Jill Smolowe and Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
November 24, 2008 12:00 PM

1. Keep the Family Routine
If actions speak louder than words, it’s clear what’s foremost in Barack and Michelle Obamas’ minds: holding life steady for their two daughters. The morning after Obama’s victory, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, were allowed a little extra sleep—then were packed off to school, the same as any other day. Two days later, before holding his first press conference, the President-elect attended to an urgent bit of personal business: a parent-teacher conference at his daughters’ private school in Chicago. And before Monday’s Oval Office meeting with President Bush, Obama, 47, drove his daughters to school to see them off with a kiss. The parents don’t forget date nights either: On Nov. 8 they shared a cozy dinner at Spiaggia, a favorite four-star Italian restaurant. “They’re very demonstrative,” says Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. “You’ll always pick up a glance between them, a touch, something where you can see that there’s a connection.”

2. Get the Girls Settled in D.C.
For Michelle, finding a school for her daughters is Job 1. “She’s focused on finding the best fit for their kids,” says a friend. On Monday’s trip to Washington, Michelle toured the private Georgetown Day School and Sidwell Friends School, according to reports. She will also oversee which items won’t make the move from Chicago. “Your bathroom at home is bigger than any closet in the White House residence,” says former Clinton White House First Family spokesman Neel Lattimore. For months now Michelle has also been preparing the girls to make new friends. “I point out that the friends [of mine] that they know aren’t the people I knew when I was 9 or 10,” Michelle said in July.

3. Make the White House Their Own
While moving is never easy, newcomers to the White House enjoy a decided advantage. As soon as the Bushes head for Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20, says Lattimore, “two moving trucks pull up. One is stuff going out, one is stuff coming in.” By the time the Obamas return from the Inaugural balls, he says, “they come into a bedroom that looks familiar to them: their linens, their draperies.” Between now and then, the family must decide how they will divvy up the rooms on the private second and third floors. Malia and Sasha, says former Clinton White House Social Secretary Capricia Marshall, “are going to have to find a place they feel comfortable and safe in.”

With the relocation now looming, the girls are beginning to worry about the people they’ll leave behind. “Michelle will make sure they have friend time,” says Marian. So will the Obamas’ pals. “We are all committed to help Sasha and Malia keep their lives as normal as possible,” says Marty Nesbitt, father of a Sasha playmate. “We have a strong family community that I think will more than cover the distance between here and Washington.” There’s no talk of selling the Obamas’ Chicago home. “There’s a comfort in the kids knowing that their home is intact,” says a Michelle intimate.

4. Prepare for the Social Scene
Not since the Kennedys has a First Couple excited so much interest in the cultural nightlife they will bring to the White House. “I think you will see people like Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder, incredible people, in the White House,” says Betsy Myers, a senior campaign adviser. Visions of Kennedy-style glamour, however, are likely to be overreaching. Long before Secret Service agents and motorcades made going out a chore, the Obamas were homebodies with a quiet, family-style social life—Saturday matinees, Scrabble and Twister nights—that centered around a core group of Chicago friends and their kids. If they reconstitute that familiar scene at the White House, it may be for the best. “Be careful of the Washington social whirl,” cautions one Washington veteran. “Better a quiet dinner with real friends than a mega dinner party.”

5. Become Leader of the Free World
Oh, right, there’s that too. With an ailing economy, two wars and energy issues all vying for Obama’s immediate attention, he is wasting no time setting a tone and narrowing his candidates for key staff and cabinet positions. In his first radio address on Nov. 8, he struck a note of urgency. “We are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime,” he said. “We don’t have a moment to lose.” Two days after his election, he tapped hard-charging Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. According to one of his advisers, Robert Gibbs, Obama plans no cabinet appointments in the coming week, but White House staff selections may be forthcoming.

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