When I was a toddler, I used to scrunch up my face and make upside down muscle arms, and my parents would run away as I chased them around and around and around the house. They called it THE HULK.
The story goes that we once went to a park near our home in Maryland, and I saw a Kindergarten-age boy who MADE ME ANGRY so I tightened my face and bared my teeth and popped out my delts, triceps and biceps and I HULKED.
And the boy stared at me like What are you doing little two year old girl the wind might blow over?
I thought: Why are you not running away in horror like my grownups do?
So I hulked harder.
The boy stared at my gummy mouth and weird breathing, and I stared back with the fury of a hundred giant green gamma-rayed monsters. He shrugged and continued playing as though his life was not at risk.
I was paralyzed with confusion. Imagine one day being The Hulk and the next day being only a tiny toddler.
The reminiscing ends there, but I imagine my mom stepped in and began running away from me so I could continue to believe in my Hulking.
Because I do.
I still got it, but not everyone takes after me. When I see this photo days later, my daughter’s not hulking, and I wondered if I’ve failed her. She’s going to need to be strong in this world because people are mean and judgmental and confusing. If she won’t be The Hulk, who will she be? Is she the kid in the park? Too grown-up or disinterested to play along? Is she Betty Ross, Bruce Banner’s on again off again wife and assistant, who is destined to fix or demand we be rid of The Hulk every chance she gets?
I look at the photograph longer as I think of her wild outfits and shy attempts to befriend others. And I finally recognize that she’s the bravest of us all. Because while we mimic, ignore, fix or put up fronts and hope these make us bigger and stronger in this harsh world, she is willing to hold a ferocious green monster’s hand and give a little smile no matter what everyone around her is doing. Her instincts are kindness, which is exactly what this hard life needs the most.
Note: My son has this bravery, too, as he is so kind that parents in his class routinely stop me to let me know how he’s helped their child in one way or another, and E is also not hulking in the photo. He’s probably ninja fist-bumping someone over a math problem well-done.