“I no want to take a bath!” hollers the naked toddler from under the bed.
“You’re going to take a bath tonight whether you want to or not,” I say with practiced authority.
“I want Super Cape! In. The. Bath,” she yells.
“What’s Super Cape?” I ask.
“It’s my cape in my room,” she says, looking out at me and frowning. We have a lot of dress up, but I’m not sure what she’s talking about. Clearly she’s into this Super Cape. I seize the moment.
“I promise you can have Super Cape after the bath when you’re all nice and clean. Okay?”
She hesitates, then comes crawling out. “Yes. Okay,” she says and walks slowly down the hall to the bathroom. Arms crossed. Head hung low. Oh geez.
After the shortest bath ever, Lilah pulls a pink swath of sateen emblazoned with a light pink Supergirl S from a pile in her closet. She wriggles into a pair of pink and white polka dot footie pajamas then Velcros the cape under her chin.
“What does Super Cape do?” I ask when everything’s in place.
“It’s cozy,” she says. “And it makes me run very, very fast. And it flies me at night.”
She takes off down the hall, Super Cape streaming out behind her. “I go show my sisters!” she calls out.
Before I can make it down the stairs, all three girls are outside running in the fading light. The older two chase Lilah around the yard, but of course they can’t catch her because she is wearing Super Cape.
We all have a Super Cape.
Maybe it’s a few deep breaths or a meditation or early morning yoga or writing before the rest of the house wakes up. Maybe it’s wearing flouncy skirts or skinny jeans or a matching bra and panties. Or maybe it’s that daily swipe of bright orange lipstick or metallic gray eyeliner or catwalk mascara. Whatever it is, we know we have to have it or do it or say it or stretch it before meeting the world full on. It’s what gives us our super powers.
My shoes are my Super Cape. They are almost always three inches high, mostly wedges of some kind – boots, sandals, pumps. I wear them to preschool drop off and the grocery store, to Target and the playground, to pick up my older girls from school and to watch them play soccer. The shoes mean I’ve paid attention to me, for however many small minutes, before diving into my day. They are hardly practical for the daily life of a stay-at-home-mom, but when I put on a favorite pair of fashionably tall shoes, I go from scattered to collected. I buckle up those strappy suede sandals and feel the power.
It is the power to go for patience over frustration, use firm words over yelling, choose compassion over indifference.
It is the power to untangle the social chaos of 6th grade and to find the right words when my 3rd grader is in tears because she’s taller than everyone else in her class.
It is the power to teach the toddler kindness when she pinches the dog just to see what will happen and the power to steer the tween who, in a hormone-induced rage, screams at her sister to “Just go away!”
It is the power to put down the phone, stop texting, stop Facebooking, stop tweeting and listen. Really listen.
It is the power to get through day after day of balancing brightly colored blocks and playing baby, of picking up and dropping off, of standing on the sidelines cheering them on, of turning apples over in my hands searching out bruises, choosing only the best.
It is the power of love – in my heart, in my arms, when I look into my daughter’s eyes as she tells me a story, when I cook their favorite Fiesta Chicken dinner even though I hate dealing with raw chicken and, honestly, I really don’t like to cook. At all.
It is the power to try my hardest not lose my temper in front of the kids, because someone’s always right there, watching with big eyes, waiting to take a cue from me, waiting for a sign of love or approval or welcome. They are waiting to know that it will be okay. Even when it’s not okay.
It’s the power to find value in the imperfections of this mothering gig, to lift the blame, embrace the mistakes, say sorry, move through it.
It is the power to say “no” when I’ve had enough and “yes” to giving myself a break, to showing them the boundaries, shutting the door, closing my eyes.
On good days my Super Cape sees me through till bedtime. Other days, it begins to fray at the edges even before I finish my morning coffee. On bad days, it feels like the kids are carrying kryptonite around in their pockets.
Good or bad, when I’m wearing my tall shoes – the pumps with the leopard spots or the black leather booties with the zip up the side – I know I always have the most important power of all: the power to show up, to be there. It is a place to start and some days, it is enough.
What does your Super Cape look like?