Captain Marvel-less

Recently I had a dream that I could fly. This isn’t an unusual dream, though […]

Stephanie Phillips / 4.11.19

Recently I had a dream that I could fly. This isn’t an unusual dream, though not as common as the one where I find I haven’t completed my dental school requirements — naked — and am racing against the clock to save my career (which I am not currently practicing, btw). It’s also mentioned around our house a fair bit, this idea of flying, since I have two young boys whose prevailing interests include superheroes and futuristic cars.

Between the births of those two boys, I even wrote half of a novel about a mom with a superpower. Hers was being invisible, because duh, but it says just about all you need to know regarding my post-kids life that I began, but didn’t have the time to finish, a writing project about a maternal superhero.

I saw Captain Marvel once it opened at theaters in my favorite way: alone (invisible?!), during the day, and with snacks. It was a Monday, late morning, and on a run to the mall while the kids were at school and my husband was at work, I noticed the timing would be perfect for me to catch a film before real life called, aka the school pickup routine began.

I entered the cinema and paid for my ticket with not a little guilt attached: surely there was laundry that needed to be done, or a child’s class that could use a volunteer? But I’m used to this guilt accompanying my rare kid- and family-free activities: it’s a load that, along with caffeine, fuels most moms, at least from what I’m hearing at school pickups, and in life, lately.

Last week at my older son’s school it was time for parent-teacher meetings, and this week has been time for the angst that follows those meetings. I’ve commiserated with other mothers over academic issues, behavioral shortcomings, and social deficits. No matter how kindly information is doled out in these meetings, it lands like a piercing load of law onto parents’ hearts: our kids’ shortcomings, after all, are reflections of us, right? Of the “more” that we could always be doing, the “better” that we haven’t managed to attain for them?

For my part, I always feel like I’m in trouble when I head into one of these sessions with the teacher. A rule-following good girl, I never even darkened the doorway of the principal’s office growing up, but there’s a part of me that is still, always, waiting to be called there — or to some other judgment room — to hear my offenses. And when those offenses are in regard to my children, the judgment feels even more severe. Even if it’s not judgment to begin with; logic plays little role in matters so close to the heart.

My husband, a man, is great at compartmentalizing the information we are given in conferences as just that — information — and responding accordingly, and practically. But I and the other moms I hold dear aren’t quite so monolithic in our reactions: we send urgent texts, call specialists, book appointments, battle sleeplessness, and volley worry and guilt back to each other like we’re standing at the net at Wimbledon. I think that underneath all the frenetic activity we are battling our abiding fear that, as mothers, we are simply not enough.

How freeing would it be for me to remember that I most certainly am not?

As I watched Captain Marvel fly across atmospheres, hair intact, and kick interplanetary ass, I recalled seeing another female superhero onscreen a few months earlier. Wonder Woman was met with giddy fanfare for its representation, finally, of a top-billed double-x-chromosomed hero. And when I watched her — flowing mane, form-fitting bodice — I felt inspired. But Captain Marvel? She made me feel seen.

Here is a lady (same) who has forgotten much of her past (girl, same) and feels pulled between multiple selves (so same). She has been instructed by her mentor to exercise constant restraint (hello, ladies, SAME?) when, in reality, it’s her humanity that adds to her power. She doesn’t need to be restrained but unleashed. All of this seemed to be not only female-affirming but life-affirming.

So imagine my confusion when certain Christians responded to the film by mourning the days when women were limited to the role of princess-saved-by-a-man. Apparently this film will send more women into war, where men will hide behind them. Or something. Apparently we women need to stick to the narrative where a man saves us because anything other than that is not biblical?

Dude, no. The Bible is the narrative where we all — men, women, and Kree — are saved by Christ. Where none of us — not even the ripped-up ’roided guys at the gym — is enough to enact a survival plan that transcends the perfection of the law. Cut to Good Friday and Easter.

Which leads me to my favorite moment of the film, towards its end, when the Captain tells a key figure in her life, “I have nothing to prove to you.” Girl, yes. Would that I were to take these words into my marrow and tell them to the world every day. Maybe my wonky eyelid would twitch less from anxiety. Maybe I wouldn’t be terrified of parent-teacher meetings. Maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to play the princess or the warrior because who I am, while not nearly enough, is answered and loved by the one who is. My humanity, in all its lack, drives me to the one whose power is also mercy.

This is the difference between seeking to be enough, and knowing I am beloved: I am free to both fly and fail, on my own or with my children attached, because the outcome, in the end, is the same: we land in loving hands that also happen to be in utter control.

In his poem “Late Fragment” Raymond Carver wrote:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself
beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.

Amen. May it be so with us.