The ancients believed words had magic. They were right.
Take the words “mommy” and “daddy.” Two more magical words have never been spoken. Admittedly, there’s not much that’s magical about mini vans and pick up lanes, screaming babies and poopie diapers. For that matter, there may be nothing magical in the parents’ daily grind; but perhaps it’s because we weren’t meant to grind in the first place. Perhaps our daily lives were meant to be lived nearer to the magic.
My wife and I are the proud parents of a young superhero-in-training who sometimes answers to Superman, and other times answers to Batman. Today, it’s Batman.
Batman is four, but don’t let his age fool you. He has every conceivable advantage over the grownups.
For one thing, he’s new here on earth; his heart and mind are still pure. His body, freakishly efficient. For another, he absorbs data faster than the Borg Collective. The world is teeming with exciting lessons he can’t unravel fast enough. Brushing his teeth, using the microwave, putting away toys and generally building self-reliance. He has to learn, and so he learns.
Read that again: He has to learn, and so he learns. Our little Batman is compelled. He wants to do these things, naturally.
Fact is, Batman takes us to school every day. His sense of wonder and intellectual curiosity are contagious. As we pay closer attention, dial into his channel so to speak, we’re learning to be better parents and adults. And it isn’t just brushing and butt-wiping. It’s space and planets. Continents and countries. State capitals and football scores. (As I write this, Batman informs me that cows have one stomach with four parts.) In short, it’s all we can do to get the heck out of the way. At best, we manage a balancing act. When we don’t, we fall. We dress him because he’s taking too long. We put his boots away because it’s easier than calling him back to do it right. Sometimes we can’t figure out how to frame answers to his questions in a way that a four year old superhero can understand. I struggle not to interfere when he’s learning—something apparently even an errant “Good job” can derail. But, mama and papa keep at it.
We talk to him. We watch his body language for cues. We see the way he hops when he learns something particularly exciting. We hear the squeak in his voice when he chokes up with excitement. There are also the sad cues, like when he withdraws silently to the study to sit facing the wall with slumped shoulders. It’s a self-imposed thing he does when he feels defeated. Maybe when mama and papa have put him off for too long. “Just one more minute, buddy,” four hours after the first time we said it.
But, the parenting gig is magical. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes it drives us absolutely nuts, but I think the magic is always there, buried in our brains, to save us from those nuts times. The times when things tilt; dishes go unwashed, cupboards go bare. Sometimes we can access the magic and save the day. Sometimes we lose our way completely. But we’re grownups. We’re the lost ones. It’s not like we’re kids, whose magical compass shines brightly from their DNA. Our handicap is that we have to find a route back to the magic.
For me, it’s hearing the word, “daddy.” It’s kind of my Mjolnir moment, Thor’s magical hammer, which only the Thunder God can wield. Its inscription: If He Be Worthy.
If He Be Worthy.
Mommy. Daddy. Magical words imparting the power to do dishes, scrub tubs and fold laundry. Magical words, just like the ancients claimed. We only need open our ears and hearts and all things are again possible. We are reminded of the sanity that comes from a life in balance—reminded because, when we follow our little Batmen, Wonder Women, princesses or police men and women, it’s them leading us to more balanced lives. It’s them returning our sense of wonder and peace.