What Really Happens After Daycare Pickup

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My son is almost two years old. When I drop him off at the daycare in the morning he is in a clean outfit that was picked out the night before. His socks may not match but his hair is combed and his face is washed. I’m dressed in my business casual slacks and blouse, along with my favorite pair of worn but spotless flats. I give my little boy a kiss goodbye as he runs off to find his toy cars. I run off to beat the traffic rush. I go to my eight-hour work shift, eat my homemade lunch, and make closing time at daycare.

When I get to daycare my son is in a different outfit because spaghetti deserves to be in his hair and belly button, as well as his tummy. He smiles when he sees me and jumps into my arms while I catch up on the details of his day. He waves bye to the staff as I juggle his artwork and jacket as we leave to go home for dinner and bedtime stories as we wait for step-dad to come home to do bedtime tucking in.

And that is what the world sees. Me, a modern day mom, balancing a work life and a home life while keeping every hair in place and doing it all with a smile. This is what the world expects to see me. What the world doesn’t know is that it’s so much harder than I try to make it seem.

What the world doesn’t see is that immediately when I pull into my parking spot at home, my son whines for animal cookies for dinner. I tell him we are having leftover chicken (not the freshly cooked meal the world assumes I make every night) and he proceeds to blow raspberries as we unbuckle and walk through the front door. He throws his shoes in two different directions and counts the cars outside as I unload my bag and work that I have brought home.

I sit him in his spot at the table and give him graham crackers to distract him while I make his plate. Leftover chicken, baby carrots, and a yogurt. Dinner of champions. But it’s all I can muster after being in meetings all day and silently cursing my boss for making work so much harder than it needs to be.

He will only eat the yogurt and a baby carrot. I tell him that’s all he’s getting and he blows raspberries. I tell him it’s time for a bath, where he proceeds to splash water all around the bathroom, including my iPhone. Thankfully it survives another day. After PJs and two stories, he gets kisses from step-dad walking through the door after his long day of work. The toddler goes to bed and I plop on the couch.

I take off my bra and put my feet on the coffee table (a habit I’ve scolded my little one for numerous times). I ignore dishes for the third night in a row because I simply cannot muster the strength to scrape off old bits of brownies baked over the weekend. I eat a piece of toast as I watch YouTube clips, trying to gain a sense of calm.

My lovely husband sits next to me and holds me as I tap my fifth video on how to ice a cake like a pro, despite never actually icing a cake in my life. He smoothes my hair while I rant about my annoying coworkers and the traffic that I dealt with on my way home. I’ve lost count of how many clips I’ve tapped on but it’s suddenly past 9 and I still don’t have my lunch packed for tomorrow. My husband kisses my forehead and tells me to buy lunch as a treat, something I often feel guilty for. I sigh in defeat and instead go look through my son’s pile of clothes that I still haven’t folded.

I find the shirt with the least amount of noticeable stains and a pair of jeans (thank goodness jeans go with everything). I find two matching socks (a miracle in our home) and his tossed shoes from before. Everything is stacked on the arm of the couch as I go through my own closet. I find a modest, summer dress that may be too short to be considered “office appropriate” but go with it because it’s my only item of clean clothing that isn’t sweatpants.

I then grab my files and sit up in bed as I try to finish the work that simply cannot be finished in one business day. I hear hubby turn on the shower and instantly remember the shampoo I forgot to buy. I send myself a reminder on my calendar to do it tomorrow. I go back to work and accidentally doze off while reading meeting minutes. I feel my papers slide out from under my hand behind closed eyes and I instinctively snuggle down to lay my head on my pillow. My blanket meets my chin and a kiss meets my cheek. Hubby sets my alarm as he crawls into bed alongside me.

Four short hours later my alarm rings. My phone already shows five emails and a reminder that a conference call starts in less than two hours (and to buy shampoo). As I rub my eyes awake my little one runs to my side of the bed. He looks at me with big eyes and says “cookie.” I smile and tell him that cookies are not for breakfast (except when mommy swipes a tube of Oreos at the gas station after morning drop off). I go to the kitchen and give him a yogurt as I put on my dress. He manages to get three yogurt blurps on me as I help him finish his breakfast.

Thankfully they are somewhat easily covered with a cardigan. Once he is dressed we are out the door. At daycare, I give him a kiss on the cheek as he’s fighting to leave my arms to rush off to find his toy cars. And I once again rush off to beat morning traffic.

We have all seen her: the mom who manages to look flawless and professional. The mom whose kids run up to her at the end of the day instead of begrudging her existence. The mom who packs the perfect lunches, buys the best clothes, and makes the perfect eyeliner line every single day. But just know that like you, the mom in leggings who is just happy her child stayed clothed at daycare all day, she is struggling to wear a smile every day. But like all moms, we find strength for our children. And we do it because our children make us smile.

I am a new mom who is just trying to navigate motherhood one baby smile at a time. Some days are really hard since I have depression, anxiety, and PTSD. And some days I want to sell my son to the zoo. But it's all worth it.