To the Mothers of Superheroes

Episode 1:  Target parking lot, some seven years ago.  We find our hero, a mere three years old . . .

I was patting myself on the back just for making it out the door today.  It rained on and off all morning, I don’t feel particularly well, and someone has stolen my darling Peter and replaced him with some contrarian who answers every statement with a screech of protest.  But, we have this annoying habit of eating every day so I ventured out to forage.

At our first stop we ran into the store amidst a massive cloud burst that did nothing to brighten our shopping prospects.  It turns out that adding water does not return my Peter to his formerly charming self.  But, we persevered and managed everything on our list plus the largest umbrella I could find.

We emerged from the store to find the rain had reduced to a healthy drizzle.  But, as we approached the car I saw that in our hurry I hadn’t noticed that Eliza’s door had sprung back open after I hit the button.  This is a glitch that seems to occur only when it’s raining.  I buckled the poor girl in a soaking wet car seat and tossed the new umbrella in the van.  I then muscled the recalcitrant door closed.  It took me three tries, but I got it latched at last.

It wasn’t until I walked around the van to buckle Peter that an avalanche of realizations came at once.  Trying in vain to open Peter’s door–Eliza’s door was open so I hadn’t needed to unlock the doors.  As my stomach drops I look back to the door I had just bullied shut–I had now closed the only open door.  Desperate hands exploring every pocket in a futile effort to find keys that were not there–Eliza snatched my keys as we walked out the door. . . . I had just done what I’ve often feared.  I'd locked the keys in the car, with my children inside.

The only boon was that I hadn’t yet buckled Peter.  Rain dripping down my neck, I called Peter up to the driver’s seat.  As a gentle rain became a more persistent shower I tried to direct him to the unlock button.  As the shower developed into a full-fledged downpour I decided to change tactics.  Through the window I asked him to look around for the keys.  First, look under the bag I had tossed in my seat.  Or just upend it and empty all the contents.  That will work just fine as well.  Then, trepidatious about losing eye contact to the tinted windows, I instructed him to go look in Eliza’s seat for the keys.

Amazingly, he returned promptly holding aloft the keys.  There was the tense moment when he assumed that I wanted him to put them in the ignition.  But, some desperate pantomiming got us back on track.  At this point I didn’t even want to look around to see how many onlookers were enjoying my escapade.

I had only a few more tense moments of watching him fumble with the fob before he succeeded in hitting the “unlock” button and I was in!  It was a dripping wet relief, but relief nonetheless.  

As I buckled him in I beamed, “You’re the hero, Peter!”  

True to his surly mood he responded, “I’m not the real hero.  Heroes have capes.”  

Heady with relief, I answered, “I bet I could scratch up a cape for you.”  

Shaking his head he insisted, “No, heroes don’t have mommas.  And, they have to wear their pajamas.”

It has been a long time since anyone at my house has asked me to tie a dish towel around their neck for a super hero cape.  And yet, it’s more than just nostalgia that prompts me to remember those superhero days.  

I think a lot about what I want to teach my children.  I want to teach them to be good and kind.  To work hard.  To be curious and honest.  I try to teach them these things.  But, I don’t think about teaching them how to be superheroes.  Maybe mothering is less about instructing and more about preserving.

Episode 2:  Our kitchen, in a new home, in a new neighborhood, in a new school . . . 

Abi walks in the door and I greet her with that most automatic of greetings, “How was your day?”.

It was good, she reports.  She met a few new people.  And, she got her petition in so she can officially run for school secretary.  I marvel at my daughter, never even blinking at the prospect of approaching 50 students she doesn’t know to support her in a bid to run for a student council in a brand new school.

“Oh, and I know there’ll be at least a few other people running for secretary, too.”

“I would imagine that there would be.  Is it anyone you’ve met so far?”

“One of the boys is in my science class, and another I don’t really know, but I signed his petition.”

“How did that come about?”  I asked.

“Well, it was almost time to turn in our petitions, and a boy was walking through the lunchroom, trying to get the last few signatures that he needed.  He went up to a table beside me and asked the boys there if they would sign his petition.  They told him ‘No way’ because a friend of theirs was also running for secretary.  Then they started chanted their friend’s name.  So, I walked over and signed it for him.  I was the last one he needed, so he should be able to run, too.”

She drops her lunchbox by the sink then heads off toward her room.  I realize that I am only beginning to understand all the ways I should marvel at with this girl.

There is no Mr. Penguin or Lex Luther.  But, the villains are real enough.  They are hate and despair and want.  They can’t be conquered with superhuman strength, nuclear accidents, or butler-honed technology.

Their solution lies in those super hero hearts that you’re caring for.  So, let them wear their capes (I know you do).  Let them be just as big and expansive as their hearts know how to be. 

Because there is a world out there that needs heroes of epic proportions.  It is a world that will tell them all the things they can’t do.  It is a world that will tell them that they are small and incapable.  It is a world that believes that something added to you is less for me.  It is a world that will tell them that others are fundamentally different from them, and that differences are to be feared.  It is a world that will confuse and befuddle even the bravest among us.

It is a world that needs superheroes every, every day.

Episode 3: Airing now in a living room near you . . .