In many folklores, a trickster appears in the midst of ordinary circumstances to stir up the detritus of human experience. One day, my sons received a Lego Star Wars lanyard from their friends who had visited Legoland in San Diego, a place we hoped to visit. The lanyard was made of embroidered synthetic materials - possibly nylon and polyester. Images of yellow Lego bricks ran along the ribbon beneath red Lego logos printed at regular intervals. A small Lego Star Wars Storm Trooper was attached. I’ve rarely said this about a lanyard, but its quality was superb. It was gorgeous.
I am from the generation that saw the 1977 movie Star Wars: A New Hope over 20 times at the theater. A couple of years later, my best friend and I waited at 7:00 a.m. on the sidewalk in front of Prestonwood Mall in far North Dallas to see The Empire Strikes Back. A few years after that, we again braved the dawn to see The Return of the Jedi. My love for Star Wars, Star Trek, and other science fiction stories was rooted in the promise of a better tomorrow where all people were respected.
It took me almost a month to write a thank you message. Suburban moms, thrown together at the behest of their children’s friendships, are unfailingly polite and dutiful. On October 2, 2009, I finally sat down to write:
Dear - ,
We haven't been able to get our thank you notes out fast enough (we're working on them), but I wanted to let you know how much we love the Lego lanyard. The kids love it, and I think it is pretty great too!
I'm glad they like it! We visited the Lego store and they wanted to get them a little something special that might not be available in town.
Her words stung a little. Parenting is a strange pursuit. I wrestled with wanting to teach my children humility and empathy while also wanting them to have the best we could afford. I linked such acquisitions as necessary for their future success. I struggled to not equate the good life with money and travel. It is difficult to temper those impulses to compare and compete. The little Storm Trooper became a point of convergence for my complex American dream, where fantasy, humility, empathy, and entitlement competed for dominance.
There is a part of me that wanted my kids to feel entitled. No, not the extreme narcissism of exclusive entitlement, but I wanted them to realize that all humans are entitled to something more than suffering. All of us are entitled to have a wish come true. While we were unable to make the trek to Legoland, we had many other wishes realized during that time--I was in remission from Cancer.
A couple of months after the lanyard arrived, I participated in a poetry workshop. I reflected on my family’s intersections between mass media and materialism, suburban American culture, the panic of a terminal illness, and the sober realities of Palestinians and other Arabs living under the pressures of poverty, political oppression, and lack of opportunity.
To walk the middle path between desire and humility, between responsibility and abandon, silliness and cruel realities.
What has happened to the poet Iman Hanifa? She lost herself at Disneyland. Her history shattered on the Magic Mountain.
I loved that Lego Star Wars lanyard. My kids barely played with it after the novelty wore off, and when I asked them about it recently, they had no idea what I was talking about. This, of course, is significant. The lanyard with the Star Wars Storm Trooper summoned my wishes, not theirs. We gave away the Lego table a few years ago and I cannot remember what happened to my little trickster. It fell into my ordinary life and churned up complex emotions of memory, responsibility, competition, and longing, and then moved on.
Layla Azmi Goushey is a Professor of English at St. Louis Community College in St. Louis, Missouri. Her creative work has been published in journals such as Yellow Medicine Review, Mizna: Journal of Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America, Natural Bridge, and Sukoon Magazine. Her creative non-fiction essay "The Jordanian Kids" was published in the June 2019 St. Louis Anthology; another creative non-fiction piece "Profile of a Citizen: Generations Then and Now" is included in the forthcoming Beyond Memory: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Creative Nonfiction. Find her on Twitter @Lgoushey or at www.LaylaAzmiGoushey.com.
Layla would like you to contribute to Playgrounds for Palestine. Playground for Palestine is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization registered in Pennsylvania, USA. It was established in 2001 by Susan Abulhawa as a measure to uphold the Right to Play, enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Visit playgroundsforpalestine.org to learn more.