Maria Jiunta Heck
I was purging the attic one night, as I do every summer, in search for the one bathing suit that still fits me, and came across a container marked “elementary school: Boys.” I was a little afraid to open it because I didn’t know if I was strong enough to look into the beady eyes of 45 Beanie Babies without wanting to burn them, or if I would find almost nothing because I threw everything away. Everything. I am not sentimental about things and have jettisoned almost every paper, art project and in-school suspension slip my boys have brought home.
Inside were wrestling medals, and a little book my oldest son made called “Heroes.”
I got teary eyed. But not for the reason you may assume. I remember this so clearly. He may have been in fourth grade and the assignment was to write about an everyday hero in your life and why they deserve that honor.
Well, you know what I immediately assumed, don’t you?
Easy choice. It’s his loving mother, of course!
I assumed incorrectly.
He explained to me then that the teacher instructed them not to choose a family member as their hero. Oh, well, that explains it!
He continued: “But if I could choose a family member, I’d choose Dad.”
I remember I wanted to spank him.
He hurriedly explained, “Well, Dad’s my hero because he teaches me so many things.”
Oh, I get it. A hero teaches his son to lie on the couch from now until December, screaming “GO IRISH!” until my delicate ears bleed? Teaches him to never, ever pick up his socks from the floor next to the bed? Teaches him to open the refrigerator, stare into it for six minutes, choose a piece of cheese and leave the door open until the next morning?
He realized his misstep immediately.
“Well, don’t feel bad Mom. I meant Dad’s a good coach. He teaches me wrestling.” With this declaration, he’s satisfied that he’s successfully smoothed it over.
He’s assumed incorrectly.
“Well, that’s true, honey. Mommy despises sports. But a hero is so many other things besides instructing you in the proper Half-Nelson. I should be the hero. Me! Not your father. I’m better hero material.”
He silently snaked out of the room, leaving me a little hurt.
I stewed about this hero-slight for an inordinate amount of time.
I remember not leaving it alone for days. I had turned into a fourth-grader and he became the rational adult with no body hair.
“Nick,” I reasoned. “A true hero is a person you admire, who’s achieved great things. You know, someone who was pregnant and in labor for days and days before springing three kids. Someone who cooks and cleans and pre-treats your socks and underwear so they sparkle. Someone who stays up with you through the night when you have the dry-heaves. Someone who has put their life in a holding pattern until her children are grown enough to cut-up their own meat. Someone like that!”
“Oh! You mean like Dad?”
He followed with: “OK, seriously? I’d choose any robot as my hero. You know why? Jet packs. Plus if I get into trouble — force fields. Or, how about Spiderman? If anyone steals my money, he can really help.”
I remind him: “You don’t even have any money. And, why? Your real hero – your mother – pays for every single thing you need!”
Him: “Yeah, well, you don’t have super-speed.”
I give up.
What does it take to be my kid’s hero? Should I pin a cape around my neck? Squirt webs from my Playtex rubber gloves? Leap tall laundry piles in a single bound? Is teaching my kids how to ride a bike for three straight hours not heroic? Potty training? How about potty training? If that’s not a feat of heroism, I swear to God, I don’t know what is.
My daughter overheard all the hoopla and in her usual condescending pretend-therapist voice states: “Mom. You can’t demand to be someone’s hero. That’s not right. You’ll be someone’s hero, someday. Don’t worry. But you’ll probably be dead by then.”
Well. At least I’ll be the wind beneath someone’s wings even if I’m nothing more than a milk carton full of ashes at that point. I probably won’t need the cape either.
I decide a hero may be more than just a sandwich.
But it’s not quite a mother, either.
Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three, a librarian and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life.