First lady, daughters visit children's hospital

WASHINGTON — President Obama is getting "sports stuff" for Christmas.

But the president, an avid golfer and basketball player, will have to wait until Dec. 25 to find out exactly what it is.

First lady Michelle Obama gave away that hint Tuesday during a trip to the Children's National Medical Center. She visited privately with young patients in the heart and kidney unit, then came downstairs to the atrium to read "A Visit From St. Nicholas" to dozens more.

Daughters Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, helped their mother deliver that dose of holiday cheer, along with family dog Bo, who sported a red-and-white collar with sleigh bells. They walked him around to meet many of the sick children. A hospital worker followed closely behind offering squirts of anti-bacterial lotion to anyone who had petted Bo.

The sisters also took turns reading "Snowmen at Night," about what these frozen figures do after dark.

Then came questions from the audience, which included numerous apron-clad hospital volunteers and staffers, and relatives of the children. Dozens of other workers peered down on the scene through windows on the floors above.

Neither Malia nor Sasha shied away from answering questions. They are often seen at White House events with either or both of their parents, but Tuesday's appearance was their first time speaking so extensively in public.

One child wanted to know what the president would be getting for Christmas.

Michelle Obama at first joked that she couldn't talk about her husband's present because reporters would tell. But she relented and said: "It's good. I got him sports stuff."

Sasha started to say what she and her sister got him, but the first lady interrupted. "It's something he likes," Sasha said.

Another child asked how the holiday will be different for the Obamas. It's their first Christmas in the White House.

"It will be easier to get on the plane," said Sasha, drawing laughs from grown-ups in the audience familiar with the difficulties of commercial air travel. Sasha now travels on Air Force One, the plush and spacious presidential plane.

Obama's visit to the children's hospital continued a tradition of first ladies that dates to Bess Truman. Obama also gave out frosted cookies in the shape of Christmas trees and dogs to the children.