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H is for my hero.

The younger I was, the less I understood the concept of admiration. Others spoke of their heroes, but I couldn’t come up with anyone other than my father. With him, it was a case of mutual admiration, so it didn’t count.

In my teens, I decided I should have another hero. So I chose Leonardo Da Vinci. He dabbled in everything from art to engineering, and even back in his time, seemed to use more of his brain than the 10% the rest of us purportedly did.

Einstein struck me as kind of lovable too, having all that compassion to go along with his genius brain. Then there was Ben Franklin who seemed pretty cool with his principles, mirth and inventions. But the whole Masonic predilection was a turn-off.

Also, the gaping gender deficit in my choices began to bug me. I needed to find women to admire.

It wasn’t that important, interesting women didn’t exist throughout history, but they simply weren’t getting the same airtime as menfolk.

I remembered a paper I’d turned in on Marie Curie back in the sixth grade, and how I’d found so little information about her actual personality that I’d written her off as too dry.

Next came another male contender, Orson Welles, an innovative auteur with a sense of humor, but who appeared to have gone to pot in later years. I didn’t know what to do with the later part.

But I did start looking toward film for women heroes and hit on Katherine Hepburn, or at least, the sharp-witted, independent characters she played.

Jane Austen too, I realized, was a hero to me with her enduring and accessible-yet-smart literature. And then I thought about Emily Dickinson, and the places she was willing to go with her poetry, and how her soul came alive each time I read her words.

Sure, there were plenty of fascinating, admirable women, but only the handful that received the consistent historical exposure came to mind. Eleanor Roosevelt. Harriet Tubman. If I dug around textbooks, I probably could’ve expanded the list some.

Then I forgot about heroes and got into nightlife and adventuring through Europe.

After that, my first relationship began and my first intense years of working out how to better myself as a participant on planet earth. So other than Captain Picard with his dignified voice and philosophy, this was no time to vet heroes.


Throughout my twenties, I continued to be too absorbed in puzzling out myself to notice that all around me, there were real-life people to admire. But by the time I hit my thirties, thanks to First Love and Second Love, I had softened up and allowed people to breach my heretofore hardass veneer. This is when I developed a conscious empathy, even love for humanity as a notion, if not yet as a whole. It started becoming easier to see and admire the greatness in individuals.

Nowadays, Freezer is one of my heroes. My father, who it turns out was the very first natural-born feminist I met, remains a hero. And my brother, H., is one of my worthiest heroes with his exemplary balance and tact. Plus he’s fun. They’re all fun. Besides the test of time, fun seems to be a prerequisite when it comes to fitting my bill of hero.

Still, where are the women? My mother, in fact, is the strongest, most independent woman I have—quite possibly, anyone has—ever known. And she happens to be fun. But all the head-butting between us takes her out of the running. I like to get along with my heroes.

And then along came my niece. Already a stellar human being at the age of eight, and an exceptional woman-to-be, in her I discovered my lady hero. It doesn’t hurt that her father is my hero-brother and her mother is the personification of grace. It hurts even less that everyone constantly reminds me how like me she is.

But the truth is, whatever she has of me in her is a better version.

Any amount of consideration, moderation and selflessness that I’ve clumsily worked on for four decades, she organically grasps within herself tenfold, all before losing her milk teeth.

She is the girl in the living room with you who notices your goose bumps and runs off to reappear with a shawl for you. She is the girl who with a smile tells you that she already has all she needs when you bring her to a toy store to pick out whatever she wants. She is the girl who stands shivering with you at a bus stop, and when you decide to hail a cab for her sake, asks, “Are you sure that’s okay for you?” because she has overheard that you’re jobless.

