She picks up another paintbrush, adds some blue squiggles to the box. “Isn’t this peaceful? The really scary thing is that I’ve been doing this since May 23, 2002, when I left my show.”
Since that time, O’Donnell’s days have unfolded with what she says is a comforting sameness. She wakes up around nine and heads down to the kitchen. Kelli has already taken the kids to school—and has left Rosie some lunch (“something healthy, like tuna fish and a salad, so I don’t eat Cap’n Crunch”). Then O’Donnell goes to the studio, where she paints and draws until it’s time to pick up the kids from school at 2:30. She TiVos Oprah every day but doesn’t watch other talk shows as regularly. She will occasionally catch Ellen DeGeneres, although when Barbra Streisand was on in the fall, “it almost made me want to kill myself,” she says (O’Donnell famously shared a love of Streisand’s music with her late mother, and was so emotional when the singer was on her own show that she’s still unable to watch the videotape). After watching the singer on Ellen, O’Donnell phoned her former producer, now with DeGeneres’s show, and said, “I’ve never been depressed or jealous or anything, but when I saw Ellen with Barbra Streisand, I wanted to jump off a cliff. Just because I felt the lack of reverence was so horrific to me.” She shrugs. “But who knows who Ellen’s Barbra Streisand is?”
With Kelli and their four children, O’Donnell has constructed the traditional picket-fence sort of life that eluded her as a child (Rosie’s mother died when Rosie was 10). O’Donnell and Kelli’s life now is almost sweetly retro, the Cleavers with two Junes instead of June and Ward. There are picnics, bowling nights, boat rides on the river, soccer practice, family dinners together every night, and weekends filled with playdates and pizza. The children don’t watch TV, so at night the family plays games like Uno. Sometimes the women will vacation separately with one child, to make each feel special: Rosie took Parker on a cruise to Alaska, and Kelli took him to Rome.
Rosie says that in every couple, one person is the flower and the other is the gardener. Kelli, Rosie says, is the gardener. A pretty blonde with clear blue eyes, the 38-year-old Kelli avoids the spotlight, or at least tries to. “Even though she has no desire for the public part, it comes with it,” says O’Donnell. “She told me, ‘When I had to do public speaking for Nickelodeon, I had to take a beta-blocker.’ ” (Kelli is a former Nickelodeon executive.)
It is Kelli who manages the family’s business and personal affairs, from R Family Vacations to their life at home. Rosie plays with the kids, but Kelli supervises the homework. “She creates and enforces boundaries, and she’s a natural provider,” says O’Donnell, getting up to put a bag of popcorn in the microwave (“What do you think, four minutes?”). She brings it back and puts it in the middle of the table. Kelli is calm and composed, where Rosie is messy and emotional. “I’m always like that Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon,” O’Donnell says. “You know how there are only, like, twelve of them, and it takes a hundred people in order to get them down the street safely for one day? And they have to all be synchronized and know how to move in unison in order not to let this big, big thing not crash into a pole and kill someone? She’s like the main tether. She gets me down the street without killing anybody.”
O’Donnell started rosie.com in February of last year. After Taboo ended, she began to drive her friends crazy with a flood of e-mails, and one of them ultimately suggested she start a blog. The blog is a mix of musings about celebrities, anti-Bush diatribes, and glimpses at O’Donnell’s life with Kelli and the kids. O’Donnell once described it at the top of the page as “the unedited rantings of a fat 43-year-old ex talk show host married mother of four.” By far the most numerous, and pointed, comments appear under the header In the News, in which O’Donnell takes on subjects like President Bush’s wiretapping (“now will someone call for impeachment / come on America”), James Frey (“the gay guy coming on 2 him / one 2 many times / his brusk rebuttal / suspect”), and Karl Rove (“karl rove is a criminal creep / his day will come”). The war in Iraq is an obsession, as is celebrity, but she is just as likely to do a post about the Schick Intuition razor (“the best invention / since the tampon multi-pack”).