My younger son recently announced that he wants to be Spiderman when he grows up.
“You can’t,” said his very literal brother. “You can’t be someone who isn’t real.”
I kind of hope he’s wrong about that, because I too want to be a fictional character when I grow up. My choice? Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath.
If you know the story (about which I blogged just a few weeks ago – I must really like it), you know why I idolize her. Ma keeps her family together throughout all the trials and challenges of their trip from Oklahoma to California. She is able to handle drought, death, stillbirth, poverty, whiny children, floods, hunger, car trouble, rude people, and still hold it together. Other people bring their crises to her because they know she can handle them, and she does.
I love how Ma has the quiet inner strength that she needs to buck her family members up when they are feeling low. As the narrator explains, “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials,” which is a great way of reflecting what parents do for their kids when times are tough and we try to find any little positive thing we can to change the tone of the moment.
It’s what I try to do when my own little family hits rough patches, but I know I’m nowhere in Ma Joad’s league. Changes in the normal running of things tend to throw me; I kvetch loudly about car trouble and broken dishwashers, and I am slightly obsessive about needing to know what is coming next. But Ma Joad – she takes anything life throws at her, which in this book is quite a lot. And though Pa is the titular head of the family, everyone in the story knows that Ma is the really strong one.
And it’s not just that she’s tough; she’s loving, too. As Jim Casy says, “There’s a woman so great with love – she scares me.” That love extends not just to her immediate family, but to the other needy people she encounters along the way. It’s inspiring, no matter how many times I have read the book.
So I guess my son and I each have our own personal superhero. His is a guy who can shoot webs and walk up walls; mine is a woman who can soothe her fearful children and keep the faith and set up camp anywhere life takes her. And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, I will be just like her.