A harsh buzzing sound from my displeasing alarm clock awakens me; I blindly search for the off button with my limp hand. Successfully finding the button, I put an end to the maddening buzzer. Slowly I peel one eye open, finding the time, 6:30 AM. As much as I want to sleep in, today was my last day off before officially starting my new job tomorrow at the hospital. I won't deny it; I'm nervous as hell. It's been several years since I've worked in a hospital.
But returning to work isn't what was agitating my nerves; it was the fact that my new demanding schedule required me to be apart from Faith for eight hours, sometimes even longer than that.
In actuality, I was thrilled about getting back out there, rediscovering my purpose; but I would be paying the price of losing time with my cub. I know in my heart neither of us is prepared for this. But as a parent, I have to make endless sacrifices because a tiny curly-haired four-year-old depends on me every day.
While I would be at work, she would be with her new sitter, Mrs. Crook. Whom I thoroughly interviewed, and Faith seem to get on quite well with her. Instantly, I knew Mrs. Crook was suitable for the position. It was indeed a more acceptable option than the daycare we had visited earlier this week. My motherly instincts were tingling, and I knew I couldn't leave her there.
Currently, I lay in bed a little longer, not wanting to get up quite yet, contemplating today's schedule. We've been cooped up in the house since we arrived at Seaside, but today would be different. Today I mapped out activities I knew Faith would enjoy.
Finally deciding to get the day started, I roll out of bed, stretching my worn-out muscles, and lazily make it over to my bathroom. I begin my morning routine by brushing my teeth, applying deodorant to my underarms, and following my extensive skincare routine. Normally after rubbing on sunscreen, I would call it a day. But since today is special, it wouldn't hurt to put a little effort into my appearance. Rummaging through my makeup bag, I retrieve my holy grail products that always come in handy: concealer, mascara, and a lip stain in the shade meow—quickly doing a less than ten-minute natural makeup look. Not wanting to deal with the tangles of my curls, I throw them into a ponytail.
I return to my bedroom, searching for a proper outfit to accommodate the sunny weather we expected today. I chose a pair of blue denim jeans with a loose-fitted grey t-shirt and white Adidas to complete the look. Once I got dressed, I pick up my trainers and walk out of my bedroom straight into the kitchen. Chucking my sneakers on the floor beside the counter, I reach for the coffee maker and get a fresh pot of dark liquid heaven going, checking the time once more, 7:00 AM. Right on time.
While the coffee is brewing, I continue with my preparations for the day. Locating my mom bag, I empty its contents and repack it with items I know we will need throughout the day: Faith's jumper, wipes, three peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, snacks, several juice boxes, and water. Most importantly, in case of an emergency, a first aid kit.
Completing the first tasks for the morning, I stroll over to Faith's bedroom. Slowly cracking the door open, I see her small frame entirely covered by her Peppa Pig comforter. Quietly entering further into the room, I sit beside her, which doesn’t seem to stir her awake because her soft breaths are not disturbed by my presence. Tucked behind Peppa's head, her face is hidden as her wild untamed curls splay across her pillow. I softly place my hand on what I presume to be her shoulder and try gently patting her awake, but I still don’t receive a response.
Leaning in closer towards her, I croon. "Faithie, it's time to get up."
Shortly after, I receive a murmur with her legs twitching in protest of my wishes. "No."
I'm not at all surprised; she's not always a ray of sunshine in the morning. I try again, this time lifting the comforter, revealing an irritable Faith refusing to open her eyes.
"Lovey, don't you want to give mama a morning kiss?"
Without opening her eyes, she reaches for the comforter pulling it back over her head; and I can hear her through the muffles. "No… early."
"Oh, alright then, I guess I'm going to have to find another little cub." I stand up, making a move to leave the bedroom, and still did not receive a response, but that doesn't discourage me; because I have another trick up my sleeve. "Another cub who wants to paint their piggies, go to the park, and maybe even have a movie night with me. Because Faithie doesn't want to have a Sunday Funday with mama."
Suddenly, I see Peppa's face slide off the bed, hitting the floor. Instantly Faith sits up, staring dumbfoundingly at me.
"Wait. Mama, wait." She scrambles her way off her bed, approaching me in her purple Tinkerbell onesie with her hands raised above her head.
Trying to mask my smirk, I pick her up, positioning her in front of me. "Yes?"
She doesn't respond right away but instead surprises me with her sloppy wet kisses, giggling. "Morning, mama."
