Of Lizards and Laughter and Love

Of Lizards and Laughter and Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Of Lizards and Laughter and Love

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

Victor Borge

My first-born was a “boundary banger.” Whatever boundary his dad and I established for Josh, he hit it as hard as he could—testing to see if he could push past our parental limits. Josh challenged bedtimes, television restrictions, and even having to wear a coat during the winter. When I told him not to run, he said, “I’m just walking fast.” If I told him it was time to get out of the pool, he conveniently dunked his head underwater and didn’t hear me.

By the time Josh was nine years old, I was just as tired of saying “Don’t” as Josh was of hearing it. There were days I felt like a human boundary line, worn out by my son’s insistent defiance. I wanted fewer power struggles and more fun with my strong-willed son. I longed for memories echoing with shared laughter, not just the sound of my voice repeating, “No. No. No.”

Rather than being on opposing teams about what Josh could do or not do, I devised a challenge we could enjoy together. And so, I bought a green-and-orange plastic lizard. My game plan was simple: I would hide “Lizard” and dare Josh to find it.

My first attempt was easy. I snuggled its three-inch, striped plastic form into Josh’s tennis shoe. I chuckled as I imagined him finding it when he got dressed for school the next morning. Sure enough, he came into the kitchen, Lizard dangling from his hand and a bemused “What’s going on, Mom?” look on his face.

“Good job! You found him. Now, you hide Lizard and I’ll find him.” With a grin, Josh picked up the gauntlet—I mean, Lizard—already plotting the perfect hiding place.

And so it began. I found Lizard under my pillow, nestled among my shampoo and conditioner bottles in the shower, and between my car visors. Once, I picked up my water bottle to find Lizard floating among the ice cubes. Another time, I crawled into bed, rolled over on my back, and saw Lizard leering at me from the light fixture on my ceiling fan. Josh’s most memorable attempt? Positioning Lizard under the toilet lid. That was quite an unexpected—and uncomfortable—discovery during my middle-of-the-night bathroom visit.

When it was my turn, I tucked Lizard in Josh’s book bag, in the refrigerator among the leftovers, behind the couch pillows, and in his coat pocket.

Sometimes a hiding place was too good and Lizard languished unfound for months. We misplaced Lizard a few times through the years, but I only had to replace him once. Josh hid Lizard too well, and I was stumped. It was only after we’d moved from Florida to Colorado that I found Lizard as I unpacked a box full of household odds and ends.

Hiding Lizard was more than just a game. It was a silly but concrete way of showing Josh that I loved him—and for him to show me he loved me. Whenever I discovered Lizard nestled in my sock drawer or lurking in my washing machine, I imagined Josh plotting the ideal hiding place and then anticipating me finding it. Whenever Josh found Lizard lounging in his cereal bowl or resting on a bar of soap in the tub, he knew I was thinking about him. An inexpensive rubber reptile became a tangible expression of love between us.

As Josh grew up, our game of reptile hide-and-seek was sometimes forgotten for months at a time. But when then-fourteen-year-old Josh packed for a nine-week mission trip to Kenya, I smuggled Lizard into his duffel bag. When he moved into his college dorm, I packaged Lizard and mailed him to Josh.

When Josh got married this past May, I made good on my promise that Lizard would go along on his honeymoon. Since I once again couldn’t find Lizard, a friend donated one of her boys’ toy lizards to the cause. We made up a gift basket filled with a bottle of champagne and chocolate and other goodies that was delivered to Josh and Jenelle’s hotel room. The lizard lounged in a champagne glass.

As Josh and his bride left for their honeymoon, I smiled to myself, knowing I’d ultimately bested my son in our longstanding game. An hour later, I walked out to my car, happily exhausted from celebrating with family and friends. I slid into the driver’s seat, and there, perched on my dashboard, was a tiny brown-and-yellow striped plastic lizard. I put my head down on my steering wheel and laughed as I cried.

My son sure hates to lose—and that’s one of the things I love about him.

Beth K. Vogt

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