My son, Beckett, is a sliver of a child; all limbs and eyelashes, pale as paper. A sweet boy of seven, he could be cast as Cindy Lou Who’s older brother. But last year, during the week of Hurricane Sandy and Halloween, he slipped into a skin-tight black one-piece and became a Ninja Warrior, stealth and fierce.
Without school or electricity, the days stretched long before us. He crept, leapt, pounced and prowled, doing things that Ninjas do. He sneak-attacked our dog out of her afternoon nap. He danced, drew, played board games and hockey with a plastic sword and a sock ball. He accessorized: a red t-shirt one day, another costume’s belt the next, a fedora, jauntily tipped over the hood. By the time Halloween rolled around, there was Cheese Doodle dust on the fingertips and carpet fuzz on the stretched-out knees.
At first, I thought we had hit the jackpot for Halloween costumes that year. Usually, he belabors his decision, changing his mind at least once for what he wants to be. But then it occurred to me that he was pulling on this Ninja costume every morning as a uniform of some sort; just as Spiderman squeezed into his red number to fight crime, so must Beckett to protect our family from a hurricane; confusing and chaotic to we adults—terrifying, I’m sure, to a six year-old boy. The Ninja get-up was part Halloween costume, part security blanket. His posture changed when he was the Ninja; his confidence grew and stretched his tiny frame tall.
He wore the costume through Christmas.
Though balled up at the bottom of a bin today, I still find traces of this defense mechanism at work. Every day after school, he flexes his miniscule muscles. He boasts of an invincibility that would rival the toughest gangsta rappers. He writes Santa Claus for special powers: suits of fire, the ability to breathe underwater and to bring back beloved pets from the dead.
Each night I go in to check on him after he’s fallen asleep to find the covers pulled over his head, magically protecting him, no doubt, from the dark. I kiss his face, kiss his hair slick with sweat, and touch his cheeks, warm and ruddy, smelling of soap from that night’s bath.
Monsters may not exist, but metaphorical ones do. I wish I could sew a suit that actually could protect him, always, from the things that frighten him. Frighten me. “You’re safe,” I tell him. “You’re loved.”