Jackie Kennedy’s Biggest Problem With Caroline
For the first time it showed in public, that little chink in the armor of Jacqueline Kennedy’s poise and confidence. She was discussing life in the White House in terms of her daughter Caroline, when suddenly she said in a voice tense with anxiety: “How can I bring up a ‘normal’ child if nobody will treat her that way?” The question was startling to those who heard it Surely Jackie was mistaken! Her daughter was obviously poised and charming—a well behaved, affectionate, outgoing little girl who had made a tremendous success of her first years in the public eye. Why, she seemed unbelievably suited to the role of America’s own dream princess, the prototype of the happy, well adjusted child. But it was not Caroline’s behavior while in the White House that worried Jackie Kennedy. What concerned her then and concerns her still is the subtler, harder-to-deal-with problem of what will happen to Caroline when the Kennedys move out of the White House. For Jackie realizes only too well that her daughter is not a princess; she cannot possibly grow up to be a queen and live in dreamland forever. Maybe after this Presidential term. but more likely after the next, John F. Kennedy will step down from his high office. And when he does, the child-princess will become an anonymous little girl. No longer will the world be as interested in her every word and deed. and no longer will she be held up to a generation of youngsters as a model of grace and innocence. Caroline Kennedy will awaken one morning and find herself in a new, indifferent world—for which she may be badly prepared. The shock of that awakening is something Jacqueline Kennedy dreads. and with good reason.
From the beginning, Jackie had planned to cushion the shock for Caroline by seeing to it that her formative years, though they were to be spent in the White House, never swerved too far from what was Normal for a little girl. Caroline, she said. would not he made into a “little prisoner of the tower,” but would go to school, play freely with her friends, and have the every-day, casual experiences that are the right of every child. No matter how busy she and Jack became with official duties, they would raise their daughter themselves; her upbringing would not be turned over to nurses and Secret Service men. Moreover, the same loving but strict discipline Caroline had thrived under in the little house in Georgetown would be continued at the White House. Her privacy would be strictly guarded; newspapermen and photographers would be kept away. Caroline would know as little as possible about her father’s job and nothing at all about her own prominence.
They were good plans, carefully thought out plans that Jackie Kennedy carried into the White House. But today it is clear that many of them have been only partially successful. and others have failed entirely. Despite Jackie’s best efforts, Caroline’s life is not normal. Nor is it likely to be. as long as the Kennedys remain in the White House. And that is why the question of her future adjustment to ordinary life—albeit the life of a wealthy child from a prominent family—is a very serious one indeed.
In what ways exactly have Jackie Kennedy’s plans miscarried? One of the first to go astray was the idea that Caroline could be kept from discovering her father’s status—at least until she learned to read. Before the first year in the White House was over, Jackie was startled to hear Caroline introduce her baby brother to a visitor as “the President’s son”—and add brightly, “and I’m the President’s daughter!”
Nor is the word “President” entirely meaningless to Caroline. She has observed that grownups rise respectfully when her father enters a room; that no one outside the family calls him by his first name; that everyone leaps to obey his orders. Caroline has learned to measure others by their rank, too; she invariably forgets Lyndon Johnson’s name, but she remembers that he’s the Vice President and insists on calling him that. Jackie realizes that this touch of sophistication is not in itself necessarily bad for Caroline—after all, titles of elected officials are meaningful, and surely there can be no harm in Caroline’s believing that the whole world thinks as highly of her father as she does. What Jackie fears is the time when Caroline may find herself in the awkward position of an unwitting name-dropper, antagonizing other children simply because her relatives and family friends are titled, world-famous people. Caroline may one day discover sadly that if she wants to make new friends, she had better not mention her old, famous ones.
Another resounding failure has been Jackie’s attempt to keep Caroline out of the limelight. It is a serious failure, because so much effort and heartbreak has gone into the attempt. Caroline loved ballet school, but Jackie had to stop the lessons when she discovered photographers waiting for Caroline there. Twice Caroline had to be shooed away from the Kennedys’ first White House Christmas tree because a group of reporters were admiring it, too. The trips to Georgetown to visit Caroline’s old friends were stopped, too, when Jackie discovered that press cars were dogging the Kennedy car en route. Around Caroline’s play yard on the White House South Lawn, Jackie ordered holly trees and rhododendron bushes planted—not just to keep the public from watching her child at play, but also to prevent Caroline from noticing their obvious interest in her.
