Melania Trump's first year as first lady is coming to an end and she remains as elusive and enigmatic as she was when she moved into the White House full time in June.
We will see more of her in 2018 if for no other reason than that she'll be a full-time first lady for a full year. And she's in the midst of planning her first big event, a state dinner sometime early in the year, although she's mum on details.
But it's an open question whether she'll exert more impact and influence in 2018, or if we'll get to know her even marginally better, say FLOTUS watchers.
"She is more popular than her husband (most first ladies are), but not as popular as some past first ladies at this point in the administration," says Myra Gutin, a first lady historian at Rider University in New Jersey. "No one knows the extent to which she influences her husband's decisions."
That's because Trump, 47, is not about letting it all hang out or preening in the blinding spotlight that comes with her position. Trump is first and foremost a reserved woman, accustomed as a former fashion model to affecting a neutral, even blank face at all times so as not to distract from the clothes or, now, husband President Trump.
She is approaching the unpaid, ill-defined job of first lady unlike any of her predecessors, recent or antique. But in her firm-but-unflashy manner, she is setting a marker: She's doing the whole FLOTUS thing her way — and she's still figuring out what that means.
"I think Mrs. Trump will continue to be true to herself as she said she would early on in the transition and soon after the election," says Anita McBride, who served as chief-of-staff to former first lady Laura Bush and now studies first ladies at American University in Washington. "Her priority continues to be, as it should be, her young son Barron and his adjustment to life in Washington and the White House."
As a mom to an 11-year-old, Trump has been clear her primary focus is on him, making sure he's settled in at his new school and getting to soccer practice while including him in public events such as taking delivery of the official White House Christmas tree.
Barron Trump settles in Washington: Barron Trump back in the spotlight for White House holiday events
Her vision for her job in 2018 is still to be determined; Trump gives little away.
"She is very self-possessed and I don't think she worries about pleasing people or meeting preconceived notions about what a first lady should or should not do," says Kate Andersen Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies.
While it is true English is not Trump's first language — that would be Slovenian; she is the first immigrant FLOTUS in 200 years — her command of English is good in more intimate, low-pressure settings.
So far, Trump has done no high-pressure, on-the-record interviews with print or TV media. She doesn't do social media that much, let alone let loose with strings of news-making tweets, as her husband does.
Melania as Santa: First lady Melania Trump tweets Christmas greeting in Santa-hat filter
She's delivered few major speeches about substantive matters aside from an address at the United Nations in September during which she condemned bullying. She's been a decorative presence on multiple foreign trips but she seems happiest, judging from her relaxed and smiling pictures, in low-key encounters with children at hospitals or holiday events. And, of course, her fashion choices are avidly followed.
"There was no political activity, almost no advocacy," observes Gutin. "Mrs. Trump has been a ceremonial first lady. This probably sits well with half the country; the other half looks at the fact that she is not utilizing the White House podium to voice concerns or push an initiative."
First lady Melania Trump tours Asia
Or not yet, anyway. So far Trump's approach to her position has been methodical, careful and unobtrusive, informed by her own research and advice from experts and her small staff, and generally indifferent to the operatic hullabaloo and Twitter twaddle that often rages around her and POTUS.
Social-media warriors have used her to bash him, mocking her for not moving into the White House right away and making a viral video of her seeming to swat his hand away from hers on their first foreign trip. They criticized her for her choice of clothes, shoes and a gift of Dr. Seuss books to school libraries. They even at one point debated whether the woman standing next to him on the White House lawn was a "body double." (She wasn't.)
As the two have often said, when he's hit, he hits back 10 times as hard. She shares her husband's disdain for the media; however, she is usually more subtle and thus maybe more effective.
After Britain's The Daily Mail and a Slovenian magazine published false articles suggesting she worked as a high-end escort when she was a model, she sicced her lawyers on them — a first for a first lady. The publications capitulated, retracting, apologizing and paying up big bucks.
"I don't think that we're going to see a huge change in her over the next year — in fact, I think a lot of this has to do with her husband and her feeling that he is being unfairly persecuted," says Andersen Brower.
"There is a bunker mentality that can develop in times like these and I think we'll be seeing her retreat to (Trump resorts in) Palm Beach and Bedminster quite often. She is very defensive of her husband and this is clearly weighing on her."
Trump's plans for an anti-cyberbullying campaign are still on hold, either because she is being careful about launching an initiative or it's difficult to fight cyberbullying when her husband so often uses Twitter as a cudgel. Meanwhile, she's dived into the anti-opioid movement, decrying especially its often tragic effect on children and families.
"This is an important way to use her unique platform and podium and with the right support, I believe her efforts and voice on this issue can make a difference," says McBride.
Andersen Brower thinks Trump has been most effective, and happiest, when she has been out of the country. "I think she should focus on her strengths in 2018: empathizing and spending time with children and doing more work to tackle the opioid crisis, and specifically how it impacts children," Andersen Brower says.
Gutin agrees Trump's best moments so far have been with children.
"Any (future) project that includes children might work well as these interactions seem to bring out her natural warmth," Gutin says. "This could be a turnaround year if she increases her public presence and invites media in to discuss her concerns."
Given the Trump White House's loathing of the media, this is not likely. Still, Mrs. Trump has stepped up to center stage for traditional White House events and on foreign trips. We can expect more of the former and possibly more of the latter, McBride says.
"She has successfully presided over major events in the White House that are traditionally the purview of FLOTUS — the Easter Egg Roll and Christmas — that are always highly anticipated," McBride says. "She has also shown that she is comfortable on the world stage, traveling with the president on his foreign trips. Perhaps we will see her do some of this on her own as well."
Trump did not carry out a traditional FLOTUS duty in her first year — planning and hosting a state dinner at the White House, a major diplomatic and social undertaking, and the first time in decades an administration did not hold such an important event during its first year.
The White House says the administration hopes to schedule a dinner "early" in 2018; neither Mrs. Trump nor White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said which foreign country will be the first to be fêted. But Trump and her social secretary, Anna Cristina "Rickie" Lloyd, are experienced party planners: Trump organized her own wedding to Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2005, a million-dollar affair with more than 350 guests.
So far, has Trump put a Christian Louboutin-clad foot wrong? At least once, says Andersen Brower, in the awkward dustup with President Trump's first wife, Ivana Trump, who was in the midst of selling a memoir.
Also a non-native English-speaker, Czech-born Ivana joked in an interview that she was the real "first" lady (a claim she later walked back). More implausibly, she claimed to regularly talk to POTUS by phone but not when Melania was around. Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump's spokeswoman, responded with a curt statement to USA TODAY on Trump's behalf, calling Ivana's remarks "attention-seeking and self-serving noise" aimed at selling books.
Andersen Brower suggests Trump's staff should have talked FLOTUS out of this "needless" scrap.
"I think that she needs to get a larger staff so that she can avoid pitfalls," Andersen Brower says. "If she had more people advising her I think she could have been convinced not to do this because it made her look so petty and only helped Ivana's book sales."