The lizard was tiny and speckled brown, and it ran across the carpet of the new master bedroom as Jake and I played on the floor. Excited to show my toddler a creature he’d never met before, I pointed to it.
“Look, Jakey! A little gecko!”
With the speed and curiosity inherent to boys of his age, my little scientist jumped up, ran to the gecko, and promptly pinned it down by its tail.
The gecko kept moving; the tail did not.
After our first week living in Hawaii, in a house without furniture or air conditioning (with a toddler and a newborn), my coping skills were at their limit.
Without thinking, I squealed. “Oh NO!”
My little boy came running back to me, wide-eyed, almost shaking with fear. “Mama!”
As he threw himself into my embrace—something that happens so rarely these days—I took a deep breath and prepared myself to do damage control. “It’s okay, sweetie. Geckos’ tails grow back. She will be okay. I was just surprised!”
“Oh no,” he repeated, hanging his head. “Oh no.”
How quickly things change from the time our little ones cannot comprehend the words we speak over their heads to the days when they absorb everything we do – our words, our tone of voice, our knee-jerk reactions. The responsibility we carry as parents suddenly shifts from not only providing them their physical needs but ushering in a safe emotional space to inhabit as well.
I held him close and whispered reassurances, but I could feel the weight of what happened settle onto his small shoulders.
Our summer was one of immense upheaval—we introduced him to his baby brother in May and seven weeks later packed our things and said goodbye to the town and the friends who had been the only home he’d ever known. On my mind throughout most of this was how he would handle so much change with so little consistency to cling to.
At a time when we should be phasing out bottles and maybe even diapers, here came a little brother who claimed my attention 24/7 with feeding and changing. And thus my toddler learned the words “Me, too!”
At a time when he needed more supervision and coaching to better understand boundaries and structure and measures of safety, I was distracted and sleep-deprived and ever-ready with the iPad.
At a time when he most needed his Mama and Dada to be loving and encouraging and kind, we were stressed and impatient and short-tempered.
All the while I kept telling myself, Just get through the summer. Soon, my husband would start his new job with more consistent hours. We’d find a church and community to remind us to keep our eyes lifted up and hands extended out toward one another. We’d find a routine and finally figure out how to parent two under two. We’d celebrate all we’d accomplished and the blessed fact that kids are resilient and thrive on even the simplest offerings of love.
Then came the news of my husband’s deployment.