Everyday Superpowers (and Superlimitations)

Do you know that feeling of being overtaken by a wave? One moment you’re happily body surfing, watching with curiosity as a wave takes shape and approaches, and the next moment—wham!—you’re underwater, being dragged across the sand by the current. You’re not in any real danger—the water is about two feet deep—but you are sore, and also: embarrassed. You stand up and look around to see if anybody saw that. You wade a little deeper and try to see if it’s possible to discreetly tug at your bathing suit and rinse some of the sand from your craw.

Dear Reader, that’s exactly what the second half of April has felt like. Here’s my best attempt to break it down.

  1. I caught a cold and tried to ignore it. We had a lot going on (see #2) and so I told myself this illness would take care of itself. I continued to eat cheese, drink wine, to miss hours of sleep, to live as if I were feeling fine. And when, after a full week of this, the cold turned into asthma and irrepressible coughing, I just bumped up the dose on my inhalers, and waited for the meds to kick in. But that didn’t work either. Gradually, over the course of the second week, my asthma got worse, not better. I woke every morning coughing and gasping for air. The inhalers took the edge off, but they didn’t pull me out of illness. It turned out I needed a doctor, and Prednisone, and rest.
  1. Kellie and I found a spacious mid-century house priced at the very upper edge of our price range. We’ve been on the fence about buying a house for years. We both want more space—we want things like a big room where the kids can mess everything up and be crazy loud and we can close the door—but the thought of a bigger mortgage makes us both tremble in our boots a little bit. We kept making decisions and then doubting those decisions; we took turns staying up all night; I spent an hour on the phone with a mortgage broker, and hours at the kitchen table with a pen and scrap paper and a calculator. Kellie and I kept calling each other at random moments during the workday to re-discuss the finer points until finally we decided to GO FOR IT!—and then, once again, we second-guessed ourselves. After hours of further discussion, we made an offer, and were amazed at how peaceful we finally felt. We went to sleep imagining our family spreading out in a house with two floors.

 And then the next day we learned that we’d been outbid.

  1. I had an essay go live that I was excited to share with the world—and within an hour of its release, I just wanted to hide beneath my covers. The essay was about the exhaustive decision-making process I went through with Kellie when deciding to have our first child. (See similar decision-making process as represented in #2 above. This is how we roll.) For a couple to negotiate different views on having kids struck me as a normal phenomenon, and it just plain never occurred to me that someone would read about that experience and judge me.

But twenty minutes after my essay went live, a commenter accused me of being emotionally abusive to Kellie, of coercing her into having a child. A whole thread of comments followed debating my character—was I totally reprehensible, or just a little bit manipulative? This was the real sneaker wave of April. I hadn’t predicted this reaction, nor could I have anticipated how totally raw and exposed a bunch of online commenters would make me feel.

To make things worse, the website where the essay appeared was set up to email me a notification every time someone commented. Throughout the day, I’d check my email and my heart would race each time I saw a comment notification. I held my breath and clicked on it, wondering what awful conclusions the most recent readers had drawn about me. It felt kind of like this:

Film: Repulsion, 1965

Film: Repulsion, 1965

  1. Two days after the comments fiasco unfolded, my car started rattling. It began a half a block away from my house as I was preparing to drop off my kids and continue on to work. Though the rattling was undeniable, I tried for a moment to pretend it wasn’t happening. I asked myself if maybe I could possibly just keep driving to work?

The answer was no. Within the next half block, the rattling got progressively worse, and I parked on the side of the road to investigate. Was my car about to explode? Or maybe it was something simple—was my muffler dragging on the ground? No, but my front right tire was completely flat.

Kellie had forgotten her cell phone that day, so I was on my own. I left the car where I parked it and walked the kids a mile to the bus terminal downtown. This involved alternately corralling Stump and carrying him against his will.

Later that evening, Kellie replaced the flat tire and as she lowered the body of the car back down over the brand new wheel, it slowly became clear to us that the spare was flat too. I filled it with my bike pump and drove it directly to Les Schwab—which had closed. I left it to sit and deflate overnight.

  1. When I came home the next day from picking up my car with brand new front tires, this had happened:

gutter

Actually, this one just turned out to be a cosmic joke. When Kellie came home, she fixed it in twenty minutes.

