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"Confessions of Super Mom" by Melanie Lynne Hauser; Dutton ($23.95)
Birdie Lee is divorced, a clerk at Marvel Food and Fine Beverages, the mother of two, just an ordinary single parent trying to survive loneliness, a merciless ex and her kids' teen years - until she has an accident.
A stain in the bathroom resists cleaning, even defeating her Swiffer. So she grabs every cleaner she owns: Pine-Sol, Industrial Strength Windex, an infomercial cleaner, Clorox and Borax and Lava soap.
But Birdie doesn't turn on the exhaust fan as she scrubs. At the end of the day, when children Kelly and Martin revive her, Birdie has changed. Like Flash, her chemical accident has provided a few powers.
The fingertips of her right hand shoot a cleaning liquid; her right palm is textured and can scrub. It becomes second nature to "clean with the power of ten thousand Swiffers. My favorite was a funky little underarm zap accompanied by a cross-over with my left hand."
She can sense a child in trouble; something shivers down her spine. And she knows what's in a child's heart, when a child is lying: Super Mom Sense.
Her eyes deliver a mother's Merciless Gaze that wilts the boldest, baddest teen smoking or speeding or drinking or busting curfew.
And she can hear what the rest of us miss. Especially the subliminal messages on the American Justice video game, which encourage children to eat the tie-in candy, Patriot Pops.
Birdie dons a disguise, designed by Martin after he figures out her secret: a house dress with a pocketed apron holding Band-Aids, hand wipes, clean underwear and more; her cape a dish-towel held in place by clothes pins; her eyes hidden by a black mask with ends turned up like cat's-eye glasses.
Melanie Lynne Hauser is funny. "Confessions of Super Mom" overflows with laugh-out-loud and read-out-loud moments. Hauser also is an astute critic of our overly high expectations of moms and our abysmally low standards for our culture and its leaders.
Hauser cleverly tweaks the superhero mold. Unlike Batman with his money, gadgets and cave, or Wonder Woman with her bustier, Amazon training and Paradise Island retreat, Birdie is an endearing, short, slightly dumpy, very loving mom who annoys her children and resents taking notes at the PTA.
So in between adventures, including saving children from Operation Pied Piper, lie moments that will make a mom's heart ache in sympathy or self-pity.
If over-identification strikes and the poor me's take over, reader-moms can adopt Birdie's answer to a kid's whiny "Why?":
"Because. ... Because I am Super Mom. I am all mothers. I am the embodiment of nurturing. I am the seeker of truth by and for all children, including minors under 21 years of age, which means you, buddy. I have the power and authority of all mothers to protect children from harm. To teach them right from wrong, to punish if necessary with a swift but gentle hand."
She shortens this later to "Clean up on Aisle Four." And what can we say, but "Yes ma'am."
(c) 2005, The State (Columbia, S.C.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.