Despite all precautions, Caroline has been photographed so often, has become so accustomed to the presence of photographers, that when she doesn’t see them at the White House gate she asks for them anxiously. When they are around, her usual reaction is to turn and wave at them happily. Last summer, Jackie finally acknowledged defeat by making little effort to prevent the reporters and photographers who flocked to Ravello, Italy, from recording Caroline’s every word and photographing her at length.
Many well-disposed people were glad to see Jackie give up her fight to preserve Caroline’s anonymity. “Now she’ll be able to let Caroline do more,” one friend remarked. “It’s a pity to deny a child all sorts of pleasures just because people will watch her enjoying them.” Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. There were only a limited number of reporters in Ravello, and they were willing to allow Caroline and Jackie a minimum of privacy during their vacation. None of them tried to invade the roped-off beach on which Caroline played, or to swim out to the rock where she and Jackie took sunbaths.
At home in Washington the situation is sadly different. Squads of press men descend on mother and daughter whenever they venture off the White House grounds together. Instead of a few beaming townspeople following them, as in Ravello, mobs of several hundred people congregate in a matter of seconds wherever they go. Under these circumstances, what starts out as a pleasant outing turns rapidly into a nightmare, terrifying Caroline and bringing something very like bitterness to Jackie’s eyes. Never, for example, has Jackie dared to take Caroline to the National Gallery of Art, although she herself loves the famous museum and has expressed the hope that her children would grow to know and love it, too. But the prospect of being followed through the quiet marble halls by a horde of curious strangers appalls her. Never has she been able to take Caroline to the circus and wander casually through the sideshows with her; no longer can she even take her daughter on the long walks they both used to enjoy so much.
Caroline herself alternately rebels against being unduly guarded or goes to the other extreme of playing to the gallery. Gwen Gibson, New York Daily News writer, tells how Caroline and a small boy friend led a Secret Service agent a merry chase up and down ladders of the SS Joseph Kennedy until the poor man breathlessly cornered them. Whereupon Caroline asked a nearby sailor, “How would you like to have someone following you all around?”
But she’s been known to give her guards a head start by calling over her shoulder, as she takes off across a large, inviting lawn: “Come on, you’re losing me.”
And the guards who protect the President’s daughter flatly deny that she’s spoiled and are extremely fond of her. “She’s the friendliest, cutest kid in the world,” one of them told Miss Gibson. And another said. “Sometimes I tell her to apologize for something—and she will.”
It is not easy to think of Jacqueline Kennedy as pathetic. but friends say she approaches that State when she speaks wistfully of the day she and Caroline actually managed to sneak off together to watch a freight train chugging into the Washington railroad yards, or of the time they ate hamburgers together. undisturbed, at a luncheon counter in Palm Beach. Most of the time Jackie is forced to say “No” to Caroline’s pleas that they join her little friends and their mothers on such excursions—and so she s helpless to prevent Caroline’s becoming the “little prisoner” she feared.
But saddest of all the limitations that Presidential notoriety places on Caroline’s activities is the fact that she has been unable to attend school away from the White House. This fact. more than any other, impinges directly on the life-values the Kennedys want so deeply to inculcate in their daughter. For it is at school that Caroline will eventually have to test herself against her contemporaries. In the classroom she will have to learn the strength of her mind. On the playground and in the gymnasium she will pit her body against others. In the give-and-take of school relationships she will find her own niche in the world. But going to school in her own home—the White House—among specially selected children who, as time goes by, will become all too conscious that they are actually the First Family’s guests—will Caroline really be able to compete? Can any teacher, no matter how skilled and fair-minded, ever forget completely who Caroline is? Can any children, no matter how innocent, remain totally oblivious to her privileged position?
As Caroline grows older and increasingly sensitive, it is all too likely that she will hesitate to push herself forward, to refuse to try for a lead in a school play or run for class office lest she run the risk of hearing, “You only won because you’re the President’s daughter!” Even the accomplishments of her youngest years—the blue ribbon she won not long ago at a Virginia pony show. for example—will be open to question. “Did I win,” Caroline may ask herself, “because I rode well, or because I was Caroline Kennedy?”
