It's 7:50 a.m. when Ann Marie Worosz backs her Ford van down the driveway of her beige colonial in Fairfax County. She's got a cup of steaming coffee in one hand and five kids in the back, most of whom are hers.
After a quick stop at a neighbor's to pick up one more child, she gives the aging Ford's dashboard an affectionate pat and pulls out into the steady and slow stream of early morning traffic.
Welcome to the suburbs, where mothers such as Worosz are professional chauffeurs -- their lives shaped by red lights and oncoming traffic, and marked by the ringing of school bells and the frantic racing to first grade plays.
"You get to be a master of trying to figure out how to be two places at one time," said Worosz, 43, who has seven children of her own, and who spends at least two hours a day driving between events.
From the time sleepy commuters drain out of Fairfax's subdivisions in the morning, until they straggle back in the evening, nearly every car on the road seems to have several children in the back and a mother at the helm.
For Worosz, as for many suburban mothers, weekends bring no relief from the steering wheel. There are birthday parties, sleepovers and, during soccer season, the inevitable race to find the field before the game ends.
Worosz, who lives in Annandale, is not the only Fairfax parent with this theory about soccer: It always seems to be played in rush-hour traffic at the other end of the county, on a road nobody has ever heard of.
She hopes that it's an old field, so it will be listed on a map. Road maps are a necessity in this fast-growing county, where a Virginia forest today is a fried chicken establishment tomorrow.
And, if more than one child plays, an entire Saturday can be blown driving between matches. "You ought to see me during soccer season," Worosz smiles. "You could just stand on a corner and watch me keep whizzing by."
What if the van breaks down?
"Oh God -- don't wish that on me."
She has car pool help. Her husband, Tom, an IBM marketing representative, and her oldest child -- Laura, 18 -- share the driving. But the brunt falls to Worosz, and she sometimes resents it.
"I can feel martyred: 'Why do I have to do all this stuff? I run all over town, and nobody appreciates me.' I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that I sometimes feel that way."
Still, it was Worosz who chose not to return to her nurse's job at Alexandria Hospital after the birth of her first child. And it is Worosz who takes pleasure in the small things.
"You go into the kids' schools to help out at lunchtime -- especially the little kids -- and it's almost like they're a queen for the day because their mom is there," she said.
And, if watching her children grow up means life in the slow lanes of Fairfax County driving from a room mother's coffee to a basketball game, she says she's happy to do it.
To pass time in the van, she often plays the radio or cassette tapes. Maybe a little Kenny Rogers, or "The King and I." Her youngest children like "Mary Poppins."
Sometimes, in traffic, she'll plan her day -- decide what to have for dinner, or carve out an extra 30minutes to throw in a load of wash, or mull over what color to repaint the living room when the new addition is finished.
And, she says, the van is great for letting off steam. If she's mad about something, she'll talk out loud to herself about the pros and cons of the situation. "I can be furious at somebody and get it all worked out in the car, in traffic jams," she says.
Her favorite driving activity, though, is listening to her children chat in the back seat.
"When I drove the high school car pool, I learned things I never should have known," Worosz said. "It was just interesting to see how the kids were in the car, talking to their friends. What things they think are so important in their day that they have to talk about them."
Yesterday, she didn't learn much, except that the neighbor's cat hates flea collars. Also, she could look forward to a fairly easy day: no doctor's appointments, no school plays, no teacher conferences.
After dropping some of the older children off at their parochial school, she headed home, her 1-year-old, "P.J.," strapped in a car seat in the back.
"When he was born, I bought him the best car seat I could find," Worosz said. "A nice, padded car seat. I spared no money on that car seat. Because, I figured he was going to spend the majority of his life in it."