KAILUA, Hawaii — When they vacationed here just before President Barack Obama's first inauguration, Malia and Sasha were little girls doting on their dad — holding his hand on the beach, taking in a dolphin show and nuzzling up to him at the shave-ice shop.
Now, six Christmases later, the presidential daughters are in their teens, both nearly as tall as their very tall mother, each developing her own style and leading an increasingly independent life. Although they have watched a basketball game, gone for a hike and hit the beach with their dad, he has spent most afternoons here on the golf course with his buddies while the girls have gone about their business without him.
The Obamas' annual holiday vacation, at a lush and secluded surf-side retreat in Kailua, has underscored just how much their family dynamic has evolved in the five years since they moved into the White House.
As his girls grow into young women, the president has been increasingly nostalgic in public, lamenting how quickly time has slipped by.
"Those of us who have kids know how fast it goes, because Malia and Sasha, they're like weeds," Obama said at a November fundraiser. A couple of weeks later, he admitted he was getting "teary" about it.
"They're just growing up so fast, and they've got a busy life of their own," Obama told People magazine. "You can project out over the next several years how, between school, sports, social life, their community service, they're not around as much. So that gets me teary sometimes."
When the Obamas bounded off Air Force One this month to start their vacation, they were greeted by Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, D, an old family friend. In an interview a few days later, Abercrombie was asked what he thought of the Obama girls growing older. "The word 'irony' comes to mind," he said.