KAILUA, Hawaii -- When they vacationed 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 shaved-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 of the winter-break vacation on the golf course with his buddies while the girls have gone about their business without him.
The Obamas' annual holiday trip, at a lush and secluded surfside 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," Mr. 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," Mr. 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."
Mr. Obama said he lives with "three opinionated, strong, tall women." But Mr. Obama said he is "getting kind of lonely in this big house," telling reporters at a news conference this year, "Now that my girls are getting older, they don't want to spend that much time with me." This summer, he said he got a new puppy, Sunny, to fill the void.
Malia, 15, is a high school sophomore and tennis player whom her father describes as lawyerly. She has shed her braces and is allowed to date, although the president joked to comedian Steve Harvey that he's "got men with guns following them around all the time" to scare off any sketchy boyfriends.
Sasha, 12, is a seventh-grader and basketball player who has been called a "budding style icon" by fashion bloggers. Some of her clothing choices have been highlighted in glossy fashion-magazine columns. She drew notice when she sported '90s-chic Dr. Martens boots at last month's turkey pardoning ceremony, and a whimsical unicorn sweater she wore to a recent basketball game with her parents sold out within hours.
The Obama girls are among the youngest children to live in the White House in modern times. The president and first lady have tried to keep their daughters' lives as normal as possible under the circumstances -- the girls must make their own beds, even though their home is staffed by butlers and maids -- and they keep the children off-limits to the news media to give them a modicum of privacy.
Even as their daughters grow more independent -- this summer they again went to sleep-away camp -- the Obamas are trying to reinforce familiar family rhythms. The president still breaks away from the Oval Office most nights to eat dinner with the girls at 6:30 p.m., something they have done since moving to Washington in 2009.