My friend Danielle sent me a Facebook message with the greeting, “Your little grandson was a tiger in judo yesterday!” Now, words like that would strike fear in the hearts of most mothers and grandmothers. But for me, it was business as usual. At age four, Rylan has a sweet, gentle soul. He consistently shows loving kindness to his little sister, Amelia, who is one, and has great empathy for friends who hurt in anyway.
But he’s recently become totally consumed with Superheroes. His room is filled with Batman, Superman, Wolverine, Iron Man and Spiderman action figures. His favorite books are (age-appropriate) comic books and books about (what else?) Superheroes. After school each day he dons his Batman or Wolverine costumes and—ta dah!—his alter egos take over. Even his judo moves have the look of Batman defending the world against The Joker.
I was pretty sure this was just a phase until word came from one of his teachers that Rylan had changed his name to “Wolverine Claverie.” It shouldn’t have come as a great surprise to anyone that a name change was in the works.“Lollie, did you know that Batman’s real name is Bruce Wayne and Superman’s real name is Clark Kent? And Spiderman’s real name is Peter Parker?,” he announced the other day. “And my real name is Wolverine.” That explained it. God help him when he goes to get a marriage license.
For his birthday, Rylan and his buddy Henry had a Superhero party at City Park. Each guest was instructed to wear a Superhero costume, and the daring munchkins took over the place. I bravely wore a Superwoman costume, complete with red lamé cape and boot covers. Rylan thought I looked “cool.” One guest said I looked like an aging porn star. I think he meant it as a compliment, but I’m not so sure. Anything for the grandkids, right?
The fantasy lives of children have always fascinated me. One of our children had imaginary friends, Pogo and Gogo, who regularly joined us for dinner (yes, I set the table and made all of them mind their manners). I buckled their unseen seatbelts before we backed out of the driveway, making more than a few neighbors wonder if I did, indeed, have all of my paddles in the water. Our other child hosted tea parties with several Care Bears and a Rainbow Brite in a room full of stuff animals, so extra demitasse cups were set out to accommodate the “guests.”
I thought these Technicolor imaginations meant that my children, and now my grandchildren, were geniuses. Or maybe just normal.
Papa and I are now trying to use the action figure dramas as teachable moments for Rylan, as we did with our own kids. For example, while reading a Superhero book to Ry and Amelia, I recently changed the name of Batman’s hometown to New Orleans, prompting Rylan to say emphatically, “No, silly, Batman lives in Gotham City.” Score one point for the little guy.
After one of his dramatic Spiderman monologues where he threw an imperceptible web around an imaginary enemy and jumped off invisible buildings, I asked Ry exactly what a Superhero is and does. He responded, “Well, a Superhero fights the bad guy who does bad things. He makes it safe for all the other peoples.” Not a bad gig for anyone.Papa and I recently went to a local comic book store and bought a stack Superhero comic books, written for the four-year-old mind. We asked the store’s owner if he thought we might be a little overboard in encouraging this fantasy life, and he explained, “Not at all. Comic book heroes teach great life lessons and can be a kid’s first entry to learning the love of reading.” In an instant, another nutty grandchild purchase was justified.
After reading the first Spiderman comic book to Rylan the other night, Papa asked, “Ry-Guy, what did you learn about Superheroes from this book?” He thought for a moment, rubbed his little hand back and forth across his grandfather’s cheek and said, “I like how you are, Papa.”Everyone knows Papa is the real Superhero of this family. If Rylan has discovered that fact at the teensy age of four, he’s on the right track after all.
Laura Claverie is a freelance writer and grandmother to two wonderful grandchildren, Rylan and Amelia. She lives in the Garden District.