Ever since Hoda Kotb gave the official date of her “Today” return about two weeks ago, no faithful viewer of the longest-running morning news program could escape the excitement. The effervescent and ever-professional veteran broadcaster took some satisfaction in still being “the first one at the studio” around 3 AM on her first day back from maternity leave on September 3. There were still plenty of hugs for her, including ones from Al Roker, who's been working overtime to keep track of Hurricane Dorian and its wrath over the Bahamas, where Roker has family roots.

Hoda Kotb playfully pondered: “Wouldn't it be funny if Blake Shelton were really in here ?” (in her dressing room), instead of just the country star’s image on a stick. Sad to say, there was no Blake Shelton in the flesh waiting for her. There was an overflow of balloons, however, and a bevy of welcome back wishes for the mother of two back from her maternity leave that began in April. Blake Shelton offered his own warm thoughts in his unique style and Hoda Kotb just had to rewind them to savor her favorite star.

Beyond the hugs, there were some genuine reminders of what Hoda Kotb brings to her “Today” presence, and proof that no mother should regret taking maternity leave.

Great purpose with no plan

Seldom do any moms return to the workplace to be serenaded by the New Orleans L Train Band and a full choir on Rockefeller Plaza, but not everyone is Hoda Kotb. The morning anchor kept her reflections genuine but brief in her opening two-hour block, because of all the pressing news, most of it somber. She did mention how the simple moments with her young daughters mean the most, such as her two-year-old, Haley Joy, delighting in the discovery of pockets, and the warm kisses that come with baby Hope Catherine’s morning bottle.

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By the time Kotb took her seat next to Maria Shriver for her fourth hour of “Today,” tears were already flowing by the time Hoda answered “Great!” in response to Maria’s question of how she felt. The seasoned NBC News reporter related how she had connected with a line from “Tuesdays with Morrie” author, Mitch Albom’s upcoming book. “You are defined by what you carry,” Hoda recalled, and the concept and the 54--year-old mother’s time at home shifted her perspective on life and success.

Like many women, Hoda Kotb always defined herself “by what I did,” and she revealed that she became a lover of routine, and “the same thing every day” because of seeing life through the eyes of her daughters.

A plate of muffins on the table prompted Hoda to share how she and the girls would visit “the muffin store” every day. There was no remembrance of the establishment’s name beyond that. As Kotb began to relate the calm and readiness that she has within her because of witnessing so many precious firsts and precious memories, tears flowed again, and the tissue box from the sky descended, as it only does on “Today.”

Kotb reflected that “I understand my purpose,” because of her lessons through her dream of motherhood.

She also feels “so ready” to be back and “work harder than ever” with new priorities. She is saddened that so many mothers are not financially secure enough to take adequate maternity leave. The NBC icon stated how blessed she feels to be afforded that accommodation and she wants to be a spokesperson for that cause. She related how Haley Joy had rested her head on her mommy’s chest the night before, for the first time during a bedtime story. Kotb sensed that it was because her daughter felt the calm within her mother.

A little lighter love

Whether displaying laughter or tears, no one can say that Hoda Kotb is ever anything less than authentic. When the emotion kept pouring out this morning, Kotb playfully dove into the plate of muffins, declaring: “I need to eat my feelings!” Maria Shriver followed suit, and she would later share her own story of recently coming to terms with loss and grief in a new way.

Blake Shelton got Kotb’s full attention, and he made it very clear that he doesn't want Hoda taking more time off anytime soon.

“I wanted to die when you weren't on television,” Shelton assured his biggest fan. He closed with a plea of “Don't you dare go on leave like that ever again.”

From now on, Hoda Kotb has to clear any time off through Mr. Shelton along with the NBC chain of command, it seems. She’d better be saving all her sick days.

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