“Moooooooom!” The scream breaks the soft afternoon quiet. It is followed by the distinct cry of a terrified toddler. I run to my son’s bedroom door and swing it open.
Lewis is curled up under his fox quilt, the one my mama sewed, in the middle of the white tile floor. Only his feet are visible. He continues to scream as I lift the quilt off his small frame.
“No! I hide! The monster it get me!” He screams again as he throws his quilt back over himself. This is not his usual grumpy nap time wake up.
“Buddy, can I hide with you?” I ask as I crawl under the quilt with him. Quilts in the Caribbean aren’t the brightest idea, I think, as humidity engulfs me. I pull him into my lap while his body continues to shake with sobs.
“Buddy, is there something scary?” He nods as tears stream down his cheeks. He raises his finger and points to the curtain. I ordered those blackout curtains for $14.99 in an attempt to make him sleep past sunrise. So far all attempts have been mostly unsuccessful.
“It’s a monster outside. Big white monster with red eyes. Mom I scared.” His grey-blue eyes widen as he describes this nap disruptor. I know his eyes are the very same ones I use to see the world. It’s strange to look into a tiny face and see my own reflection.
“I don’t think there’s a monster. Can I check?” Really, I just want out from underneath this quilt; sweat is dripping off my forehead. He nods hesitantly.
I throw the quilt off of us and open the curtain. I’m almost shocked when there are only tree branches swaying outside, and I know he’s discovered an ugly truth of life: we can’t always see our monsters, but that doesn’t make them any less real.
It’s Saturday. It’s always the worst on the weekends. I slice vegetables for dinner while my husband talks about work and our to do list. I am trying to look like I am listening, without actually absorbing any information. I can already feel the monster starting his shimmy.
“What do you think we should do next?” my husband asks, genuinely wanting to hear my thoughts.
The tension starts somewhere just below my rib cage and works its way up. The pressure weaves its way between every single rib. It threads around my shoulders and rises into my throat.
I set the knife down and press my arms against the counter, hoping to push away the anxiety monster.
Lewis is dancing around the table asking to watch Paw Patrol. Those dang dogs are going to be the end of my parenting patience. He knows the answer is no but he keeps asking. He gets that persistence from me.
Elliot is restless in his jumper. He starts to grunt. I feel my milk start to let down, needles in my breast, a reminder that once again I am at everyone else’s beck and call.
“Everyone just stop!” My voice is louder than I want it to be. Lewis’ smirk vanishes. Elliot’s grunts rise to a full scream.
There are a million shards of glass pricking under my skin. My head is pounding. I need to sit down. I need to run a marathon. At the same time. And then they come flooding in: the unwelcome, unending thoughts.
You aren’t cut out for this. You can’t juggle being a wife and mom and living overseas. You can’t even get dinner finished. What happens if you don’t finish the to do list? What if the truck breaks down again? What are you going to do the next time the kids get sick?
I know the swirling thoughts are not true, but I feel them as tangibly as the cold countertop under my sweaty palms. They won’t stop. I know they won’t. They will last after I’ve cleaned up the dinner that is still uncooked.
They will keep gnashing their teeth at me as I tuck Lewis in bed. They will hiss and taunt me as I rock Eli to sleep.
Maybe this is the secret of motherhood: the ability to imagine every worst case scenario in five seconds flat while also suffocating on my own ideas. The monster grows on my exhaustion. Every hour of sleep lost to my hungry babe or toddler in need of water is an hour anxiety devours.
Welcome to motherhood, where the monsters are always hiding.
Lewis comes flying around the corner, eyes wide in fear. He has now survived one hour of knowing monsters are real.
“It back Mom!” he yells, looking cautiously over his shoulder.
I shift Eli on my hip and bend down to wrap an arm around my oldest, scared boy.
“Buddy, do you remember? We checked and there aren’t monsters.”
“Uh huh. I see it. I show you.”
I stand up as he yanks on my arm to lead me around the corner of the house. I’m half afraid there really is something lurking in our tropical backyard as we round the corner, dead leaves crunching under my bare feet. He points toward the very back of the yard, right outside his bedroom window.
“See it? Him gonna get us.”
There is only a vine rustling in the breeze, at least to my eyes. But I know he really believes there is something there. I barely feel brave enough for myself so I don’t know how to be brave for my boy.
Elliot tugs on my sleeve, signaling he’s ready for his next meal. I try to think fast. A recent conversation with a friend comes to mind: As I confessed that my courage is thin these days, she shared, “ I looked up the word courage and I just can’t shake the meaning. ‘Courage: to stand in the face of fear or grief.”
I look down at my frightened, sweet toddler, remembering again how much he is myself remade. Today, maybe, we can stand in the face of our fear.
“You know what Bud? Sometimes Mommy feels scared too,” I say, “and sometimes we do see monsters. It’s okay to be scared of them.” I want to tell him that Jesus is bigger than monsters, to teach him the words to that silly VeggieTales song about God being bigger than fear. I want to, but today, I’m scared of my own monsters.
So, instead, I look my brave boy in the eye and wait for him to process this permission to go at life scared.
“I be scared and okay?”
It sounds so simple coming from his mouth, in his sweet little boy voice. It sounds so simple, but I know there are more complexities to this idea than either of us grasp.
“That’s right. You can be scared but still brave at the same time.”
Lewis looks up at me wide-eyed, curious courage starting to rise. “Okay. I play even I scared.”
I’ve lost count of where they happen, the onset of fears that send my heart racing. Inside of me. I know that. Deep in my shoulders, in my hips, in my aching back, I carry the fears.
Maybe you have them too? They dance in our rib cages, shimmying up our throats. They slumber underneath our eyelids, uncloaking themselves in the midnight hour. I haven’t figured out how to escape them. But, every Tuesday, I call my counselor. Sometimes, I take an extra nap, or say no to an afternoon cup of coffee. I journal. I ask a friend to listen. I drink cold water. I count to five and breathe deep. I pray. I ask God to show me the way of peace.
I think that’s the secret, really. We aren’t meant to slay the monsters. Instead, we learn to live in the midst of them.
Welcome to life: where we all carry our monsters, and go on anyway.
Editor’s Note: Dani Troyer was brave. She was a wife, a mother, a missionary in Haiti, and a creative, but the thread that so beautifully tied these pieces of life together was courageous love. That’s why Dani’s writing was so poignant: She was bold enough to go to the dark places to find the light she was so drawn to. Though she lost her earthly life due to a tragic medical event in April 2019, Dani left behind a legacy of love through her husband, her two young sons, her missionary work, and her writing, which we’re so honored to share here today.
Dani, thank you for your stories. We’re better for them.
Dani’s sister has set up a GoFundMe campaign for Dani’s husband, Kyle, and two sons. You may contribute here.