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My Son, the Jedi Knight

The older I get and the longer I parent I find its the simple things that bring me joy. I was actually afraid of facing the holidays this year because of all that would be expected and all that I feared I'd leave undone. I traveled a lot leading up to December and I knew Id be playing constant catch up to do all the things Im responsible for (and used to doing) this time of year. I was afraid of getting so caught up in the expectations, that I wouldnt be able to enjoy anything. What I really wanted was some happy memories. I have a child who still believes in Santa Claus and one who just figured out who he is and likes the idea. I wanted to celebrate that magic.

The question was how? How do I step away from the whirlwind of activity and find a quiet piece of Christmas I can call my own?

I found a way and thats what this column is about -- my favorite memory of this past holiday season that had nothing to do with parties and presents and expectations but was all about a priceless moment that has settled snugly into my mind and heart. This memory surrounds my sons quest to become a Jedi Knight. If you dont have a clue what Im talking about, then "Star Wars" is not a topic of daily conversation in your household. For my six-year-old son, there is no better story than the classic battle of good versus evil made better because it takes place in space with heroes wielding the coolest of all weapons, the light saber. So, you can imagine his excitement when he discovered during our holiday trip to Disneyland that the park had a Jedi Training Academy in Tomorrowland.

I planned an overnight trip to Disneyland in my effort to ensure we had some time with just the five of us, before the demands of social obligations and my large extended family took over. I was lucky to get the hotel room booked, much less have any clue what attractions the park was offering. I love Disneyland during the holidays its not crowded, its not hot and the parade and lights are stunning. It was an added bonus this year that the Jedi were in town. For my son, everything else about the Disneyland trip stripped down to one purpose -- be one of the 25 kids chosen to go on stage and be trained as a Jedi Knight. There was no argument among the five of us that we had to let him try. His devotion to Star Wars is like a morning trip to Starbucks for many people I know. There is no questioning it.

What I didnt know when we arrived at the park early while our energy was high and our optimism unflagging was what it would take for my son to be chosen. We were at the first show of the day long before it began. My son was in the front row jumping up and down, yelling Pick Me when the Jedi Master crossed the stage, arbitrarily choosing potential Padawans from the audience of frenzied kids. I have to admit, I was surprised when he didnt get picked, considering he was front and center. But, I wasnt worried as it wasnt even lunchtime and there were many more shows scheduled. We stayed and watched the children be trained to use a light saber then engage in an exciting battle with Darth Vader and Darth Maul. My son was riveted and so anxious to be a Jedi Knight that he and my husband decided to wait for the second show. When I took our girls to another ride I was sure my husband would be calling saying my son was on stage. What happened instead was they met us too soon, their faces long and my son's hopes dashed. He begged us to try again and we were caught between wanting to help him persevere and not wanting to spend our whole day caught in a Dj Vu of Jedi battles.

We decided to spend some time doing other things with the promise that wed try to make it to the last show of the day. Several hours later I was watching the end of the Christmas parade beaming like a first time parent when my toddler pointed and excitedly sputtered Sata, Sata as the man in the red suit rode by on his float. I was lost in this moment until my son asked me if it was time for the last show. I quickly looked at my watch and my heart sank. It was 10 minutes to show time. Disneylands Main Street was packed with parade watchers. It would take me the full 10 minutes just to get to Tomorrowland much less get him a decent spot in front of the stage. My husband was at the car getting coats and couldnt help; things were looking grim. We started walking and I tried to prepare him that we might not make it and even if we did he might not get picked. But he was single-minded. His usual snail pace was replaced by a near run toward the rocket ride that defines Tomorrowland. As we walked his older sister sighed and said, Hell never make it this way. Ill take him myself. Before I could protest or stop them (the crowds and my stroller making that impossible) they both broke into a full run, her voice shrieking at her brother over the din of the crowd, Faster, over here idiot.

When I finally arrived at the stage the crowd was so thick I had to stand on a chair to see. I was amazed to find my son and daughter had pushed their way to the front. But the stage was nearly full with several children who already had been chosen. I began counting the kids and realized my son only had four or five more chances to be picked. Suddenly, he rose above the other kids and I saw his sister had picked him up to help him be seen. I was shocked as she usually refuses to touch him, believing little boys are dirty at best with their suspect hygiene habits.

The Jedi Master called out to the children and pointed.

You, in the red shirt; the blonde young lady there; the birthday boy with the hat.

I was mentally counting down, five, four, three, two, one. And then they were done and I didnt see my son on stage. I realized Id been holding my breath and when I breathed a sob caught in my throat. I felt his disappointment like it was my own because I knew how much he wanted this. I slowly moved my stroller away from the crowd, preparing to find my kids and leave when my daughter came running up to me.

Did you see it mom, he got picked she said. He was the last one and I did it. I lifted him up and I told him wave your hands. I kept screaming at the guy, Weve been here three times. And then he got picked.

She pointed to the far side of the stage and under the brown robe I could make out the profile of my son, a light saber tight in his hand. My daughter grabbed the stroller and told me to follow her to a place across from the stage where we could see him better as he trained.

That was so nice of you, I said to my daughter, still amazed that shed been willing to touch him.

I know, she answered.

We watched my son swing the light saber up and down, left and right, until he successfully battled Darth Maul and defeated the Dark Side. When the battle was over, he and his fellow Padawans lined up for a graduation ceremony. He received a Jedi Knight certificate which he kept clutched in his fist for the rest of our trip.

On days when my son and daughter cant share a civil word between them and engage in their own version of Star Wars I try to remember that day at Disneyland. Knowing my sons unbridled joy as a Jedi was made possible by his often reluctant sister is the Christmas memory that will stay with me when San Diegos balmy weather makes the holidays seem so very far away.

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