One of my sons seems to love loud and big and chasing and seemingly wanting to overpower everyone and everything around him. He wants to be bigger. He wants to be stronger. He wants to rule the world. The louder, the rougher, the brighter, the bolder the better.
Boys will be boys? Do they really, all of them, love all things so explosive? I am not entirety convinced this holds true for all.
I have two brothers and they were and are still fairly docile. They are rip-roaringly funny, however, by nature, are gentlemanly. Between the three of us, I used to be the loudest and most ferocious when I was bored.
And I wasn't even that loud or that ferocious. Like this particular son I mention, I climbed monkey bars, trees, closet shelves... scared my brothers every chance I got in the dark. When I got angry, I was volcanic with my emotions and war-cried in anger until my face turned blue.
I have befriended all kinds of boys and men throughout my life. My favorite ones have always been the stupidly daredevil types. They are fabulously entertaining and most endearing. You know the ones.
Who can forget the one who finally gave into the wake and dropped down from standing fiercely on his wakeboard and, in triumph, held his broken, casted arm, in a baggie, high, dry and out of the water? How about the one who strapped his board to the back of a truck and rode the flood waves down the street, while we rolled on the porch, splitting our sides.
And yet, there was also the artist who preferred his quiet corner to sit, observe his inner masterpieces and would lay them out, stroke by stroke on some fortunate piece of canvas. The writer, the master of words that tangles so expertly and with such depth, your jumbled thoughts on paper? Or, the one who unforgivingly played that piano so beautifully, it tore at your heartstrings to think he would stop. Their fire was an inner fire that could not be quenched but only erupted as art.
So, big, giant rough play is not just a "boy" thing. In the same vain, sitting pretty and not getting your dress dirty is not just a girl thing. Personally, our favorite kinds of girls are the versatile ones who can rough and tumble and cry when they are angry, rather than sad. They are the ones who play tag and aren't phased that your guy climbed up a tree to get away. In a tutu or whatnot, she is up there chasing at them, hopping from limb to limb, eventually catching them all with her teeth.
So, if this larger than life behavior isn't one you can peg to just boys vs. girls, dare I say, it has more to do with what Barbie is to girls and Superman is to boys? All looks — figure eight in the latest fashions for her, big giant muscles for him — to satisfy a very human need for acknowledgment and glory? At least in our son's case, there might be some truth to this.
Speaking for myself, I grew up praying for Barbie's boobs. I prayed that DNA and genetics would falter and I would miraculously grow a bountiful chest and derriere. Besides putting Barbie down, I have since retired fashion magazines and those delicious entertainment news channels.
Outside of being too busy raising my family and outdated to even recognize these young star and starlette faces, I have come to peace with knowing overall my true worth.
At least, most of the time.
I still struggle here and there as a great example of a "work in progress." At least I know somewhere in the back of my head, what media dictates is valuable about a woman, by comparison to what I try to contribute as a wife, mother, outside the home worker, is child's play.
I know better now we are all built physically and gifted differently. Having boys vs. girls, I really thought I had dodged the superficial-insecure-about-my-looking-pretty-and-thin-enough-by-someone-else's-standards-bullet. But, apparently, Superman, The Hulk, The Thing.... they have left quite a mark on my boy. They have literally impressed upon him a very tall, superficial and impossible to achieve order.
I wouldn't have thought twice about my son and his superhero role models. In fact I thought, terrific, every boy loves an example of strength and great good citizen deeds. But is that all he gets out of being exposed to Marvel and DC?
I would argue, no. In fact, the good guy is very much as glorified as the bad guy. It is not about good vs. evil either. It is about who is bigger, stronger and has the best weapons to overpower the other. At least that is what I end up seeing in their superhero play, as my jaw drops to the ground in disbelief, my eyes pop out of my head and I crush my head hopelessly in my hands.
My son vocalized, grieving, he isn't really one of the big guys after all. As much as he and his friends love to terrorize each other, some of them have simply grown much bigger, longer, stronger arms, legs and feet. At least, since last summer.
Apparently, he hadn't noticed before and it hadn't hurt his tremendous pride over it then. This is the first year my kiddo noticed for himself he couldn't overpower any of the 'so and so brothers,' no matter if he was the good or the bad guy, when they wrestled, chased and flew at one another. He could barely catch them when they played tag. When the two brothers grabbed him by the arms and legs to toss him, he was at their complete mercy.
"I'm not even that tall. My muscles aren't that big. I am just average! 'So and so' is only one year younger than me and he is only this much smaller than I am! I'm just skinny!"
At first, I tried the, "Wow! Do you know how lucky you are? Do you know how many people would love to be more skinny in this day and age?" approach. Bad idea. I stopped myself before I went too far with that one, glorifying a particular physical feature rather than a character attribute.
I bit my tongue instead, and just held him. I was well aware the honor to have been asked into a room for a private talk about this. I didn't want to blow it with some "there are no monsters under the bed" line he is just too old to buy into.
The truth is, there are monsters. They lurk inside. They feed off of the superficial around us that places way too much importance on bigger, better, faster... more. These monsters are hungry to eat us up and overtake our confidence that we are valuable and unique individuals, just as we are. Big, tall, slight build, husky build, blond... Even as young as the pre-teen years, there are books and messages about how much more important our outsides are than our insides. The bigger the better, the more props you get.
