }

This is awesome! And their article we very well done. Congrats to them both! Definitely an experience they’ll never forget.

35 Mommy-At-Last { 07.15.13 at 4:58 am }

You are simply the coolest mom ever! You are able to provide your kids such amazing opportunities and it seems to me you have brought up such awesome littlies that know how to grab those opportunities with both hands.

36 Amber { 07.26.13 at 9:43 am }

What an incredibly amazing experience that must have been! Very cool that you got to do that with your kids.

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