By Thomas Fields-Meyer
December 18, 2006 12:00 PM

Alexandra Pelosi was in the final weeks of her first pregnancy in October when her mother swept into her two-bedroom Manhattan apartment and announced plans to transform it into a newborn-worthy nest. Never mind that Alexandra’s mother, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, was in the middle of an election campaign that would change the course of Congress. She insisted—over her daughter’s instincts—upon turning Alexandra’s home office into a nursery and furnishing it with crib, bassinet and stroller. “My mom is the disciplinarian of the family,” says Alexandra, 36, a filmmaker. “She comes in and gets it done.”

What comes easily at home may prove more challenging in Congress, where Pelosi, a 10-term Democrat from San Francisco, takes over as the nation’s first-ever woman Speaker of the House on Jan. 4. She has already hit one bump, when Democratic colleagues rejected her choice for a key leadership position, in what one critic called “a stumble out of the starting blocks.” But Pelosi insists she won’t shrink from an ambitious agenda that includes raising the minimum wage and passing new ethics rules. “I’m about having focus and reaching a goal,” she says. “That’s what drives me.”

Just ask her kids. In her former life as a stay-at-home mom—raising her five children with husband Paul, 66, a multimillionaire real estate investor—Pelosi ran a home so orderly that breakfast cereal bowls were set out on the table as soon as the dinner plates were cleared. “We couldn’t finish one meal without planning the next,” says daughter Christine, 40, now a Washington lawyer.

Pelosi inherited her drive from her late father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., a former Baltimore mayor and congressman. Yet after attending Washington’s Catholic, all-women Trinity College, Pelosi went straight for the mommy track, marrying Paul in 1963, relocating to his native San Francisco and having five children in six years. “When it comes to babies and children,” she says, “I’m an expert.” Pelosi plunged into politics after the family nest emptied out, winning a seat vacated by the death of a California congresswoman in 1987. In Washington she gained a reputation for laboring around the clock, shunning coffee in favor of dark chocolate and rarely exercising. “Nancy is hopeless,” Paul says of his wife’s lack of a fitness routine. “When someone pulls a muscle, she’ll go, ‘See?'”

Pelosi recently welcomed her family’s newest arrival when her daughter Alexandra’s son Paul Michael was born Nov. 13 in Manhattan—as Grandma hovered outside the delivery-room door. Pelosi facetiously offered to play live-in nanny if the Democrats lost in November’s election. Instead, she’s working to unify her often unruly party for the political fights ahead. “Once there’s a routine, everyone will blossom,” she says of her new role. “There will be order in the House.”