The day has come for our son to embrace all things Star Wars and no one could be happier than my husband. He has been not-so-secretly trying to teach our son (let’s call him “Little Jedi”) about Jedis, light sabers, galaxies far, far, away, and etc. since the day we both deemed it appropriate to allow our Little Jedi to learn the ways of the force. Now that Little Jedi is nearly 3.5, he has been allowed to watch certain Star Wars Episodes (I & IV). We often have discussions after the movies about the ramifications of the semi-violent action sequences. Little Jedi seems to get it, but it doesn’t stop him from being OBSESSED with Star Wars. Every day he plays with his blue light saber he got for Christmas from our good friends. He also lets his imagination run wild with Star Wars figurines, an X-Wing Fighter, and Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced x1 Ship (yes, I had to google the last one!) Every time he gets in the car, he asks us to play his favorite song – John Williams’ Main Star Wars Theme Score, repeatedly. Ironically, this was also the song my husband frequently played during their father & son bonding times, when our boy was around 2-6 months old. May be Little Jedi remembers it, who knows?
His obsession soon turned into my worst nightmare one fateful day at Disneyland. We thought it would be fantastic to have our Little Jedi be a part of the Jedi Training Academy. Naively, we assumed that to be a “padawan learner” you just needed to show up early – first come first serve. We couldn’t be more wrong. In order to get to go up on that stage, your child has to be “chosen” by a “Jedi Master,” who uses the “force” to feel which kids “exhibit” qualities to be an apprentice. Seriously?
On our first attempt we had no idea what to expect, so we sent our son to the front line by himself, while we hung back. It was like sending him into a shark tank alone to fend for himself. He was one of the very few lonely tiny beings amongst overzealous parents with their children high on their shoulders, screaming and shouting, in the front line. He didn’t get picked. Our poor baby was outsized, out-numbered, and out-screamed. We guiltily watched in horror 3 rows back.
We stayed for the show. Afterwards, our son told us he wanted to try-out again. “What? Seriously?”, I asked. He was serious. I couldn’t understand it. Why would any child want to be on that stage so badly? Personally, the thought of being in front of so many people, doing anything at all is terrifying. Once when I was a kid, I was a shoe-in for a character in a school play – a girl who had a stomachache. Afraid that I would have to play the role, I told them I never had a stomachache in my life and had no idea what that was . . . I was 10!
I don’t know why doing anything in public mortifies me. It may be because I was born that way, or may be because I was raised in Thailand. The Thai culture is very complex. There’s a fine line to everything and Thai children are expected to know when not to cross it. That was a bit of a problem for me, I was never sure where the line was drawn. People would tell you to speak up, be independent, and form your own opinions, but when I did, I was scolded for speaking too much or showing off. They encouraged you to follow your dreams, but if your dreams were not to become a doctor or an engineer, as in my case, they assumed that you weren’t intelligent. They pushed you to be brave or be proud of who you are, but if you appeared to be brave or proud, they thought you weren’t humble enough, or even worse, that your parents never taught you any manners. Therefore growing up, it was simpler for me to stay quiet, hold back my opinions, and tell everyone I’d grow up to be a doctor. It was a no brainer to pretend like I didn’t know what having a stomachache looked like. I wasn’t sure if being in a play as a stomachache girl would cross any “no-no” line, but I wasn’t going to risk being humiliated. Plus, I was afraid to be in front of that many people anyway. I was content with not being brave. So the idea that my son wanted to voluntarily subject himself to another round of public humiliation was incomprehensible.
We agreed to let him try again, thinking that this time we were more experienced & well-seasoned parents, we could “help” him get picked. We stood on the front line and were determined to dive in the shark tank with him. We held him high like those other parents in the first round. We even helped him by waiving our hands around like angry cavemen. Our effort was short-lived when one of the moms tapped my shoulder and screamed in my face, “you guys are so F*#KING RUDE, you need to stand back and let your kid do it himself!” We looked at each other, completely confused. Did we just get admonished at the Happiest Place on Earth? Then we started to look around and realized that this 2nd round of Jedi selection was polar opposite from the 1st. We were the ONLY parents on the front line holding our child. Did the other parents get some sort of Inter-Galactic memo about hanging back on the sideline, and we did not? Of course, our son didn’t get picked. I’m sure the “Jedi Master” also thought we were jerks as well. Ashamed, embarrassed, and frustrated, we ran out of there.
After we left, Little Jedi looked at me with teary eyes and asked, “why didn’t they pick me?” He was sobbing. I stared at him, speechless. I was witnessing my poor 3-year old experience his first real rejection in life, one of many to come. I didn’t know what to say to him. Inside my head, I was overcome with emotions. In my mind, I had entered the “dark side” and wanted to give the “Jedi Master” a piece of my mind. Most of all, I was mad at myself for letting him be “brave,” instead of protecting him from disappointment. Of course, I knew that shielding him from rejection would not do him any good. But having to look into those sad, teary eyes, I wanted to just hold him and tell him he would never be hurt again. Finally, I was able to recompose myself and say to him, “you don’t have to cry, it’s ok that you didn’t get picked. It’s part of life. People aren’t always going to choose you, but know that Dada and I will always love you.” Do you think he understood my sage advice? Of course not, he’s 3. He threw a tantrum and then said, “OK, I wanna do Pirates of the Caribbean next.”
Since that happened, we returned to Disneyland a few more times, but not once did we go near the Jedi Training Academy area. We were still scarred from the experience. Not our son though, he bounced back quicker than the Millennium Falcon could jump to light speed! At home, he puts on Star Wars shows daily, imitating the one at Disneyland. He tells me often that he wants to try out for the Jedi Training again. I don’t know if I’m ready to do it again, even though I know it’s important for him to have the courage to do it. When that day comes, I know that I’ll be there to support him. But for now I’m just going to enjoy my private Jedi Training shows at home and quietly listing to all the Star Wars talks between Little Jedi and his Dada. Ones like this:
Dada: “I’m gonna go get the mail.”
Little Jedi: “I’ll go with you.”
D: “Oh great, that will be very nice.”
LJ: “Yeah cool, and we can rule the Galaxy together as Father and Son!”
Love this post MaeWaen! Especially love the humor and the part about Thai culture and the fine line. The irony there is apparent and you put in into words so well. You guys are great parents – little jedi is lucky. So true about wanting to protect them but its also a good lesson – they bounce back more quickly than we do! Nice work, already looking foward to your next post.
Lovely post (as usual), Waen! In order to mix Tom Yum and Burger together, you have to be very gifted and know both dishes very well!
And yes, sometimes I hope I can be like a kid, who can just put the past aside like nothing ever happened (probably because they have so little past to keep inside), and bounce right back with even more determination.
May the force be with you!