“Truth is they won’t remember (nor do they care) how many baths they took, what they ate for supper, if their clothes were folded or even clean. They will remember how we love them.”
Five Kids reader, Charlie Collier
Cartoon Credit: Steve Nease
It was after dark in October 1998 in a stranger’s house in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam when I was issued my Mama Cape. Of course, it was invisible like such capes always are, so I didn’t see it clip itself to my shoulders the same instant I took Abby from her foster mom’s arms. I only had eyes and ears for my baby. I didn’t feel the cape begin to unfurl down my back or smell the residue of its plastic packaging or hear its starchy snap as it caught the wind on our way back to the hotel that night.
I saw a picture of a new family this week, mom and dad holding their beautiful new baby, all of them radiant. My breath caught in my throat and my eyes stung as I looked into the happy face of that first-time mama and thought, You’re about to discover a whole new kind of love. And also, You’ll never again know a life without fear. And also, I hope you know you’re made of the stuff of heroes.
It’s strange to be on this side of motherhood with my cape as threadbare and tattered as my wedding towels. My kids keep finding the holes my cape and sticking their fingers in them, fiddling and tearing them bigger and bigger before I can mend them. I’ve spilled coffee on it thousands of times. It’s seen more bodily fluid than I care to mention. I was actually glad when the bottom panel ripped off sometime around the summer of 2008; I kept forgetting to move it out of the way while pottying — probably because I was simultaneously breaking up a fight, writing my grocery list, and reading The Cat in the Hat to a rapt toddler audience — and the cape corner dripping down my leg as I stood was an unpleasant reminder of my MIA mama brain.
Still, by 2008, at least I knew I had a cape. Before that, I was sure I was living in a superheroes’ world sans cape or powers or magic wand. My house looked like a super villain had attacked, and so did my feelings of inadequacy, scattered just about everywhere. I didn’t know yet that capes are rarely made from pristine homes, perfect organization, zen-like patience, or magazine-cover meals, and that I was destined for failure when I tried to patch mine together from those things. That those expectations were, instead of a ticket to freedom, my kryptonite, sapping my strength no matter how hard I tried.
I didn’t know I had to stop judging myself by my false cape standards before I could appreciate the ratty, resplendent one I already owned.
Now I know what my cape is made of — a hundred thousand serendipities. Baby bottoms. Sloppy wet kisses. First days of school. Trips to the ER. Reading the same bedtime story. Falling apart. Standing back up. A whole lot of tired. Strength anyway.
My cape is made of just in the nick of time, and right now, and oops, too late.
It’s made of laughter and yelling and smiling and tears.
And smooth sailing and sudden turns.
Yep; I know some of what my cape is made of now. And I know we all have one, cobbled together from the things we didn’t expect.
We use our capes to dry tears and build forts and clean spaghetti-stained faces. We spread them on the ground for impromptu picnics. We wrap our kids tight in giant cape hugs. We wave them in the air like the white flag of surrender. We hide under them in the midst of the storm.
The best kind of capes are like the best kind of lovies. Used. Worn. Soft. Totally gross to untrained eye. Absolutely perfect with their pilled surfaces and crusty bits and the nutty smell of home.
Some of us talked about this on Facebook this week; your responses were my favorite thing on the internet. So I wanted to ask you here, too, where more moms and dads and nonparents — all of the fallible, fantastic people — can be encouraged:
“…You’re already wearing your cape, mama. You probably just didn’t recognize it because it’s not made out of materials you’re used to. Your cape is made of playing and snuggling and painted toes. Mine is made of Otter Pops and basking in the sun on threadbare towels.”
And you? What is the evolution of your cape? What’s it made of?