I don’t remember the exact moment I realized my parents weren’t superheroes, that they were fallible. It probably happened right around the same time I realized “I’m not so special, really” and the ever-shocking “plans don’t always work out.”
In some ways, I’m still uncovering my parents’ humanness. I still expect my mom to be a rock star super-provider who can always answer the phone. I still expect my Dad to be the best cook and game-player and puzzle-maker and goofy math whiz and dude in general. Beating him at Scrabble is great for my ego, but genuinely weird for my worldview. Calling home and getting the answering machine still makes me feel strange, even after four years of living on my own; um, don’t you guys exist purely to serve my needs?
But they don’t. And while decades of effort to serve my needs, or at least make sure my brothers and I don’t starve (slash kill each other) was successful, sort of, it wasn’t perfect. I’m realizing that they were just “winging it,” that my teachers were just “winging it,” that every adult I ever looked up to was pretty clueless (because we’re all pretty clueless).
And honestly? The whole thing just makes them way more impressive.
If a Domestic Goddess can raise a family and keep it relatively together, then whatever, that’s just what Goddesses do. But when a regular, imperfect woman does it, that’s freaking impressive. As I watch my mother run late, lose stuff, overschedule, undersleep, and drown in paperwork, laundry loads and self-doubt, I can’t help be be amazed. Somehow, she (sloppily, beautifully) created four kids that can say “My childhood was happy. My family loves each other. My home is safe.” She created that. She made that happen.
Holy, holy, holy. That’s a pretty amazing feat.
She didn’t do it alone, of course. The thing about not-Goddesses is that they need help, sometimes more than they can actually get. We are fed this narrative of heroes and saints, of people doing it “all on their own,” but really? That’s bullshit.
The most impressive thing my parents ever taught me was how to work together. To learn the neighbours’ names. To care about your community. It wasn’t “how to do it all, perfectly, always.” It was this:
- Surround yourself with people who you can ask for help.
- Ask for help.
- Respond when people ask you for help.
Those aren’t the lessons of superheroes. Those are the lessons of people who are “doing their best.” People who sometimes have to call in backup. People who link arms with other people “doing their best,” because how else can you raise a kid, really?
I’ve seen tears well up in my non-Goddess mother’s imperfect eyes–frustration, fear, anger, saddness, joy. I’ve tears in my Dad’s eyes, too. Sometimes I was even involved in causing it, and not in a cutesy “I’m so proud of you!” way. That’s the worst.
I have power. They have power. I can hurt them. They can hurt me. We are people. And we won’t be here forever.
As Rachel Held Evens wrote:
“I think you officially grow up the moment you realize you are capable of causing your parents pain. All the rebellion of adolescence, all the slammed doors and temper tantrums and thoughtless words of youth—those are signs that you still think your parents are invincible, that you still imagine yourself as powerless against them.”
Learning I could hurt my parents (and that I shouldn’t, because they’re basically love incarnate) was a big lesson, no doubt. Same goes for learning that when they hurt me they probably didn’t mean to. Sometimes they were doing things “for my own good.” Sometimes they were doing things just because it seemed right at the time.
Either way, they were just “winging it.” And I have to thank them for that, because they prepared me for a pretty weird and wonderful life of clutching hands and following love and pretending to know what I’m doing.
That’s all any of us not-Superheroes can do, really.