Educating Spider-Man

This weekend, I had the great privilege of accompanying my daughter to a Spider-Man themed birthday party for one of my former students. It was wonderful to be out and about with her, seeing her interact without fear towards new adults and older children (median age between four and five years), but I did not anticipate her extremely positive reaction to seeing Spider-Man emblazoned on everything from a Happy Birthday banner and balloons to the rented bouncy house.

My daughter is 20 months old, and though my family owns all of the Spider-Man movies that have been made, she’s never seen one. She actually has very little interest in TV, though I have it on for the background sound of other adult voices while I’m heating up dinner after work, and only the movie Frozen has successfully stopped her in her tracks for a solid hour and a half. Since last Halloween, she has had a love of both real and cartoon spiders: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” is her favorite nursery song, and “spider” was one of her first successfully said words. When my husband and I found a red T-shirt with a simple black outline of Spider-Man’s face in her size, we thought it would be cute on her. She was immediately interested in it, recognized the pattern was close to the look of a spiderweb, and caught on fast that it was a person named Spider-Man. I just didn’t realize how much she loved him, from just one T-shirt, until we walked up to the birthday boy’s backyard.

Girlfriend near lost her damned mind.

“Spider-Man!! Spider-Man!! SPIDER-Man!! Spider-MAN!! SPIDER-MAAAAAAAN!!”

She pointed out every last one of the items that showed her hero, almost every boy at the party had a Spider-Man T-shirt on (the lone boy who didn’t had a bright pink shark shirt on, and I had to high five him on general principle) and they were all suddenly her very best friends in the world, and a very big deal was made that my daughter had on a red Spider-Man T-shirt. I smiled and nodded and repeated, “Thank you,” many times as the birthday boy’s family members exclaimed over her shirt, her two poofy pigtails, and her pink and green sunglasses.

Then, Spider-Man came walking up the driveway. Now, I’ve been to a New Kids on the Block concert back in the day. Magic Summer Tour, seventh row, third balcony, at Foxboro Stadium. I was deaf and mute by the time the concert was over. That was nothing, absolutely nothing compared to the cacophony that followed Spider-Man’s appearance. My daughter let loose an ear piercing, “SPIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDAH-MAAAAAYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAN!!! “ and toddle-ran headlong down the driveway and bounced off the back of a young man who pulled up to a halt just in front of the web-slinging wonder. While all the adults at the party pulled up short and began to worry that she might be hurt, my daughter righted herself, looked straight up at her hero and smiled. “Spider-Man!” 

The performer they hired was absolutely fantastic. He was personable, had great command of his audience, knew when he was losing the kids’ focus and adjusted accordingly, and I was impressed with both him, and my daughter. This is no humble-brag. This is a straight up brag-brag. My kid sat in her spot on that driveway, laser-focused on Spider-Man for a half an hour. Thirty minutes. Child development is my life. I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. 20 month olds do not do this. They do not sit still, they do not show this kind of intense concentration for this long. I was dumbfounded. Parents were whispering to me, asking me how in the hell I managed that. What was my secret? ….freakin’ Spider-Man, that’s all. She’ll sit for stories and songs for a while, and then, squirrel! Something else will catch her attention and off she goes. Here? Now? Spider-Man.

Then he broke out balloon sculpting. Oh holy crap, that’s it. It’s all over now. Spider-Man will be her life, right up there with Olaf. It was at this point he finally asked for the mom of this little Spider-Girl—

And here my baby piped up and said, “Spider-Woo-min!” because that’s what Mama and Dada have been calling her at home. Spidey took a second, glanced at me with a tilt of his masked head as I sat behind my girl and nodded at him, and he spoke, “Of course! Spider-Woman!! And would Spider-Woman like a butterfly or a flower?” My little woman shook her head and pointed at the birthday boy’s sword. “A sword?” he asked, and for some reason glanced at me again for confirmation. I nodded, and looked pointedly down at her head, indicating that he should be talking to her.

Spidey didn’t get it. He continued to address me when he asked, “What color would she like?”

I asked her.

“Puh-pull.”

Spidey replied, “Purple? Well, I have this dark one here, or every girl’s favorite, a lighter pinky purple!”

I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth just a bit, and then I heard the sweetest voice ever correct Spider-Man, “No pi-k. Stop. Stop. Puh-pull. PUH-PULL.”

I opened my eyes, saw Spider-Man’s fingers freeze over the pink one, and I swear he was going to ask if she was sure, and just to move this along, I confirmed, “Purple. Spider-Woman is not your average webslinger.”

Junior looked at me for real this time, really seeing what was going on here in a way that was palpable even through his mask and he nodded his head. “You’re right, Mom. This hero is way above average.” 

Thus, Spider-Woman got her puh-pull sword. Which popped about five minutes later. But her point had been made: my little woman knew what she wanted, asked for it, pressed to make sure she was heard, and got what she wanted. Maybe Spider-Man learned a big lesson, too. 

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