As Zarya’s 5’3 and 135 pound frame enters the daycare she is swarmed by a mob of hyper toddlers jumping, hugging, grabbing, and generally causing mischief. One small hand reaches out and starts to pull her baton from her duty belt. With a mother’s lightning reflexes she stops him just as he pulls it free. “No thank you sweetie. That is not a toy.”
A fleeting thought forms in her tired mind, does that count as being disarmed? Regardless, almost disarmed by a toddler, this patch of sleepless nights and work filled days is wearing. She slides the baton back down into her belt and shoves away the thoughts of burnout. Her weary eyes scan over the gang of young miscreants searching for her own mischief maker. He is eagerly making his way through the crowd beaming with pleasure at the sight of her. Her exhaustion melts away, and moments later the two are happily engaged in conversation about his day.
* * *
Caught in a dim patch of moonlight the yellow stripe draws attention to the uniform crisply folded in the corner for an early morning shift. The faint patch of light is taunting the hours of lost sleep that are slowly fading into the rising light of morning.
A muggy breeze is all that stirs in the house now as Zarya’s bare feet pad the infinite loop north and south and back again in the narrow hallway. The sweat soaked bundle nestled in a restless sleep against her chest is a solid weight. She can’t see his ginger coloured hair in the dark hallway, but it is always a marvel to her because of the stark contrast to her own brunette.
A tired smile plays at the corner of her mouth as she squints at the resting child in her arms. Despite a long work day, the switch from police woman to young mom is welcome, and here in the dark of the night gazing at the precious face of her son there could be nothing better. His chubby cheeks are flushed with fever, his long lashes are still wet from tears, and his ruby lips are slightly parted and drooling marking him as completely given over to the exhaustion of his chronic earaches. He melts against her, stealing the only comfort he can find. He has a complete trust that she will provide this security to him at all cost throughout the long night.
Zarya opens her mouth wide and is almost frightened by the depth of the inhalation. The fatigue in her bones is heavy and the loops in the hall have slowed to a steady rhythmic motion as her feet glide over the surface of the floor. Her exhaustion is slightly relieved knowing her tiny boy slumbers momentarily free from pain. Her arms ache not only with weariness, but with the solid weight of the sleeping form in them. Another yawn washes over her as she passes the nursery, the failed intermittent attempts to return the boy to his crib early in the night rise in the wake of the yawn. Zarya continues pacing.
The darkness has gone now, and a hazy light fills the house. The boy still sleeps. The flush of fever is gone, replaced by a warm heat of sleep. Zarya moves slowly toward her bedroom feeling as if she is moving under water. Every movement exaggerated and sluggish. With two short hours until the day officially begins she slides backwards onto the bed carrying her solid sleeping bundle with her.
There is no time for sleep. The heat from yesterday never broke in the night, and she is surprised to feel a coolness on the sheet beneath her. Her body whispers a silent thank you, and her groggy mind wonders if this is how her son feels nestled close against her: relief.
She has no intention of closing her eyes. She knows she shouldn’t be in bed. Instead she just blinks. Suddenly there is a screaming sound, not a human sound, but mechanical. It takes a second for her to register that it is her alarm.
The boy raises his head from her chest, his big blue eyes peer at her. She freezes. A smile spreads across his face as he lunges forward to hug her, his tiny arms squeezing her neck choking her airway. She becomes aware of a cool wet spot on her cheek, and she laughs away the last fingers of tiredness. The wet spot on her cheek is a mess of slobber in the form of a good morning kiss, a mash down of little lips in an enthusiastic display of love.
The night’s activities melt away with the sun. A blur of activities occur as the two of them prepare for the day.
Zarya is walking out the door of the daycare feeling good. Her uniform feels good this morning. She notes the light crisp grey sleeves as she adjusts her black wrist watch. Stopping at the top of the outside stairs to survey the morning she can’t help but speak aloud as she enjoys the sunshine kissing her skin, “what a beautiful morning!”
With a hop she bounces down the stairs, again noting how light she feels, almost airy! She glances down at her feet to make sure that she has put on her work shoes. No problem there. “Good morning Bob.” Another strange look. “Why are people giving me strange looks this morning,” she asks the air. Feeling a bit frustrated she continues to address the air as she walks to her personal vehicle. “I always do daycare drop-off in my work uniform before I get my police car. SO, why the strange looks?”
Puzzled Zarya reaches down to adjust her duty belt before sliding into her vehicle. Her left hand drops to the back of her pants to ensure her beavertail is buttoned; it is, but something doesn’t feel right. Both hands fly to her waist. No duty belt! Full uniform, well not quite. No wonder people are looking at her, and no wonder she can bounce when she walks. She is about 14 pounds lighter.
Zarya stifles a curse and a yawn as she jumps in her vehicle. The next 30 minutes find her attached to her duty belt and a coffee laughing heartily about the mishap with some co-workers. The rest of the day passes without major event.
Zarya is eager to return to the daycare at the end of the day. The kids love to say hello to a friendly police mom, and it is often the highlight of the day. Tonight proves to be no different, and she is quickly swallowed up by the energetic crowd.
“Can we see your handcuffs?”
Before she can answer, she is aware that one of the other children has pressed the panic button on her radio. “Excuse me please,” she says as she turns to deal with a volley of responses being fired over the radio. She shakes her head in silent admonishment knowing that she’ll never live this one down at the Detachment in the morning.
When the dust settles she leaves the daycare with a smiling blue-eyed boy firmly sitting on her hip above a well-used duty belt.
By Shari Marshall – originally posted in 2016
**Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. **