November 20, 2019
I recently took Will (who had just turned four years old) to Target to pick out some new underwear (for him….just to be clear). One of my favorite things about kids his age is their total, unabashed innocence about their bodies. I love that I can take him to the underwear section of a busy store and he’ll feel no embarrassment, only unbridled joy at the possibilities. Superheroes OR Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles OR Thomas the Train OR LEGO Batman OR Paw Patrol??!? #mindblown And then, once the choice and the purchase have been made, he wants to tell everyone he knows about the awesome new underwear he got. When was the last time you told everyone about your awesome new underwear? Nope, don’t answer that. You’re not four, so it’s not cute. Unless you’re a four-year-old who reads blog posts…? In which case you’re doubly cute.
The package of underwear that Will picked this time — the underwear that he went on to excitedly tell everyone about — was, rather appropriately, Captain Underpants underwear, and it’s hilarious. The package came with several styles. One is a pair of whitey-tighties, which he put on first and loves the most. That in and of itself is priceless. Out of that whole display of printed, chaotic underwear, his very favorite one is pure white? Ridiculous. But you know what’s even more ridiculous? What’s even more ridiculous is his second favorite pair — lightly decorated, with a red superhero cape attached by Velcro to the back. An actual little cape. Attached to his actual little underwear. When he puts those on, he IS Captain Underpants. He takes off his shirt and pants and runs around the house with tiny little skivvies on and a tiny red cape fluttering behind his bottom.
It’s so absurd and cute I don’t even know what to do with myself when I see him like that. I just want to scoop him up and squeeze him tight and ask him to stay little forever, but that’s not what Captain Underpants does. Captain Underpants does not snuggle his mom. Captain Underpants runs off into the sunset to save the world from….vengeful toilets or something? I really don’t know. But it’s some important nonsense, and Will is the boy for the job.
…Until he isn’t. He loves superheroes so much, yet he behaves like a superhero so little. His name means “strong protector” and at this point he’s got the first half of that description figured out a little better than the second. Not long ago he donned a (slightly oversized) Superman costume, and he was so outrageously proud to be wearing it. He showed off his muscles, and he ran around the house acting super cool and tough and brave. He was large and in charge. In fact, he was a little too large and in charge. He was wearing the trappings of a noble protector, but running around wreaking havoc, and so Little Superman’s daddy had to come along and set things straight.
This is maybe the cutest and saddest juxtaposition of pictures ever. First we have Will, truly believing that he might be Superman. And next is Will…learning that he isn’t. Sweet, naughty boy, with his muscles and his cape and his face so full of disappointed pride, being reminded of his place by a wise and loving father.
Will often talks about being a dad. He doesn’t talk about babies or kids or a wife or baseball games or Christmas. He’s excited to be a dad for one very noble reason — so he can FINALLY be the one in charge. One day a little while ago he suddenly blurted out “Am I in charge now?!” and I’m not sure what about his life at that point justified such a hopeful question, so I said “Yes, Will, congratulations, you’re in charge now!” and he said “Really?!” and I said “No, darling, you’re not,” and he barely skipped a beat before saying “But I’ll be in charge soon!” His definition of the word “soon” varies as much as a Millennial’s definition of the word “literally,” so it’s hard to know exactly what he thought it meant in this case, but the one thing that’s certain is that this kid’s got his eyes on the prize.
In Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, Aslan has a conversation with the young prince near the end of the book, which goes like this:
‘Welcome, Prince,’ said Aslan. ‘Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?’
‘I – I don’t think I do, Sir,’ said Caspian. ‘I’m only a kid.’
‘Good,’ said Aslan. ‘If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.’
Psst, Will. Pssssst. You’re not sufficient yet.
We have many jobs as parents. Making sure that our kids don’t grow up to be megalomaniacs is, I guess, one of them. Todd and I want all our kids to grow up into the kind of people who can be good leaders, but for an underwear-cape-wearing four-year-old, that means being a good follower first.
Will’s going to learn this. He’s already learning it. Pseudo-Superman stood in the kitchen learning this lesson one day, and he gets frequent reminders that as much as he’d like to be the one calling the shots, he isn’t. And even though he thinks that we’re the ones getting to call all the shots, we know that we’re not. We’re all in submission to someone. Todd may be his own boss but there are still city and county and state and federal laws and authorities that he (and we) are subject to. As decent human beings we are accountable to our friends and family and neighbors and the teachers at our kids’ schools. And as Christians we know that none of our actions are divorced from the notice and care of the God we love and serve.
Will is little. He may wear whitey-tighties with a tiny red Velcro cape for now, but he’s slowly trading that outfit for Superman and Power Ranger costumes. He’ll slowly trade those for soccer cleats or football jerseys, which he’ll eventually trade for accoutrements that aren’t quite so visible — the kind that adorn the heart and mind. Hopefully he’ll carry those adornments with greater dignity than cartoon underpants or a Superman suit that makes him hit people. Greater dignity, and greater wisdom and kindness too.
I’m in no rush, though. I mean, obviously I want Will to be growing in gentleness and wisdom now, not just in the future. But I also have three older boys, some of whom would be decidedly un-thrilled to be paraded through Target in search of new undies. We’ve moved on to the “adornments of the heart” season with them, and they’re well past the age of throwing tantrums or running around wreaking havoc in the house. They’re quieter and more thoughtful and studious these days, and I’m kind of a fan of this new season they’re in. But at the same time…Well, there’s a tiny little boy in my house who still loves costumes, who truly believes he might actually be a Power Ranger, and who will hold my hand and laugh with excitement while I buy him a new package of underwear. And sometimes, when he’s running through the house fighting imaginary bad guys, he’ll stop for a quick second. He’ll wrap himself tight around my leg. He’ll say “I love you, Mom!” And then he’ll run off again — adventure ahead, cape fluttering behind. I sure do love that boy.