When Superheroes Panic

If you haven’t caught the summer’s first big popcorn movie, Iron Man 3, you’re missing a mind-blowing event.

I’m not talking about the ass kicking Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) delivers to every bad guy in sight, nor the impressively real CG destruction of Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Stark’s mod mansion, and chunks of civilization in general.

I’m talking about the conceit of the script: Tony Stark has panic attacks.

I particularly loved this, as I’ve navigated a panic disorder myself, and like Stark, have learned to use it as a sort of internal guidance system. When I panic, I realize I’ve gone down some badass wormhole, and it’s time to make some adjustments.

Iron Man 3 was my big Mother’s Day gift. (I know, it seems a little juvenile BUT if you consider a cool movie on a scorching hot day AND the whole family loves it, it’s kind of fantastic.)

The next morning, I started my day as usual: doing laundry.

As I alluded to, we’d been experiencing an early heat wave, with record highs over 100-degrees. At 7:00 a.m. I was already sweating as I threw my son’s baseball uniform into the washing machine so it’d be done for his 5:00 p.m. game, where he was due to catch — perhaps for the whole time.

Of course it’s always been my theory that the more protective gear you have, the safer you are. (If I were Tony Stark’s mom, I’d be thrilled about his head-to-toe metal suit.) That’s why I picked catcher as my favorite softball position, and later goalie for my high school field hockey team. I don’t know about you, but when a hard ball is being flung my way at 70, 80 or more miles per hour, I take all the help I can get. I have transferred this fully irrational logic to my children, who now suffocate in overly padded positions, playing a summertime sport in the desert that is now our hometown.

So I emailed my son’s coach and asked if he could throw a few other kids behind the dish for a few innings. Then I signed it, “My son’s (overprotective) mom,” hit send, and immediately felt even guiltier than ever before.

A wave of panic crashed over me as I realized a few things:

A#1) I had just revealed that underneath the catcher’s gear, and in spite of any heroic plays at the plate, lurks a mama’s boy. An easy target for both coach and teammates to exact their punishment for the pussification I’d thrust upon him.

B#2) I was sending my kid to play in unhealthy conditions, and he was looking at (G-d forbid), heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or both.

C#3) It was a lose-lose situation. No matter what I did in this case, I was selling my kid out. I didn’t want him playing in extreme heat, but then again, he wouldn’t play baseball at all if he didn’t have to bat through a few heat waves.

D#4) Next year he’s in high school, and mommy and daddy ball is all done. If he hasn’t done so already, it’s on him to figure out what he wants and what’s right for him.

Now that the wormhole was opened, I dove in headfirst. Here’s some of what was spinning around my brain as my son’s baseball uniform whirled around in the washing machine:

The choices I make on behalf of my family are for shit. Either I’m not doing enough, am hopelessly out of the loop and perpetually a few minutes late OR I’m a hovering, smothering, overprotective hot mess.

Is it possible to be overwhelmed and underwhelming at the same time? I can’t breathe.

What am I doing with my daughter this summer? Responsible working parents signed their kids up for camp months ago. I had a good excuse for a while — I was waiting to hear about her softball team — but now I’ve known the schedule for days and haven’t done one damn thing. I suck.

There is nothing I crave more than help, and yet, I am loath to ask for it. I’ve got it, is my mantra, even if it’s clear I don’t got it and further, I’m losing it.

I love my kids more than anything I can articulate or have ever imagined, and yet I yell at them sometimes until my cheeks are red and my throat hurts. What kind of a monster am I?

These thoughts all led to a slow sink down the side of the washing machine, into a physical ball and a mental fetal position.

And then there’s this confession: For Mother’s Day I wrote a heartfelt post about the power of unstoppable mothers. But if I were being completely honest, I long to throw a banana peel under the feet and minivans of the overachieving moms who make superheroes look like wussies.

You know the type: they manage every minute detail of their children’s lives — like when the big test is (so they can help with time management and assure an A), what art supplies are needed for a project (and of course they have a closet full of options, no last-minute 9:00 p.m. dash to CVS to see if they have any poster board), and when are the early bird sign ups for camps, youth sports, and test prep classes. And forget the little things; they’ve got the big picture stuff down cold, including double secret surefire ways to get their kids into the “best” schools (from preschool through college) and generally how to work the system to the benefit of their familial empires.

Just like Gotham’s downfall begins with a hood snatching an old lady’s purse and ends with Planet Earth on the edge of destruction, when I compare myself to the League of Supermoms, I feel like I’m one screw-up away from destroying my kids’ future.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but then again, I’m comparing parenting in the modern age to being a superhero.

And although Iron Man can save the Earth from aliens and foil a maniacal terrorist’s plot for world domination, I dare him to get through one heat wave day with two kids flying in opposite directions.

OK, that’s the conceit of parenthood.

So if you catch a look of panic on my face, just recognize it for what it is: the nemesis of all parents. And the best way to beat panic is with the knowledge that we all do the best we can, and in the end, we’re all just human.