The Lions at Night

As we wrestle Lars to get in bed, just to lie still as we read books – something startles me.

My mother’s voice jolts into my head: “When you become a mother, you will never know a love like the one you have for your children. But you will also have a fear like you have never known.”

Yes, once I became a mother, the incessant worry came. Actually, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, anxiety was closer to me than my shadow.

I’ve learned fear is like a little kid determined to grapple with his parents over bedtime. Fear wants us to give up, to feel powerless, to burden us when we are the most tired.

We plead with Lars, reminding him his body will be too tired tomorrow to play. We tell him we will be too tired to play with him if we don’t get to bed.  Nothing works.  The room is dimly lit, his bed is covered in fluffy quilts, and we just finished his favorite show.

If he could just be still for a moment, I’m sure the fatigue would overcome him. He keeps talking about the lions coming to get him so we need to run instead of get in the bed. The tv show he just watched was about lions – how they ward off predator attacks. I ask him if he’s pretending or is he really worried about lions coming into the bedroom. He assures me he just playing pretend.

Maybe we shouldn’t let him watch tv before bed. Maybe we shouldn’t let him sleep so late in the mornings. Maybe there’s nothing we can do because he’s a night owl.  Maybe it’s not on us to change at all. Maybe it’s more about acceptance.

Just like I cannot force a child to sleep, I can’t force fear to vanquish.

“Our bodies are telling us we are tired,” I remind him again. “If you’re not tired yet, you can either play in your room or lie with us in the bed.”

If pleading or reasoning hasn’t worked, maybe giving him choices will.

He leaves for his room. I shut my eyes for the moment, happy for a break from the work of nighttime parenting.  As soon as I still myself, fear comes creeping in.

Lars is too quiet. What’s going on? Has he somehow strangled himself with something? Was there something I forgot to childproof in his room? Has he fallen and hit his head? Is he scared of the dark hall, so he’s rocking in the corner frightened of lions? I shouldn’t have left him alone for a moment I think.

I am still not used to how my mind runs through the list of possible bad scenarios the moment Larsen leaves my side.

The eternal fretting is immediate as soon as there is quiet. This is motherhood. Mom was right.

My neurons are fried.  It seems as if I am always in fight mode, a momma bear ready to wreak havoc on the world if something happens to my baby.  And I think a thousand times a day about how fragile his life is – and mine.

I’ve bargained with the gods, made promises that I won’t let a minute pass without being thankful, I’ve reasoned with myself, I’ve followed suggestions about limiting my worries to ten minutes a night. Nothing works. If I don’t prepare for the worst, how can I ever deal with something bad happening?

Why do I have to live in this half-world, one foot in utter gratitude and one foot in trepidation?

Lars is as persistent as fear when the day becomes dark.  I get frustrated by all the things I’ve tried that don’t work.

After fifteen minutes of quietly playing in his room, Lars comes in. “I’m ready to rest now, Mom.”

His little body climbs over me, pressing his long arms into my abdomen. He shuffles a bit, then settles in between his dad and me under the down comforter.

Mike wraps his arm around him and whispers, “I’ll protect you from the lions…I will protect Mommy too.”

I layer my arm over Mike’s, hoping to make a barrier between Lars’ fears of big cats and my issues with my looming frailty.  “And I’ll protect you and Daddy too,” I say.

But I understand right then I am lying. I can’t ever save Larsen or Mike in this universe. I can’t stop the world from taking away life at a moment’s notice. Of course, I will always try – my mind on an endless loop preparing for how things can go wrong, running through the exhausting list of severities I would have to experience when things do go wrong.

It’s at that moment I realize I will never be doing the saving. Lars is really saving me.

I look over his perfect face – amazed at what his dad and I created together, his dark eyes finally calm and dropping, his jaw relaxed, his mind tranquil. I reach for his hand.

I mentally beg for our safety, for the children and parents of the world to be safe. I know it won’t happen, but I secretly hope if I ask for everyone’s fears to be relinquished, my unselfishness would buy me more points.

I was swallowed in the vastness of fear for the last few moments, and now he is here ready to comfort me.  Just his presence calms me.

After having a child, fear has become a bigger part of life, but so has gratitude.

For tonight, we are together, we are here, safe from the lions. I shut my eyes, clenching for dear life this little boy’s hand, hoping he won’t feel the weight I’ve placed on him, and I surrender to the darkness.

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