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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 9, 2008

Much to do before transition to White House

 •  Obama's Hawaii boyhood homes drawing gawkers

By Manuel Roig-Franzia and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

While the Obamas' actual move into the White House will be quiet and efficient, getting ready for the transition will require much more effort under the nation's watchful eye. Among president-elect Barack Obama and wife Michelle's decisions: a school for Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, and where to attend church.

JACK GRUBER | Gannett News Service

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WASHINGTON The moving trucks show up when the country's attention is distracted, focused on the pomp of Inauguration Day.

In splendid synchronization, one set of trucks rolls onto the White House grounds at precisely noon, another set rolls out with the move all done quietly and blindingly fast in the few hours it takes to do the swearing-in of a new president and the traditional after-luncheoning.

Bushes out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Obamas in.

Barack and Michelle, Sasha and Malia.

Their beds will be made up and waiting for them before they return from the parties.

"It's very efficient," says Ann Stock, former social secretary to Hillary Clinton and now a Kennedy Center vice president.

But so much to do first.

The girls, 7 and 10, will need schools. A church could be selected. And a puppy Daddy promised must be found. Much of establishing this new life will fall to lawyer and hospital executive Michelle Obama, the first-lady-in-waiting who calls herself "mom in chief."

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.

Before the election, 71-year-old Marian Robinson, Michelle's mother, told The Associated Press 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.

So many little choices, writ big because a nation will be watching, keyed minutely to every symbolic overtone, mulling the message behind every move.

"It's like a new neighbor in the neighborhood. You want to know, 'What do they do after work? Where do they go to church? Do they eat grilled cheese for lunch?' " says Washington event planner and social observer Carolyn Peachey. "It's just that in this case, it's the nation's neighborhood."

Barack Obama has been in the Senate not quite four years, and for 21 months of that time he has been running for president, so he is no creature of social Washington. The Obamas are said to be close to former Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan and his wife, Ann. But the family's network of close friends is primarily in Chicago, where the Obamas live in the same Hyde Park neighborhood as Michelle Obama's mother. Sasha and Malia go to school in their neighborhood, and their father walked them there Wednesday morning.

All of which makes the guessing game more intense.

"It's literally just getting started," said a senior aide Wednesday. "Their world is built around their daughters, so they're taking this very seriously."

The girls currently attend The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, one of the city's top private schools. Aides say Michelle Obama is intensely researching Washington D.C.-area schools, but no decision has been made.

Where to attend church could be even touchier. The family's membership at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago nearly turned into a deal-killer during the Democratic primaries when inflammatory remarks by the church's pastor and Barack Obama mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, surfaced. The Obamas withdrew from the church.

The Obamas won't go at it alone, of course. First lady Laura Bush called Wednesday and Michelle Obama accepted her invitation to visit the White House in the coming weeks, according to the Obama campaign.

The White House comes with an executive chef, a cooking and wait staff, and a full-blown medical unit staffed with Navy doctors. The unit conforms to the needs of the family, so a pediatrician can be added. Everything from fix-it duties to dry cleaning is taken care of by various offices.

Getting the family situated will be Michelle Obama's first priority, the aide said, but there will also be time for other passions, including bringing more attention to U.S. military families.

She's talked in the past about bringing her husband back down to earth when all around him seemed mesmerized by his fast trajectory. In the early days of his campaign when some were sniffing about a "God complex" it was Michelle Obama who told the world that her husband was so "snorey and stinky" in the morning that Sasha and Malia wouldn't even crawl into bed with them.

As she and her husband and their girls make the transition toward becoming the nation's first family in January, she'll have to emphasize that part of her role even more.

The moving vans will come, and the aides and appurtenances of the position will ease the challenges of being the world's most scrutinized family.

But the key decisions of making a new life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. can't be outsourced.

The Associated Press and McClatchy-Tribune News Service contributed to this report.