Losing My Parenting Superpowers

09/09/2013 06:03 pm ET
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My parenting superpower -- c’mon, we all have them -- is finding things.

It began as a sixth sense for one particular thing -- Puff, the stuffed bear that went absolutely everywhere with my older son. Misplacing Puff meant the end of his world, hence the end of mine. So I cultivated an internal GPS that knew where Puff was at any moment.

It was downright mystical. I would close my eyes and somehow see the yellow and white striped creature wherever he was hiding -- behind the sofa, under a tree in the yard, wedged between the passenger seat and the car door. When Puff disappeared on vacation once, I deduced that he’d blended in with the bedsheets and been scooped up by the hotel cleaning staff. We found him, just as I’d envisioned, twirling in the industrial drier in the basement.

I was Sherlock Holmes crossed with Charles Xavier with a little Shawn Spencer from Psych thrown in for comic relief. I was SuperMom, and as my children grew, so did my powers. They’d lose things, I’d find them, often without leaving my seat.

Library books? Try your tennis bag. (I’d noticed that your backpack was overstuffed when you came home from practice, so I figured you’d have to put the overflow somewhere.) Tennis racquet? Next to the TV in the basement. (You were using it to serve balls to the dog.) School ID card? Between the passenger seat and the car door. (Where you used to drop Puff when you fell asleep in your car seat.) Car keys? In the laundry basket. (Probably in the pocket of the pants you spilled chocolate ice cream on last night.) Cell phone? In the crack between the couch cushions. (It always falls out of your gym shorts pocket, and you were wearing those yesterday.) Cell phone? Front lawn. (You and your brother were rough-housing out there after school.)

Now both boys have left home, and that has been the real test -- not of my powers of location, which I've learned expand exponentially with distance, but rather of my powers of self-control. As my sons started college they took to texting that they’d lost something (rather than shouting frantically from the next room) and I'd text back my suggestion. I’d say my finding-average was well over 50 percent. I might not know the details of their day, or even have been to their dorm room, but I knew THEM, and it’s was cool and also creepy that I could retrace steps I hadn’t even seen them take.

Like so many things that are cute when children are little, it becomes something else altogether as they get big. I am very aware of the difference between a helpful Mom and a crippling one, but if it were easy to stop short of enabling then none of us would cross the line in the first place. We help because it feels like love. It serves as connection. I had the answers, I could save them -- or, at least, their keys and wallets and stuffed toys. And if I couldn’t save them, then I could suggest a few places they might look.

It’s hard to give up a superpower. It’s like The Little Mermaid giving up her voice for love -- only the other way around because instead of getting the guy, I’m letting him go. Or imagine Superman standing by while Lois Lane faces down the villan, just so she can learn to rescue herself. Some days it can feel like that.

But other days, it’s a revelation. They still text, “I can’t find my...” and now instead of answering, I slowly count. Usually I get to ten, maybe 20, when my screen lights with a follow-up “Nvm. Found it.” How? They tell me that they just try to think of where I would look.

Teaching them how to think. Making sure they can find their own way.

That’s a kind of superpower, too.

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