“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.
And friendship and loneliness and building a home, somehow, in the middle of the mess.
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?
18 responses to “The Evolution of My Cape”
Tommy,”It could also be that the Portuguese have always been less severe with the Jews than Spanish.”Um, remember the part about the Portuguese kicking the Jews out of Brazil? Jews only started to do well in Brazil after it became independent of Portugal and it welcomed waves of non-Portuguese European immigrants in the 19th Century.
Created the greatest arceslit, you have.
Oh my gosh… 24-year Army spouse here. 2 kids, one out of the house and one desperately trying to break free but needing us so much anyway (was there ever an age as hard as 15?)…
My cape is made of holes pricked by Army medals, the smell of boot polish and diesel fuel, cat fur (from those we’ve loved and those we’ve lost and had to bid farewell), the soil from each home we’ve lived in where I’ve planted SOMETHING each time, dreams, hopes, and of course tears – tears of sorrow, of missing him in the middle of the night, of frustration because children so rarely do what we need or want them to, of pride because finally they “get” something the six millionth time, of hope, and of course homecoming and sheer joy.
Thank you very much for your explanations
Currently my cape is made of patience, gecko lizard poo, and minecraft blocks. Also cat hair, thunderstorm calming, and sunscreen.
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[…] The consolation of a precious child. […]
This post just saved my sanity, seriously. I’m a young new mama, a ripe 20 years old who just moved from New York state to Oregon by myself with a 4 month old daughter, hubby, and 8 year old dog in tow, and already I’m just completely wiped out. Since moving, I’ve just felt completely alone in this crazy thunderstorm of motherhood and I was sitting here fretting over all of the unfolded laundry, the fact that my munchkin didn’t get her bedtime bath last night, trying to figure out how I’m supposed to cook dinner and keep the house clean while also working 40 hours a week and keeping the baby fed and in a clean diapers….and then I read this, and it helped me to breathe just a little because I realized that I’m not alone, and that not having laundry folded and the baby bathed at the end of the day doesn’t make me a bad mama, so long as my little one is happy that’s all that matters. I don’t think I’ve found my cape just yet, but when I do I hope that it has even half the stamina yours does.
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Absolute gold Beth. Thanks once again! You are changing the universe.
My cape is made of stories that she only lets me read three pages of, trucks, animal noises, rocks picked up and discarded, biting my tongue to not say “careful!”, two-second snuggles, a million cut up bananas, and, best of all, the happy “Mama! Mama! Mama!” dance when I pick her up from daycare.
I must say that one of the very _best_ things about an all-natural childbirth is that you leave the experience _knowing_ that you are a cape-wearing superhero! I’ve always known that my cape was on there, somewhere, even if it, too, is made of some unexpected ingredients. 🙂
Fears, tears, joys and pure bliss are all elements of my cape! So are hours spent rereading the same board book to an enraptured audience. Messy floors, crazy (sometimes scary) medical issues, and the comfort of a slowly evolving (but always existent) bedtime routine are also found stitched into the very fabric of my cape, of my soul.
There was a long time where my cape held me together and allowed me to look aside from my deteriorating marriage; this wasn’t the healthiest of uses. Now that I am remarried, I have worked hard to open my cape up, and stitch on some sharing and consideration, and allow it to cover us _both_, so that we may move forward together in our superhero duties. I’m trying very hard to explain where each little tear and soft spot comes from, as we encounter them together in our wearing of the cape, so that it can fully become his cape, too.
And when he came into our lives, and stepped UP to be a “step dad”, I made sure he realized that he had a cape of his very own, too! How many guys do _you_ know who would marry a woman with 4 kids, eh? He has thrown himself into his new family, a dude with no prior children, and now added two more to the group. All the while, he wears his shiny new cape of love and determination and learning, while also being wrapped up in my more worn and comfortable version.
Beautiful words – thank you for them, and for the encouragement!
I’m glad my cape is here. It gave my girls something to pull on when I was in a very sad place for a while, grounding me in the reality of my responsibilities. It was there to remind me to wrap them up tight and love them till it hurt, and it was good to hurt, because it was good to feel.
Now, now that I’m back, it helps me to fly. Helps me to bring joy, and to be present, to be present in a million places at once, as only a Mom needs to be.
I’m thankful it’s firmly attached, velcroed and tied and sewn onto me by Friendship and Family and Love and God. I’m sure it will take many more shapes, and assume many more jobs, and for my sake and the sake of my babies, I’m so glad its here.
I too am a long time lurker… This post though made me want to tell you thanks. Thanks for the truth telling and the reminders that trying our best and then trying again is good and that our capes are there even when we can’t see them. Thank you.
Thank you for writing this! I am a long time lurker de-lurking to say I needed this today. I’m hiding in the bedroom with cold pizza while my husband watches the 3 year old and two 1 year olds. My cape used to be made of quiet mornings doing crafts, reading, going to the library, and baby swim classes. Now it’s made of crumbs all over the floor, “That’s probably still good, just eat it!”, friends who come to hold a baby for a few hours, and more laughter, yelling, and crying than I thought I could ever bear. Turns out I can!