Of course, like her aunt, she also has a strong sense of self:

Text Exchange

Aunt:  Kisses, Miss Cutie.
Niece:  I miss you so much! I don’t like being called Miss Cutie.
Aunt:  Miss you too, tons! You should give me a list of acceptable words I may use to describe your many appealing qualities…
Niece:  You may call me: Miss Respectable, Miss Extraordinary, Miss Intelligent, Miss Graceful, and Angel of Spring! Did you know that my name means angel of spring?
Aunt:  How about My Favorite Girl?
Niece:  OK!

All the more admirable of Miss Intelligent was that when I praised her for such train of thought, rather than gloat, she was quick to credit a book she had read.

To top it off, she engineers wings…

So naturally, one of the best comments I’ve ever received on this blog is from her mother regarding my goofy Dance-Off video: That was hilarious; it’s crazy how much your niece looks and behaves like you.

If it passes my niece’s standard of good/funny/entertaining, then I don’t second-guess myself. In fact, I hereby want to be known as Miss Intelligent’s Aunt. Why wouldn’t I—she is a loved, happy child with excellent parents, and witnessing her triumphs is about the most joyful experience for me. That and being woken up by her kisses at the crack of dawn to have a tea party with her fifty or sixty dolls.

It makes sense for my hero to be a much better version of myself, because she represents what I strive to be.

I don’t even try to forget that she’s eight and I’m middle-aged.

You see, her bright future makes it okay that my past was checkered.

~ Part of the A to Z Challenge ~
A post a day except Sunday for the month of April to cover topics beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Events always real, names always changed.

Cathartic Monkeyism returns in May.

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  1. Paul · · Reply

    Hmmm, well i’m not so sure that your past was as “checkered” as you claim. From what I know (from what you have told us) you have been embarking on learning experiences all your life – truly a noble quest. You not only survived but are one of the coolest people i know. Hard to argue with survival – it worked.

    1. Definitely “checkered” by my own standards.

      And thank you. It’s lovely when one is understood.

  2. Nana · · Reply

    This made me cry.

    1. She’s an angel. So is her mother.

  3. Interesting twist on heroes. I doubt anyone would nominate someone younger than themselves- probably out of pride. Beautiful praise for your niece. That’s nice. I also have to give you a wrap for mentioning Jean-Luc Picard. Make it so Number One.

    1. A gathering of heroes wouldn’t be the same without Jean-Luc, as far as I’m concerned.

  4. Lance · · Reply

    Since Kurt Cobain died, I swore off any new heroes. I have a few –

    Joe Strummer, Lou Reed, Kurt (although more like I dug him a lot), and several writers.

    1. I know others who feel the same about Kurt—no more heroes after him.

  5. Well, I don’t know about heroes. Maybe my Grandad, but then maybe also not.

    But maybe, because everyone doesn’t get everything right.

    In which case I have bunches of them – of people I look up to and adore.

    And FYI I heard today that Niece called her dinner “Chicken Tikka Mascara”, which is THEE CUTEST EVER!

    1. No, they don’t get everything right, but that’s not the point. The point is the stuff they do get right, you know?

      “Chicken Tikka Mascara” is the BEST!

      1. Then I’m back to having LOADS. Which is gorgeous 🙂

        And I KNOW! I *squeee*d when I heard about it.

  6. TheMomCafe.com · · Reply

    OH I’m just so glad I came over here to read this gorgeous piece, after seeing Lizzi drool all over it on FB! Totally worthy of her share!! 🙂

    You are such a gifted writer. This was a remarkable read… and it made me do that tearful goosebumpy sigh at the end. I absolutely love the relationship you have with your niece… you two are perfect for each other!

    Yes, I say for ‘each other’ because I would bet that all she does for you? You do the same for her.

  7. Stumbling back to your blog now that the craziness of A to Z has dwindled. I love to hear you have a niece mini-me, as do I. And really, she is someone I adore. I never thought of her as my hero, but really, she is. She is the person I think of most often, especially when I need to smile. And we cannot go longer than 2 weeks without hearing from each other. She stole my heart when she was six months old and next month she turns 5. I would do anything for her.

    So I get it when you say your hero is your niece. ❤


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