If the sun were out, it would be lighting up the tan curtains on the left hand side of my bed. I’m only seeing the darkness.

I grab my phone and press the side button to light up the screen. The unnatural white blinding light hurts my eyes and I shut my left eye as I bring the screen closer to my face. There it is, the time: 4:45 a.m. I place the phone back on the nightstand and roll over and bury my head under neon-colored paisley pillows.

I want to go back to sleep. I don’t want to move. Suddenly there is an instantaneous craving for coffee overriding my mind. And I’m torn. An hour-and-a-half more of sleep or the chance to jumpstart my day?

The choice, although not an easy one, is already clawing at my stomach and my mind. My brain has started planning each step. My internal never-ending to-do list is on repeat. There are too many people I need to be today. Too many roles need to be acted out and I’m the only actress on the stage.

I toss my body back over and stretch my hand outward fumbling my phone before it misses the nightstand and falls on the floor. I don’t worry about the phone. I need my vision. My hand roams around the small white table until it finds the plastic frames and I place black-rimmed thick lenses upon my nose.

The bedroom, looming in an eerie predawn color, becomes sharper. My eyes make their proper adjustments, and begrudgingly I escape the sanctuary of my full size bed. The steps make their habitual creaking noises and I use my phone as a flashlight until I reach my kitchen. I glance over and see the husband fell asleep on the couch again, and I can hear his heavy snores sawing their way through the silence. I flip the light switch on and I finally see the first colors of a brand-new morning.

Bright yellow kitchen walls surround a turquoise coffee maker and red canisters. Nothing matches in my kitchen. I go through the necessary steps to turn the dark ground-up coffee beans into my early morning elixir. 

My cereal is on top of the refrigerator and every morning I have the same argument with myself: eat now because I don’t know when I’ll have time to eat again. I grab one of our largest bowl from the cabinet and pour Cheerios.

Cheerios remind me of my mother. As a child, I remember making a solemn vow that I would never eat them. They were bland. There is a haunting memory buried in my mind. It comes back every time I see the yellow box and smell coffee brewing. I see my mother bending down in front of me trying to fix my hair for school. Her breath suffocated my face with a combination of coffee and Cheerios. I hated sitting in front of her wondering why she couldn’t brush her teeth before she fixed my hair. I understand now why. She had two little girls, two years apart. There weren’t any minutes to spare.

As the coffee maker begins to gurgle its last few drops, I know I’ve became my mother. I grab the tall Longaberger travel coffee mug. There are three of these cups which I rotate throughout the week because they hold the most liquid as I travel through my morning. I carry my cereal and coffee back up those memorized hardwood steps. I sit back down on the bed and I begin my first job of writing. One hour and one editorial submission later, my coffee is half drunk and my cereal is gone. I close the computer and head back to the yellow kitchen for a refill.

The next time I walk back up my stairs is the best part of my day. And sometimes it’s the worst. It’s a toss up as to who I will find behind my son’s bedroom door. There are mornings he’s happy and chatty. He tells me he loves me. His innocent three-year-old face is excited to see “Mr. Moon” is still out. If the morning is later, he’s intrigued by the sunbeams shining into his room and will ask where “Mr. Moon” has gone. He is proud of himself and says, “I sleep till the sun came up.”

Other mornings, he isn’t as joyful. He doesn’t want to get out of his bed and he doesn’t want to get dressed. He’ll yell at me to, “Go away. Leave me alone. I don’t want to go to school.” On those mornings, I have to break the news of how he faces a long time of attending school ahead of him. I know he doesn’t understand, but I hope he’ll be a little more prepared for the 12 years of early mornings that will come when he starts public school.

Today, I’m lucky because on this morning, he’s both happy and sleepy. He doesn’t want to get up, and I can’t blame him. I didn’t want to get up either. He is perfectly distracted as the orange- and-white-striped cat named “Mr. Pickles” jumps into his bed. He tells me how the cat is making his ‘happy noise.’ Instantly, there’s a calm purring throughout his bedroom as I breathe my Cheerios-and-coffee-smelling sigh of relief.

He gets out of his bed and asks to race matchbox cars. I tell him we can’t because we have to get ready. I gather up his blanket and pillow and a cup sitting on his nightstand. I walk down the steps knowing he’s never too far behind me.

His steps are those of a child, heavy and not aware of their full potential. I begin getting the child dressed; a daily struggle. He wants to wear pajamas. He doesn’t like pants. My husband has showered and is tying the laces on his shoes. He stands up and wipes the sweat from his forehead. He’s always sweating as he rushes too hurriedly through a morning routine. My husband is a human who will be forever nervous about being late. He grabs up the blanket and pillow and heads to the car.

I watch as our son tries to throw up his usual protest to leave his blanket alone. His words are unheard, as he finds his way to the front door to watch his Daddy with anticipation. I begin preparing for his next request and go back into my kitchen to fill up a cup with diluted juice. From there I can hear the front door open and my husband walks back into our living room. There are words and questions exchanged about leaving. 

The child wants to take a book. He doesn’t want to take his Thomas the Train to school again. He had to take it last week for “show and tell.” Since he is an only child, he has anxiety that he may lose his train to the other children. My husband calms his fears and tells him he can leave the train at home today. We pick our battles, choosing ‘show and tell’ not to be one of them.

My family says goodbye. I try and kiss the boy, but he laughs and hides his face so I can’t. Some mornings he just wipes off my kisses. I worry at three years old, he’s already embarrassed by his mother’s affection. Or maybe he smells my breath laced with coffee and Cheerios.

The door shuts and I hear them enter the car. I finish more writing and editing. I prepare for the 9-to-5 grind. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I’m ready and on my way to the office. I keep mentally reminding myself to pay the parking ticket I got last week. If I don’t pay it, there will be an added $25 fine. We don’t have an extra $25.

Every morning is just one morning out of my lifetime. With each new sun rising, I feel as though I’m being ripped apart. I keep trying to be too many different personas trapped inside one body. I am the writer. I am the mother. I am the wife. I’m the animal lover. I’m an employe who too often lets her parking meter expire. Sometimes, I am hungry. I am trying to survive one day to the next.

In between those days are good moments and exhaustion. There are sweet memories I’ll treasure until my death. There are happy noises. There can be crying defiance and fit-filled protests. Sometimes, there is loneliness. There is always more work to be done; things I didn’t get to cross off my list today. I plan for tomorrow.

Within each moment of living, struggling, there is something else all around me. There are beating hearts. They are the reason I’m doing my best to fill so many roles. My home is alive with tears and happiness. I am a mother trying to keep it all together, one day at a time.