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Life is about to change for the Obamas

With its private movie theater, swimming pool, 100-member staff and ballrooms for elegant state dinners, the White House presents a wonderland of opportunities for the Obama family.

But balancing a desire for privacy while living at the center of the world's attention may be a difficult task for Barack Obama, Michelle and their two daughters, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, as they become the nation's first family and their lives change forever.

"How do you live a relatively normal life but take advantage of this limited opportunity?" asked John Riley, director of education for the nonprofit White House Historical Association. "The decision that's made for striking a balance is going to be the toughest thing of all."

The following are areas where the Obama family's life is likely to change the most.

One of the first tasks the Obama family tackled on their transition to Washington was deciding on a school. In their hometown of Chicago, the girls had attended the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, which focus on teaching students to critically solve problems rather than absorb facts, according to its Web site.

There was much speculation about whether the children would attend public school, as Amy Carter did, or attend a private school. They selected the Sidwell Friends School, a coeducational Quaker day school with campuses in Washington and Bethesda, Md. Chelsea Clinton attended the school when her parents were in the White House.

According to the school's Web site, "Above all, we seek to be a school that nurtures a genuine love of learning and teaches students "to let their lives speak."

Tuition is $28,442 for the elementary school and $29,442 for the middle and upper schools.

William Morris, head of Friends Academy in Locust Valley, said that a Quaker education fosters character with a humanistic approach to learning.

"It doesn't surprise me that they want their children in that environment," Morris said. "It's a very humanistic philosophy, but also has that moral, ethical and spiritual component to it."

Alison Clare Steingold, a yogi and writer from Los Angeles, graduated from Sidwell in 1998, a year after Chelsea Clinton, and said in an e-mail response that Sidwell treated its students equally.

"We lived and studied in a bubble of intellectual privilege where - although competitive by virtue of an extraordinary student base - kids were kids," Steingold said.

While "Clinton's arrival brought more telephoto lenses stuck between the fences than some of the other kids, this was before TMZ," she said. "There were no stakes for 'getting the story' - real or imagined."

In Chicago, the Obamas lived in a red brick house in the city's Kenwood section, right over the border from Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago. The girls also spent much time at their grandmother's small home on the South Side of Chicago while their parents were on the campaign trail.

Life in the White House will certainly be different, but there are amenities that make the upper floors more family friendly. There are 16 bedrooms on the second and third floors as well as a sunroom that overlooks the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.

Past presidents have used that room, a "quiet and private spot," as a television room, Riley said. The Kennedys installed a small kitchen on the second floor specifically for their children, as opposed to the large industrial kitchen located in the basement. Michelle and Barack Obama also have access to the White House collection of furniture and have hired a designer from California.

The Obamas have said the girls' grandmother, Marian Robinson, 71, will be moving to Washington with them.

For Barack, who likes to work out, there is gym space with exercise equipment and a basketball court on the property as well. There also are 18 acres of lawn, an outdoor swimming pool and a putting green.

But there still is another big question for the family - one that has been debated and discussed worldwide: What kind of first dog will the family get?

Reports have said the Obamas have narrowed the choice to either a Labradoodle (a cross between a poodle and a Labrador) and a Portuguese water dog.

As parents of the "most visible kids in America," the Obamas are likely to be very careful about the information they release about their children, said Meena Bose, chairwoman of the Peter S. Kalikow Center in Presidential Studies at Hofstra University.

"The mainstream media will be respectful of the boundaries, but when you get into the more tabloid and Internet sources they may try to get information, but remember the girls are under Secret Service protection," Bose said. "It will be difficult to get close to them."

The office of Michelle Obama did not return a call for comment, but on the campaign Web site Michelle has said that, first and foremost, she is Sasha and Malia's mother, and she has described herself as "mom-in-chief."

Dr. Gabrielle A. Carlson, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, and the director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Stony Brook University Medical Center, said the girls and their family seem so well-adjusted that their new lives could be "a new adventure for them."

During the campaign, Obama cut ties with his longtime Chicago congregation, Trinity United Church of Christ, because of its controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In televised interviews, the family has said they have not yet settled on a new church in Washington.

Obama is scheduled to attend a private prayer service on the morning of his inauguration at the historic St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House.

The morning after the inauguration, a national prayer service with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and members of their families will be held at the National Cathedral, according to the inauguration committee.

Past presidents have chosen churches near the White House during their time in office. According to reports, President George W. Bush worshiped at various congregations before settling on St. John's, the same church his parents attended when his father was president.

In a televised interview with ABC News, Obama said he and Michelle probably will visit some churches and will consider the decision carefully, understanding that their presence could be disruptive to a congregation.

"It is tougher, as president, you know; this is not just an issue of going to church, it's an issue of going anywhere," he said.


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