Rachel Dry is an editor for The Washington Post’s Style section.
Dear friends and family,
We are so grateful to be celebrating our fifth holiday season in the White House.
We are also very thankful that 2013 is coming to a close. Just incredibly glad to put this one behind us.
As you know as our friends and supporters — a group that is down about 10 percentage points since December 2009, when we started sending these cards — we use this holiday letter as a chance to put politics and world events aside and give you a glimpse into how 2013 has really been for our family. It’s not like you’re going to get a look at it any other way!
We’re trying our best to keep healthy. We decided to take a stab at something new this year: a Web site to help us track our eating habits and exercise routines.
It’s been a long conversation in our house — almost five years of debating the best way to help with our health goals. I pledged that if anyone had a way to keep track of our exercise, healthy snacks and occasional treats that they liked, they could keep it.
We were very excited to launch in October, but we kept hitting snags. Malia tried for two hours to input her soccer practice and just got error messages. Michelle was frustrated that some of her favorite recipes with vegetables from the garden were no longer available, even though I’d promised they would be.
I had to tell everyone that the pledges I’d made ended up not being accurate. That didn’t go over so well. It seems like it could trip me up in the future, too — like when I try to comprehensively reform how we give out White House visitors’ passes to people who don’t have the proper documents.
Like most parents with high-school and middle-school-aged kids, we struggle with setting proper limits on social media and Internet time. Sasha and Malia think their current budget is good; we’d like to cut it. This year, with tensions running high, we reached a stalemate. The only thing to do was to shut everything down. No phone, no Facebook, no Internet for researching homework or watching videos about what sounds foxes make. It lasted 16 whole days. There were no winners, and we inflicted completely unnecessary harm on each other. We’ve put that disagreement behind us, though — at least until next fall — and even come to a compromise.
We had a very difficult situation with our White House honeybees this summer. There have been internal tensions simmering in those South Lawn hives for a while, with the queen bee violently repressing her own bee population. After we found evidence of a chemical problem, we were ready to do something about it — despite the strain on the groundskeeping crew, which was weary from previous problems in the area. But at the last minute we found this neat Russian bee-whispering technique. Seems to be keeping the chemical issue in check.
On a happier note, we welcomed a new addition this year: Sunny! Even as the junior Portuguese water dog around here, she has really made her mark. Once, upset that we tried to give her healthier dog food, she barked for 21 hours straight. Michelle said the rhythm reminded her of Dr. Seuss. We think Sunny learned this nonstop-barking technique from Bo, who put up a 13-hour protest in March over some targeted stick-throwing. Not a fan of fetch, it seems.
But we don’t mean to dwell on the challenges the year has brought. It’s the holiday season! Time to gather ’round the fire, cue up a festive iTunes playlist and celebrate being together. One of our favorite songs is “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Aren’t the lyrics fun?
This jolly bearded fellow knows when you are sleeping, knows when you’re awake, knows if you’ve been bad or good — and maybe even knows everyone you’ve been e-mailing, calling or video-chatting with.
Isn’t it incredible to imagine having all that power? I mean, just imagine it. Good thing Santa’s just looking out for everyone.
We hope the end of the year finds you happy and healthy, with some time to shut everything else out and focus on what is essential vs. nonessential in life. Most of all, we hope the season brings you time to connect with those you love — especially if you’ve previously had trouble connecting with government Web sites.
With love from our house to yours,
Barack, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, Bo and Sunny
P.S. Please enjoy the photo enclosed with this note. It’s not the actual “selfie” we took — that was a private event — but at least it’s a picture of us taking it, shot and approved by a White House photographer.