First lady Jill Biden was forced to swiftly change the subject when a young boy regaled her with tales of his dead hamster during a White House Christmas story time on Monday.
Dr Biden, a university English professor and the wife of President Joe Biden, entertained a clutch of seven-to-eight-year-olds from a school in Maryland by reading them a picture book she wrote.
Sitting in front of a huge, richly decorated Christmas tree in the State Dining Room, she paused to ask the children how much money they got from the tooth fairy and whether they had any pets.
One boy answered “I have one!” and then elaborated: “We used to have, like, hamsters and hedgehogs, but one went under the cage door and then suffocated.”
Dr Biden responded: “Oh my word! Okay, let’s move on to happier things.” She then rapidly took up her book again.
The reading was part of the White House’s annual unveiling of Christmas decorations, which this year consisted of 25 wreaths, 41 Christmas trees, 10,000 ornaments, 80,000 lights, 300 candles, and 6,000 feet of ribbon.
More than 100 volunteers including Dr Biden worked on the decorations, though this year they were only drawn from areas near Washington DC rather than across the country due to the risk of Covid-19.
The State Dining Room featured Christmas stockings hung above the fireplace for each of the Bidens’ grandchildren. Other rooms displayed a gingerbread White House and the Bidens’ Christmas card, which includes a remembrance for those who died of Covid this year.
Dr Biden’s book, called Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops, was written in 2012 and drawn from the experience of her granddaughter Natalie when the child’s father, Beau Biden, was away serving in the US Army in Iraq.
She began by asking whether there were any military children in the class; there were many. “The Bidens are a military family,” she explained. “When my son was away, my granddaughter – just like you kids – really, really missed her daddy.
“So I wrote this book to tell other kids, because there’s lots of kids who don’t know what it’s like to be a military kid. And they don’t realise, sometimes it’s really hard.”