Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Obamas Attempt to Transplant ' Normalcy'

Hat tip: This Week With Barack Obama

From The Washington Post:

From the Second City, An Extended First Family
Obama's Mother-in-Law, Other Chicagoans Bring Home to White House
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009; Page A01

A bus filled with about 50 of President Obama's friends and in-laws arrived at the White House just after midnight, as Inauguration Day came to a close, for what they called a "housewarming party." The group had celebrated more than a dozen moves together over the years, usually with casual dinners in bungalows on the South Side of Chicago. This time, they wore rented tuxedos and gowns as a small army of presidential staffers ushered them past Secret Service agents and into the East Room.

Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama's mother and the family matriarch, came downstairs from her new bedroom, and the family reunited on an oak parquet floor underneath crystal chandeliers. Celebrities and political power brokers greeted them. Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis played trumpet while caterers handed out hors d'oeuvres and flutes of champagne.

About an hour into the reception, Obama returned from his whirlwind tour of 10 inaugural balls. His wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, went to bed, exhausted. But the new president called over a photographer and explained that he wanted one final memento from the historic day. He gathered his in-laws -- teachers, secretaries and retirees from a self-described middle-class black family in Chicago -- and posed with them beneath a 1797 portrait of George Washington in his velvet suit.

To help him adjust to Washington, President Obama has lifted an entire network of unassuming friends and in-laws from the South Side into the capital's stratosphere. None of them has been more suddenly transported than Robinson, 71, who has moved from the walk-up home where she spent 40 years to the historic mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She has a room on the third floor, one level up from the Obamas, with a four-poster bed, a walk-in closet, a television set and a small sitting area for guests. She can walk down the hall to visit Malia and Sasha in their playroom, where the girls will spend as much time with their Nintendo Wii as Grandma allows. Or she can step over to the solarium to read on a plush couch or gaze out the bay windows, with their sweeping views of the Washington Monument and the city beyond.

Robinson sometimes yearns for her anonymous life in Chicago, but she is committed to making the president and first lady feel at home. And she is hardly alone in that commitment. Kaye Wilson, godmother to both Obama daughters, will visit about once a month to cook family favorites and twist Malia's hair. More than a dozen other friends and relatives -- some of whom have never so much as visited Washington -- are scheduling spring sleepovers in the White House.

How well the group handles its rise to extended first family could foretell the president's happiness in his new job. Obama generally shied away from new friendships during his political ascendancy, preferring the company of the people who had babysat his daughters and thrown his birthday parties -- people who would retell familiar jokes. As the state senator became a U.S. senator and waged a successful campaign for the presidency, the extended network provided a cocoon of normalcy. Now, as extended first family, the friends and in-laws wonder: Can normalcy ever be re-created?

"The way [the Obamas] got this far was with support from all of these people in Chicago," said Wilson, the godmother, who works as an artist and consultant in Olympia Fields, Ill. "They always had people to depend on, friends who watched the girls and took care of things so some part of their life could stay the same. That group has to stick together. We have to find a way to make their lives comfortable in Washington."


After Obama announced plans to run for president in February 2007, the extended family worked to adapt. Marian, who had never before wanted to retire, quit her job so she could watch over Malia and Sasha and sometimes spent the night at their home in Hyde Park while the Obamas campaigned. She listened to the girls' morning piano practice and then ferried them to school, tennis, gymnastics, dance and drama -- a modern parenting schedule that sometimes made Marian yearn for actual retirement, she joked.

Still, she loved being around her grandchildren, and she insisted on watching them rather than hiring a babysitter. In the Robinson family, nobody relied too heavily on babysitters. With dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins nearby, Marian thought, why would you?

It's a good article.

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