A child babbled somewhere in the crowd on Monday, as former president Barack Obama took the stage unannounced at a country club in Wilmington, Del., and promised: “I’m not here to make a big speech.”
Children were much on Obama’s mind that day. He had come to help former vice president Joe Biden raise money for the Beau Biden foundation — named after his old running mate’s late son.
And it turned out Obama did make a speech before he left, just maybe not a big one.
“I’m here just to lend my voice and support to a family I care deeply about,” Obama said, and then named some of the littler Bidens.
“For those of us who have daughters — um, it just happens fast.”
Obama had just dropped his eldest, Malia, off for college, he said.
That experience, he said, “was a little like having open heart surgery.”
Eight years earlier, Obama had choked up as his family departed their Chicago home to move to the White House — 10-year-old Malia bringing with her a scrapbook of preschool photos.
She and her little sister Sasha, then 7, wore blue and black and orange and pink at the inauguration a few days later and became instant public fascinations.
They were, Time wrote, “the youngest children to move into the White House since the Kennedy administration.” They were also the first black children ever to do so.
“Sweet Sasha” and “Marvelous Malia,” a doll maker dubbed them the same year — to their mother’s irritation.
But the Obama girls managed to grow up mostly in private.
When seen in public, they looked not so different from many other children: walking their new dog Bo in 2009, dad’s suit somewhat clashing with the foliage.
Or posing for an Easter portrait in 2016, as the family prepared to once again vacate a home.
And then last month, his presidency over, Obama was spotted waving in the sunlight at a restaurant near Harvard University, where Malia was about to begin college.
Like open heart surgery, as he recalled in Delaware this week.
Obama’s appearance at the fundraiser had a been a surprise. A radio station, WDEL-FM, recorded the better part of his short speech.
“I was proud I did not cry in front of her,” Obama said of Malia. “But on the way back, the Secret Service was looking straight ahead, pretending they weren’t hearing me.”
This brought laughter from the crowd.
Obama went on, not laughing.
“It was rough,” he said. “And it’s a reminder that, at the end of our lives, whatever else we accomplished, the things we’ll remember are the joys that our children — and hopefully, way later, our grandchildren — will miss. Holding their hands, swinging them on a swing, listening to them talk about what happened at school.”
“Simple stuff,” said a man who had once been one of the most powerful men in the world. “But ultimately that’s what matters.”