 While all of this has been going on, Stump has been cultivating a superhero alter-ego. He’s reached that stage in life where he wants to be—needs to be—a superhero all of the time. He wants to wear armbands day and night, and won’t take them off for the bath. He wants to wear a cape over his t-shirt. To Stump, this isn’t about wearing a costume; he’s claiming his personal style.

superheroIn the midst of a sleepless night last week (see #2 & #3) I realized that this was exactly the way that I needed to see myself, that even though I’d hit a point where I felt tired and wounded and embarrassed and tired again, I needed to put on my armbands, put a cape on over my work clothes, cultivate my everyday superpowers, and surrender to my superlimitations. It was two in the morning at that point, and as I lay there I took stock:

Superpower: My body can heal itself.

Superlimitation: I actually have to slow down and help it.

Superpower: I am capable of radical oversharing. Lately, the more I write, the more it seems like this craft is about discovering the most revealing, vulnerable thing that I am capable of saying and then saying it.

Superlimitation: I am completely unable to control or even predict how that writing will be received.

Superpower-limitation: I’m the only one who can save me. On the morning of my flat tire, I called Kellie’s work office to tell her about the problem. “I can’t get a hold of her until the afternoon,” he co-worker explained. “That’s fine,” I told him. “I made it to work already.” “Oh, so you don’t need rescuing?” he clarified. When I got off the phone, I realized how badly I’d wanted rescuing all week. I wanted someone to make my asthma go away, to get rid of those critical commenters, to wave a magic wand and give me a new house that suited all our family needs without a mortgage. But at the end of the day, it’s just me in my sweaty human clothes lifting my fists to the sky like Superman, trying to up-up-and-away myself.

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22 comments

  1. Yes, yes, yes. The tsunami of April. Why is it always April? The water retreats laying bare the whole ocean floor and then wham! You get blown away by this wave that leaves you powerless. Last year it was Shingles. The year before pneumonia. My body putting the emergency break on, too. You’ve captured it so beautifully here.
    You are Super Woman to be sure. But it would have been nice to have Robin punch some haters in the throat, buy you a house, and carry your car. Here’s hoping May brings you peace and some Robin action from unexpected places.

    1. I think that May is already better. And you’re right–what is up with April? It’s always the month when all of our cars break down and I get sick and can’t get better.

  2. This was a fantastic peice.
    My kid has a superhero alter ego as well – I love it. Sometimes he won’t repsond when I call his name, I must refer to him as Batman or Robin depending on the day.

    As for over sharing… no such thing. I see this as you being so strong that you can live your life as an open book. Just add to this strength a tad bit and don’t let people judge you. If something works for you and your lifestyle then its right and no one else gets to tell you otherwise. If your over “manipulative” character works for your relationship then own it and wear it proud. pshhhh to everyone else.

  3. Not to overshare, but I’m old, I don’t have a full-time job, and yes I live one town over, but if you’re in trouble I would drop whatever I have and come to where you are. I’m not kidding.
    I will only do this till both kids are in school fulltime. After that I figure it won’t be quite as nutty. Until they become teenaged boys. By then I hope to be dead. Call me.

  4. I can relate, the past chapter or so of my life has been that kind of persecution (only they say my husband is the one controlling me) and dragging my body against the current. Oh, and we’re trying to move, as well.

  5. Oh, Jenn. My goodness. But I thought your superpower was being able to read the “password” without the red acetate card sleeve.

  6. And your enumeration of all the problems doesn’t even include your younger one’s fall at the playground and a mild concussion found. It all sounds like just too much. Let me know how I can help, please!

  7. “Superpower: I am capable of radical oversharing. Lately, the more I write, the more it seems like this craft is about discovering the most revealing, vulnerable thing that I am capable of saying and then saying it.

    Superlimitation: I am completely unable to control or even predict how that writing will be received.”

    Wow, do I feel you on this. I’m sorry that piece got the reaction it did. (Does it make things any better that you later found the MOST PERFECT screenshot to capture that feeling?)

  8. Jenn, you have such a talent for sharing what is going on in your life in such a poetic and elegant way. Your writing about a few days of parenting and living ‘hell’ – we’ve all been there – brought out memories in me of just that – I’ve sure been there too. Congrats on a piece well written, hope it was a little cathartic for you too :).

  9. Sounds like April was more like a tsunami. Sorry about the controversy generated by your piece in the sense it doesn’t sound like to be on the receiving end was fun- but that said, you obviously struck a nerve and are being read by a lot of people and kudos to you for having that superpower of revealing so much in your work- which imho still requires great bravery!

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