Backyard Superheroes

Bat Cat and Wonder Woman
My own children at ages 5 and 7 in costumes I made for them

Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Batman, Storm, Rogue, Spiderman, Superman, Kitty Pryde, Bionic Woman and Bionic Man– heroes a child could find in popular culture, not just in comic books, in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

As children, we wore all of their mantles, my best friend, and I. In the twilight between our houses where we played all summer, weekends, and after school. From comic books to movies to TV shows, we tried out each one for our imaginary play.

Before cosplay was even a word before Halloween costumes graduated from boxy painted vinyl jumpsuits with cheesy plastic masks. And long before you could easily find replica props for your favorite characters, we became all of our favorite characters with nothing but our own minds’ eyes. Visualizing every detail of costuming as we played, we ‘saw’ each other vividly as the characters we portrayed every day together.

We imagined complex worlds for our heroes to play in–worlds rich and nuanced and complete in every detail as if we’d been transported there by Scotty himself.

Onlookers, outsiders, or parents only saw a couple of kids, playing, riding bikes, rollerskating, running, yelling, laughing and dreaming together. They couldn’t see the villains we battled every day as we saved the world in one-hour increments, one afternoon at a time. Every. Day.

We rarely, if ever, allowed anyone into this sacred space of our imagination. It was an unspoken agreement, but we both knew that others, especially adults, were unlikely to comprehend us and how we played, nor even how we discussed plans for play.

There was nothing sinister or sneaky here. It was simply a private world where we could truly be whomever or whatever we wished, without fear of bullying or teasing. We could be real behind the safety of our make-believe masks.

Though we could not have articulated or even fully identified it all ourselves at the time, we knew, on some level, that our games of pretend were unique. We knew that we were tackling deeper problems through play than anyone would expect children to even consider, let alone understand. It didn’t even matter that we, ourselves, were not conscious of all the complex emotions and concepts inherent in battling imaginary foes. It was all still there, bubbling beneath the surface. Inner demons, bullies, the unfair powerless feelings children often experience for any number of reasons–all these were processed through putting the bad guys in jail–usually after great chases, grueling battles, wounds and scars, captures and daring rescues.

Powerful discussions and profound healing took place daily under the metaphorical disguises of larger than life superheroes and villains.

As we grew older and found that the heroes on page and screen were no longer multi-dimensional enough to hold all that we ourselves were becoming, we created our own characters, our own alter ego heroes. Never committed to writing or art but instead, indelibly etched into our psyches as all the old masks fell away. We didn’t need physical representations of these characters–we simply saw them in ourselves, in each other, with no question of the accuracy in the details. We’d been playing together our whole lives, best friends. We had a connection so strong that we might have been communicating telepathically anyway.

To quote my friend “Like the X-Men and most other heroes, we didn’t ask for these powers, we just had them. We just were them. And we always will be.”

Our imaginations were our greatest superpowers. And still are.

Knowing that playtime hour awaited us at the end of most days allowed us to conquer whatever challenges our ordinary days held for us, large or small. Because we had our secret identities, the selves we presented to the workaday world could withstand whatever we had to. We knew we were strong, invulnerable creative beings.

What are you looking at?
Myself, age 4, 1974

We knew we were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, along with any other obstacle we encountered. We knew had each other’s backs. We knew we were heroes.

My own original childhood character’s superpower was turning illusions into reality, hiding in plain sight or being noticed, colorfully, at will. She shaped the world around her into whatever she wanted to see, she manipulated colors, all the colors in her world. She was a living Rainbow. She often made something from nothing.

Now, as an adult, it is my great privilege to bring to life those cherished visions everyone has of their favorite character, real or imagined. I sew cosplay costumes, I make ordinary people (children AND adults) feel and look like movie stars, kings and queens, gods and goddesses.

My job is to make the world more colorful. I manipulate colors. I am a Rainbow. I often make something from nothing. What’s your superpower?

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