We got to spend some quality family time recently at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, CA. We have some serious Harry Potter fans in the family, so we spent much of the day in Harry Potter world. We had been planning for that particular part of the trip for a while so the kids saved up some money for some special souvenirs.
Everything about the Harry Potter experience was amazing. The design of the buildings, rides and entire complex was astoundingly done. The attendants and other employees of the area were in full-blown costume and remarkably well-versed in all things Harry Potter. I couldn’t help but think of it as something of a dream job for some of them. When my daughter walked right up to two of them in Ollivanders and started uttering some spell that apparently shouldn’t be said, they covered their ears, shut their eyes and threatened to tell Dumbledore. She followed that up with saying Valdemort’s name and one of them turned bright red and left the room. The other employee played right along. The entire experience was completely immersive.
I was even more blown away when I walked into the Harry Potter section of the stores. The wands, the sweaters, the robes, the socks and shoes… you could buy entire outfits that your favorite character wore. You could walk out of the store wearing them. You could go through Harry Potter world as Harry, Hermione, Ron, or my personal favorite, Severus Snape.
And there were quite a few kids that did. When the employees encountered these kids, they referred to them by character name, asked them story-related questions and, I’m sure, absolutely MADE their day. It was, in every way, fantastic. For a kid to merge their imagination with a story universe they’ve grown up must be an amazing experience. To be referred to by name, to be that character, even for a short time would make for some remarkable memories.
I didn’t buy a wand. Nor did I wear a robe. I watched and wondered, though, how it must feel. It was towards the end of the day and we had gone to and from Harry Potter world some three times over those hours and the park was closing. I watched a family, with kids just a bit younger than ours, trying to wrap things up for the night. There was a young girl, maybe 7 or 8, in the full garb, head to toe. She had the wand, hat, and everything she could want… except for another hour, or two.
She was heartbroken and didn’t want to leave. Resisting mom and dad every step of the way, she walked between them, awkwardly backwards with a wand in one hand and missing about every third step because of how the parents had to carry her. They kept calling her by her name and she kept saying, “No! I’m Luna, I’m Luna, Mommy, I’m Luna!”
This is where some people would rant about poor parenting or about spoiling their kids or about some other aspect of how they might do it better. I’ll save you the time and trouble, that’s not why we’re here. I’ve seen enough total meltdowns of the entirely irrational sort to know they can’t always be avoided or deterred, no matter how “good” the parents are. If this gets to you, parents of the girl that was Luna, I think you’re awesome and I think you did the best you could in the situation.
No, this isn’t about parenting. It’s about becoming someone else.
It’s about wearing the costume. It’s about putting on the mask. It’s about “being” somebody else, it’s about those moments, or days, or weeks, or even longer when we lose ourselves.
Like those kids, we see things that make us feel different. Maybe it’s approval or acceptance from someone else, or someone in authority. So we wear it. Maybe it’s a way of doing something, or a pattern of working that gets us noticed, so we make that our thing. For them, it’s a robe. For us, it’s a routine that’s rewarded. For them, it’s a wand. For us, it’s a way of being that’s seen. It get’s us something or it takes us somewhere. It keeps us on leadership’s radar or it leads us up a ladder. So we become it. We say it’s just for a time. It’s just temporary. I say I can get back. Do I? Can I?
Over time, we adopt an identity based on what we do and maybe somewhere in there, we lose something of who we are. And there comes a moment, there will always come that moment, when we’re carried by the reality of the moment that just maybe, we aren’t really that.
I watched that family that night and I wondered what I would do as a parent in the same situation. I wondered what decisions I would make as that father. It wasn’t until her cries softened to whimpers and she finally fell limp into her father’s arms, waving her wand and perhaps saying goodbye to that fantastic and hopeful place that I wondered if I wasn’t the father at all, but instead if I was the little girl.