The week before Ethan turned six, Barnes and Noble announced that Batman was going to make an appearance. I don’t know if I was more excited or my son.
Ethan dug his Batman costume out of the closet and cleaned it with a lint brush. He dressed his Build-A-Bear in a matching Dark Knight outfit and tucked a batarang carefully into his belt. I pieced together a Batman costume for Kyra and Riley from Ethan’s loot (masks, utility belts, flashlights, grappling hooks, and of course batarangs) and made sure everyone had a cape. Kyra dressed her Build-A-Bear in a Superman costume.
The night before, we tattooed the back of each other’s hands with the Batman sign.
Then, everyone (except me) passed out, exhausted from all the preparations. Earlier this month, in a fit of anger, Kyra had said the worst possible thing she could have ever said to Ethan, “Batman is not real.”
So the timing of Batman’s visit was perfect. I tried to make sure it was even more perfect by arranging for Batman to acknowledge Ethan’s birthday. Barnes and Noble promised to do their best to make it special and maybe even get everyone in the store to sing “happy birthday” for him.
Whenever I asked “Are you excited Batman is coming to town,” Ethan played it cool with nothing more than a manly shrug.
Sometimes, he would ask, “Do you know which Batman is coming? Is Bruce Wayne coming or Batman? Where do you think Batman is coming from? Do you think he’s staying with Wonder Woman?”
To which I played it cool. “I have no idea.”
He pretended that he didn’t care, even refused to keep his suit on when the event finally started. Clark Kent read two books while Ethan studied him closely.
When Batman entered the room, Ethan froze. He couldn’t put on his suit. He stared at his shoes. I was a mess too. I couldn’t decide whether to film the moment or photograph it. My girls disappeared with the crowd that rushed to form a meet and greet line. My husband helped Ethan put on his suit. Ethan refused to put his mask and cape on. All the time, I’m thinking: When is Batman going to say anything?
About 15 minutes later, it was our turn to be photographed with Batman. Kyra and Ethan hardly looked at him. They stood to his left while my husband with Riley in his arms was on his right. They all stared at me as I snapped photos. Then, Kyra tried to put Ethan’s mask and hood on. Ethan shoved her. The two of them started squabbling. Nobody said anything to Batman. I handed off my camera to a friend who captured the scene. My husband started walking away. The moment was passing. Nobody was saying anything!
So I started blabbering to Batman about what a huge deal it was for Ethan to meet him. He looked down at Ethan who stared at him and said, “Hi.”
Ethan said nothing.
A Barnes and Noble employee handed a goodie bag to Batman and whispered something in his ear. He got down on one knee, handed Ethan the bag and said, “Happy Birthday.”
Ethan looked like he was about to pass out.
I was filming this awkward exchange. Later when I viewed this footage I heard my high-pitched crazy voice, “Ethan, would you like to hug Batman?”
Ethan frowned and shook his head at me. I snapped photos of the two of them looking at each other and me as if they had both landed on an unfamiliar planet.
As we left Batman, I asked Ethan, “How do you feel? Are you excited you got to meet him?”
To each question, he would shrug until at last he said, “It’s my personal business.”
It would be a few hours later as I’m tucking Ethan to bed that he started talking.
“Do you think Batman knows that I want to be him when I grow up? How did he know it was my birthday? How come his grappling gun looked like plastic? Isn’t Batman supposed to be old? Did you tell Barnes and Noble it was my birthday?”
I climbed into his bed and wrapped my left arm around his little body. He rubbed his nose against my cheek and held onto me as if I were his lifeboat. As I cleverly quelled all his anxieties, I wondered how much longer my son and I could have moments like this. How long could I convince him that Batman is real? Is it good or bad parenting that I want him to believe Batman is real? Maybe I made things worse by getting Batman to say “happy birthday” to my son?
In the darkness of his bedroom, I felt his tender kisses peppering my cheeks, my forehead, my nose, my ears. He took his time planting each one and letting them bloom. I never felt kisses like this from him before. Each kiss perhaps an acknowledgement of how hard I worked to keep his dreams alive.
Before sleep snatched my son away, he whispered, “Mom, I wish no one else was there but Batman and our family. I get shy when I’m with someone that tall and someone I like that much.”