“I don’t want to be scared of the dragon, momma.”
She whined and twisted her hand away from mine.
I snapped at her. I jerked her arm to keep her still and she began to cry.
What I missed, while looking for grain-free dog food, was the giant, inflatable dragon behind me. The one standing about 25 ft tall, breathing fire, and swaying forward and back. The one that is invisible to me, because I’m a grown-up (sort of), but absolutely terrifying to a child. The one just like the green dinosaur from a year ago at Christmas. The one she talked about for 10 months because it made her scared at night.
I don’t want her to be afraid of the dragon, either. I want her to know that fear is normal and natural. I want her to know that there are so many “dragons” for her to slay in the future when she’s ready. But I don’t want her afraid, now. Not with me.
So, I pick her up, even though I shouldn’t. Even though my body isn’t ready yet, to hold her. I let her bury her face in my shoulder and I leave the bag of dog food in the middle of the floor. I carry her passed the dragon and I whisper in her ear.
I tell her the dragon is like a balloon and she wants to believe me, but she can’t. Because she saw it, and our memories of things get scarier at night. I tell her he was just a toy, but she won’t like that either. Or that a machine was blowing him up with air.
At night, I sit by the crib she’s almost outgrown and tell her a story about a brave princess who sent all the dragons back to stay with their mommies. I explain dragons need sharp teeth because they eat giant, chewy gummy bears. I tell her they only breath fire after they eat spicy cheese with their tortilla chips. That the plants we’ve planted in our garden are the type dragons don’t like, so they won’t come here, anyway. Finally, I tell her that dragons have to listen to me, because I’m the boss, and I’m mean, and I say “no dragons allowed”.
She giggles and reaches her tiny hand through the slats of her crib. “You’re not mean, momma. You’re the nicest momma I ever have.”
And the nicest momma hears the nicest thing she’s ever heard.
As I stand to go, she starts to cry, again, and I reach down to pick her up.
“I don’t want to be scared of the dragon,” she says and I know one day she won’t be.
But until then, I will chase away all of the monsters. I will slay all the dragons. And I will carry her to the safety of her momma’s bed.
I turn out the light and she snuggles up to my back. She presses her little body against mine and I smile. Because it doesn’t matter how sick I’ve been. How tired. How inadequate this month. I can still chase away the spiders. I can still heal her with a kiss. I am still her momma and tonight, I banished her dragons.
Her breath evens and slows, and I turn to face her. I smooth her hair and watch her sleep. Today, she thinks I saved her. She doesn’t yet know that she saved me the day that she arrived. That the strength I needed, the light I thought I lost — I found in her. That I can’t ever lose her, without everything I am being lost.
I know I won’t be her hero forever, but she will always, always be mine.
I guess we all have our dragons.
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