“ELEANOR GRACE, GET YOUR CUTE, tiny tushy out here right this second.” I’m rushing through the house yelling out to my menacing little girl, searching every little nook and cranny. With her loose blond curls, hazel eyes, and button nose my daughter might have the face of an angel, but she’s as devious as they come. How someone so young is able to plot and carry out plans that are able to alter my entire day is beyond me.
There was no way to prepare for the chaos my life would become after I had a child. At twenty-two, I found out the only one-night stand I’d ever had made a baby. I was twenty-three when I realized I’d be raising this beautiful, special little girl on my own. One day I was single and only having to care for myself and then the next I had this baby, who was depending on me for everything.
It didn’t take long before I knew we couldn’t survive with me working one job; we’d get by even if it meant constant worries and struggles. I wanted more for her and if that meant me sacrificing, then I would. I’d do anything for her life to be happy.
A little over three years since her birth and we’re not only surviving, but thriving together. I often joke that my daughter is an asshole and, trust me, she is, but she’s also a blessing. I love being a mom to her and though it’s been tough at times, I wouldn’t change these last four years since finding out I was pregnant for anything.
Some mornings, though, this being one of them, I wonder how other people got docile, sweet daughters who calmly play with dolls, while I ended up with one whose favorite phrase is “Worry about yourself.”
“Ellie, seriously, sweetie! This is not funny. School starts in twenty minutes and if I’m late dropping you off again I’m gonna get in trouble.”
I’m desperately looking in every small hiding spot I know of in the house. Holding in my frustration, I continue to plead with the little devil I created.
“Please don’t make Mommy sit through a ‘We really need all kids here by 9:15 a.m. so we can start the class without any disruptions.’ talk again. Please, baby girl.”
This is what I’m reduced to, begging a three-year-old to come out of hiding so I can save face. “If we leave now maybe after school we can go out for donuts.” Yeah, I’m that mom. Judge me.
A squeaky giggle from my bedroom tells me everything I need to know. I tiptoe into the room and as stealthily as I can I grab the ankles of my girl and tug her out from under my unmade bed. The blankets and sheets that were just seconds earlier piled atop the edge of the bed are now covering her seemingly innocent face.
She continues to giggle as I untangle her and pull her up into my arms. I grab my purse, her tiny backpack, and a hair bow from the table next to the door as I rush out of my small house into the carport where my 2004 brick-red Toyota Camry is parked.
Getting a glimpse of my reflection in the window confirms my fears. The twenty minutes I spent searching for my mischievous daughter would have been better spent using a hairbrush, some concealer, and dressing in something other than sweatpants that are four sizes too big and have elastic in the ankles.
ELASTIC IN THE ANKLES.
Sadly, the ladies at the daycare won’t even bat an eye at my outfit or that my hair and makeup are clearly remnants of yesterday’s attempt at looking like a human. This is more the norm for me than the put together looks most of the other moms sport first thing in the morning.
I drop Ellie off only six minutes late with the promise of donuts and chocolate milk when I pick her up and somehow even manage to evade Mrs. DeMarco, the woman who runs the Ribbits and Rainbows Learning Center. A miracle in itself since her life goal is to point out what a ‘hot mess mom’ I appear to be. Like I don’t already know. Hello, I own a mirror.
Pulling out of the school’s parking lot, I breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to rush to work. Usually, I have to be at the office immediately after dropping my little girl off. Often I’m running late because of my inability to get my shit together in the mornings. This has been cause for contention with me and my boss over the past three years.
But today Mr. Garcia has a conference out of town, so I can work from home. I’m lucky to have found a job in this town that pays decent. The main downfall, however, is that my boss is constantly a complete ass.
I can’t complain. I need this job. Even with the steady income I still need to have several other part-time gigs. The joys of being a single mom are never-ending.
I roll the window down, enjoying the breeze, and decide to treat myself to a coffee from my favorite coffee shop, Brewed. I don’t typically splurge on myself, but it’s been a crap morning, and I desperately need the dose of caffeine, sugar, and whipped cream that an overpriced coffee drink delivers. Caffeine is a must before I attempt to run into the grocery store for milk unnoticed and then home to tackle the stack of overdue bills just waiting to ruin my rare day off.
I order the most over-the-top sugar-coma inducing drink I can find on the menu and pull through the drive-thru. Coffee in hand and blasting Taylor Swift on the radio, I’m ready to tackle the day. Thank God, I grabbed my oversized sunglasses. Hopefully, I can make it into the store then home without running into anyone I know.
