November 13th, 2013


Moms and Superheroes

When I was a kid, grown-ups were like Titans ... Olympians ... superheroes. They had extraordinary powers I could scarcely comprehend. They controlled what was for lunch and what time it was served. They controlled what clothes were in the dresser. They controlled where we lived. They controlled what time I went to bed and what time I got up. They controlled what kind of cereal was on top of the refrigerator. They controlled when we got in the car and where we went. They controlled everything, and I controlled nothing. I could petition for things, put in my requests, plead my case, say my prayers, but I had no control. Control was a sort of mystical power, the power of choice, the power to make things happen, to make things be.

When I say that I've been wanting my mom lately, since the kidney problems kicked in so badly this past year, I think that's what I mean. I want a superhero. I want that all-powerful person who is twice my size to hold me and tell me that everything is going to be okay, because when someone all-powerful tells you everything is going to be okay, then you can believe it. I have a great husband, amazing friends, and an excellent therapist, but none of them are superheroes. They're all the same size as me, more or less, and they have no more control over the forces that affect me than I do. In most cases, they have less.

It's not that I feel completely powerless or that I have no control. But I have this very limited power and control, and on some instinctive level I have this sense that there used to be people who had infinitely more power than me, people who controlled the things that happened to me, people who could fix things and change things in ways I couldn't. Where are they now?

Maybe this is why the idea of God is so appealing to many people: it builds on those early childhood impressions of someone larger who is all-powerful in ways we cannot understand. Maybe this is also why some people are so drawn to superheroes. But I don't believe in God, and I know neither of my parents were superheroes, and even if they were once, they aren't now. There's no one who can control everything that happens to me, no one who can say, "It's going to be okay," and make it so. No one has that power.

In my lizard brain, the part that doesn't know what logic is, I believe that there is a tribe of people ("Grown-Ups") who have this power. It was true when I was 4, so why isn't it true now? Where have those people gone, and why have they abandoned me?

It has been proven to me that doctors do not belong to this magical tribe simply as a part of their doctorness, but I think on some level I thought they did before this past year: they had powers I did not, they knew things I could not understand, they were able to fix things I couldn't. But now it's embarrassing to even realize that I once saw them that way, even if it wasn't conscious. Doctors are people. I mean, of course they are. Doctors are people. Parents are people. I'm people. My friends are people. There are no Titans or superheroes. We're all just a bunch of people, all with the same basic amount of limited power and control.

There's this deeply-ingrained, hitherto-unrecognized mythology stemming from early childhood that kicks in when I'm hurting badly, and it makes me long for those superheroes, those impenetrable walls of a blanket fort, the fiercely loyal protection of a stuffed animal. I wrap myself up like a papoose, like Charlie Brown's Linus with his blankie, and the quilts are like the strongest armor.

On some subconscious level, I still think of my mom as a kind of superhero. When my ideas of the world were first formed, she had godlike powers to control everything that happened to me, and some irrational part of my brain feels that she still must, and that her saying, "It's going to be okay," therefore means more than someone else saying it. I don't know anyone else who used to be a superhero, after all.