Monday, March 21, 2011

Saving the World

TK and Nick are superheros today, and I -- merely the mother, after all -- am the office secretary. The game is this: as TK and Nick "work" at play cash registers in their "office" (a Bob-the-Builder tent in the corner of Nick's living room), I am stationed on the couch fielding phone calls from the many imaginary and quite distressed citizens of Juneau who need superheros to save the day.

"Oh! Calling Batman and Super Purple Girl!" I call out. Batman emerges from the Bob-the-Builder tent, his black bat ears askew, his glasses falling down on his nose. Super Purple Girl steps out slowly, concentrating on the sparkly pink lip gloss she is applying to her lips. I clear my throat, ever the good employee. "Downtown Juneau is being attacked by enormous evil butterflies!" I announce. "Will you deal with it?"

Super Purple Girl throws her lip gloss aside, and thrusts her arms into the air. Batman strikes a manly pose with both hands on his hips. "Yes!" they shout together, and they pretend to launch themselves into the air, running pell-mell down the white carpeted hallway toward Nicky's room, where ZAP! and POW! are the sounds of the defeating of evil butterflies.

When they return -- inevitably sporting pretend injuries and exhaustion -- I always breathe out in secretarial amazement: "Oh, wow. You superheros saved the day again!" Nick and TK puff up with pride, and then disappear again into their office until the next phone call. . .

And I perch on the couch, thinking. TK doesn't play superhero with her girl friends. She and her girl friends rock dolls to sleep; they dress up in pink princess crowns; they dance wildly to hiphop music. Actually, TK plays like that with Nick, too. But I'm not just contemplating how special of a friend Nicky is. I'm thinking about superheros, and my daughter's ardent belief in their real ability to save the day.

For about a year, TK has quietly insisted she will grow up to become a teacher or a doctor, and then return to Ethiopia to help people there. Already a girl with a strong sense of justice and empathy, she has recently developed a grown-up look about her when she discusses her birth country: she sets her jaw, and looks out into the distance, announcing that she'll make it better there when she gets older. A few weeks ago, when the two of us were sharing dinner, she brought it up on her own. "Mommy," she said quietly, "in Ethiopia, lots of people don't have enough good water."

I nodded, waiting.

"And lots of people can't get to doctors." Her little brow furrowed. "Like my birth mommy. She couldn't get to a doctor."

I pulled her off her chair and onto my lap and held her close. "Isn't that why you say you want to be a doctor, sweetheart -- and go back there?"

She sat up straight suddenly and lifted her little chin. "Not a doctor, Mommy! I'm going to be a superhero when I grow up, and I'll go to Ethiopia and save the day -- for everyone!" Her deep brown eyes flashed.

I held her closer, wishing superheros were real.

But a week later on another night, the two of us were engaged in a pretend battle between Monster (me) and Super Purple Girl. I tramped into the room, growling and clawing the air, announcing that I wanted to eat little children, when TK leapt off the couch in superhero pose, her hands flipped palm up to me.

"Aaarrrrr!" I growled. "What are your powers, Super Purple Girl? You can NEVER defeat ME!"

"My powers," Super Purple Girl proclaimed in her biggest voice, "are that I LOVE YOU!"

And so the monster melted, and was glad to be defeated and hugged tightly on the couch.

And so TK's dreams of helping Ethiopia are possible, too -- more possible than any mere secretarial mother may be capable of imagining.

I must get back to work, though. The phone is ringing off the hook with distressed citizens, and the superheros will need a snack soon -- and no one can defeat evil butterflies or slime monsters without a little yogurt and some goldfish crackers in their bellies first. . .