I barely make it to the grocery store before my decision to drive one-handed while using the other hand to drink my much-needed coffee proves to be yet another mistake.
“FUCK!” I cry out as the burn of the hot liquid sears my skin. My loud shriek made everybody in the parking lot stop and look my way. I jump out of my car, hoping to avoid a massive stain on the seat, and just as my feet hit the ground I hear a loud crunch.
Immediately I notice my white T-shirt has now been blessed with a coffee stain all down the front, and I don’t even need to look down to know my sunglasses fell off during my leap out and have now been obliterated by my hot pink flip-flops.
“Great, just great,” I mumble to myself as I open the back door and search for a jacket, scarf, or anything that might hide the clear display of my klutziness.
Sadly, this was the week I decided cleaning out the car would be a good idea. That’ll teach me. Coming all the way back here later with Ellie is not worth the trouble, so I hold my head high and head into the store. I’m about to approach the checkout, grateful I haven’t run into anyone I know. Red Oak’s a smaller town, and it seems you can’t toss a stone without hitting an acquaintance.
Just as I start to think I’ve got the all clear and will get out of here unnoticed, the ringtone for my best friend, Leigh Ann Simms, “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot, starts playing at full volume from inside my bag. Seeing as how it’s stuffed full of sippy cups, pull-ups, crackers, lollipops, and no less than three dolls, it takes a solid minute before I can wrangle the phone out of its depths to answer it.
“Mouse, where are you right now?” Leigh whispers through the phone. Leigh and I have been inseparable from the day she moved to town in the second grade. We could not be more different, but somehow our friendship just works.
“Store,” I respond. “Had to grab Ellie some milk. I desperately need her to go to bed at a reasonable time tonight. Was out of it last night and it took over an hour to convince her she didn’t have to have it before going to sleep. Not gonna let that happen again.”
“Good. You’re close. Put it down and drive to my parents’. Stat. There’s no time to waste. Get here. NOW. I gotta go.” She immediately hangs up the phone, leaving me questioning what could possibly be so important.
I toss the milk at the closest associate and hightail my ass out of the store to my car like it’s on fire. Fearing the worst, I speed the half mile to the Simms’ house.
I pull into the oddly full driveway, but I’m relieved that none of the cars occupying it are emergency vehicles. Glancing in the mirror, I attempt to clean up the crusty eye makeup currently surrounding both eyes but give up and admit it’s a losing battle. Ellie refused to stay in her big girl bed last night and by the time she finally fell asleep, it took every ounce of my energy just to get into my own bed. No way was I wasting a moment of precious sleep to clean my face.
Yeah, kinda regretting that decision right about now, which seems to be the theme of the day. Sighing, I come to the conclusion this day is not going to get any better and make my way out of the car and up the porch stairs. I have my fist in the air ready to knock, but before I can even get the chance, the door is yanked open and Leigh grabs my wrist, dragging me through the front door, down the hall, and into the hall bathroom.
“What in the ever-loving hell is going on?” I whisper, thoroughly confused.
“Really, Temperance, really,” Leigh sighs. Frustration and judgment drip through her voice while studying me up and down.
I know I’m not looking my best, but honestly, is now really the time for her to worry about my appearance? She’s the one who demanded I get here right away.
“You did not go into the store like that. Please, I’m begging you to tell me you didn’t go into the store dressed like that. Please tell me that on the way here you saw a homeless woman, took pity on her, and traded clothes.” Her eyes are closed now as she awaits confirmation of what we both know is the truth.
“I just had to run in. I had a hell of a morning and this”—I point up and down my body—“is the result of you thinking it was a good idea to teach Ellie hide and seek. Deal with it.”
“I thought I told you that you were never allowed to wear those pants outside of your house. I knew I should have burned them when I had the chance. I don’t care how comfy they are, they add at least fifty pounds to you.” She begins the lecture I’ve heard no less than twenty times. I zone out as she lists the many reasons my favorite pants, as well as most of my entire wardrobe, is not acceptable. I’ve told her I’m not searching for a man, so I don’t care if my comfy lounge pants are unattractive.
“Leigh! If I promise to let you burn them next time we have a bonfire, will you tell me why I abandoned my milk and braved being seen by your parents like this? Are they okay? Is someone hurt?” I interrupt her well-practiced rant, needing answers to my million burning questions.
“Okay, don’t freak,” she starts, but that phrase alone is enough to get my pulse racing and my brain going to every possible worst-case scenario. “Asher Kade is here.”