Heather came home tired. No, exhausted. No … obliterated, as only a woman who has just spent five hours with two tiny nieces can be.
“You know,” my wife said as she collapsed onto our bed, “it’s not easy being Hoofoo.”
At that moment, I had to agree.
OK, I can hear the question: what’s a Hoofoo? It’s not a city in China. It’s not a secret owl-based style of martial arts. (“I now initiate you into the mysteries of Hoo-fu.”) It’s not even the sound someone makes after a long day moving furniture or chasing children, though that comes closer than some.
Instead, Hoofoo is to Heather what Spider-Man is to Peter Parker – an alternate identity with a curious origin.
It started with one of our nieces. Heather had practically been her second mom since the moment of delivery, and the newcomer spent a lot of time in our house. Even so, none of us were prepared for her first word to be “Heather.”
That was the last time it would come out that clearly for a long time. “Th” is tricky for a very young mouth to say and eventually our niece declared her aunt to be “Hoofoo.” And so she stayed. We wondered if the name would go away when the school years started, but by then, our niece not only had the habit, she had a younger sister who also picked up the call.
Hoofoo, it seems, is here to stay.
By now, it’s more than a nickname. Heather has always been the “cool aunt,” the one who can talk to children on their level without patronizing, come into their games and suggest new ones, and otherwise be the relative whom the kids love to see and whom the parents love to have babysitting. And when she’s around Riley and undergoes the Hoofoo Transformation (batteries not included), she seems to have boundless energy and interest, able to keep up with the wildest absurdities.
It can’t last, of course … but most of the time, it lasts just long enough. Only when the kids are safely out the door does Hoofoo surrender her powers and become simply Heather of the bad back, the Crohn’s disease, and the multiple sclerosis that is demanding rest NOW.
It’s a high cost that requires a lot of recuperation. But Heather knows how much the girls love to see her and how disappointing it is when she’s unable to share time with them. And so, she disappoints them as little as possible.
On some level, Hoofoo makes that possible.
Some of you may be nodding now. I think many of us have a face that we put on when we need it, to keep fears and worry away so that the job can be done.
Sometimes it’s relatively small, like the steps that allowed me as a young and shy kid to also be an actor that could trade pratfalls and cue lines with ease – a transformation as thorough as Billy Batson’s into Captain Marvel, and about as mysterious.
Sometimes it’s much bigger – like the face that let my mom keep life normal for three young kids while she endured treatment for breast cancer (an invader that’s long gone now, thank goodness), offering so much reassurance that we had no idea there was anything to be reassured about.
The phone booth moment doesn’t always work; even Superman can’t be everywhere. But it often works for long enough to meet the situation, because in the eyes of someone, we are a superhero. We’re their superhero.
And we’ll do everything we can to keep from letting them down.
No radioactive spider or magic thunderbolt could ever match up to the kind of power that that can create.
Truly, Hoofoo is in the eye of the beholder.