Like most new parents, I was wholly unprepared for the challenge of mere survival once I had children. I felt like an untrained circus performer doing a two-person juggling act with my equally baffled husband. We tossed our two kids back and forth while holding down middle-management jobs, hoping nothing would crash to the ground.
Our juggling act was never ever pretty, but in retrospect, I can look back and say, not so bad, 34-year-old me. Not so bad. I still wonder how we survived our rookie years when our children seemed hell-bent on wandering into traffic. During those years, I developed serious skills by saving the day, again and again.
But now we have two relatively well-adjusted teenage daughters. Sure, sometimes they forget their house keys and need an eleventh hour save. But they also sleep late on weekends, pack and carry their own bags, are able to feed themselves sandwiches and canned soup when they need to, and mostly want to hang out with other people their own age with only light supervision required.
And so now in this brief moment in our lives, we are lucky enough to have kids who need us less and less. Sure, their dad and I could keep rescuing them from ever-tinier problems, but everybody knows that horrors unfold when you helicopter-parent otherwise competent children. Thus, my children’s gradually building competence has left me with a superhero-sized hole in my life, and nobody who needs saving. So instead of turning to a life of crime and over-parenting, I have filled up the space in my life with a new superhero identity.
Guess what: It has nothing to do with my own children.
Get this: Once our kids were no longer little, my husband and I teamed up with some other neighborhood parents, and we started a rock band.
Yes, beginning at age 40, we started playing music, but not kids’ music No, it is ours!
At first, we were just this side of terrible, not so much superhero as super lame. We played crappy covers of the same dumb punk songs we played in our college bands and just pretended we sounded OK. I was the lead singer, and my voice would often go sharp when I belted. My husband, the bass player, could only play the most basic lines. We wore the wrong clothes when we performed and looked like middle-aged middle-schoolers pretending to be cool.
But once we let go of our need to be good, our new, kid-free pursuit gave us freedom to be ourselves, only better. A few years into it, we got a gig playing a birthday party in a middle school gym. We set up our instruments, did a credible soundcheck and played a legit show. Sometime in the middle of our cover of “Seven Nation Army,” when the whole gym was rocking like Giants Stadium, I realized that we had pulled it off. We weren’t just pretending to be a rock band. We had become a rock band.
We changed our band name a few times, and then got our act together to record an album we called Forget About Gravity. We even got ourselves onto Spotify. I bought black skinny jeans, a shiny sequined tank top and a vegan leather jacket for shows. Now, the more time I spend in this alternate identity, the more it feeds that part of me that is not a teacher and not a mom, but just me.
But it’s not like I chucked it all to become Ricki and the Flash. The band is my superhero identity, not my day job. Throughout, I have remained a steady, reliable, mild-mannered middle school teacher, writer and mom. I’m Clark Kent, never missing a deadline.
Yet as I carved out time to rehearse, my superhero identity grew ever stronger. When I go to the music studio, the place is a shambles and smells like old tacos, but I make a point of never cleaning up after anyone. At rehearsal or when singing in a club on the Lower East Side, I’m nobody’s mommy.
And my husband? We are no longer just roommates sharing childcare responsibilities like we were in our early years as parents. We’re Carly Simon and James Taylor. We’re Sonny and Cher. We’re with the band, and it’s kind of like we’re boyfriend and girlfriend again.
In our first few years as barely adequate amateur musicians, our kids had little to no interest in our music. They would sometimes politely listen to a half a song when I asked them specifically to do so, but then they would drift out of the room to go do whatever it is well-adjusted children do when left to their own devices. “It’s kinda loud, Mom,” they would gently complain. “But you really seem to be having fun.”
Yes, I was. We all were. We love being together as a family, just not 24/7. Sometimes, our girls turn to their own distinct pursuits, and we pick up our guitars, drumsticks and microphones.
I think that more adults should craft their own secret superhero identities too. If you like to play rock music, start your own band, and you can play your first gig opening for us. You’ll be terrible for a while, because even superheroes have a learning curve, but keep trying. You’ll get good at it.
Maybe music isn’t your thing. If not, then what is your super-secret superhero identity? Shut down the voice in your head telling you to behave, and listen to the one that longs to feel. Maybe you love to explore new neighborhoods in your city. Maybe you are a rock-star knitter, or poet, or pastry chef. Maybe you dream of becoming a triathlete, a badass wilderness hiker or a maker of origami animals. Superhero parents inspire us all, so if your jam includes your kids, let that cape fly.
Compete with other amateurs if that inspires you, or just find a supportive community of like-minded people. Whatever you love to do, the Internet is full of other people doing the same thing. Maybe back in high school you loved to play soccer. I bet there are other similarly inclined adult women within an hour’s drive of your house. Find them, and go out and play.
Only you know what you love, and only you can give yourself permission to carve out time to do more of it. Get yourself a superhero outfit to wear, if only in secret. Whatever you do at home and at work, there’s yet another something you’ve always wanted to pursue on the side. So go ahead: Embrace that superhero you’ve always wanted to become.
But please, don’t call this pursuit of happiness a “hobby.” Just call it “being alive.”