I believe in Superman. Yes, the man who can bend steel with his bare hands, jump tall buildings in a single bound, and change the course of mighty rivers. Because my son Noah imitates Superman endlessly, he has become for me a powerful, not-so-subtle reminder of the dichotomy that resides in us all.
When Noah dons his cape—an old hooded towel—he truly becomes his own hero, shooting at bad guys, saving Lois Lane (usually played by me), rescuing Jimmy Olsen (played with gusto by his daddy or younger brother), and of course jumping off the couch onto pillows he has carefully stacked. I know that his play is a rehearsal for handling the bad guys that will surely come into his life and a practice in chivalry when it comes to the ladies. But it also reminds me that I have to don my own hero’s cape more and more. And I cannot do this as easily as my son.
By this point, I truly thought I’d have parenting down to a science. After all, I was raised to be a perfectionist, so I could perfect motherhood too, right? But with perfectionism comes a certain kind of self-loathing. Hard to shake both—and therein lies the dichotomy that I have to balance on an everyday basis—the cape in the morning, the small child who fears rejection at night. I suppose I was fooling myself when I thought motherhood would chase away my childhood. That maternal instincts would wipe away any petulance I felt when dealing with my parents. That creating adorable photo books of my boys would destroy any shred of sorrow.
I’ve learned that parenthood won’t do any this, however. The ghosts from the past and specters from the future are just part of who we are—our Clark Kent—they don’t disappear into a closet and come out heroically transformed. I have to just embrace my opposites and do my best with the bad guys who come my way. So when Noah flies down the stairs disguised as Superman—with his arms straight out and that sure-fire grin of conviction on his face—ready to fight the never-ending battle, I am ready too.
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