It’s raining outside as I scurry up the steps of the bright yellow bus. Drenched, I use my shirt to wipe the water from my brow. I hear my name growing from something faint into something loud.

“Tara!”

My eyes squint and look through all the eyes on the bus until I see her.

I found her, “Jane!”

My arms raise furiously in the air for her to spot me as the children and I make our way to the back.

“I saved you a seat!” My whole body exhales in gratitude as we nudge our way through the seats to find our spots. My youngest son Jack exclaims to Jane and her two children, “Guess what today is?”

I realize, as I’m staring at Jack’s overexcited frame, that this is the first time since I left his dad six months ago he has openly engaged someone else. The fight to leave the situation we were in and be safe was a long road, and Jack bore the brunt of most of it. Most days, he would sit in silence or worse – anger.

The bus was full of moms and kids just like us who were on their way to daycare. With each bump of the road, the children would gasp and fill the space with laughter. I couldn’t remember the last time I was enveloped in such deep joy with women and children who were in similar situations.

“What day is it, Jack?!” The entire back of the bus had his undivided attention. I watched as his tiny hands raised and stretched out front of him.

“It’s my birthday today! I’m five!” He then gleefully clapped his hands together. Jane hushed the bus as she declared, “Someone is turning 5 today! You know what that means!”

And just like that voices of mothers and children of all ages began to sing happy birthday to Jack. His face grew red, but he couldn’t stop smiling. But that was just the beginning.

When we got back to Mary’s Home, the mothers and staff joined us in the Family Life Center with colorful balloons and cake. As a mother, I looked around at all the other children and mothers and couldn’t help but realize that this was the first birthday party Jack had ever had.