by Kari Diane Pike
Twenty-one children have lived in my home throughout the past 35 years: five daughters and four sons to whom I gave birth, four foster daughters and eventually three of their children, and a variety of nieces and nephews. You'd think I'd catch on a little faster, but last week, the first clue that I was in for a challenge while tending three great-nephews came during a rowdy game of tag.
Three-year-old Tristan exploded from his hiding place behind the cushions and leaped off the back of the couch, his bare feet slapping on the tile floor as he landed and raced around the kitchen island. "My Kari! My Kari! You're it! You have to catch me!"
Six-year-old Tommy danced around me like a boxer waiting for his opponent to strike the first blow. His blue eyes dared me to chase him. "Can't catch me! Can't catch me! I'm super fast!"
Two-year-old Landon didn't say a word. He didn't have to. His impish grin as he turned away said it all.
"Oh yeah? Watch out, 'cause I'm gonna getcha!" I raised my arms above my head and roared. Then I chased after Tristan. He let out a screech and took off toward Landon, who giggled and ducked and ran the opposite direction. I turned my attention toward Tommy. I tried to growl, but the challenging look on his sweet, freckled face made me laugh. I ran to catch him just as Tristan scurried behind Tommy. Tommy grabbed his brother by the arm and shoved him at me.
"Tristan! Distract her!" Tommy tore off down the hallway as I caught Tristan just before he slammed into wall next to me. Let's just say that the game was delayed (being a fifty-something-year-old grandma who birthed nine babies gives a whole new meaning to that old cliche about what happens when you laugh too hard).
Tommy had revealed the unspoken pact that children, particularly siblings, have with each other from birth: "You distract our poor, unsuspecting parents and I'll go in for the kill." Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but I think that most parents have moments when they feel ganged up on like that. Anyway, now that Tommy had let the proverbial cat out of the bag, I was on to them. Besides, I am happy to report that my spidey-mom senses, or in this case great-auntie senses, are still intact. Once again I recognized that prickly feeling up my spine and hair standing on my neck that made me listen -- and hear silence.
"Tristan! Where are you? No Tristan, you are not allowed to scale the shelves to the top of the closet to get the forbidden game controller. I know you have on your Spider-Man costume and that you have super climbing powers, but the answer is still no."
After dinner and baths, I snuggled on my bed with those three little boys who were dressed for the night in their teenage cousin's old soccer and choir tees. Halfway through the second story, Tristan and Landon's bodies jerked as their tired muscles released the last of the day's pent up energy. I drank in the irony of the innocence in those sweet faces. Tommy cleared his throat, reminding me that we hadn't finished the story.
"Aunt Kari, how do I get tired so that I can go to sleep too?"
"You don't have to go to sleep, Tommy. Just close your eyes and rest."
"But when I close my eyes, the monsters come."
"I'm sorry you see monsters. That's scary. Try to think about happy things."
"I try to think about happy things, but then the monsters come and scare the happy things away and kill everything."
"Hmmmm...I guess it's a good thing that monsters are make-believe."
"What? Well, yeah, but they're scary."
"They are scary. But guess what! Since monsters are make-believe and you're real, you have more powers than the monsters do."
"What? I have powers?" Tommy sat straight up, his eyes bugged out and his mouth dropped open. "Nuh-uh. I don't have powers." A giggle worked its way up from Tommy's belly and he cupped his hand over his mouth to suppress it. He even rolled his eyes -- yet another innate ability children come with.
"Sure you do, Tommy. You are real. Heavenly Father made you. He gave you special powers. Monsters aren't real, so they don't have real powers. You have the power to make all the monsters go away."
A little crease formed between Tommy's eyebrows. "Where are my powers? Why can't I see them? How can I see them?" He held out his arms and pretended to shoot webs out his hands like Spider-Man.
"They're right there inside your heart."
The furrow in his brow deepened. "Does Tristan have powers too?"
"Sure. Heavenly Father made Tristan and Landon and Mommy and Daddy and everybody. We are all Heavenly Father's children and He gave all of us special powers so that we can be stronger than all of the monsters."
"Huh? How do I find my powers? How do I learn how to use them?"
"Well, you can find your powers by saying your prayers and asking Heavenly Father to help you be strong. Then you practice using them by being kind to others. You try your best to help your family and your friends. You go to church and learn about those powers. Your powers get stronger and stronger when you practice them."
"So, my powers get stronger when I grow?"
"Yep. You'll learn what your special powers are when you practice being kind and making good choices. You will get stronger and stronger. If you want, we can say prayers right now and you can ask Heavenly Father to help you be stronger than the monsters and make them go away so you can sleep."
Tommy climbed out of bed and knelt beside me.
"Aunt Kari, I don't know what to say to Heavenly Father."
"What makes you happy? What are you thankful for?" Tommy told me about all the things that make him happy. "Tell Heavenly Father what you just told me. Tell Him thank you for all those wonderful things."
Then we talked about Tommy's monsters. And Tommy asked Heavenly Father to help him be stronger than the monsters. After our "Amen", I tucked Tommy under the covers next to his sleeping brothers. He fell asleep in less than a minute.
Just a couple of mornings later, I woke up feeling like I was sitting on the edge of a deep ravine and the sides were caving in under me. I recognized that impending doom feeling and the deep hole of depression and discouragement it can lead to. I was tempted to hide from my monsters by staying under the covers. Then I remembered my conversation with Tommy. I knelt beside my bed and I began to pray. I prayed as hard as I have ever prayed before. I felt a spark of hope. I sang a hymn. I read my scriptures. I prayed some more. That spark ignited and I felt its warmth and peace fill my soul.
The challenges of the day were still before me, but I was able to focus on what was most important. Yes, my mother has another cancer. But she can be cured. She is going to be sicker than she has ever been before, but we can be there for her and help her. Yes, I have family members and friends who struggle with their own monsters, but we can use our powers together to fight for truth and righteousness. We are children of a Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him. He sent His only begotten Son to be our Savior and Redeemer. With the Savior beside us, we can have the strength to do hard things.
Thank you, Tommy, for teaching me that even a great Aunt still has the power to make the monsters go away.