Jackie Kennedy once told a friend that she believed that children in the limelight either become show-offs or inhibited. She spoke with the wisdom of a trained psychologist. She knew that these attitudes were merely signs that such a youngster is bewildered and is trying to discover who he is; what his abiİities are; where he belongs; what people think of him—not just his public personality.
And maybe Caroline was showing off—certainly she was not being inhibited—the day she stole the show from her father as he welcomed Algerian Premier Ahmed Ben Bella with a twenty-one-gun salute on the White House lawn. As the very formal ceremonies proceeded. Caroline could be clearly heard at the upstairs window to her kindergarten, shouting and inciting her little classmates to shout with her. “Attention!” she commanded. “Forward march! Eyes right!” The President had to fight his laughter.
But the President by now should be used to playing straight man to his quotable little daughter. She began from the very beginning. Soon after they moved into the White House she took a tour and wandered into the communications room. Asked by a worker what her father was doing, she said, “He’s just sitting up there with his shoes off, doing nothing.”
Yes, if Caroline has such a limited choice, between “show-off” or “inhibited child,” it’s especially sad that it should happen. Because left to herself, she shows promise of becoming an exceptional person.
There is a possible solution to this problem, and it is ironic that it is one the Kennedys cannot freely employ. If Caroline could spend most of her time with her parents, the two people in the world who do see her clearly, without any sort of bias, and whose love for her is entirely untainted by consciousness of who she is, she would benefit even more than most children do from the company of mother and father. But Caroline’s parents have to plan carefully to find even a minimum of time for her. Jackie has devoted the major part of all her thoughts to making sure Caroline isn’t left out of their lives.
She knew, of course, that it would be hard for Jack, as President, to give his daughter as much time as he once did. She had been warned by Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., himself the son of a President, that: “You’ll have to fight with Jack. You’ll have to go into his office and drag him out to play with the children.”
Jackie was willing to try even that. “Jack may be President, but he’s still my husband and Caroline’s father,” she said firmly, “and we must have some of his time.” But where was the time to be found? Caroline’s precious breakfasts-with-Daddy often had to be displaced by necessary President’s-breakfasts-with-Cabinet; the time Jack once spent reading bedtime stories to her was often pre-empted by White House receptions. Always—and rightly— the great needs of the nation and the world had to take precedence over the need of a little girl for her father.
In an attempt to make up to Caroline for the partial loss of one parent as well as to give her the extra attention needed by a little girl in the public eye, Jackie has tried desperately to give her daughter even more of her time than she used to. She has announced that she will accept no luncheon appointments, and will confine her official duties to morning and evening, so that afternoons can be spent in the nursery. But again, she has been only partly successful in maintaining this schedule in the face of the constant demands made on the First Lady, the unexpected emergencies which require her presence, the need to make official trips away from home. On any ordinary day, the White House estimates that she spends an average of four hours on official duties—and that does not include the time she must spend preparing for them.
No matter how often or how sincerely Jackie maintains that “I will not have my children raised by nurses and Secret Service men,” the truth is that Caroline spends much of her day with just those people. Unavoidably, she is growing accustomed to a house full of servants eager to run her errands, carry her toys and amuse her.
It would be an error to say that a portrait of Caroline’s future should be painted entirely in somber colors. In many ways, Caroline is making a very successful adjustment to her present life and showing bright prospects for the future. She is bright, has the poise and patience of a much older child. and is unusually interested in art and music. Most of the time she takes discipline very well indeed, and Jackie has been able to see that she does not become spoiled or demanding. During periods of comparative freedom with her Kennedy cousins at Hyannis Port and Palm Beach, she makes no attempt to claim the center of attention for herself. She plays happily in the crowd.
But at this point. Americans who blithely assume that Jackie’s problems in raising Caroline normally in the White House are all solved, are sadly wrong. Caroline Kennedy, the most beloved little girl in the world, is living a fairy-tale life—but whether the ending will be happy-forever-after is still very much in question.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE APRIL 1963