“What are Captain America’s powers?”
These are the kind of questions I have to field now that my 5-year-old has discovered superheroes. Which is mostly awesome. Though most of my superhero facts come from 70’s Saturday morning cartoons like Super Friends.
So I know a little too much about the Wonder Twins and their monkey Gleek and less about Captain America. Oddly, the Wonder Twins aren’t really taking part in the superhero renaissance we’re having right now.
But even when I know the origin stories, it can get a bit dicey explaining them on a 4 and 5-year-old level. Telling my kids Spider Man got his powers when he was bitten by a radioactive spider doesn’t exactly play into my goal of trying to get them to calm the hell down when they see a stinkbug. “But what if it’s radioactive?!” I mean, come on. We’re still working on not being scared of thunder; do I really need to introduce the concept of radioactivity?
Even though superheroes are marketed to young kids, they actually exist in a dangerous and morally ambiguous world that can be exhausting to explain to a preschooler. The gray ethical areas around vigilante justice meted out by people who have been deformed by radiation poisoning is not what I want to get into Tuesday morning before I’ve had coffee.
“Is the Hulk good?”
“Um….hey, want to know where babies come from?”
Luckily I often get a few softball questions too, like, “What’s Superman’s power?” Or, my favorite because it’s one of the few things I can be definitive about in this world, “Are superheroes real?”
“No, honey, they’re just stories.”
Which is something I need to remind my kids of a lot around bedtime. Just like almost every Disney movie starts with a mother dying, almost every superhero story starts with some horrific science tragedy. And we wonder why the U.S. is lagging in the sciences. I’m sure this rising up in the face of adversity theme is a great message for kids and all, but I’m just trying to get them to sleep. I don’t need primers for thought provoking discussions on when mommy is going to die or be accidentally trapped in an atom smasher.
Coinciding with the superhero obsession is a pretty aggressive curiosity around God. And, let’s be honest, you can see how this might get confusing; especially when you throw Thor into the equation
“Oh, so he’s a god. Like God?”
“What’s God’s superpower?”
“Is God real?”
“Hey, do you know how you got out of mommy’s belly?”