Seeing the yellow turn arrow, I floor it, screeching into a left hand turn before the light can turn all the way red. The car fishtails tightly, but I ignore it, focused on the street ahead of me.
It’s 5:23. I have seven minutes before daycare goes into overtime.
The last two miles fly by, and at last I’m pulling into the driveway. Ripping the keys from the ignition, I click across the wet pavement and open the creaky wooden door. A blast of hot, play dough and finger paint-scented air greets me. Kicking off my shoes by Tori’s wooden cubby, I stop to take a breath.
Sitting inside are today’s treasures—a paper plate owl and a Christmas list collage. I pick up the Santa-festooned paper and giggle when I see a coffee maker on the list.
My toddler wants a coffee maker. How awesome is that?
Still giggling, I pad into the interior of the house. Although the room is dark, I can hear the happy chaos of high-pitched toddler voices shouting and their teachers directing beckoning to me from the back of the house. I cross through the kitchen, eyes already drinking in the sight of my golden-haired princess reading with a friend on the pint-sized couch.
I stop at the white gate that keeps them sequestered and wait.
“Tori’s mommy is here!” a chorus of little voices announces.
She looks up, eyes far away. Then she sees me and they sparkle to life.
“Mommy!” she calls, and skips over to the gate, laughing excitedly.
Not bothering to open it, I lift her directly into my arms instead. She clings briefly, then starts chattering about her day.
“I got a sticker, mommy! Come see!”
“You did? That’s great! But wait, let me…”
She squirms down and bolts around the corner, still gabbing at me.
Before following, I peak back into the room.
“Did she do okay today?”
Her kindhearted teacher hesitates. “Well, yeah. A little crabby, but not too bad. She’s doing better.”
I smile, every ounce of relief I feel pouring out through my face.
“Every day she doesn’t pinch is a good day in my book!”
Before I can say more, Tori’s pulling me back.
“Look, mommy, look! I got a sticker!”
I pull down her chart and hand it to her.
“You sure did! Good job! Are you ready to go home?”
In answer, she starts jumping up and down, little feet thumping on the floor underneath her.
The last of my stress melts in the face of her joy.
“Okay, let’s go see puppy!”
“And daddy too?”
“And Kiwi and Oliver?”
And so my real life begins.