Lately there's been a dinosaur in our house.
He hides in our dining room while my 2-year-old, Tegan, eats dinner in the kitchen. Sometimes he chases her up the stairs before bath time. Other times he hides in her room at night, scaring her with shadows. She tells me he has green and white stripes on his back (much like her fleecy footy pajamas), that he is big and scary and roars.
She calls out for me while I am cooking dinner, am in another room, am sleeping at 1:00 a.m.
I reach her and we tip toe slowly, hand tightly in hand. We peek around corners, confirm that there is no dinosaur. Once she feels safe she loosens her hold, sighs and tells me she feels better.
It's only a minute or two, a brief moment of my time, but it helps instill that I care, that I am present, that we can work through this together.
As a child, I often sought these moments during the school day from the school nurses. I would feign illness, dramatize a spill -- sometimes daily -- so I could seek repose in their office. "My stomach hurts." "I bumped my elbow really hard." "Can I have some crackers and water?"
The ladies knew my name quickly, gave each other knowing glances after my first few visits. But they'd always give me crackers, let me lie down a while, give me a moment to feel cared about. My first grade teacher, a woman with a sleek silver bob and tattoo tights, eventually told me I couldn't keep visiting them. I remember panicking at my desk, turning into a splotchy, snotty mess as I worked on that day's journal entry. There are still tear stains, slight crinkling on the paper. I still asked to go to the nurse's office.
Unfortunately adults stopped believing my complaints. They didn't believe me when I actually was sick, when I limped for two weeks, when a boy at recess pushed me and broke my ankle. My cries seemed to hit people numb, like the fairly tale says, and there was a void that felt left wide open.
Now, as a mother, as the dinosaurs lurk, as there are trips and spills and bumped knees and bruises, I find myself trying to fill even the threat of a void in Tegan. I offer reassurance, give hugs and kisses, have toddler-friendly conversation, hope it will all fill in the spaces like fine sand.
I offer despite dramatics, despite tall tales, despite the occasional absurdities. Like the imaginary dragon who just ate her baby doll's dinner and pushed her and then knocked all the houses down. Like when I watch her adorably, but obviously, pretend to fall on her bottom.
I offer despite the daily distractions, the exhaustion, the nerves sometimes spread thin. Despite when I know there is no wolf, when she knows I know there is no wolf. I still give her her moment. I reassure her that I love her, that I care.
And as she grows, as the wolves change shape, as she comes to discover the real wolves, she will know that she can come to me.
And, hopefully (so hopefully) she will know that we can work through this, we can work through anything together.