To Penny Warner, home is where the work and children are

"Night-night!" Ben whined, and began pulling up my shirt.

"He wants to nurse?" Penny asked politely.

I nodded, surrendered, and gave up writing.

Rand Carlson

My business isn't as flexible as Penny's. Without notes, I can't properly reconstruct the conversation that followed. I remember that it was pleasant but disjointed, like a thousand other mom-conversations I've had at playgrounds and school functions. I remember resolving to call Penny for my daughter's next birthday party because Penny could help me navigate kindergarten trends (Powerpuff Girls? Is that a cable show? Will other moms be horrified if that's the party theme? And how the heck does my daughter know about these things? Do kids attend secret seminars?)

I remember, too, that Madison curled into Penny's lap to demand a Band-Aid for an imaginary wound, and that she later stole my abandoned notebook but returned it when her mom asked. Penny showed me photos from Madison's and Katherine's latest birthday parties. Madison's was at the neighborhood pool, and the theme was "Under the Sea"; it was a good chance for Penny to display her wares to the neighborhood moms. I can't remember much about Katherine's party, but Penny told me a story that involved Katherine's eating all the icing off a cake, then pooping blue for three days.

Right before I left, the toads began chirping. Madison had carried their cage into her playhouse, and they must have mistaken the darkness for nightfall.

"Listen," said Penny. "They're crying for their mommy."

Madison looked unconvinced.

"I know their mommy misses them," Penny said. "I bet she'd like to work at home."

Madison didn't budge. But I understood.

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