Sunday, February 1, 2009

Keeping the Obamas Grounded

It will be hard. Especially when you are the goldfish with everyone's eyes on you in the bowl, but they are trying.

First, President Obama keeps his blackberry, which I knew he would. As I stated before, this is 2009 not 1989, and any encryption is warranted. To give up access to his friends, who will be honest, while the White House aides won't (let's be honest here, they won't) is important. Having contact to the outside is critical, whether the outside likes what Obama is doing as President or not, he needs to know.

Next, the President's family and friends are critical to who not only he is, but who his family is. Bringing his mother-in-law to the White House was a stablizing force for Michelle and the girls. Seems like Marian Robinson is slowly coming to grips of living in the White House.

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.

It it this part of the article that really makes you understand President Obama and how his family and friends are center of who he is.
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."

But the place holder of keeping them together has been Marian Robinson.
Until last week, the family nexus had remained 700 miles to the west, at a two-story house on Euclid Street in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood. Robinson and her husband, Fraser, rented a small apartment on the house's second floor from an aunt, who lived downstairs. As toddlers, their children, Michelle and Craig, shared a large bedroom. It was a tidy home in a predominantly black, working-class neighborhood -- safe and affordable -- and Marian Robinson loved it. She sent Michelle and Craig to the elementary school down the block and took them to South Shore Methodist Church across the street.

In that house, she raised two future Ivy League students, cared for her dying aunt and sick husband, and lived alone as a widow for almost two decades. She parked on the street and shoveled snow off her sidewalk. In the winter, she played the piano or watched home improvement shows on an aging television surrounded by pictures of four generations of her family. On summer days, she read the entire newspaper and then worked crosswords and other puzzles on her brick sun porch.

This is why grandma's are so important.
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?

And with Robinson being independent all these years, I was not surprised at her hesitancy to move into the White House.
Marian adapted to one change at a time, steadfastly refusing to look ahead. While other family members predicted an Obama victory, Marian remained skeptical until election night. She hesitated to move into the White House -- it would be like living in a museum, she once said -- until she visited in November and saw her room. Even when she finally decided to leave Chicago, Marian told friends the move might only be temporary. She would stay in Washington as long as the family needed her, she said, and probably no longer.

"She's 71 years old, you know, and I wouldn't say she's set in her ways, but she certainly was comfortable in them," said Craig Robinson, Marian's son. "Moving, even if she had to move just downtown from where we lived in Chicago, it would have been a little bit of a daunting task to get her arms around. I don't think I'm telling any tales out of school when I say that she had to think hard about going to the White House. She knew it was going to be a serious change."

And don't worry about Malia's twists in her hair, her godmother will be a monthly fixture at the White House for that.
Kaye Wilson, godmother to both Obama daughters, will visit about once a month to cook family favorites and twist Malia's hair.

I never mastered the corn rows or twists, but my sister has and loves Malia's twists in her hair. This is a low key family with friends who love them unconditionally. That alone is half the battle won in the White House. Because we know, everything else is just political.

Read the article, here.

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