I Need A Hero: The Family Room Scene

The setting:

A family room in California. Late September, 5pm. A smattering of worn socks are strewn on the floor, alongside a sneaker and a flip flop. Lego pieces, the small ones perfect for inadvertently stepping on, hide in the carpet’s pattern. A throw blanket that had been strategically placed by the mother on the dirt-stained arm of the sofa is strewn on the floor, next to last week’s classwork spilling out of a backpack. A licked-clean popsicle stick takes up company on the floor with an empty plate that looks like Nutella may have been consumed there. We hope it was Nutella.

A child reclines on the sofa, absorbed in Volume 4 of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. He folds the page where the next chapter begins, and lumbers over to a stool next to his mother, who is just now reading the newspaper.

Kid: (Sighing) I think I want to join the Army. Or Something.

Mom: Well, that’s two different things. The Army, and Something. What’s Something?

Kid: I don’t know. I want to be a hero. Like Percy Jackson.

Mom: There are a lot of ways to be a hero that don’t involve bullets.

Kid: Like a fireman?

Mom: Uh huh…Actually, I was thinking of something else. I was reading about MacArthur Geniuses, and one hero who’s an environmental engineer, who learned how to take wastewater and turn it into energy.

Kid: I just like to fight.

Mom: I have an idea.

Kid: What is it?

Mom: You’ll be my hero when you pick up your socks, Legos, and dirty dishes.

Kid: #&$%#



Change the World, Yes You.

With Martin Luther King Day (a National Day of Service) on the near horizon, it’s fitting that I’m in the middle of re-reading The Lightning Thief with my son. Lightning Thief

The book gets under my skin, asserting that  the Greek myths aren’t myths at all, but true and at work as we live and breathe — gods and monsters, alike. Earthquakes and thunderstorms are the result of gods at war, the entrance to the Underworld is near the Hollywood sign. (Cheap shot.)

The first time we read the book together, I fell so deeply into its world, that I came to suspect everyone. I wondered if the friendly waiter at Fritto Misto was really a monster in disguise. I strongly suspected that all the “super-humans” over the ages, from Marie Curie to Jackie Robinson to Sarah Chang, were demi-gods, like the book’s 12-year-old hero. What else could explain their legendary accomplishments?

On the one hand, it’s a healthy delusion: if they’re demi-gods, I have an excuse for not yet achieving any world-shaking accomplishments.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event that there are no demi-gods, that the book is pure fiction, that Martin Luther King and Einstein and Picasso and Tallchief, were mortals, I’m screwed.

I have no excuse. We’re all potential all-stars. Uh-oh.

I once heard a speaker say, “Everyone in the history of the world has only been one person.” Clearly not a believer in demi-gods. His point was a retort to the oft-asked, “I’m just one person; what can one person do?” Everyone in the history of the world has only been one person. Each of us has something to offer, some gift to give. We don’t have to inspire masses to engage in civil disobedience and help change a nation, but we should recognize that we have the potential to do it.


It’s daunting to realize you have no existential excuse for hanging in the background with a box of cookies and a good book. I, for one, am daunted every day. But the flip side to “daunted” is “inspired.” I might write myself a note and stick it on my wall: “If she could do it, so can I.”

Not knowing what your gift should be can induce a case of paralysis. Indecision is a tough flu to kick. It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to start somewhere. Just pick something.

Okay. On Monday, MLK Jr. Day, a school holiday to honor not just a man, but a movement for equality and justice, I’m going to do it. I will pick myself up off the couch, wrest my boys away from their new Kinect game, fight the forces of inertia that conspire to keep us all in pajamas, and we will do SOMETHING. Volunteer at a beach clean-up, or serve a meal and gather warm, clean clothes for homeless men and women on skid row, or even host a lemonade stand for a charity. Something. Because each of us has something to give, and the world still needs a lot of stuff done. And none of us has an excuse. Damn you, Percy Jackson! I knew you were too good to be true.

(The worst/best part? Now that I’ve shared this I have to stick to it. Oy. Quick, tell me what you’re going to do for our National Day of Service, and you’ll have to stick to it, too.)