FINKSBURG -- Three children, who had just missed the school bus, joined their mother in a frantic, fruitless search for the car keys.
Keyless mother had to borrow the neighbor's car to transport the children to school.
Back home alone, Diana Ches had just poured coffee into a mug, inscribed with "still perfect after 40 years," when the phone interrupted her quiet moment.
The City of Westminster was calling. Thanks to Nicole Ches' winning essay, her mother became the "1992 Mother of the Year."
A seventh-grade student at West Middle, 12-year-old Nicole said the essay was an optional assignment.
"I thought I should write the essay and try to win because my mom deserved it," Nicole said. "It only took about 20 minutes. I just thought how my mom really is and wrote what I felt."
About 300 students in elementary and middle schools entered the contest, hoping to win prizes for their mothers.
"My mother always said she wanted us to go get what we wanted and go after our dreams, that we could do anything if we believed in ourselves," Nicole wrote.
Diana, "a stay-at-home mother" who volunteers at Mechanicsville Elementary, said "being here when the children get home from school" is a priority. But nobody in the family is home for long.
Diana said she and her husband, Ron, encourage their children to participate in different activities. That usually means both parents, especially Mom, spend much of their time car-pooling to soccer and baseball games, music lessons and ballet practice.
"The scheduling complications come when I let all three get involved in two activities at a time," she said, counting off the places where she would be driving from 3 to 7 p.m. most weekdays. "They are good kids. They don't give me a hard time, and I hate to say 'yes' to one and 'no' to another."
As the family drove to City Hall Thursday for the award ceremony, Nicole said, "See, Mom, life does begin at 40."
While making the award, Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said every parent whose child had entered the contest shared in Ches' pride.
Diana came prepared with tissues for the tears she knew would come as her daughter read the essay, which Diana called "the most wonderful Mother's Day gift anyone could receive. "I am proud of all my children, but this is so special," she said. "Nicole has the best way of saying things."
Nicole wrote that her mother "is not perfect and makes mistakes like anyone else," and "we get through our tough times together as a family." Diana called that an accurate portrayal.
Her face lighted up as she heard Nicole read "my mother will always be the champion of my heart."