Some superheroes wear capes and masks, crested unitards, and holsters filled with magical tools. But there’s another kind of superhero. The kind that wears smocked dresses with patent leather Mary Janes, grass stained jeans, and Red Sox caps.
My kids are the latter kind. At least I’ve always told them so. When they were tiny I’d tell them that they were born with a superpower: the power to make people feel good by showing kindness and forgiveness, the power to end sadness by sharing their toys and offering a helping hand. If they ever doubted the strength of their powers, I’d say, “Go on and test it out. See that little boy crying by the monkey bars? Ask him if he’s okay. Use your superpowers to see if you can make him feel better.” And they would. And they’d be convinced. “See? That’s the power of compassion!”
One day ages ago I was at a splash park with my daughter and her friend. The girls were whispering and pointing at a woman across the water wearing a beige burqa, black gloves, and purple Merrells. Her face was veiled, just her eyes were visible. Those eyes were focused intently on her baby girl splashing playfully and wildly in the same pool as my crew.
“I’m afraid of her. She’s a stranger,” said my daughter’s wide-eyed friend, laying eyes on a fully covered Muslim woman for the first time.
“No, no, she’s not scary. Let’s go say hi to her and she won’t be a stranger anymore.” The girls looked at me like I was totally insane. They resisted and skidded as I grabbed their rigid slippery hands and sloshed across the puddles. As we approached, the Muslim woman was chatting on her cell phone.
I waved at her and wrinkled my eyebrows apologetically, “Would you mind if I interrupted your phone call to ask a question?”
She looked a little surprised but smiled at me with her eyes and hung up her phone, “Oh yes, is everything okay?”
“My daughter and her friend were feeling a little afraid of you because of your burqa, and I wanted them to meet you.”
“Come! Come!” she beckoned with one gloved hand. She pulled the veil away from her nose and leaned into the girls. They peeked down her dress (as did I) and admired her gorgeous face. “I only wear this when I’m outside. But when I’m at home I wear anything I want. I wear my hair long, I wear make up. My favorite color is pink. What’s yours?”
“Purple and turquoise and orange and yellow. And pink,” said one girl.
“Rainbow and pink,” said the other.
“Come and talk to me anytime. Don’t be afraid. I’m a mom just like your mom.”
The girls asked a few intrusive questions, as kids do, and I thanked her as we splashed away, figuring out which superpowers we’d just activated.
“The power of friendliness!” my daughter shouted, bounding over a shooting stream of cold water.
“The power of fearlessness!” I cheered.
“The power of pink!” laughed her friend.
Then we extended our list of superhero garb to include bathing suits, aqua socks, and burqas.