Did you know that being a parent makes you kind of a superhero?
It happened years ago. My mom was standing at the kitchen counter chopping vegetables with a large knife when she saw, out the front kitchen window, a sight that sent chills down her spine. Some little children from down the street were playing at the end of our driveway. They had some kind of mental disabilities and often played at our house, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the rocks, gravel and small stones raining down on them from across the street, where a teenage boy was lobbing them from behind a tree.
Instantly, my mom sprang into action. She raced out the front door without pulling off her apron or taking her hair out of its curlers. Across the street, her feet pounded the asphalt fiercely. She ran up the driveway and crunched acorns up to the front porch. The teenage boy had vanished into thin air, leaving his rocks encircling the handicapped kids like a moat.
My mom pushed the doorbell and rapped on the door at the same time. It took about five seconds for the door to open and the teenage boy’s mother to appear. I don’t know what my mother said, but I’m sure it was along the lines of “Your son is throwing rocks at innocent children” and said in the voice that I knew so well, the “You are in the wrong and I’m beyond reasoning with” voice. The whole time she was speaking, one of her arms was tucked behind her back. It wasn’t until she turned to leave that either of the women realized my mother was clutching a large, sharp kitchen knife in her hand. She had completely forgotten to put it down.
Later, the neighbor told other neighbors that she had been scared. It wasn’t every day that she was threatened with a knife by one of her own neighbors. I never knew this story until recently when I was home for Christmas, but I loved it when I heard it. My mother, the hero.
If you’re a parent, you know that this happens. You are just doing what you normally do, chopping vegetables, when all of a sudden you see a child in trouble. It might be your child or another child who is vulnerable and alone. And before you know it, your cape is on. You spring into action. You are rescuing a child in need. It might not even be a child. When I became a parent, it opened up a part of my heart that was previously hardened or just oblivious. I immediately began wanting to protect and defend the helpless. I think that being a parent makes you a hero in lots of little, run-across-the-street-with-a-knife ways. You are suddenly tuned in to a different frequency that only babies and dogs and maybe angels can hear.
Later, when our kids get older, it will get more tricky. Because as parents, we shouldn’t always swoop in and save our children from every playground bully. Sometimes we have to stand back and let them struggle and fight their own fight. I know those days are coming. Right now, though, we can be heroes all we want. We can spend our days fighting bad guys, stuck zippers, parts of toys that won’t work, and tangled hair. We can zoom in and vanquish the monsters in the dark. We can quell injustice with a word or a look.
I love this quote about heroism from one of my favorite books, The Art of Family: Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality. It really gets to the heart of why every parent is a hero.
“…in loving your children, you are practicing the profoundest spirituality. In this you are heroic, and there are days when you know it. You know you’ve been stretched to the limit, faced insanity, wept in the closet, physically found an entirely new level of exhaustion. It’s called sacrifice. No one else, except maybe, maybe your partner, will ever know what you’ve done. No one else will ever guess how hard it has been. No one will thank you for it. Even when your children have their children, they will only vaguely realize what you’ve done—they will be too frantic caring for their own kids. Yet you do it. Now, that’s heroism.”