Once we hit the 12-month mark, and my little Hank graduated from baby to toddler overnight, his development kicked into a higher gear. All of a sudden, instead of a new skill or sound or hand signal emerging every week or so, it was every day. Then there were two or three new tricks each day. Now it seems he’s hit the steep slope of the exponential curve that is toddler discovery, and I can’t keep track anymore.
This morning, he said “Up?” for the first time ever, arms outstretched to be picked up, like he had done it a hundred times. Scooping him up, I realized that in that brief exchange, I had relinquished my authority over whether or not he wanted to be held.
Then there were the stairs. He’d mastered going up them a week or so ago, but coming down was still daunting. We worked hard at sitting down first, then coming down slowly on his bottom. He held my hand (or daddy’s) tightly every time, steadying himself for each bump, bump, downward.
Today though, it clicked. My heart did a little flip-flop when he waved my hand away and scoot-scooted his own little bottom down the stairs. One by one, just like we had practiced.
One more thing he doesn’t need me for now.
Outside, after dinner, my bold new Hank cuddled up against our Great Dane on the lawn, using him as a pillow for an impromptu snuggle session. This surprised me too; the only affection he had ever given Roscoe to date was a quick pat on the back as he toddled by him with a nervous giggle.
Overwhelmed by all this new-found bravery, I was almost thankful when a summer storm rolled in and my little man suddenly needed his mama again. We hurried inside and I opened the blinds, so we could watch the angry clouds.
“Ma-ma-ma?” came his timid little voice, snuggling closer to me on the couch. He pointed wide-eyed at the ceiling each time the thunder rolled over the house.
“Hmmm?” he hummed, over and over, with a worried look on his face—his intense little mind in overdrive. I smoothed his hair and pulled him in a little tighter. His lip quivered and his stormy blue eyes balanced right on the edge of crying, brimming with anxious tears.
“It’s ok, sweet boy, Mama’s got you. We’re ok.”
Are we though? Inside my mama-brain, everything wasn’t ok. My husband had taken my three step-sons camping—two hours away with no cell service—so I was on single-mom duty.
In a huge electric storm.
Usually during the big summer storms, I am the one huddling close to him on the couch, shuddering at every thunder boom, hoping it will end soon.
Tonight it was up to me to be the calming force for our scared little son, since the daddy we both lean on couldn’t rescue us this time. Big storms with daddy are tolerable, but big storms without daddy are terrifying.
I scooped Hank up and carried him into his nursery, clicking the volume up a few extra notches on his bedtime Enya. Maybe I could cover up the sounds of the storm, and ease both of our minds.
Snuggling deep into the crook of my arm, he grabbed a firm grip on my shirt collar and sucked away at his pacifier. Silver-blue flashes of lightning glow lit up the dim room every few seconds; he hummed and looked up at me intently every time. Studying my reaction, watching me for how he should feel, how he should react. My little mirror.
Breathing out a long, deep breath, I tried to focus on the soothing strains of Caribbean Blue streaming out of the speaker on his bookshelf.
Calm, mama. I smiled down at him and kissed his forehead goodnight.
“Shh, sweet boy, mama loves you.”
We had gotten through many summer storms since Hank had arrived, but I realized in that moment how this one was substantially different. It hit me that for the first time ever, he was aware of it. He had slept right through most storms in the past, and we had always joked that they made him sleep better. Even if he had been awake for one, it wouldn’t have registered with him anyways; storm noise in the past was simply static in his busy baby brain.
But tonight, my tuned-in toddler was astutely aware of what was going on outside his nursery window. His baby startle reflex had evolved into full-blown little-boy fear.
I don’t have the luxury of being the scared one anymore.
I realized that whether I felt it inside or not, I had to show him only calm. I had to be a strong, fearless parent he could count on—just like his daddy. The daddy who isn’t always in town, to protect us from things like big scary thunderstorms.
As my tired boy finally drifted off in my arms, I felt the magnitude of my job as his mama hit me in a way it hadn’t before, and I didn’t want to lay him down in his crib quite yet.
I have a big job–I need to be his calm, for all the storms to come.