A friend mentioned via Facebook that she never thought she would enjoy playing Barbies with her daughter. I let out a little sigh. Ahhh, Barbies. What I would give to play Barbies. The elaborate houses that span an entire room, fashioned from shoeboxes and cushions and bits of pink and purple fabric. The bounty of clothes and shoes. The intricate hairstyles created with braids, curls, barrettes, and ribbons. I am a pro at Barbies, a master. I am even better at dress up and makeovers. But alas, despite my best efforts to raise my sons free of gender stereotypes, they have no interest in Barbies.
My sons do take after me in one way- when they like something, the border on obsession. Liam’s first love was Curious George. We read all the books, over and over until I had every word committed to memory. We watched the show. His George doll travelled with us everywhere- still does. George gave way to robots. Liam couldn’t wear a shirt without a robot on it. I stenciled, embroidered and ironed robots on every shirt. Robots became pirates. We built ships out of boxes and took swords to the grocery store. We have now moved on to super heroes. Not only is Liam fixated on capes and masks, his younger brother, Kellen is old enough to join the fun. Double the obsession, double the fun? Perhaps just double the work for Mom.
Months ago, I happened upon two capes at the thrift store. They were reversible- one side was blue and featured the Bat symbol, the other red with a Superman “S.” I brought them home thinking the boys would instantly fall in love. The capes sat. And sat. And got thrown in a closet. I almost put them in the box to take back to the thrift store. Then Liam opened his closet to look for a lost toy and discovered the forgotten capes instead. He draped one around his shoulders, declared himself a hero and raced through the house demonstrating his super speed. Kellen quickly followed Liam’s example, and took off in hot pursuit of his brother, cape flapping behind him.
Things really took a turn when I purchased the Superman pajamas. My sons must also take after my father. He worked as a machinist, and had one of those strange shifts that started at 5am and ended at three in the afternoon. He would return from work, shower, and put on his pajamas. My friends were always quick to crack jokes about my dad sitting on the couch in his pajamas before the sun went down. My brother later recounted a story where my dad, stark naked, entered a room of his friends. When they began to laugh, my dad responded by saying “what? We’re just boys here, right?” Made me thankful he at least had pajamas on when my friends came calling. The point of this story is that the second my children are in the house, their jeans and t-shirts are on the floor and pajamas are being pulled from the drawers.
I found Superman PJ’s on clearance for $4. They were fabricated from the cheapest material. It would be a matter of days before they had holes wearing through the knees. But I knew the boys would love them. I just didn’t understand how much.
Kellen started wanting to wear the pajamas every day, no matter where we went. At first, I gave in to this request. There are not many times in your life where you can get away with wearing Superman pajamas to visit the doctor and buy stamps a the post office. With the addition of his cape and his patented flying stance, people were cooing everywhere we traveled. It was adorable.
You know what wasn’t adorable? The blood curdling screech he let out when his cape became unvelcroed and fell to the ground. Which of course happened fifty times a day. Couple that with the tears that ensued when his pajamas were in the washing machine (despite my buying four pairs), and you can see how this routine quickly lost its’ charm.
My biggest problem is that I do not understand the finer points of playing super heroes. Other kids LOVE coming to my house. I paint with them. I concoct slime. I let them cover my house in water beads, colored rice, and glitter. I am the messy mom that wants to encourage their creativity. My own boys see me coming with the watercolors and the construction paper and say “No Mom. We just want to play superheroes.”
Playing superheroes is A LOT Of running. I chase them, they chase me. Lap after lap. Sometimes we hide from each other, or put someone in a jail constructed from couch cushions, but mostly we chase. I suppose I could suggest that one child play the bad guy and the other the good guy so I could catch my breath, but I prefer they play on the same team. So I take on the role of the Joker, or The Riddler, or Silver Banshee (who knew there was such a villain)?
I know this superhero phase is going to last until the next big thing, so I might as well get on board. How can I combine my love for arts and crafts with their passion for the Justice League? Time to step outside of my own gender stereotypes and figure out a way to get crafty with a Superhero twist.
I did what all modern mommies do and googled “Superhero crafts.” Most of what I came across were LAME. Ok, there were some cute things you could make for a theme party, but as far as crafts kids might actually like making themselves, not so much. I did come across one great tip for homemade capes.
I adore messy play. How I could combine sensory activities with imaginative play? TRAPS! Super heroes have to trap villains! We made slime traps, dirt traps, mud, water, ice and bubbles. I filled squeeze bottles with different temperatures of water and allowed them to put food coloring in. Warm, red water was lava, of course. Blue was cold water. Green was acid. Black was poop- hey, they are two and four years old.
During a parent teacher conference, Liam’s teacher advised that he could use some work on his fine motor skills, but that he didn’t have much interest in writing, cutting or painting. I brainstormed activities we could do at home to engage him by playing into his love of heroes.
The easiest one has been coloring sheets. I couldn’t find the specific super heroes he wanted, so I went online. You can pretty much google any superhero doing any activity and find it (don’t go XXX on that.) He requests Robin on a motorcycle- five seconds later it’s coming out of the printer. We started a nightly ritual of coloring together, and it is one of those mindless activities that proves relaxing. Ben and I enjoy it almost as much as they do. We make sure to put the name of the hero or villain on the sheet, and the name of the artist- so we get some writing practice too. The boys tape them on the walls of their rooms and proudly show them off to visitors (I mentioned they were obsessive about this, right?).
Our usual crafts take on a superhero theme. When Valentine’s day came around, we made Batman and Superhero valentines. I cut out the bats and S shapes, and Liam cut out the backgrounds. We make pictures but cutting and painting our own superheroes and putting them into action.
Even my days with Barbie paid off. I traded in the pink and purple fabric and cushions for legos, blocks, and empty juice bottles. We build complex buildings and garages to house our super vehicles.
Maybe I have a natural affinity for things that are pink and sequined, but with a little help from my two little heroes, I might just survive this phase after all. But keep your fingers crossed for me that the next stage involves something with glue, finger paints, and Bjork- or at the very least, less running.