When the hero isn't who you think she is.

I was clipping toenails at the time. The boys were squeaky clean from their baths, and they were zoned out in front of the TV. I sat on the floor and trimmed the nails on two sets of hands and two sets of feet. No argument, fuss or fight. And I felt glad to do it. Because sometimes, those mundane parenting tasks that make you want to stick a fork in your eye are also the ones that help you see. 

Blake, at three, has squishy, silky soft skin. Dillon, who just turned seven, has big seven-year-old feet, and I remember how when he was first born, I counted his toes. His toes were so long that for a moment it looked like he might have six of them. So I counted, just to make sure. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Whew. 

And now he is seven. And seven twists my stomach and digs into my heart. Seven makes me feel honored to clip toenails. And perhaps a tad bit crazy. 

“Angie, come here,” Shawn called from the kitchen. “You need to see this.” Shawn had pulled a book out of Dillon’s backpack and placed it on the counter. I recognized it immediately. I remembered writing the check and grumbling about another school fundraiser.

But Dillon had insisted. “You have to buy this book. I am going to be an author.” How could I argue with that? 

And now a book written by first graders was sitting on my counter, filled with stories about their heroes. Dillon’s entry was on page one.

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Homework, from my view, is often a mind-numbing 45 minutes of telling him to sit still, or use better handwriting, or erase it, or don’t forget the period. Sentences begin with upper case letters, remember? But when the two younger children are occupied and I’m able to sit with Dillon, bite my tongue and let him work at his own pace, he opens up. He tells me about his day. He doesn’t whine. He works with intention, eager to apply what he knows. 

I closed the book, brushed the tear from eye and went back to the other room. I sat down on the floor and said in my best even-toned, mommy-like, heroine voice, “Hey, Dillon. Thank you for what you wrote in the book. It means a lot.” He shifted his gaze from the television and smiled, revealing the empty space where two front teeth used to be. Then in a moment of pure self-indulgence, I asked, “What do I do to help you not be scared?” 

Was it the way we worked through those tearful mornings when he didn’t want to go to school? Was it the way I encouraged him to be brave and ask his teacher a question if he didn’t understand something? Is it because I finally took down the smiling sun that had been hanging on his bedroom wall since birth, because he said it freaked him out? I had to know. 

“Well,” he said, “I think I made that part up.” 

I burst out laughing. 

And next time, Daddy is clipping toenails.