- This Is How It Always Is
What people always said to Rosie was, “What are you, Catholic?” though without raising their voices at the end like you do when you’re really asking a question. Or they said, pretending to be joking, “You know there are ways to prevent this sort of thing.” Or they said, “Better you than me,” which they needn’t, since this was obviously true, or they said, “Are they all yours?” They all were. A mom at a PTA meeting the year before had taken Rosie aside to advise her not to tack condoms to a bulletin board next to the bed, no matter how convenient a storage solution that seemed, a lesson she confessed, nodding at a first-grader in the corner licking paste off his fingers, she had learned the hard way. Making a family seemed just as intimate to Rosie as the usual kickoff to that process and just as impolite to discuss—never mind openly judge—in polite conversation with acquaintances. But that’s what happened to her, usually several times a week. And that’s what was happening at the bus stop while she waited for Roo and Ben and one half of almost-Claude raced frantically for the other half.
“I don’t know how you do it.” Heather. Her neighbor. This was another thing people always said, criticism disguised as compliment.
Rosie laughed. Fake laughed. “Well. You know.”
“No, I mean seriously.” But she did not mean seriously. “I mean, I guess Penn doesn’t have a job. But you do.”
“Penn works from home,” Rosie said. Again. This was not their first time through this particular conversation. They had it every time the bus was late. Which was every time it snowed. Which was every day some months. She thought Madison Wisconsin’s Public Schools should specially train their bus drivers for snowy conditions—was this not just common sense?—but apparently she was all alone with this idea. Now it was September and hot and smelled like a late-afternoon thunderstorm, so who knew why the bus was late.
“I mean, I know he works.” Heather started almost every sentence with “I mean,” which Rosie felt was implied. “But it’s not a job.”
“Writing’s a job.” Penn’s work in progress—he called it DN for Damn Novel—was not yet feeding them, but he wrote diligently, every day. “It’s just not a nine-to-five sort of job.”
“Does that really count?”
“My job isn’t nine to five.” She looked at her watch. In fact, she had to be at the hospital in just more than an hour. Night shifts were brutal but easier to schedule around. Sometimes, it was just less painful to forgo sleep than to try to find child care for all the early dismissals and vacations and holidays and staff developments and parent-teacher conference days. It was also true that nights in the ER were often more peaceful than nights at home with her family. Sometimes they even involved less blood.
“Yeah, but I mean, you’re a doctor,” Heather was saying.
“So doctor’s a real job.”
“So is writer.”
“I don’t know how you do it,” Heather said again, shaking her head. And then added, giggling, “Or why.”
In fact, how was an easier question than why. How was the same answer as it is for all impossible things you do anyway. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. All for one and one for all. Anyway, some cliché with the word “one” in it, ironic since it had been so long since she was just a one. She herded the boys—some of the boys—toward the car. If she was going to have to have this conversation with Heather at the bus stop every day, she might just start picking the kids up from school. Driving to and from the bus stop seemed absurd to her. Wasn’t the point of the bus to bring kids from their home to the school? She loved their sprawling old farmhouse, their fifteen acres of rangy, overgrown land, going ceaselessly to seed. There was a barn that was only the memory of a barn, a stream that was mysterious and wet enough to be fun, but not deep or fast enough to worry about. The house was designed for a family of farmers, a family with lots of children who rose before dawn to help milk cows or slop livestock or whatever it was farm children did. Rosie and Penn had nothing to milk nor any animals beyond the puppy (Jupiter, a present for the twins’ fourth birthday), but they did, more frequently than not, have children up before dawn. Those children needed lots of bedrooms, and the farmhouse had plenty, plus a perfect nursery off the master which smelled perpetually of talcum powder and was painted yellow, just in case the baby was a girl one of these days. The floors were not even. The walls were not soundproof. The water took a long time to be hot. But Rosie loved the rough-and-tumbleness of the house, which matched the rough-and-tumbleness of her family. Among other things, when the molding got nicked—and it did—no one cared. Some days though, plain old suburbia and a cul-de-sac at the top of which a bus stopped seemed easier. Some days, she just didn’t have the energy. This day she felt tired. She didn’t know why. But she needed to shake it off anyway. Her workday had not yet begun.
At home, she proceeded with the business of one foot, one day, one for all. Penn kissed the boys hello, kissed her goodbye, went off to fetch Rigel and Orion. She took over dinner prep—sautéing the vegetables Penn had chopped, seasoning the rice Penn had boiled, grilling the shrimp Penn had marinated. (She did not yet know that the racing-together Claude halves precluded any chance that avoiding red meat would beget a girl.) While the beans simmered, she emptied lunch boxes, checked folders, sorted forms. While the sauce reduced, she finished washing dishes from the night before. While she dried them, she interrupted the roller-skating contest Roo and Ben were holding in the living room three times. (It wasn’t that she finally succeeded in getting them to stop. It was that she finally succeeded in not caring anymore.)