You Can’t Fly. You Aren’t a Superhero.
As children we’re often told that we can be whatever we want when we grow up. This is true. I think anything is achievable. And as a parent, I try to instil this belief, telling my son that yes, in fact, with a little hard work he can be whatever he wants.
I also didn’t realize that this would come back to haunt me later on. In fact, many things will come back to haunt me later on, I’m sure. Anyway, my son, the superhero. He’s recently become enthralled with the idea of superheros. They are literally everywhere you look. Superhero's are on TV, in movies, you get them in kid’s meals at fast food restaurants—even companies have created their own version of superheros for flashy commercial advertisements. So naturally, my son assumed that he could be a superhero.
This is all well and fine. It is. I love the imagination of children. They can come up with and create the best scenarios, acting them out and believing that anything is possible. My son would race around the house pretending he had lightning speed. He would ‘zap’ things with his imaginary gun, freezing everything in sight, including me. He’d pretend that his stuffed animals were being captured by the bad villain and that he’d have to swoop in and rescue the damsel in distress.
It was always fun to watch. I loved peeking into his room and watching him act out his latest cape-crusader adventure. He’d even ask me to tie a blanket around his neck so he could have a cape just like all the coolest superhero’s had. Life, at the moment, seemed perfect. He’d spend his free time playing, alone, giving me a small amount of reprieve and I could stand by and watch the scene unfold before my eyes.
Until he decided he could fly.
It never occurred to me that this might become a problem. I never imagined that I’d find him one day teetering on the edge of his chest of drawers, arms outstretched, ready to take flight and soar like an eagle. The problem was that I needed to put a stop to it. I didn’t want to watch him jump from the dresser, which was tall, the ground most likely unforgiving and risk a broken arm, leg, cuts or bruises. Adventures can be fun until they aren’t. Until safety becomes an issue.
I pushed open his door and said, “You can’t fly.” I probably should have spent a second or two formulating a better response to his actions but when wasting those precious seconds meant he could take the plunge and come out hurt, I couldn’t risk it. I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“But I’m a superhero, and superhero’s can always fly.”
This is true. It seems every superhero on the planet can fly, or leap tall buildings in a single bound, or drop effortlessly from vertigo inducing heights without risking injury. But the truth of the matter was simple. My son was not a superhero.
“You’re not a superhero. You can’t fly.”
Arguing back and forth would happen. My son questions everything. In his world, most often things are black and white. There is no gray area and when it came to superhero’s he believed that he was one and that he could, without a doubt, fly. After all, I had told him, more than once, that he could be anything he wanted to be. And in that moment, he wanted to be a cape-wearing, flying superhero that could jump off his dresser and land unscathed.
The logic to him was simple. He wanted to be a superhero, I had told he could be whatever he wanted and that jumping off the dresser would instil that belief that what I said was true, never mind the fact that I told him, more than once, that he’d hurt himself—because, of course, superheroes don’t get hurt.
I was running out of convincing evidence that would support my statement. He was going to jump off the dresser whether I liked it or not. And if he didn’t do it that second while I stood by and watch, I could believe that he’d do it later in the day, that night, or even the next day. It was happening whether I wanted it to or not.
Maybe I could have let him jump and hope for the best. I’m sure that’s what some parents would have done. And that’s probably what I should have done, only in my time of desperation I said something I would soon regret.
“Superheroes aren’t real.”
Yes. I said that. I crushed my sons imagination and dreams of being a superhero by telling them they weren’t real. I’m that parent—the one that takes all the fun out of life and covers it up with the truth and real logic.
He argued with me. He told me I was wrong. That there are superheros and because I told him he could be anything he wanted. I grabbed him from the dresser, sat him down on his bed and explained to him all about pretend. I knew in that moment I would be changing my sons life forever, that after I said my piece, he’d look at the world in a different light—but I wanted him safe. I didn’t want him to jump from the dresser, or the counter, or some other tall structure at the playground. I didn’t want him to get hurt and if telling him that superheroes aren’t real, that they are pretend just to save him from inflicting immeasurable amounts of pain, well, I said anything and everything that I could to get my point across.
I worried after that day that I had possibly scared my kid forever. That he would no longer take pleasures in pretending to be a superhero, and acting out his little fantasies. I also worried that he’d then question further things, like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny—because after all, if superheroes weren’t really, there must be other things in the world that weren’t real either, right?
It’s true. As a growing child you learn throughout the years that all kinds of things you once believed in weren’t actually real. It’s a hard fact of life, and eventually everyone has to grow up. But I don’t think I had ever been so thankful for one aspect of a child’s mind. The ability to forget.
Sure, my son didn’t forget completely that superhero’s weren’t real, but he forgot enough to go back a few weeks later and continue his tirade of putting the bad guy behind bars and rescuing the pretty girls or the stuffed animals. I thought he wouldn’t ever forget that I had crushed the moment and took away a small piece of his childhood too soon, ripping it from his tiny little grasp. But time heals all wounds, even the ones that aren’t physical. He knew that superhero’s were pretend, that he couldn’t fly, but he also knew that he could still believe in the magic of imagination and carry on with life.
And maybe I did it wrong. Maybe I should have let him jump but maybe I did it right. I think as parents we have to find our own way, just as much as children have to find theirs.*I'd be lying if I didn't admit, that this too happened a few years go, and though my son is well-versed in the art of pretend, I haven't scared him for life. *