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Happily Even After

Family Travel

July 12, 2010

We just undertook a somewhat convoluted “vacation” over the course of twelve days, two states and eight legs of plane travel.  Gratefully the children were only a part of four of the legs of the plane trips.

Joshua and I were interested in attending a conference at Notre Dame for work.  As we live thousands of miles from our family and anyone we could consider leaving the children with for more than one overnight, we weren’t particularly optimistic that it would work out until I spoke with my mother.  She suggested that we take a vacation around the dates of the conference in Florida where they live.  We would fly down some days ahead of the conference, then leave the children with them to head north to South Bend, and then return to Florida to “pick them up” on the way home.

I suppose this is what our lives have come to living in such a spread out society.  Folks live and work in the same towns, cities and states as their parents and siblings far less frequently.  We don’t live in the same town (or state) in which either of us grew up.  Yet we are both very close with our families.  One of our largest financial investments is in plane tickets to visit them.  And even though it isn’t the same as living across town, they are eager to fill the same roles with our children as they might if we were much closer.  Enter mom’s suggestion.

One fantastic and unanticipated bonus to her plan was that some very dear friends of ours from graduate school were willing and interested in meeting us in Florida for the first part of our stay.  The five of them, seminarians in grad school, are all now ordained Holy Cross priests.  Yes, we took our family vacation with my parents, all our children and five of the greatest, most enjoyable men we know.  That was the good news to the vacation plan.

The challenging flipside to the plan was that because of the time of year, our children were still in school. Unfortunately we didn’t make that connection until after plane tickets had been purchased.  Seriously…what parent “accidentally” takes their third grader out of school for 9 days of school so they can go on vacation?  Me, the bad parent sitting over here.  You should have seen Josh’s and my faces when we made the connection.  A great photojournalism opportunity there. 

In the end the plan worked out beautifully.  The family had unforgettable times on the beach in Florida with the guys (including daily mass with 5 concelebrants), Josh and I got to experience a wonderful Symposium at Notre Dame while the children enjoyed grandparent time, and Oscar’s teacher and school were incredibly accomodating.  He brought all his books with us and worked a little each day.  In the end, I suppose it was a little flavor of home schooling for him.

The universality of this fine-tuned, twenty-first century version of family bonding got thrown into crystal clear relief for me when we were on our last leg of the journey home to Portland.  Sweet Simon (4) was doing a super job on the plane, enjoying some cartoons on the direct TV in the headrest in front of him.  They had already illuminated the fasten seatbelt sign for our decent and the turbulence had started, when he turns to me and says, “Mommy, I’m going to throw up.”  Now, how many generations of mothers have had exactly the same experience with a young child?  Maybe it was in a car instead of a plane, or even a covered wagon for that matter (we do live in Oregon).  But is family life so very different now? 

How did it end? Well, I couldn’t pull the plane over and open the door for him and I couldn’t even get up and take him to the bathroom.  But I did manage to grab the motion sickness bag before he started…and then another (that’s right, for a total of three bags)…and Josh managed to get in our stowed carry-on for the wet wipes, handing them to me across the aisle and taking filled bags in exchange.  When all was said and done, there wasn’t a spot on any of us and Simon turned to me and said, “Ok Mommy, I feel better.”  That’s what I call a successful family vacation.

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

If you are a human being who lives on the planet Earth, you know that there is a new Star Wars movie coming out sometime before Christmas.

If you have children, now is the time to have your deflector shields tested—they are about to be soaked in a Star Wars merchandising campaign that will stretch from Tatooine to Dagobah. It will literally rule the galaxy. Mark my words, by January you will be throwing your glass of chardonnay against your brick fireplace if you so much as hear one more thing about Kylo Ren or Poe Dameron or that infernal crossguard lightsaber.

We will all be swimming in Star Wars for the next two months, so it is good advice to get ahead of this curve and talk to your kids about this movie franchise.

