Meet Atticus, my three-year-old vigilante.
Most days he goes by Batman. And eats Batman yogurt for breakfast (just regular yogurt). And wears Batman shoes (just regular shoes). And goes to Batman school.
In his spare time my Batman likes what other Batmen like. He likes to hang upside down and watch over our Gotham backyard from his treehouse, forming binoculars with his fingers because he needs to “wook for bad guys.”
His sister Robin helps (just a regular Evangeline).
I’ve never been a matchy-matchy mom. It’s less because I’m lazy and more because who cares? My husband is the one who’s more into “brown sock day” and “black sock day.” The rest of us live out of a sock bin. We dive in Double-Dare-style and grab two that are roughly the same size and height and run.
With each child, I’ve lowered my bar. I recall how my thirteen-year-old daughter would wriggle and writhe while I detangled and pigtailed her hair for preschool. I love Atticus’s sprawling curls—they are plots with many twists and surprise endings—but a lot of days, I send him off with a “keep that hoodie up, baby,” hoping the frizzy coils will settle down with a good playground romp.
Evangeline recently got a baby bob to fix her toddler mullet, but she wakes up with a ball of fuzz on the back of her head so that it looks like she’s always at the Exploreum, both palms held tight to that glass electric ball, full of shooting zings of purple light. She’s learning to love hats.
I’ll spare you the details because you have your own you can fill in, but this life is hard and full of fill-in-the-blank things.
I’ve always thought of my oldest as a child-savior of sorts. I had her at nineteen after a diagnosis of severe depression. We grew up together—are still growing up together. Atticus arrived an intentional ten years later in the middle of my father’s terminal battle with multiple myeloma among other battles. I was pregnant with Evangeline when we lost my father.
Children are silver linings and living dreams. It is because most of them do not understand the deep dark that you can pretend when you’re with one that the other does not exist.
I choose Batman, and we go to Publix.
If you’re imagining a calm, strapped in child who happens to be wearing a superhero costume, you’re not imagining my son.
Atticus is Batman in Publix.
He fake runs, swinging his bent and pointy elbows, crouches behind towering fruit displays, and when his eyes lock with a smiling onlooker, he’ll retrieve an imaginary something from his Batman utility belt, stick his arms out, wrists up, and make a whispered shooting noise followed with his evilest laugh.
You would think people would be annoyed, but the opposite happens. Joy kind of clouds around us when we’re there. You can see grandparents reminiscing. Kids cheer him on, “It’s Batman!”
He kind of nods as if to humbly acknowledge, “Yes. Yes, it is.”
And my favorite ones to watch are the late twenty-something to forty-something men—especially the ones with their wives. For them, he’s a celebrated brave one. They see him and glow a little. He gets high fives and a lot of people asking if he’s saving the world.
One man last week was shopping with his wife, and starting on Aisle 4 throughout our entire shopping trip, he and Atticus pseudo-sparred. They’d be an entire aisle’s length away from each other, and the guy would catch Atticus’s eye and drop down into a deep squat and point his arm out, pretending to shoot something out of his watch. Atticus, ever the invincible, would never go down but return fire of his own, sometimes making Spider-Man signs with his fingers and pretending to shoot webs from cereal to meat. He gets his superheroes mixed up sometimes.
His wife apologized to me on at least three aisles for her husband getting my son riled up. “He’s just like this,” she said. I assured her it was the highlight of my son’s day, smiled, and told her, without going into my fill-in-the-blank details, I knew of some things far worse things than being riled up.
I know he won’t be Batman forever. He’ll grow out of it. He’ll grow up. But I hope I’m raising the kind of kid who grows up to be the kind of man I married, the same kind of guy we met on Aisle 4.
It’s the kind who knows not to take himself so seriously or pretend to be a grown-up when a little boy in a costume has just pitched a make-believe ninja throwing star at you. It’s the kind who knows the very least you can do is duck.
I want to raise a son who one day remembers what it’s like to be three and Batman.
I think these are the men who know how very dangerous it is to let the dark overcome the light—and these are the ones who put up the best fight.by