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It’s official: Marian Robinson, the 71-year-old mother-in-law of President-elect Barack Obama, will be moving into the White House, transition officials said on Friday.
In fact, Mrs. Robinson is already in town, helping to smooth the family’s personal transition as Mr. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters prepare for new lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“She is here to help them get up and running,’’ said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama. “She will determine in the coming months whether or not she wants to stay in D.C. permanently.”
In some ways, Mrs. Robinson’s decision to move – at least temporarily — is no real surprise. During the presidential campaign, Mrs. Robinson was a family mainstay, caring for the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, while their parents were on the road.
She took them to school, to piano lesson and dance lessons, cooked their meals, ran their baths and got them to bed on time. She was a critical part of the family’s effort to keep the girls’ lives as normal as possible in the midst of extraordinary times.
But Mrs. Robinson is also deeply rooted in Chicago. She still lives in the house where Michelle Obama grew up. And she has often expressed ambivalence about the notion of moving to Washington.
“I’ve never lived outside of Chicago, so I don’t know,’’ said Mrs. Robinson, hesitating a bit as she considered last year whether she was willing to move into the White House. “In the end, in the end, I’ll do whatever. I might fuss a little, but I’ll be there.”
As incoming President Barack Obama ponders economic-bailout plans in the Oval Office, some pretty heavy action will be taking place in the private quarters of the White House, too.
Malia and Sasha Obama, ages 10 and 7, respectively, are the youngest children to inhabit the White House in decades. And they will be facing some seismic challenges of their own, in child-development terms. The Obama girls will pass from childhood into the upheaval of the pre-teen and early teenage years in a venue that past presidential kid Luci Johnson termed a “museum, a public fishbowl and a prison.”
The loss of privacy, continuity and constancy imposed by their move to the White House — coupled with the monumental new opportunities it offers — will have a huge impact on the Obama children’s sense of identity and competence at a critical stage, child-development experts say. While the glare of the spotlight has burned some presidential kids, others have emerged unscathed and strong. A look at the risks and rewards, based on research and past examples, holds lessons for any parent raising children under unusual stress.
Malia and Sasha are facing some core “developmental tasks,” in child-development parlance: the need to build their own sense of personal identity, or their concept of who they are in relation to others and the world at large, and their belief in their competence as individuals. These growth stages must be accomplished in an ever-widening context of friendships, school, the neighborhood and the world at large.
The Obamas, child-development experts say, seem to be a picture of health, based on the deep affection and easy communication family members displayed last July in their only video interview together. Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, have vowed to hold life as steady as possible for the girls, and are taking grandmother Marian Robinson to Washington to help.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Madelyn Dunham, who watched from afar as her only grandson rapidly ascended the ranks of American politics to the brink of the presidency, did not live to see whether he was elected.
Mrs. Dunham, 86, Senator Barack Obama’s grandmother, died late Sunday in Hawaii after battling cancer, which Mr. Obama announced upon arriving here on Monday for a campaign stop on the eve of Election Day.
“She has gone home,” said Mr. Obama, his voice tinged with emotion as he briefly spoke of her death at a campaign rally here. “She died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side, so there’s great joy instead of tears.”
Mr. Obama learned of his grandmother’s death at 8 a.m. on Monday, aides said, but appeared at a morning rally in Florida without making an announcement. A written statement was issued around 4:30 p.m., in the name of Mr. Obama and his sister, before he spoke at an evening rally in Charlotte. The delay was intended to allow his sister, who was six hours behind in Hawaii, time to take care of a few details before the death became public.
Mrs. Dunham was the final remaining immediate family member who helped raise Mr. Obama during his teenage years in Hawaii. He called her Toot, his shorthand for “tutu,” a Hawaiian term for grandparent.
Mr. Obama left the campaign trail late last month to travel to Honolulu to bid his grandmother farewell. He spent part of two days with her, as she lay gravely ill in the small apartment where he lived from age 10 to 18.
While Mrs. Dunham was too sick to travel to see her grandson on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama and other family members said that she closely followed his bid for the presidency through cable television. Yet she became a figure in his campaign, seen through images in television commercials intended to give him a biographical anchor.
Mrs. Dunham, who grew up near Augusta, Kan., moved with her husband, Stanley Dunham, to Hawaii.
In the early stages of his candidacy, Mr. Obama spoke wistfully about his grandparents, whose all-American biography was suddenly critical to establishing his own American story. He spoke of how his grandmother worked on B-29s at a Boeing plant in Wichita.
For Mr. Obama, the loss came on the final full day of his presidential campaign against Senator John McCain. Campaigning in New Mexico, Mr. McCain offered his condolences and said: “He is in our thoughts and prayers. We mourn his loss, and we are with him and his family today.”
The illness of Mr. Obama’s grandmother had been weighing on him in recent weeks, friends said, which is why he insisted on interrupting his schedule to visit her late last month. While she was gravely ill, aides said, he carried on a limited conversation with her. He kept the visit to one day, advisers said, partly out of her own insistence that people not create a fuss.
“She was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not famous. Their names are not in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard.
“They aren’t seeking the limelight. All they try to do is just do the right thing. In this crowd there are a lot of quiet heroes like that.”