"Oh, now I get more than one morning kiss from you?" I laugh incredulously, shaking my head; she hums, wearing a sheepish smile on her round face.
Not willing to end the game, I continue. "Well, I guess I should let you go back to sleep so that I can return to my search for another cub." Shrugging my shoulders, attempting to put her back on her bed.
Faith stops me by grabbing my face with her tiny hands; she sternly states. "No. No, mama. I'm your only cub." I can hear the jealousy entwined in her voice.
"Are you sure? I don't want you to make Peppa feel lonely now."
She excessively nods her head as the mess of her mane envelopes her face. "I'm sure. Peppa fine. Look, she happy." She points to her comforter; Peppa certainly does look happy, despite being left on the floor.
"Okay, I suppose we should get going then, right?"
Before I set her back to the ground again, she presses one final sloppy kiss to my cheek; I dramatically wince at her affection towards me, earning myself another sweet chuckle.
I observe her tottling her way to her restroom to begin her morning routine. I know she has already mastered it by now, but I call out anyway for my peace of mind. "Leave the door open, and let me know if you need help." I hear the rustling of her zipper from her onesie unzipping; as she responds. "Ya." She then begins singing another one of her memorable tunes, and I know she's made it safely onto the toilet.
Returning my attention to my current task, I gather the comforter and neatly make her bed. I begin collecting a few clothing options from her dresser and display them across her bed. Wanting to check in on her progress, I pop my head into her bathroom.
She's already approaching her purple stool in front of the sink with her onesie zipped up intact, applying toothpaste to her rainbow colored Peppa Pig toothbrush.
"Are you doing okay?"
Without a verbal confirmation, she nods as she starts brushing her teeth.
"Do you need my help?"
In the reflection of the mirror, I see her deny my offer. One ringlet gets stuck to her mouth full of foam from the toothpaste. She removes the hairpiece away and continues to brush.
"Okay, when you're done, come out to the kitchen for some breakfast before we get you dressed."
She manages an "uh-huh." At the same time, spitting out the remnants of the toothpaste from her mouth. I retreat into the kitchen to prepare our breakfast; when Faith finally arrives, we move through breakfast in a breeze. With my cup of coffee and her sippy cup of orange juice, we devour the food off of our plates. Once we wrap up our meal, I gather the dishes and place them into the dishwasher. I quickly clean up before retrieving a wet washcloth to cleanse Faith's face and hands from the crumbs. We make our return to her bedroom to tackle the process of getting this overly excited cub dressed.
"Okay, because today is special. You get to choose whatever you want to wear from what I laid out here." I motion towards the colorful options presented on her bed.
"Eeepppppp! Reellly mama?" She jumps enthusiastically.
"Yes, but you have to choose quickly so we can get going. We have a long day ahead of us."
She nods in acceptance and begins scanning the different options. I see her automatically stop at the sight of her favorite tutu she loves to wear, and I had thought that she'd made her decision. But her gaze returns back and forth between myself and the options, and there's a sparkle in her brown eyes as she grins. She climbs onto the bed and confidently chooses her outfit. Finally, she pivots her body to reveal what she has chosen. It doesn't take me long to realize her intentions, and it instantly melts my heart into a puddle.
"Don't you want to wear your tutu?" I want to reassure her that she doesn't need to choose this specific outfit to make me happy.
"Nope. I wanna look like you." She declares proudly, holding onto an identical grey t-shirt and blue jeans to my own.
God, what did I do to get blessed with this fantastic tiny human being? She doesn't even know how incredible she is. That's why I made it my life's mission to remind her of that every day.
I lift her into the air as her chortles fill the room. Once I bring her back into my arms, she nuzzles her face into my chest. "Do you know that you're the most miraculous child I've ever met?"
Immediately lifting her head, her brows knit together in curiosity. "What's merakuulusss?"
I free a half-suppressed laugh. "It's another word for amazing or surprising."
"I surprise you?" She asks.
"Every single day." Pleased with my answer, she maneuvers out of my hold to change out of her jammies; I assist her into her outfit of the day and fetch her matching Adidas from her closet, leaving her least favorite part of getting dressed for last, taming her unruly mane. Once I manage to get a brush through her curls, I start from the bottom, working my way up to prevent any cries from the pain of inheriting my thick curls, and successfully I put them into a ponytail just as mine.
I escort her into the living room, and straightaway, she finds one single bottle of red nail polish awaiting our arrival; she shrieks joyfully as she swiftly sits on the ground planting her hands on top of the coffee table. "I'm redddy mama."
