Driving. My son quietly squawked his imminent need to get to a bathroom. Ten minutes from destination. I invoked the classic parenting maneuver simply called: Distraction.
"See if you can name five superheroes,"
His sister pre-empted his
response: "Superman. Batman. Spider-Man. Wonder Woman."
My son's enthusiasm leaped and he forgot briefly the call of nature and all of us jumped in with contributions: "Hulk. Aquaman. Elektra. Daredevil. Flash. Thor. Green Lantern. Catwoman. Professor X. Wolverine. Silver Surfer. Plastic Man. Iron Man. Hawkeye. Captain America. Captain Marvel. The Thing..."
A pause. Then he added:
I tried to catch his eye in the rear view mirror as kindly as possible. "Umm...no. Princess Leia is not a superhero. You see, a superhero has certain traits, and she does not fall under the classification of one."
My daughter, in the most egregious breach of dad-knows-best truth I have yet experienced, said in the most wise and condescending voice - and I know this voice, because I use it frequently -
"Well Daddy, have you ever SEEN Princess Leia?"
I had a terrible, horrible, no good, rotten feeling that my own logic was about to be twisted around to clobber my intellect. Reluctantly, I replied:
- "No, I have not actually SEEN Princess Leia, but - "
She interrupted with the most infuriating tone of self-righteous truth, which I recognize because I have practiced it in the mirror many times.
"Well then, since you haven't SEEN her, you can't PROVE she's not a superhero!"
I protested, but I felt the weakness in my voice.
- "That is so uncool - that is MY logic, and I am the one who reads Nassim Nicholas Taleb, NOT YOU! Do not use my own chain of reasoning on me!"
She stood strong. "You cannot PROVE that Princess Leia is NOT a superhero."
- "I shouldn't have to prove it! She simply doesn't meet the criteria! I will tell you WHY she's not!"
Maddening calm. "You cannot prove that she's not."
I heard my son take a deep breath of knowledge behind me, and prepared for his support. I might as well have wished for a billion dollar winning Scratch-it. "Umm...Princess Leia is a superhero."
And looked to my wife for support, pleading with my limited telepathic abilities. She looked at me, then at the children. Deep breath. Back to me.
"Princess Leia is definitely..."
She looked at them.
I screamed with rage and started driving faster, almost up to the speed limit. "Traitors! I am angry at all of you!"
I did not know there was a level beyond supreme condescension, but my wife invented it on the spot.
She looked at the children with sickening sweet smile and deadly earnest voice.
"Do you know who else is a superhero?"
They shook their heads.
"Don Knotts. Don Knotts is a superhero."
- "NO HE IS NOT!!!"
I shrieked with accuracy.
"He was a fine comic actor and I love the Apple Dumpling Gang but he WAS NOT A SUPERHERO!"
My wife didn't hear me over the traffic sounds, because she turned back to the children and said:
"Two of my favourite superheroes are Princess Leia and Don Knotts. He can turn into a fish."
The sounds of their affirmation filled the automobile, and I drove along in silence, at long last knowing exactly what it was like to be Winston Churchill while England appeased Germany, and knowing that he was right and that the country had to stand up for truth and freedom and right...and being surrounded by those unwilling to face the truth. Until that moment, I had not realised I was married to Neville Chamberlain.
And like Princess Leia and Don Knotts, Neville Chamberlain was no superhero.
I drove along, quiet with my thoughts and rage while the children talked about how awful Leonard Cohen is. Which is untrue. Sometimes I wonder about their future.
We arrived and I swooped my son out of carseat, raced to the water closet, and averted disaster just in time. So I kind of saved the day again. That's one thing that superheroes do.