Home sweet White House: Obamas ready for big move

CHICAGO – Barack Obama's 10-year-old daughter Malia is looking forward to decorating her new room, and already there's talk of sleepovers at the White House.

Michelle Obama has turned her attention to schools, asking Washington staff members and friends about what might be the best fit for Malia and 7-year-old Sasha.

And Grandma, a lifelong Chicago resident, is preparing to pick up and move to Washington to help shuttle the girls to soccer games and recitals.

Since Election Day, much of the attention has been on the government transition, but there is family transition unfolding, too, as the president-elect, his wife and daughters prepare for life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

They will be putting their lives in boxes and adjusting like any other family set for a big move, except they will be doing it under the watchful eye of the media and the Secret Service.

Before the election, 71-year-old Marian Robinson, Michelle's mother, told The Associated Press that she would be a big part of keeping her granddaughters grounded.

"I will do whatever Michelle needs simply because I know how important it is for her to see that the children ... still have discipline and still have things that children do at their disposal," Robinson said. She plans to move to Washington, though the timing and where she will live remain unclear.

The Obamas worked hard during the campaign to make sure life stayed as normal as possible for their girls. They plan to keep their Chicago home, a $1.65 million mansion in a well-to-do South Side neighborhood near the University of Chicago.

"This has been their anchor," said longtime friend Cindy Moelis.

Barricades were erected long ago along two streets running past his home, but the restricted zone got bigger after his election. Residents must show ID to get onto his street. Neighbors inside the zone have to wait about an hour to receive deliveries from Medici on 57th, a local restaurant and Obama haunt.

Agents carrying guns also escort the family wherever they go. But the family had time to get used to the heightened security during the campaign.

To prepare the girls for the big move to the nation's capital, the Obamas had talked to them about what would happen if their father won the presidency. The girls had plenty of questions, including whether they would get to decorate their own rooms in the White House (the answer is yes).

Their parents also encouraged them to talk to their cousins, ages 14 and 11, about what it is like to move, start a new school and make new friends. Michelle's brother, Craig Robinson, is a college basketball coach who has moved around for his job. Robinson recently went to Oregon State after coaching at Brown University in Rhode Island.

The family plans for the Obama girls to keep up a full schedule of their favorite activities. For Malia that includes acting and soccer, while Sasha loves singing, dancing, playing the piano and tennis.

The transition is also sure to be made easier by a new family dog the Obamas have promised their daughters — a promise set in stone in Obama's acceptance speech. What breed they select is sure to be analyzed for its political meaning.

At his first post-election news conference Friday, Obama called the dog's selection a "major issue" in his household.

"We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic," the president-elect said. "On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."

The soon-to-be first lady has already started looking into schools for the girls, who now attend the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where Malia is in fifth grade and Sasha is in second.

President Bush's twin daughters were 19 when he became president, but President Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, was 12 when she moved into the White House. Her parents sent her to the elite Washington private school Sidwell Friends.

Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy, who was 9 when her father took office in 1977, was sent to a public school. Caroline Kennedy was almost 4 when she moved into the executive mansion in 1961. She attended first grade in a makeshift third-floor classroom inside the White House.

Friends say having Robinson, who retired last year from her job as a bank executive secretary to help with her granddaughters, will be a comfort to the Obama girls.

While their parents pounded the campaign trail, Robinson took care of them, picking them up from school and shuttling them to play dates or other activities and making sure they were home in time for piano lessons. She will probably continue that role in Washington.

"There's nothing like Grandma," said Sandy Matthews, a close friend of Michelle Obama's.

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Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy and Rupa Shenoy contributed to this report.


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