Across the table, I joined her, holding a paper towel in my grip. "Alright, hold your horses. Lift your hands first." As she does so, I place the paper towel under her hands to prevent any accidental spills.
"Lovey, you got to stay put, so mama doesn't mess up." I instruct her.
"I stay put, mama."
"Good girl." Carefully I paint one coat onto her nails, and I blow on them to dry quickly. Checking if the polish had dried, I ran my index finger over her nails, and fortunately, they did.
"Okey dokey, all ten piggies are painted." In an attempt, I try to stand up; Faith abruptly stops me.
"Wait, it's your turn now." She eagerly states.
"Oh lovey, it's okay; mine don't need to be painted." Trying to stand up once more, but she interrupts my movements once again.
"Pwease mama, I want to paint your piggies too. Pwweeeasseeee?" She pleads with that puppy dog face I can never resist, and I know she won't be satisfied until I give in. After all, I did want her to enjoy herself today.
"Alright, alright then. But you have to be very careful not to get nail polish on the table."
She's buzzing with exhilaration. "I be careful. I pwomise." The corners of her mouth lift into a bright smile.
Positioning my hands where Faith's were just moments ago, I know this will not precisely be a regular visit to the nail salon, but I brace myself anyways. With each stroke of the brush, she manages to paint more on the outer skin of my cuticles than my actual nails. Finally, she gets into the rhythm and successfully covers each fingernail with a blob of nail polish. Satisfied with her work, she breathes in all the air her tiny lungs can hold and starts blowing on my wet nails with all her might. Worried she might grow faint, I join her in action to dry my nails. After fifteen minutes of our attempts to dry my nails, we give up.
Fuck it. We got to get going.
Not caring to clean the excessive nail polish around my nails, I hastily put our trainers on and collect our belongings to head out the door. As I pack the car and buckle Faith in her car seat, she begins singing baby shark, and thankful she has only memorized the first two verses as she continues to repeat them repeatedly.
We drive to the nearest park from our house; luckily, it’s a short drive away. Arriving at our destination, I pull into the busy parking lot, and immediately Faith can see the playground from her window; she squeals, kicking the passenger seat in front of her in anticipation with full force. Despite being very small, she is incredibly strong.
I glare at her through my rearview mirror. "Faith, you know the rules. No kicking the front seat." Instantly she stops her actions and apologizes. "I'm sowee mama."
"It's okay lovey; I know you're very excited but remember sometimes you have to be careful and think before you act." She nods her head understandably, but I know I'll be needing to repeat this more than a hundred times before it sticks. Finally, when a car reverses out of a parking spot, I rapidly speed into the parking space before another one of these vultures steals it.
It took me about two or maybe three times… Alright, if I'm being frank, it took me about five times to finally get the vehicle within the lines, but it wasn't my fault the damn lines were placed crookedly, making it fucking difficult for us competent and decent drivers to park. I blame the city for not having the ability to paint straight parking lines, fools, the lot of them.
Exiting the vehicle hand in hand, we approach the overcrowded playground with wailing and laughing children. Faith's practically skipping at this point, tugging my hand, rushing my efforts to catch up with her; she's an eager little bugger. I can't put her at fault though, it's been a while since she's had any contact with other children. Crouching down to eye level with her, I try to calm her down a bit by placing both hands on her shoulders.
"Lovey, remember what I said in the car?"
"Mhm. Think before I act."
"That's right, I want you to have fun too, but you have to be careful as well. Now, if I'm not playing with you, you have to stay where I can see you. Do you understand?"
"I stan mama."
"And one more thing, remember I don't want you going on the monkey bars."
Her face droops, saddened by my last statement. "Bu-- but…"
"No buts, young lady, remember what happened last time." The memories of her suffering from a minor cut on her lip, I know accidents happen, but thankfully the injury wasn't any more severe than that. However, there was still a possibility that something horrible could have happened. I will never forget that day; she screamed bloody murder for hours until she finally exhausted herself to sleep. God, that had to be one of the most painful experiences. Like any parent, after that incident, I wanted to protect her from anything and everything harmful.
"Yes." She replies with complete sorrow remembering the event I was referring to.
"One day, you will be so tall, and you can swing on those bars as much as you want, but for right now, you have to stay off of them."
"Hmmmm." She observes the other toddlers around her age swinging on the monkey bars. The difference between those toddlers and Faith is that they are twice the size as her. I know she very much wants to join them, but I can’t let her. Even if I supervise or assist her on the bars, it would only encourage her further and tempt her into adventuring the bars on her own.
