As we woke to the first snow of the year, Nina looked enchantedly out the window and said dreamily, “All we need now is Father Christmas and it will be perfect!” Interesting (to say the least), coming from a child who has neither father nor Christmas in her home or life. I was actually still too sleepy in my toasty warm bed to ask her the questions that now swirl around my head, like: Who does she think Father Christmas is? How does she know about him? And how, exactly, did she expect him to make things perfect? Not to mention, what things did she think needed perfecting?
At any rate, it got me thinking about heroes and the like. I have a Moses action-figure who stands rather heroically on my desk at work (though I lost his miracle-producing staff… so probably he’s just an ordinary guy at this point, who listens to me whine about having to write chart notes). I’ve always liked Moses. He was prodigious and humble at the same time. I liked the fact that he was so human, could get so frustrated, throw tantrums, have doubts and was still in relationship with God. As super-heroes go, I felt a kindred connection to Superman and Batman – they both had those separate secret lives that I could relate to. Superman too was geeky in his everyday life as Clark Kent; awkward around people, bashful bordering on flirtatious with women. Underdog too I guess. But Underdog was so, well, so obvious. I never considered any female superheroes (not the least reason being that there were none). Wonder Woman was a joke, to me and everyone else. Breasts jiggling, hair flying about, milk-white skin and all the courage and daring of a silk tissue. She was clearly not supposed to be taken seriously, a mummer’s farce, a caricature. Still, all of those are SUPER heroes. They were not the people, characters, role models I yearned to actually be like. I just played at being those heroes (except wonder woman) in my bedroom.
I was a child of the 70s. I watched a lot of television. I admired and aspired to be like the television character heroes B.J. Hunnicutt from M.A.S.H. or Major Don West from Lost In Space. I wanted to be smart and capable, self-assured and brawny. I wanted to be tall, lanky, handsome and roguish. I wanted to be physically strong, emotionally open and funny as all get out. I wanted to play sports gracefully like some of my sports heroes – Bobby Orr, Fred Lynn or Carlton Fiske (who had a nickname). As an aside, I wasn’t able to play sports, because girls didn’t play sports when I was a kid. Until girls were reluctantly allowed (but not welcomed) to play little league when I was around 11. It was then I found out that I wasn’t as athletic in real life as I was in the imaginary playing field of my mind. It was a crushing blow, a bitter disappointment. Making me wonder if I wasn’t really just a girl. And that thought frightened me. Because that meant I really was crazy. If I really was a boy I’d be athletic. Peter was. But I wasn’t. So that meant I was a girl. But I wasn’t. Oi. Turns out I just needed practice.
Even on family tv I did not associate myself with female characters. I was more Peter Brady (or even Bobby) than I was Greg. But I was never Marcia. I wanted to affiliate with Jo on Facts of Life. She rode a motorcycle and walked that butch walk, even in her school uniform skirt. But her character was too often thrown together with and on the verge of swooning over boys for me. Christine Cagney was a character I was drawn to. Though I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be her or date her.
For a while I got lost in the Mists of Avalon, forcing myself to consider the commanding and charismatic priestess role. But alas, even that didn’t feel right to me (my “moon blood” filled me with shame not power). More often I found myself as a hero in the pages of epic fantasy fiction. Wizards, warlocks, dragons. Those stories all have the same protagonist. The one I related to and wanted to be: The lone man (tall, lanky, roguish) who no one quite understands or really knows, because he is keeper of a deep secret. He does not trust easily because he has scars he protects, has no one to call family, and guards his secrets well. He is solitary and alone even when surrounded by others. He has magical powers, an inner strength that instructs him, carries him, guides, leads, supports and comforts him. His job is to pursue truth in an effort to eliminate evil, securing for himself (though he has until the end been relatively unaware) the heart of the damsel in distress. But I’ve derailed. Sorry.
Those were the characters I related to, wanted to relate to. It all came out well in the end. Evil thus vanquished. But the more important thing the hero learns is that he is not as big a loser as he thought he was. He learns he is, actually, lovable despite his inner angst.
The other day, driving home with the girls, the conversation turned to “what do you want to be when you grow up”. Joita wants to be a phys. ed. teacher and she was regaling us with all her reasons why. Nina interrupted to remind Jo that she has no balance and told her that she may not be able to be a gym teacher. I, in turn, interrupted Nina to say that people can be anything they set their minds and hearts to being. And I turned the question to her asking what she’d like to be when she grows up. Without too much pause Nina said, “I want to be like you.” And before she could explain herself, Joita chimed in, “Yeah! Me too! I want to be just like you when I grow up. And I want to be a gym teacher. One that is just like you.” Holy shit Batman!