When Michelle Obama has a “crazy cool” idea – like inviting a bunch of Girl Scouts to camp out under the stars on the South Lawn of the White House – up go the tents!
The National Park Service erected 23 tents on the grass beneath the Truman Balcony on Tuesday morning and, by Tuesday afternoon, 50 girls from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., were out back scaling a 25-foot rock climbing wall beside the Oval Office.
“President Obama‘s really in there? Right now?” asked Aniyah Richardson, 10, of Baltimore. (Yes, he was.) “I wish I could tell him, ‘You’re the best!’ ”
“Oh,” she added, “and ‘Thank you!’ ”
Welcoming the girls, the First Lady said, “We are so excited to have you here … This is the first time we’ve ever done a campout on the South Lawn of the White House. You are making history. Do you understand the impact, the importance of this moment, today?”
“Well, I’m very proud of you all because you all get outside a lot,” she added. “You re good campers.”
Obama then pointed out the knot-tying, rock-climbing, tent-pitching and orienteering stations set up around the lawn.
“I don’t know if I can officially earn a badge,” she said, “but I wanna try! I want to get going.”
“But you guys gotta help me.” And, with the rock climbing wall drawing excited squeals from her backyard guests, Obama managed expectations.
“I’m definitely not climbing that wall!”
A spokeswoman for the First Lady said the unprecedented campout was her idea. “This was something she wanted to do for a while.”
Never a Girl Scout herself, Obama does now serve as the honorary national president of Girl Scouts USA. She’s also the honorary co-chair (with former First Lady Laura Bush) of this year’s centennial celebration of the National Park Service. And Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity just launched “Let’s Move Outside.”
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“This is a great moment to bring all of those pieces together,” the spokeswoman said.
On the agenda for the night: a sing-along around the Secret Service-approved “campfire” (an assortment of battery-operated L.L. Bean lanterns displayed on a tablecloth-covered stand), dinner in the State Dining Room (the threat of thunderstorms moved the dinner plans inside) and stargazing with NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to bunk in a tent herself.
A veteran of the international space station, Coleman tells PEOPLE, “I can sleep anywhere!”
After a dinner of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, vegetable kabobs and banana boats in the State Dining Room, the girls trooped back outside to their “campfire” – a tower of Secret-Service-approved battery-operated lanterns (“Ooh, you can warm your hands by the fire,” Mrs. Obama joked – and were treated to a surprise guest at their sing-along.
“What are you guys doing in my yard?” the president teasingly called out as he crossed the lawn to squeals from the girls.
After a round of the Girl Scout anthem/ear worm, “Make New Friends,” both Obamas headed back inside for the night. “I have to go to work. I’m not allowed to have fun,” the president said.
He offered a goodnight “group hug” and was promptly swarmed.
Mrs. Obama put her fingers to her lips. “Shhhh! Keep it down tonight,” she said. And, turning on her heels, she grinned.
“Just kidding. Have fun!”