“Can I have my warm hot chocolate?” Always the first sentence. As quickly as I get my slippers on, there are sounds of two more sets of feet running to the room. “Can I have hot chocolate?” in a chorus. My husband’s head is still under the pillow, trying to get five more minutes of peace.
I put on my worn, thick, bright blue hoodie and head downstairs with the minion entourage. Immediately the barking starts. The puppies need to be fed and let out. Then the hot chocolate gets made. Then, finally, relief : coffee.
The minions sit sipping their hot chocolate on one side of the counter. I am on the other. Isabel, the oldest, has taken a shower and is fully dressed for school. Maddie, the middle child, has what resembles a bird’s nest on her head. I wonder how long it will take to brush it out today, or even to find the hairbrush. Josie is done with her warm hot chocolate - down like a shot of tequila.
“Ok team, time to get dressed! Isabel, you go do your piano while your sisters get ready for school.” The usual complaints about getting dressed ensue. As I listen to A Tisket A Tasket, I figure out what will be their lunch for the day. It takes a good ten minutes to complete this task as there is some deliberation on how to make it yummy and healthy. After, it is time to check the troops for clothes.
I go upstairs and get ready for work, then climb up to the top floor. There is Josie in tights and leg warmers. No shirt. “Josie, you need a shirt and a skirt.” “Noooo! I don’t wanna!” So, so three. “Yes, Josie. Mommy will be in trouble if you go to school half naked. Here, put this on.” I hand her a pretty, frilly one. It is rejected. “No! I will do it myself! You leave!”
Next stop, Maddie. She is fully dressed but now her hair looks like a bird’s nest that was struck by lightening. She has on purple, fringe embellished, bell-bottom pants, a bright turquoise dress, pink dangling and sparkling earrings, and a chocolate mustache. “Maddie, do you want a bun or an American braid? (Type of braid that she has made up)” “An American braid.” She sits patiently for the five minutes as I brush her hair. I take longer then necessary because I love her beautiful long blond hair, and I love this ritual. “OK, all done. Brush your teeth and come downstairs.”
“I’m coming, Momma! Wait for me!” Josie comes down with me for breakfast. In a few minutes, we are reconvened for the feast of the morning : cereal or oatmeal and maybe fruit. The dogs come back in, wet with snow. My husband joins us for a cup of coffee.
After breakfast, the rush to get backpacks, lunches, shoes, coats, hats, mittens, scarves. Don’t forget the work bag, laptop, pager. The dogs need to be put in their prison or they chew up the walls– my daily heartbreak – the prison, not the walls. We make it to the bus. I kiss all the pink, round, soft cheeks, cold in the winter and wave good-bye as the enormous yellow Lego-Bus pulls away.
Then it is time for the most bittersweet daily drop off. As much of a handful as this tiny round-bottomed girl is, her sweetness is even more. She runs out of the car to ring the bell to the school. She hides behind me, giggling uncontrollably, as Ms. Barb opens the door and says, “Oh, just you today Mom?” Amazingly, after doing this everyday, all year, she never sounds bored. There is always a twinkle in her eye, followed by, “Good morning Josie! You surprised me!” Josie runs in and has to be the one to take off her coat and hat all by herself.
The teachers ask, really ask, “How are you?” And I tell them how we really are. We chat for a minute before I have to chase down my baby and give her a good-bye kiss. She has already found a toy and is in another world. She sticks her beautiful cheek out at me. I kiss it very deliberately. She wipes it off and says “I love you, Momma!” “I love you, too, baby. I will see you after school.” Then I turn around and leave, already missing her, but looking forward to all the things that work will bring.
The drive to work with my NPR companions is soothing.Shankar Vedantam might be on today! If not, I can look forward to a day filled with challenges and rewards anyway.
The evening routine encompasses pick up, dinner, clean up, homework, and puppy care. There are also the things that are regularly irregular - a broken vase, lost jackets, trips to the principal. Fortunately, and predictably every single day is followed by warm baths, snuggly books, soft lullabyes, and the sweet, sweet promise that I get to do this again tomorrow…