After a rushed morning (the kind that always follows a night with too little sleep), we arrive at daycare. Mind already ensconced in my yellow chair at work, I pull Tori out of the car and listen with half an ear to her chatter as we get her purple polka dotted coat (suddenly looking too small) off and in her cubby.
She starts to run to the interior door.
“Wait, Tori, we need to take your shoes off.”
Reluctantly, she trudges back. “I at school now!” she grins.
“Yes, you are,” I say, pulling off her sparkly tennis shoes and stashing them away. “Are you going to have fun today?”
“Yeah!” she bounces.
Then she’s tugging me to the door, and as I pull it open, I see her two teachers and classmates playing with whatever the week’s new toys are. She’s off like a shot.
I make small talk, but my mind is on the ticking clock—the seconds counting down to the Inexcusably Late mark. Before I go, I drop to my knees for our good bye.
“Tori, come give mommy a hug,” her teacher says.
She turns and embraces her teacher. And just like that, the air squeezes out of the room. Pain stabs deep between my ribs and I feel small droplets of blood drip somewhere inside.
“I’m not your mommy,” her teacher says. “Go on. Get over there.”
Then she’s hurtling toward me and the moment is over.
I sit, alone, on the couch in the too-still house. I’m staring at my Kindle, but my mind is busy replaying a conversation from my writer’s group months before.
The six of us sprawl in comfy, overstuffed furniture. The conversation focuses on careers, on the choice between working and staying at home, and on finding what we’re meant to do with our lives.
“What about you, Amber? Do you really like your job?”
I pause, almost embarrassed by my answer. But when it comes, the truth of it rings deep in my soul.
“Yeah. I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
They nod, no judgement on their faces.
“But, you know, it’d be great if I could work part time,” I quickly add—knowing even as I say it that that’s not entirely true. Still, the Mom Guilt in me insists I say it.
It’s dark. Tori’s sprawled in my arms, her legs knocking into my hips as I rock her back and forth.
“Mommy, who’s your special friend?”
“Well, your Aunt Christina. And daddy, of course. Daddy’s my special-est friend.”
There’s a pause while she yawns sleepily.
“Who’s your special friend?” I ask her.
“Tina and Vicky,” she says, naming her daycare teachers.
“What about mommy? Is mommy your special friend?”
“No. Tina and Vicky are.”
“But you love mommy, right?” I ask, hating the tremor in my voice.
“No. I don’t need to. I love Tina and Vicky.”
Pain punches me in the stomach, roaring across my brain in a primal wave of need.
“Well, mommy loves you,” I whisper past the scream in my throat. “You’ll always be my special girl.”
Sleepily, she pats my face.
“You’re my special mommy,” she says. “I love you too.”
Pushing the pain back down where it belongs, I finish our bedtime routine and head downstairs. But as I fire up my computer to write a blog post, the hurt pricks at my brain.
I love what I do, it’s true. And soon, the two sides of me will once again settle into an uneasy peace. But until then? It fucking hurts.