Child’s Pose

How my kids found peace and tranquillity at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Barack Obama at the White House Easter Egg Roll

We are risen indeed. It’s 5 a.m. the day after Easter, and the kids and I are going to the White House Easter Egg Roll. Michelle Obama’s office awarded a few special tickets to Washington, D.C., public schools, and each member of my daughter’s pre-K class got to take a sibling and a parent. As we wait for the school bus, my 6-year-old son and his 5-year-old sister are excited, thrilled, and grateful—all of the things you need to be when you’ve left a warm bed before dawn and you’re too young to drink coffee.

As we ride along streets empty except for trash trucks, I pledge to myself that I’m not going to spoil this event with lessons or rules. Fortunately, the kids know how lucky they are, so I don’t have to tell them. And anything they might break will be carefully cordoned off. The worst case, I figure, is I will have to ask them to please climb down from the nice Secret Service man.

Security is a relative breeze. Someone at the White House has been in touch with someone from the amusement park industry. The entry line starts hundreds of yards from the door and snakes back and forth—we’re almost always moving, which makes the wait seem shorter. It’s a trick that could still come in handy with the president’s stimulus package.

Still, the kids are ready to explode when they finally reach the president’s backyard, also known as the South Lawn of the White House. The theme of the entire event is “Let’s Go Play,” emphasizing physical fitness, so they’re going to get a chance to run. Plus, we’re at the front of our group of 6,000 visitors, so it shouldn’t be too crowded.

The vast lawn is cordoned off into pens. There’s a soccer demonstration and a Double Dutch stage. We sprint to the pastel sign for the Easter egg roll, a tradition celebrated at the White House since 1878. Several hundred people are already waiting to push eggs with white plastic ladles. The line winds out of sight. We race down to the other end of the lawn, to the Easter egg hunt. Hundreds stand in that line, too. We head for the Kids’ Kitchen, where we can make food and eat it. There are only three tables, and they’re already filled. Everywhere we look there are lines. Wow—this really is just like Disney!

I take 50 pictures of the kids with the White House in the distant background, and I plot. Remember that feeling you got in your tummy as a kid when you tried to climb over a wall? I’m getting it. The kids are expectant. They want to do something other than stand in lines. I stall for time with a series of failed stratagems:

Historical: That’s the White House! The president works there.
Guilt-based: We’re so lucky. Not that many people get this close.
Prospective: You’ll look back on this someday.
Familial: Your grandmother used to take me to things like this.
Horticultural: Look at that rose bush!
Competitive: Spot the Cabinet member. There’s Arne Duncan!

I am feeling deep empathy for Tim Geithner, and I may have even started explaining the problem of scarce government resources to the kids, until I see the crafts area nearby. The sign says “Eggspress Yourself,” but despite the pun I figure it’s safe. We rush in and get that exercise we were looking for. It’s unplanned and mostly consists of ducking and protecting my children from other parents. There’s not much room, and the other grown-ups are feeling the same stress I am. My kids are just a little insistent, but some other kids are melting down spectacularly. The solution appears to lie in getting something into their hands immediately.

At one craft station, parents are slipping twine through colored pieces of plastic to make a jump rope. (Those who’ve finished are busy telling their kids not to use the ropes for fear of braining a sibling.) I reach into what I think is an opening in the frantically moving arms to grab a handful of pink plastic pieces for my daughter. A woman in a quilted jacket nearly garrotes me with her rope. But we are nimble and persevere, as the president has often advised us to be and do, and we emerge with two jump ropes, some dyed eggs, and two crowns decorated by dragging them through shaving cream with food coloring.

Now we have an hour to go before our ticket runs out. The lines everywhere seem longer than before. There is talk of going home. Then I hear a voice from behind: “Now the Downward Dog tunnel.” There’s a yoga class going on, and the instructors have formed a tunnel with their bodies. Kids are crawling through. There’s no line! My kids take off and are suddenly on their hands and knees. They stay for the class, following along on the brightly colored mats through the Moon pose and Peaceful Warrior. I concentrate on the Repetitively Idiotic Father pose, crouching and straining to photograph them.

“You have a light in you,” says the instructor. “You are all perfect and beautiful.” My kids are buying it, saying “Namaste” to their neighbors and feeling the love. (The peacefulness isn’t translating to the mother next to me, who screams at her son: “Stand up and follow directions!”)

Post-yoga, we retire to a small hillside. Lots of people are still waiting in line. Some are listening to the concert by Fergie, who is singing about how she felt when he touched her, which fortunately doesn’t move my kids. We recognize that we have room to roll on our little hillside, and so we do, wrestling and tearing up a little of the tenant’s grass in the process. Then we are told Group A’s time has expired and we have to go home.

We never saw the president. (He came out later to speak to Group B and even read some kids a story.) But we wouldn’t have rolled around on the grass like that on a normal Monday morning, we agree, and we definitely wouldn’t have had a chance to do it in such a nice park. We leave feeling as lucky as we did going in.

Watch footage of the White House Easter Egg Roll.