Wanting to cheer her up, I make a suggestion. "How about we climb our way up the ladder like spiders? And then go down the slide like snakes?" Hoping this was enough to make her forget about the bars. By good fortune, her current frown cracks into a grin. I leave my bag on a vacant spot on the park bench and lead Faith to the play structure.
After constantly chasing her around, I decide to take a break before I wear myself out entirely. I retreat to where I left my bag, discovering a young petite blonde woman sitting on the bench beside my bag. She was holding a small red-headed infant. I approached with a warm smile, removing my bag and replacing it with myself, but ensuring an appropriate distance remained between us.
"She's so cute." I compliment the child wrapped comfortably in a cocoon, sound asleep.
"Thank ye, she is but only when she's not screamin' at the top of her lungs." The woman looks at me with her lips twitching into an almost smile; I can see the familiar strain and tiresome look. It's the look of endless nights staying up with a newborn.
"How old is she?"
"Just about five months." She grabs her stroller and gently lays the child down away from the screaming toddlers.
"Sometimes I miss when my daughter was that age." The memories of my cheery, toothless, and very chubby cub makes me smile.
"Och, which one is yers?"
I point towards Faith, who is playing what looks like hide-and-go-seek around the playground with another young blonde girl; she is about the same height as Faith. They try to hide together under the slide, but I'm sure whoever is seeking them would find them instantly. It isn’t exactly the best hiding spot.
"The one with the brown curly ponytail."
"Ah, it looks like she's made friends with my daughter, Marsali."
"She's your daughter as well? She's very adorable."
"Aye, thank ye. I would have stopped after Marsali, but ye ken how men can be." She explains wanting to go deeper into the topic, but that means sharing my own stories. That is a territory I never want to cross with strangers.
Trying not to make it obvious, I shift the conversation. "I'm Claire, by the way. Claire Beauchamp."
We're interrupted by a very familiar deep Scottish voice coming from the other side of the play structure. "I'm lookin' for two lasses. One is named Marsali, and the other one is Faith. I wonder where they could be."
Faith squeals, and now both girls are giggling uncontrollably, giving away their hiding spot.
"Ha! I found both of ye rascals!" The duo are booming with laughter at the top of their lungs, and the person entertaining them appears into view. He crouches beside the slide laughing with the girls. The same fiery red locks I met just a few days ago now look a bit golden as the sun reflects off each ringlet, which frames his face quite handsomely. Immediately he meets my eye, grinning ear to ear, waving hello, and I in return do the same.
"Ye ken Jamie?" She asks curiously, and I know something had shifted in the air, but I was unaware of what caused it.
"Oh well, I don't really know him; I just met him Monday evening. He kindly allowed my daughter to use the restroom in the shop."
"Interesting." Is all she says, turning a bit flush with irritation. And I don't know how to respond to that, so I just shut my trap.
"He's a verra good father to them." She blurts out, informing me of their relationship, even though I didn't ask for it.
Piecing it together in my mind, it all makes sense now. The child step stool in the restroom, his comment about 'getting it,' and his newborn child obtaining the same shade of beautiful red hair as her father.
Trying to break whatever tension caused her to get all riled up, I become the bigger person for once. "You play a huge part in their lives as well; I bet you're just as an amazing mother to them." Unphased by my compliment, she remains stone-cold silent and avoids eye contact.
Alright sheesh. I think someone poured salt in her coffee this morning, because this bitch salty as fuck.
The tension continues to get heavy, and I felt the sudden urge to leave my spot on the bench. “It was nice to meet you, Laoghaire, have a great day.” When in reality, I wanted to say fuck you, Leghair. Without waiting for a response I pick up my bag and walk towards an open picnic table.
Abruptly I realize I don’t see Faith anywhere, my heart drops, and I don’t know how to breathe. Suddenly I hear that same familiar voice, but he sounds as if he is in discomfort. "Iffrriiiinnn." He was with Faith last. Panicking, I search for the tall ginger, and quickly I spot him walking through a crowd of children. Thankfully he’s not alone; Faith is with him. My worries of the possibility of losing her come to an end, and I can breathe once again.
Once they make it out of the swarming crowd, I notice Faith is not only with him per se; but with the look of determination etched on her face, she's practically dragging the 6’3 ft man by his index finger towards my direction. Not wanting to wait any longer, I rush over to them.
When I approach both of them, I hear Faith say to Jamie. "Mama can fix you.”