Daylight lazily begins its saunter through the blinds, dancing teasingly on the brow of The Angel. The Angel blinks his eyes once, then twice, merging slowly into Reality from dreams of riding a brachiosaurus bareback.
Tentatively, The Angel asks, “Mommy?”
He waits, then gaining a stronger foothold on wakefulness, calls with assurance, “Mommy!”
Mommy enters, a tall and stumbling tower of bleariness, and murmurs, “Hey, baby.”
The Angel smiles. He leaps from his bed, and as she crouches down to catch him, throws his arms joyfully around her beck. “I wuv you, Mommy!” he exclaims, the light from his heart mirrored in the shine of his bright brown eyes.
“Well, good morning to you, too,” says Mommy, her voice still thick with sleep but obviously deeply enamored with this darling, this cherub of sunshine and delight.
Together, The Angel and Mommy clasp hands, animatedly chattering of the possibilities of the day. They pause for a moment on the top of the stairs.
That pause is their downfall.
For in that moment, The Shadow creeps in through the window, into the hall, and into the heart of The Angel.
It starts when they reach the bottom of the stairs.
“Milk?” asks The Angel…the last sentence he utters as himself, before The Shadow takes full possession.
“Sure,” says Mommy, still elated with this seraph of joy she calls her offspring. She fills a cup with milk, only to turn and offer it…not to her little Angel, but the angry, defiant Shadow.
“NO MILK!” roars The Shadow. He attempts to slap the milk from her hand. The Shadow is not Evil itself, but it sees Evil everywhere. It is angry, and hurt, and frustrated without cause. It is paranoid and desperate against all reason.
Mommy takes a deep breath. She has seen this before. “No hitting,” she reminds, trying to maintain calm in the wake of the upcoming torrent of doom.
But the Milk is now The Shadow’s sworn enemy. It is Evil and needs to be Destroyed.
Or at least Refrigerated.
“PUT AWAY, MOMMY!” commands The Shadow. “Put milk in fridge!”
“Say ‘please,’” Mommy says gently.
“PUH-WEASE!” comes the banshee-wail.
Careful not to react, Mommy puts the offending milk back in the refrigerator.
This is not enough for The Shadow. Mommy, the person who brought him this accursed nectar of Satan, she is a treacherous fiend who deserves nothing but his contempt and vengeance. “GO AWAY, MOMMY! WEAVE ME AWONE!” Thus follows the desperate wail of betrayal and hopelessness. The Shadow throws himself onto the floor in a swirling, imagined agony of despair, while Mommy stands and looks on, feeling, but trying not to show, her helplessness.
This is a new but not unknown enemy. The Shadow, it is whispered, is hungry. It is hungry for power, desperate for control. But more specifically, it literally HUNGRY, and needs sugar in its bloodstream in order for the helpless rage to subside.
But The Shadow does not want to subside. It does not want to eat. It wants to stay in its dark pit of misery and drag everyone down with it.
So Mommy must act carefully. The Shadow thrives on negativity. You can yell at The Shadow. You can threaten it, you can bully it, you can beg it, you can scream at it—but all of these make only it stronger. It glories in the apparent Evil of your controlling ways and fights harder, thrashing the little body it inhabits wildly, flinging tears and hurling cries at anyone it sees.
No Mommy can defeat The Shadow. In fact, nobody can defeat The Shadow.
Nobody, save one.
But to regain control, the Angel needs strength, he needs sustenance, he needs…food. Food that The Shadow will not accept.
So Mommy takes another deep breath…and walks away. She leaves her darling, her beautiful boy, a sobbing, heaving mess on the floor. There is nothing she can do for him now, except be quiet, be gentle, and be firm. She reminds him with a whisper and a quick hug that no matter what, she loves him so very much; and even though he struggles wildly to escape her embrace, she knows that somewhere inside there the Angel is fighting to come back.
She walks into another room, sits down and reads a magazine. Of course, she is not really reading, only giving the appearance of it so that The Shadow will not sense her anxiety. She tidies a bit. She checks her email. The Shadow screams on in the kitchen.
Then all at once, the screams stop. The air is still.
Mommy resists the urge to run into the other room. He’s okay, he’s okay…she tells herself. She knows what this means. The war is not over, but it has moved inward. The Angel must fight his own battle.
In another minute, a small figure will enter the room. His face will be red from screams and stained with tears.
He sees Mommy, who offered him the original offending milk, who still is trying to offer him…a Clif bar, toast, bacon, berries, potato chips, jelly beans…ANYTHING if he will just eat and get sugar back into his system.
And sometimes, The Shadow rears in defiance and throws himself back on the floor, kicking and screaming again. He bats angrily at any attempt to feed him. The world is full of darkness and deserves to be punished in as mighty a fashion as his two-year-old self can muster. So Mommy continues to wait, continues to be patient.
Because eventually, sometimes after a minute, sometime after an hour, the Angel wins. The Angel always wins. And the little boy comes and sits quietly next to Mommy on the couch, takes the Clif Bar and begins eating. Five minutes later, he ventures a little smile. Twenty minutes later, he is off the couch and playing eagerly with his toys, politely saying “please” and “thank you” and sometimes just running over to his Mommy to throw his little arms around her neck again and say, “I wuv you, Mommy.”
And like that, this battle is over.
There will be others, of course. Battles caused by fatigue, battles over un-purchased dinosaurs, battles because the sky is blue and the grass is green. For awhile, they were a constant, never-ceasing barrage. But each day, there are fewer and fewer.
Because slowly, The Angel is winning the war of the Terrible Twos.
One day at a time.
Hello, Angel. Welcome back.