My niece and nephew turned four this August. I always struggle to think of gift ideas, especially for kids who grow out of everything so quickly. This year, I wanted something that would help them cope with the world that COVID-19 had turned upside down on them.
They’d been practicing wearing masks at home, preparing to soon adventure out of their family bubble. I felt so proud of the way they spoke about masks, that it may seem scary but that they understood the importance of protecting people they care about from “the germs.”
Then one day while I was video chatting with my sister, their mom, I saw them playing in the yard with superhero capes and masks. They loved pretending to be Catboy and Owlet, and saving their “friends” (trees and imaginary creatures mostly) from foes. It occurred to me — superheroes wear masks. Masks are a superhero’s way to protect themselves while doing the necessary work to make the world a better, safer place.
I knew what to give for their birthday gifts! I thought about what values I wanted them to strive for as their superpowers. Was there a character in some kids’ book who was kind and used their gifts for good? I remembered The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. I loved the book as a kid, mostly because of the gorgeous illustrations and sparkly rainbow scales. But now as an adult, I found a different beauty in the story. The rainbow fish isn’t a celebrated superhero. He’s just a fish with a very real flaw: he values his self-importance over the happiness of others. But he comes to recognize his flaw and chooses to change. He shares the gifts he was born with — his rainbow scales — with the other fish. This choice seemed to me something much more admirable than the supernaturally gifted superheroes. We all have flaws. We all have prejudice and selfishness. We all struggle to find the balance between pride and vanity. It’s the choices we then make that distinguish who we are.
So, I bought some fish-scale fabric, a copy of The Rainbow Fish, and two kid-sized masks. On their birthday, I read them the story over Zoom. On the last page, I’d written an inscription saying that superheroes take pride in their gifts but also use them to help others. They then opened the rest of the package to find rainbow fish capes, complete with a few shiny scales, and matching masks.
When I asked if I could have a picture of them in superhero gear, they agreed because they wanted to help kids who are nervous about wearing masks feel more comfortable.
I share this story with you not to brag about my gift giving skills or my adorable niece and nephew, but because I know they’re not the only kids out there who are having to get used to masks. Halloween is coming up. If you have a kiddo in your life struggling with masks, maybe make a superhero costume with them, and remind them that superheroes wear masks to protect themselves while saving the world.