Monday, February 27, 2006

Gravity is the Real Enemy

"Nananananananana. Batman. Nananananananana. Batman."

In his tiny, twangy voice Richie, 3, sings. His arms pump faster than his legs can run. His black Batman mask hides his face and the cape drags behind him on our hardwood floors.

He stops in his tracks, cupping his hand like a walkie talkie.

"Who is this?" he asks.

High pitched laughter rings out, also coming from Richie.

"It's the joker," Richie says. "Get him."

He moves his arms in freeze frame punches. "Ch. Ch. Ch. I got him."

A train of bad guys follow. Penguin. Catwoman. Darth Vader. Richie gets them all.

He believes he's Batman--for now. But later, he'll shed the cape and say, "I'm not Batman."

Dejected, he'll color until he can muster the courage to believe in himself again.

Just months ago, Richie never doubted for a moment that he was a superhero. In those days, he wore a cape everywhere--a checkered dishtowel tied around his neck. He waited for Santa to bring his real Batman cape, which he looked at in a catalogue everyday.

Richie thought he could fly. It's just that he never needed to.

Then one warm November day a bunch of balloons flew to the top of the Elm tree in our backyard. I watched from the open backdoor as Richie stood with his arms stretched over his head, ready for take off. Nothing happened.

"When I get my Batman cape, I'll get them," he told Johnny.

Then he remembered that he had a Batman cape--the dishtowel. He ran inside, his arms pumping faster than his legs could carry him. He pulled the placemats and aprons out of the cabinet until he found the red checkered dishtowel.

I reluctantly tied it around his neck, knowing that when belief and gravity battle, the latter always wins. Why couldn't the towel have been in the wash?

Richie bolted back outside, arms stretched over his head, and jumped. His feet barely left the ground. He kept jumping. Nothing happened. Finally, he ran inside, sat at his little table and cried. He couldn't fly, not even with his cape on.

"You can't fly today," I said. "But you might someday."

"No," he said. "I can't. I can't."

He wailed silently, tearlessly. Hugging him, I remembered how it felt to have your throat ache with heartbreak and disappointment.

Richie sat at the table until lunch time. After eating a sandwich and yogurt and orange, he recouperated and ran around the house in his red checkered cape again.

The balloons had flown from the tree.

"You'll get them next time," I told Richie.

"Yeah," he said. "I will."

Richie and I play Batman at a children's museum where Johnny takes science class. There's a room filled with ramps and mirrors and caves and boats. In the art room, I paint a mask on Richie's face. We wait until nobody else is in the "superhero" room. Then the bad guys crawl out of their snake holes.

They fly at Richie faster than he can blink and he gets them one by one. Why do they even try? There is no match for Richie's kung fu moves. Not the Riddler. Not the Green Goblin. Not Doc Oc.
Only gravity. That venomous enemy of boyhood imagination.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

cute little Richie! I can just see thoses arms going!

7:00 AM  

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