Winter-Coat Weather for Rite of Spring

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It was a day for chocolate bunnies and toy cluster bombs, when children whacked colored eggs with a spoon on the White House South Lawn, and gay and lesbian parents donned rainbow-colored leis to let the world know they were present, too.

At the White House Easter Egg Roll, an event that began in the 1870s when Rutherford B. Hayes was president, tradition endured yesterday, but with a modern-day twist. Children dressed in their Sunday best posed for photographs with giant eggs and cartoon characters at the White House affair, while across the street in Lafayette Square, antiwar groups tried to urge passersby to think about what bombs are doing to children in other countries.

Meanwhile, for Rick Imirowicz and Terrance Heath of Chevy Chase, it was a day to rejoice in the fact that no one seemed to be paying them much attention. The gay couple, parents of 4-year-old Parker Heath Imirowicz, and about other 100 families with the Family Pride Coalition made headlines last year when they attended the Egg Roll to show that families come in many forms.

This year, in colorful leis once again, they and the other families said they felt accepted. "And I hope it continues until we're not newsworthy anymore," said Heath, a computer consultant.

The talk of the day yesterday was the chilly weather, as temperatures in the 40s meant that frothy pastel dresses were covered with heavy coats and many small heads were topped with winter caps. Egg Roll veterans agreed, however, that it was a marked improvement over last year's rain. About 18,000 tickets were distributed for the 2007 festivities; more than 500 volunteers assisted.

Children stayed warm by touring the sights on the South Lawn. They petted the Himalayan dwarf rabbit but kept a respectful distance from the turkey vulture perched on the shoulder of Peter Gros, former "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" television host. All for Kidz, a Seattle mentoring group, gave out 3,500 yo-yos and put on a yo-yo show. Characters roamed the crowds -- giant caterpillars in "I Love Reading" T-shirts; men and women dressed like 19th-century presidents and first ladies; big bunnies galore.

The hostess, first lady Laura Bush, welcomed the crowd and dismissed the thermometer readings. "In Washington, we know spring has arrived when the White House lawn is filled with children for the Easter Egg Roll, one of the happiest traditions here at the White House," she said, then settled in a white wicker chair to read aloud a book titled "Duck for President." The story of a duck who is tired of the farm and decides to run for office ends with his realization that the farm was not such a bad place after all.

But arguably the prime draw of the day were the eggs -- 7, 200 for the egg roll races; 4,200 boiled, for kids to dye; and 3,000 for the egg hunt.

Sydney Lineberger, 7, of McLean gave her purple egg a healthy swat with a plastic spoon in one of the race lanes, while volunteers shouted, "Good job! Good job!" She and the other participants each received a chocolate marshmallow egg for their efforts.

"We just wanted to get out of the house and have a little fun," said her father, Robin Lineberger.

Strollers filled with chocolate-smudged toddlers maneuvered through the crowds. Little girls in fancy winter coats ran after Bugs Bunny and "Shrek" characters. Shakwanzcia Charles, 11, of Southeast and her friends from the Southeast White House, a mentoring group, were too old for the Egg Roll -- the age limit is 7 -- but they kept busy looking for teen star Miley Cyrus, who sang the national anthem.

Across the street, a more serious mood prevailed as workers with the Vineeta Foundation and other antiwar groups staged an alternative hunt for the handmade toy cluster bombs.

But there were not many outsiders participating. Kevin Martin, an independent contractor, waved the activists away as they approached him to talk about bombs. He was not in the mood.

"You people are the biggest hypocrites walking," he said. "Why turn something that's a family tradition into a mockery?"

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