To My Childhood Icons: This Is Not Goodbye

As parents, we are able to pass along parts of ourselves to our kids simply by playing a song in the car,
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Last week I took my son and nine of his friends to see “Rogue One” for his 10th birthday. As soon as he was old enough, my husband and I introduced him to the world of “Star Wars” and let him watch the movies one by one, in the same order we saw them as kids.

Partly, we wanted him to experience them the way we did, having to work backward to the beginnings of Anakin, and the dark and twisty path he took to become Darth Vader. But we also wanted him to meet our favorite characters first; the ones we idolized growing up. We actually couldn’t wait to introduce him to them, as though they were old friends: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.

As parents, it is sometimes more exciting to relive our childhood memories through the eyes of our children, than to make them in the first place. Just for a moment we hop backward on an ever-moving timeline, that often leaves little time for nostalgia.

As I watched my son and his friends at “Rogue One,” statue-still and mesmerized, I remembered my first “Star Wars” movie. The slant gold font disappearing into a starry screen; a hint of the adventure that was about to unfold, in a galaxy far, far away.

I knew what was happening; they were making a memory.

This was one of those times as parents where we overlap. Like deja vu, we uncover our own memories as a result of making new ones for our kids.

When I was 7, my great grandmother made me a princess Leia costume for Halloween. She took liberties and made it out of shiny, pink satin— because on Halloween you can be anything, even a pink Princess Leia.

When I put it on, I was transformed into a gutsy princess, who took orders from no one, and held her own among her (generally all male) counterparts. Covered head to toe in a cape of pink, with carefully wound braids above my ears, the world was mine to conquer; or so it seemed.

Now that I’m all grown up and a mother of two, I look forward to the day my kids reach an age where I can introduce them to the music, books, and movies that I loved as a kid.

This year, my generation suffered a whirlwind of loss in the childhood icon department. And though it can seem odd to be moved to tears when someone dies, that let’s face it―you didn’t even know; it still happens. We feel gutted and sad, as though we have lost something familiar, and that is because we have.

Our icons are part of us, woven into the fabric of time that shaped us, because they were there while we were making some of our most vital memories.

Early on, my family taught me that music held 1,000 stories, and even more emotions. By the age of 10, I knew exactly where to set the needle down on a vinyl record to cue Prince’s unmistakable guitar riff, signaling the start of “When Doves Cry.”

One of my first cassette tapes was “Purple Rain” and I played it until it fell apart. I bought it again on CD and the case is taped together and broken, but still a mainstay on our family playlist. My kids can belt out most of the tracks by heart; proof that some of me is sticking to them.

When I watch Gene Wilder brilliantly personify Willy Wonka, inviting my children into the unimaginable world that is edible wallpaper, chocolate waterfalls, and fizzy drinks that allow you to defy gravity; what they don’t see, perched on the edge of our couch, is a child-sized me, full of wonder and amazement at the magical world unfolding on the screen.

As Alan Rickman so delicately embodies the complexities of Severus Snape, or the loving but flawed husband in “Love Actually,” it reminds us that even those we love the most have shortcomings; and that to love wholly, is to love in spite of imperfections.

When David Bowie leads us to the middle of a labyrinth as the hypnotizing Goblin King, we learn that songs and book pages can sometimes be trapdoors to escape the realities of family life…and the often shifty dynamics of high school.

When we dance around as George Michael belts out “Freedom” in our living room, what my kids don’t know, is that a lanky, frizzy-haired, braces-wearing, junior high version of me is dancing around with us.

Our icons hold so many of our memories. Their characters, music, and invitation to be our unique selves, influenced and changed us. Losing them is personal because somewhere between birthday parties, graduations, first loves, careers, marriages, children, and the place we are now, we leaned on them and they lifted us up.

Parts of us are forever frozen in time with them.

Broken-hearted young adults, in tiny first apartments, listening to songs through muffled speakers of cheap boomboxes at 2AM.

Exuberant teenagers embarking on road trips, wielding handmade mix tapes, and blasting music through open windows of first cars.

Bold little girls on Halloween, who knew that a princess was more than crinoline dresses and high heels.

And now, as parents, we are able to pass along parts of ourselves to our kids simply by playing a song in the car, or taking them to a movie on their 10th birthday.

Our secret hope is that we teach our own children a little of what we have learned over the years:

That validation, comfort, and purpose can be found in the space between the lyrics of a song.

Sometimes “Little Red Corvettes,” “Purple Rain,” and a little “Faith” will pull you through.

A shimmering doe Patronus in the night sky teaches us all we need to know of bravery and unconditional love.

Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, and “Hallelujah” can heal almost anything.

The journey to finding your true self may just lie with a Goblin King in the middle of a “Labyrinth.”

And in the moments we are lost, and our path feels uncertain; in a galaxy far, far away―There is always hope.

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