Nineteen months old! you might say. Wow, that’s amazing! Why yes, I would agree, that is amazing, thank you for recognizing my daughter’s greatness. She has not yet learned to speak in complete sentences or turn her nose up at reality TV, but she does know how to recognize the feeling of needing to urinate, communicate this to us (by pointing at the toilet and saying “pee-pee”), then sit naked on the toilet and relax her bladder. She even knows how to wipe herself and then flush, although she is disappointed that her new toilet does not actually have plumbing that allows it to flush. (In addition to being able to pee-pee in a toilet at nineteen months, my daughter also has developed the capacity to be disappointed with everything her daddy buys her.) She’s still a ways from being completely potty trained, but she’s well on her way and, I daresay, streets ahead of most of her classmates at daycare. In fact, her classroom curriculum doesn’t even include potty breaks, and when I asked about them, her teacher looked confused and insulted.
There’s a simple reason that my little girl has so quickly learned to pee-pee like a grown-up. You see, she has a superpower. My little girl has the ability to mimic and copy everything she sees her parents do, down to the cutest and creepiest detail. You see, she decided to give toilet peeing a try because she has seen us do it on many occasions. We weren’t trying to teach her, really; we just needed to pee at times when no one else was around to keep her. So we’d trot her into the bathroom, drop our pants and sit on the toilet, and pee as quickly as we could before our little munchkin could completely unravel all the toilet paper or get into the cabinet and squirt Windex on our bare knees. Sometimes, in order to keep her distracted and occupied, we would give her a play-by-play commentary: “Hear that? That’s pee-pee! Now I’m wiping. Want to flush for me?”
We’ve seen the signs of her amazing superpowers at work before. We should have been prepared for this. But, like Lois Lane, we have been blinded by self-interested denial, refusing to see the obvious and frightening signs of greatness before our eyes. Now that we are becoming aware, we realize that this superpower has great potential.
Of course, our little girl is still naïve to this superpower, like the apocryphal toddler Jesus who doesn’t realize that bringing clay birds to life is the reason he has no playmates. She is unaware of her uncanny abilities, and considers them to be just new ways of playing. Her new toilet is just another toy, not much different than spoons, shoes, her toothbrush, and the cell phone she used to call my boss on a Saturday morning. She doesn’t realize that this superpower is helping her become a fully developed human being, capable of exercising her own will and autonomy in the world. And so our task now as parents is to help her tame this power until she is ready to wield it responsibly. Because, like all superpowers, it can be used for great good or for great destruction.
Since our little child has no idea what she is doing yet, it is up to us as her guardians to protect her from harm and teach her to cultivate this power for a noble use. This is a great responsibility. Since she will copy and mimic our behavior without even being conscious of it, we must act with deliberation and care. If we want to be a force for good in the world, then we can all work together to use this superpower to make an impact. Her mother and I will model respect and compassion for one another. We will treat each other kindly, and when we are around other people, we will show them kindness. We will let her watch us give generously to those in need, stepping beyond our comfortably boundaried lives to reach out to care for those who are hurting. We will listen to one another and spend time together. We will smile and laugh when we are happy and we will cry when we are sad. We will lift each other up with encouragement when we are frustrated, and we will speak up when we see injustice. We will love one another, and we will do these things because we want our child to do them, too.
To our little girl, we are already her heroes. Most of the time, I’m a reluctant Spider-Man-type hero, because the weight of this responsibility is heavy and costly. But shirking my responsibility would be even more disastrous, and the potential for good in the world spurs me on. She will grow to use her powers for good in the world, and she will be my hero.
I don’t have any real superpowers. But I have my love for her. It’s not that magical – kind of like how Batman doesn’t have any superpowers. But he still kicks evil’s ass. Love is just determination and commitment. But together we can join forces and make a difference in this world. It’s certainly making a difference in mine.