I was eating out with my daughters recently when we noticed another mom with two little boys dressed in costumes: the little one Spiderman and his older brother a SWAT team member. Both were very committed to their characters and fun to observe. The SWAT team fellow stood straight when he walked and saluted the young man who took their food order.
A Lady Airman in uniform and her husband sat down at a nearby table, immediately grabbing the attention of the boys. Their mother respectfully took them to the lady asking if it would be okay for her boys to ask some questions. The older boy especially took in every ounce of information with wide-eyed admiration. Observing these boys interact with an adult they admired made me think about how our children choose their heroes.
As parents, we have a special opportunity to influence our children’s journey in finding heroes.
With another Super Bowl behind us, the NBA play-offs just around the corner, and more superhero movies in theaters, there are a lot of professional athletes and celebrities in front of our children. Whom the world offers as heroes – movie stars, athletes, or the reality star of the moment – may fall short of their on-screen performances. Besides, we never really know them, so how can we elevate them to hero status?
How many times have you been disappointed by seeing someone you admire fall?
Often, it happens with professional athletes and actors who appear larger than life, accidentally mistaken for heroes. For me, the news the past couple years that put Bill Cosby back in headlines knocked the wind out of me. I felt like I lost a piece of my childhood, my innocence. More recent events have taught my daughters that the role someone plays on television might not reflect a person’s true character.
Most of my heroes as a child were Olympic and professional athletes. I did gymnastics routines with Mary Lou Retton and wanted to be like Mike on the basketball court, just like every other ballplayer. While some of my heroes lived up to expectations, others fell like the gavel in their court hearings.
As an adult, I realize that my true heroes were those close to me: my parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches. They are the people who were always there for me, who lived humbly while serving others. Who committed small acts of heroism when they thought no one was looking. But I noticed.
Conversation is key.
Talk with your children about hero qualities. Have them share with you whom they consider to be heroes. Point out people in the news and people you know who display heroic qualities. When watching your favorite basketball team, does your child notice the player who taunts his opponents and argues with the referees or the one who helps up his opponent when he falls?
Read biographies together. The “Who Was” series is much easier to read than the dry biographies of my childhood. One of my favorite books to share with my girls was The Diary of Anne Frank. I promise you, her story will never leave you. Or your children.
We don’t need to look to books for heroes.
Really, all we have to do is look around us. In our families, our schools and our neighborhoods. Beyond the obvious everyday heroes, like military service members, police, firefighters, and first responders, we are surrounded by ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Like the school crossing guard who puts himself in the line of traffic at a chaotic intersection every day to ensure our children get to school and home safely. Or the neighbor who shoveled our driveway every snowy day during my husband’s last deployment.
One of my younger daughter’s heroes is the young man who trained her to be an altar server at our church. He gave up the “fun” college years to attend seminary school and begin his years of training to be a priest. In this day and age, that is definitely a heroic act.
I’m so proud of my daughter for noticing.
I have a friend who collected toiletries, socks and underwear for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Another friend works hours beyond her paycheck for a non-profit that connects our local military with the Colorado Springs community.
Yet another friend, who is a single mom, opened her home to foster children because her heart had room for more. Others in our community work for Catholic Charities, are liaisons for the homeless, volunteer at the homeless shelter and soup kitchen, friends who support each other when spouses are deployed. Even the young mom with three kids, fighting sleep deprivation and postpartum depression to get out of bed every morning to care for her family can be seen as a hero.
Having the courage to overcome obstacles to do what is right should be expected, but is too often rare in this time when being a victim is easier than being a hero.
We need to show our children what heroism looks like. We need our next generation to choose heroism, even in the smallest ways.
Heroes are all around us.
Think about 9/11. Dozens of people ran into burning buildings to help as others were running out.
Remember the “bomb cyclone” that shut down Colorado Springs? First responders worked around the clock to rescue families trapped in their cars. Electrical company employees worked in white-out conditions to restore power to thousands. Plow truck drivers cleared roads in dangerous conditions. Our city is full of heroes.
Heroes are within each of us.
Being a hero simply means digging deep and being courageous in the face of adversity, and putting others before yourself.
We are losing our greatest generation. We need heroes now more than ever.
As more and more of our country’s greatest generation succumb to old age, it is evident that we need to replace them. May our children’s generation be the next great generation.