I am a huge Star Wars fan, and I plan to relish the new movie in the same way a Rancor would devour a Gamorrean Guard. The youngest of our kids is 8 now, so they are just old enough to dive in to this cultural trend and swim along for themselves. We’ve been re-watching the original trilogy and even the prequels so that we can run into Dec. 18 primed and ready. I even brought home a giant Star Wars coloring book—we’ve been spending evenings coloring Boba Fett posters.

I’ve been unabashedly encouraging these movies with our kids. The Star Wars universe loomed large in my youthful imagination, so this is a way to share an important part of myself with them. I’ve also been encouraging it because the Star Wars story world, at its heart, is about mystery and redemption, and I hope (with all my heart!) that the new film continues this theme.

Let me offer the paradigmatic example of Luke Skywalker’s climactic encounter with his (spoiler alert!) father, Darth Vader, in the last movie of the trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. Luke’s training to become a Jedi will not be complete until he faces Vader. Vader takes him to the Emperor, who conjures the dark side of the Force to electrocute him. Vader, conflicted by the cries of his tortured son, relents and grabs the Emperor and throws him down an abyss, where he perishes in a gale of fury.

What do we have here? A son who is willing to suffer. Suffering that moves a father to mercy. A father who destroys death. Sound familiar?

There are strong parallels with the story of our own salvation. When we sin, we put ourselves inside of the black suit and mask that Vader wears—our sin brings tyranny to the relationships in our lives, and makes us less than fully human.

Jesus confronts that sin through a willingness to be overwhelmed by it. His willing sacrifice builds a bridge: it moves us to convert, to grab with full and decisive arms all that hinders life in us and overthrow it. It also moves the Father to overthrow death itself—to promise new and abundant life beyond death.


Using Star Wars as a Teachable Moment

So, back to the crossguard lightsabers that every child will have on their Christmas list—how can we break open the mystery of our faith that resonates within this Star Wars story world? If you will see the new “Force Awakens” episode with your kids, I would recommend watching the original trilogy (episodes 4, 5, and 6) with them, just to prime their imaginations for where this story has been.

Below are some conversation prompts you might consider using after each episode of the original trilogy to connect the Star Wars story to the mystery of our faith.


Episode IV: A New Hope

Prompts: Who is Luke Skywalker, really? How does he come to know his true identity? Where does this new identity take him? Why does Obi Wan give himself up in his fight with Darth Vader? What happens to him?

Connections: Our truest, deepest identity resides in our baptism, which makes us adopted sons and daughters of God. Knowing this gives us strength to go on adventures—to do things we never thought were possible, even to give up our lives to help other people. It also gives us new life, even beyond death. When we die, we know that we will still live with God. And those who have died before us can still help us with their prayers—they are still with us.


Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Prompts: What is the Force? How does it give people power? What can people do with the Force? What does Luke have to do to feel and use the Force?

(Warning for Star Wars buffs: It is blasphemous to reduce the Force to a function of midi-chlorians, so don’t step in that Sarlacc pit or you’ll never get back out, I don’t care if you have Boba Fett’s jetpack.)

Connections: The Holy Spirit is God, together with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit lives within us and gives us the power to do good. When we pray and do good things—especially when it is hard—we grow in God’s grace, and become even better at using it. The Holy Spirit is always with us and will always help us.


Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Prompts: Did Luke love Darth Vader? How could we tell? What did he do because of that love? How did that love change Darth Vader? How did that love save Darth Vader?

Connections: Love gives us courage to do difficult things, even to face things that terrify us, even to suffer, even to die. Jesus loved us like this—he didn’t get electrocuted, but he was willing to suffer on the cross, which hurt just as much. But he knew that God would take care of him—God gave him new life. When we love that way—without being afraid—it gives us new life, too. And it connects us to everyone else who loved that way.

Think of the party on the forest moon of Endor as an image of heaven—it is a great feast that includes even the departed, who appear through the Force in a kind of communion of saints.

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