Over the years of raising a toddler, there have often come these very distinct moments when I feel dangerously close to the edge. So close to just walking over to a wall in the house and taking a massive chomp out of painted drywall. Not for any specific reason, mind you, but just to be able to express how I feel in the midst of a particularly desperate toddler moment. Raising a toddler eats your brain. It devours your intellect and it craps out your IQ. It's painfully difficult more often than not.
Then again, there's the other side of the coin. The magic. The laughter. The simplest moments when your young child injects your heart with a straight-shot of pure joy simply by smiling. Or crying. Or falling asleep half standing up over by the couch. It was one of those kinds of things that happened to me the other day. The sort of thing I wanted to share with you because, if you're anything like me, we both end up forgetting how wonderful all of this toddler stuff can be sometimes.
Here's the deal, a tale relayed to me by my mom, aka Grammy. My mom was taking my three kids—including my 3-year-old Charlie—for a sleepover. They'd watch movies and eat junk food and just have a blast, she said.
Their mom dropped them off over at Grammy's house on that Saturday afternoon and the day was a good one. They played with my mom's dog. They broke out all of the toys she has in her house and had a grand old time. She made them popcorn and they watched some flicks. I think there was root beer, even though I warned her about the root beer.
"It brings them great pleasure initially, Mom. But you will regret it 20 minutes later when they're swinging from your ceiling fan," I'd told her earlier on the phone.
They were having fun though. All of them. Grammy too. At one point Charlie, the toddler, wandered upstairs to check out his sleeping digs.
Almost immediately, my mom noticed Charlie coming back down the stairs with a quickness. He had a very concerned look on his face but she didn't pay it much attention. He probably was conniving up new ways to convince her to let them all stay up even later than it already was.
But he beelined right for her. "Grammy!" he exclaimed as tugged on her sleeve. But my mom was busy doing something and kind of told him to wait a second.
"Grammy ... GRAMMMMMMMY!" He was relentless, much like any 3-year-old can be when they want to be the center of the universe. Which is all the time.
"Charlie, you have to wait a minute," his grandma told him. "I'm in the middle of cleaning up all this popcorn you guys spilt all over."
But that's the thing about toddlers—you understand that there are things that simply can't be understood.
Right away, my mom stopped what she was doing and grew a little concerned. Not that there WAS a monster under the bed, of course. But rather, Oh s**t! How am I going to get them to bed if Charlie is afraid of a damn monster!
It had been many moons since my mom had had to deal with 8-year-old me, back when I was petrified that Bigfoot was outside my bedroom window staring up at my nightlight's glow. She wasn't in practice for this kind of thing anymore. She'd earned her stripes as a single mom and then let many of them get rusty, deservedly.
"No, honey," she began to comfort Charlie. "It's—"
"I SAW IT!!! I SAW IT, GRAMMY! A HAND WITH CLAWS!!!"
He interrupted her because he wasn't having any of that. He wasn't buying the bedtime bull this time around. And after staring into his wee eyes for a moment or two, my mom, Charlie's Grammy, tapped back into that special magic that the very best moms and grammys never ever lose, and recognized that there might be something a little more to this than she'd expected.
"A monster?" she gently submitted. "And you saw it, buddy?"
"Yeah! It's a BIG ONE! I saw its hand and claws! Come on!"
So, my mom dropped the popcorn back onto the rug and took Charlie by his hand. The older kids were consumed in a movie. It would just be Grammy and Charlie Boy heading up to fight the monster.
Now, at this point, my mom still wasn't sure what the hell her grandson was getting at. But that's the thing about toddlers—you understand that there are things that simply can't be understood. Top of the landing, Charlie paused hard. He was genuinely frightened and my mom could tell.
"It's OK, honey," she whispered to him. "Squeeze Grammy's hand and show me this monster so we can chase him away!"
She still didn't know what was going on. Or what Charlie had seen, if anything.
Into the room, they went. A moment of truth, if you will. And the rest will go down in history for generations to come. As Charlie hid behind Grammy's thigh and pointed at the dark corner under the bottom bunk, one of the finest moments of any of our lives came so beautifully true.
There WAS a giant hairy paw with long terrible claws poking out from under the bed!
Photograph by Serge Bielanko Private
My mom gasped. Charlie gasped. They squeezed each other's hand across the generations!
Charlie planted his face in my mom's rear, unable to look at the horrific battle about to explode into the room! Grammy versus The Monster! Oh no! Oh dear! Oh my!
My mom's heart lifted high then. She began chuckling enough to let Charlie know there was no danger. He peeked out from behind her.
"That's Pop-Pop's old bear rug, Charlie!" she exclaimed. "Oh silly Pop-Pop! He put it under there to store it for a while but he didn't push it under very far, did he?"
Charlie stared at the musty paw of a black bear from long ago. He gripped Grammy's hand. She gripped his back.
"It sure DOES look like a monster under the bed though, buddy!" she assured him. "That thing is scary-looking!"
Everything was OK then. Grammy shoved the old bear rug further back under the bunk bed and told Charlie that she was going to holler at Pop-Pop about it the next day when he woke up. But really, there was no need.
We all had a new tale to tell now, the kind that makes a dad sit at his kitchen counter and slug his coffee and smile at the random wonder of all of this. It's the kind of story that maybe only tickles me the way it does because I'm so close to it.
But at the same time, I bet you get it too. I bet you understand what I'm trying to say here. My mom and my son. A monster under the bed on a Saturday night while the wind blew rough out of the dark woods beyond the house. You can't make this stuff up. And I'm never gonna stop smiling about it. Never ever never.