I directed the conversation to an honest place and discussed with him areas I continue to struggle with feeling inadequate, areas I still needed work on, etc.. I didn't try to blow off his worries, I got down at eye level, empathized and nodded how much all of this can just plain old stink.
Here we learn early, at least in this home, God loves us all so uniquely. He has gifted us each in so many ways. His grading system is so far out of this world, we can't even begin to appreciate just how much value he places on us, regardless of how we fail to grow as His people on a daily basis.
It has nothing to do with looks, popularity, how well one networks and keeps up with the Joneses or never gets noticed at all. He isn't more or less proud of us because of the size or lack there of of our abodes, our shelters. He doesn't check first, before he decides to love us, if we own a Balenciaga bag or push a shopping cart around town filled with black garbage bags.
Those are what we, shallow and limited humans, have placed value on, not Him. How much do we truly value our character, the condition of our heart? Does He care how great of an audience we can draw to ourselves or how sincerely we touch each others' lives in a positive way, one friend, one stranger at a time?
He doesn't care how much or how little we have travelled or purchased. Our net worth to Him is how much more love we bring to this world in the way we speak and treat one another, without judgement, in the spirit of love in our everyday. It is in our acknowledgment and acceptance of our individual gifts and using them to do good in the world, not for our own personal gain, but to help others.
Easier said than done. No wonder we would rather focus on all the superficial garbage. That, by comparison, seems the easier route. But, what about keeping a filter on our souls? How about a handle on our tongues? What of our selfish and defeated attitudes that result in insecure responses to one another?
In any case, rather than try and talk my son out of his feelings, I acknowledged them and redirected his focus as best as I could to the stuff that really matters. I knew I couldn't kiss this booboo or chase that monster away with a one liner. This was serious.
I also knew I needed to place in giant focus, the character attributes that do matter, beyond human standards, and pronto. Mercifully, I felt a nudge to talk about other sorts of superheroes out there. Some are and then again some aren't built like a line-backer.
I was excited to hunt down and share with him YouTube footage of the legendary Greg Lougainis and his fantastic Olympic game dives. I slipped in there how challenging it might have been for someone in a body like Superman's to dive with barely a splash in the water to follow him. I discovered and emphasized how he overcame a terrible stutter, and later, a horrific diving accident. He was resilient and focused, to the best of his ability, on his strengths rather than his weaknesses.
We talked about Dikembe Mutombo who, when younger, wanted to become a doctor so that he could help his fellow villagers in the Congo. He was fueled by an inner fire to do well in his studies so that he could, in the future, wear the white coat of a doctor himself and save the lives of his people. He witnessed too many lives lost due to the lack of medical care around him.
Dikembe, however, grew to be very very tall. He was so tall, in fact, he was recruited to become a basketball player in the U.S. He progressed into becoming a basketball star. Besides fame, what came was a great salary. With that salary, he bought a hospital in the Congo. He thought he knew exactly what he wanted and how to make it happen. It did happen but not in the way that he planned exactly. He was faithful to serve, as needed.
We talked about Stephen Hawking, the brilliant theoretical physicist confined to a wheelchair and his massive contributions, since Einstein. There is Hellen Keller who saw more of this world with her voracious fingers than many of us will ever experience with our seeing eyes. These two were filled with a passion for learning and growing and the determination to press on, in face of tremendous odds.
Lastly, we talked about Nick Vujicic. Mr. Vujicic was born without any limbs but for, what he fondly calls, his chicken leg. He is a world renowned preacher and inspirational speaker. He is a beautiful heart and soul living out a life many of us don't even consider dreaming about. He wouldn't take a magic pill to have all his limbs, if it meant he couldn't touch people in the way he was meant to and to be used so uniquely. This man is filled with gratitude and grace.
In the next few years we will discover together what lies in store for this young boy of ours. Bit by bit, he will have an opportunity to discover and refine his best qualities and overcome where he might still feel he falls short. Regardless of how he is built, we will remind him that he was placed on this earth for a purpose unique only to him. It is his responsibility to take that gift, use it and share it in the best way he feels he is being directed.
His reward, we hope, will boil down to finding out the peace of contentedness with all that he is. Our greatest hope is that he is able to accomplish this, despite what anyone else outside of his little body has to say about it. We want to encourage him as he defines his inner Superman, without worrying what size box he ends up in. We want him to find his inner compass, trust it and love the vessel that houses it.
We want him to know that life offers us no promises except the chance to live it, whether it is a mere few weeks in the womb or a hundred and twenty years. We need to work as hard as we can with what we have been given. The rest will fall into place but we have to start with finding out Superman isn't measured from the outside but from well within.
Resilience. Perseverance. Faithfulness. Passion. Determination. Willingness to serve others. Grateful and gracious with our unique gifts and ability to contribute in a positive, loving way to the world. These are some of the more significant ingredients in the recipe for a true superhero. There are many more and they don't need big muscles to count.
After all, it has been said, "What you are is God's gift to you. What you become is your gift to God." - Hans Urns Balthasar, Prayer.
And that just about sums it up for this Superwoman.