It started with dirty laundry. No wait, it started with a Parents Newsletter and dirty laundry. When I collected Hawkeye on Friday there was the ubiquitous collection of sheets clipped under each child’s name. And the first item in the newsletter was one that I love and loathe in equal measures: a dress-up event. I love the idea. I would also love to be one of those parents that can make creative outfits for their kids out of stuff around the house the way MacGyver could construct a defibrillator from some candlesticks, a rubber mat, and a microphone cord. Perhaps some day I’ll get there. Right now though, I’m still mostly sleep deprived and exhausted and therefore loathe the effort it takes. But hey, this is why we live in a franchise-driven consumer culture, right? I can get creative, or I can go shop.
The celebration was for International Children’s Day and our creche was participating in the LauraLynn Children’s Hospice fundraising event “Be a Hero” Superhero Day. As it happens, we already have some basic clothes that can pass for a costume. First of all there was the Captain America outfit he wore for Halloween last year, though I wasn’t keen on him repeating the same costume. I wanted to not be that lazy. That would still fit. Then there was the Hulk outfit he was just growing into. (Can you sense a theme here? *cough* mommy’s a marvel fan *cough*) In fact, he had worn the Hulk t-shirt on that very day for the first time and I made a mental note to keep it for the Superhero Day on 1 June.
Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as clean coming home as it was leaving that morning, so I needed to wash it before today.
I tried. Honestly. It had been on my mind all weekend but what with one thing or another I ended up not getting any laundry done. I had it in my mind on Monday and on Tuesday. I had it in my mind to ask my husband to soak it in the sink on Wednesday when he was working from home.
I came home late Wednesday evening, tired and feeling slightly under the weather, to find the Hulk t-shirt still slightly stained, lying on the couch where, in a clearly failed strategy, I had left it the day before in an attempt to serve as a reminder for me.
F*ck it, I said. He can be Captain America again. Even if the Hulk shirt was clean, it still hasn’t gotten quite warm enough on a daily basis to stick him into the Hulk shorts. Only one problem though – Cap’s pants had gone missing. Maybe they’re at the bottom of the toddler’s laundry bin? I wasn’t quite sure. At this point my pride was interfering with the idea of just sticking any sort of trousers on him and letting the shirt and the hood with the giant A do the talking.
My panic, at this point, oozed out sufficiently to catch my husband’s attention.
“Don’t stress about it” he said. “We can just call him a robot and stick the Star Wars t-shirt on him. R2D2 was a hero, right?”
“Of course!” I replied. “If it weren’t for R2D2 everyone would have died!”
As it happened, the R2D2 shirt was not in the laundry hamper. So it was without any sense of last minute panic that I got Hawkeye dressed this morning in the R2D2 t shirt. I even found some appropriately coloured trousers for him that, coincidentally, had a small Superman on them, giving R2D2 his own sidekick.
“There,” I said to my toddler, who was far more interested in the gingerbread man he was eating than paying attention to me. “You’re all set. When you get to creche you tell them that you’re R2D2 and that he was the real hero because he went out and just did his job without any theatrics and if it weren’t for him everyone else wouldn’t have survived to do their part. So he’s the real superhero of Star Wars.”
I wish I could say that all along his was the reason my kid went to creche in an R2D2 t-shirt today, and not just because mommy forgot to do laundry. But you know what? I’ll take it. It may not be the original intention here that counted, but at the end of the day, my son went out there and represented all those everyday heroes. The unremarked-upon people (and droids!) behind the scenes that are there from start to finish doing the thankless work in creating the opportunities for a Tony Stark or a Captain America can drop in at just the right moment and save the day. The nurses and junior doctors that keep a hospital running and make sure the high-flying, big-bucks-earning doctors are organised; the community police officers who make sure all those fun events organised in your city happen without significant incidents; the cleaners who are practically invisible to most people but who let you work in tidy offices so that you can do your own job without having to worry about the mugs stacked in the office canteen or emptying your own bin; the maintenance men that scale electricity poles so you can sit at home on your couch in a brightly-lit living room on your computer writing your blog; there are so many every day superheros out there that are not celebrated because their achievements happen out of sight. These are people (and droids! Don’t forget droids) who go out and do their job, even when it’s not glamorous, and sometimes even when its not safe.
There are also the heroes who inspire just by living life to their maximum ability, whatever that may be. Many, many years ago, when I was in middle school, I remember listening to a father give a eulogy at the funeral of his four-month old son who was born prematurely with significant health complications. The father recited a story where he had once gone to an interview where he was asked “who is your hero?” He didn’t remember what he ended up saying at the time as he scrambled for an answer. But on that day of the funeral, he said he knew for certain that his hero was, and always would be, his son, who had spent his very short life bravely fighting and giving as much love to his parents as his little body would allow.
Every now and then something would come up that would remind me of this memory and the question “who is your hero?” would resurface in my mind. I did not have a satisfactory answer for a long time until about five years ago when I stumbled across a documentary about an English girl living with cystic fibrosis and her fight to survive long enough to get married while waiting for a double lung transplant. That girl, Kirstie Tancock, lived on to buy a house with her husband, raise thousands of pounds for charity and awareness about cystic fibrosis, became a spokesperson for organ donation, start her own business, compete in pole dancing, oh, and survive a second double lung transplant. When she died it was with a legacy of having fought each day and lived each day the maximum. I never met her but she inspired me simply by not giving up when there were so many excuses for her to do so and she remains to this day the first person I think of when I wonder who I would consider my own hero.
Very soon, maybe even by the end of this year or next year, Hawkeye will have his own opinions and ideas on what costumes he wants to wear, what heroes he wants to pretend to be, what his favourite characters are. My job is going to be to make sure he is exposed to as many positive role models as possible, whether they be mythical creatures, cartoon or comic book characters, droids, legends, or real life human beings. I am sure there will be plenty of hero adoration for the Batmans, Supermans, Captain Americas, Iron Mans, and Buzz Lightyears in my future parenting years. Hopefully there will also be Wonder Womans and Black Widows and Captain Marvels and Buffy the Vampire Slayers, if I have any say in it. But today reminded me, even if it came about in a completely unintentional manner, that I will have to make sure there will also be many Kirstie Tancocks in Hawkeye’s future to look up to and admire.
Photograph of Kirstie Tancock is from BBC’s documentary Love on the Transplant List and reproduced here without any intention of profit.