June 11, 2009

To be a hero…

Posted in Between Us column at 2:44 am by dinaheng

The first thing my niece and nephews did when they saw Darth Vader was to run up and sneak under his big, black cape, squealing with delight. Not that he was their hero, but Star Wars characters are a family favorite. And since Vader was made of LEGOs, he didn’t seem to mind.

Riley, 6; Will and Hannah, 4-year-old twins, and Colin, 2, were on their first California vacation, and their parents and I followed them to Legoland, just north of San Diego. Adults may think we’re the ones leading the way, but when it comes to having adventures in life, kids are the ones who have no fear.

Wherever you go in Legoland, a 128-acre family theme park, there are amazing life-like models made from more than 35 million LEGO bricks. There are busts of luminaries like President Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein, replicas of city skylines, and animals ranging from tiny rabbits to huge elephants.dinah-eng-21

The challenge is to keep the kids from climbing on them, or climbing over the little fences meant to separate the models from the humans. As we walked through Miniland USA, my brother-in-law Danny was constantly catching one child or another who had one foot over the fence before he or she became the giant who leveled Las Vegas.

The theme of the park is “Heroes Wanted,” a lesson taught to young and old alike.

“The hero theme is present throughout the activities and rides,” explains Lynn Crockett, education programs manager for Legoland. “The children are not passive participants. They’re in charge. They make the decisions on how fast or slow rides go in some situations. There are attractions where they’re simulating heroes in real life, like fire fighters, or imaginary heroes, like Bionicles.

“Research shows that children remember things better if they’re actively doing and achieving something themselves. We want kids to feel a sense of empowerment over their own lives, and to know they can make an impact in the world.”

While there are roller coasters and a wicked in the air, upside-down-sideways contraption that looks like it’d break your neck ride in the Castle Hill area, most of the rides are very calm. It was great fun watching the kids “drive” their own cars and pilot helicopters that moved up and down.

Moving from one section of the park to another, we adults pushed the kids in double strollers. The kids, of course, jumped out when we’d pass a gift shop to see what they could find. Star Wars light sabers were the toy of choice.

At one point, two-year-old Colin pointed his light saber at a little girl nearby, who was a good foot taller than he was, and lunged at her with all his Jedi might. When we made him stop, the little girl, who was holding a toy sword and shield, was clearly disappointed.

“I was hoping he’d play with me,” she said, quietly.

Ah, who knows what lurks in the minds of fair maidens?

Riley, the oldest, has been a Star Wars fan since he was a toddler, watching all the “Star Wars” movies with his dad. Being the big brother in the family, he’s already shown a hero’s heart that looks out for everyone. When I asked Riley if he wanted to be a Jedi when he grows up, his mom noted, “I think he already is one.”

At dinner that night, Riley sat next to his dad, who pulled out his wallet to pay the bill.

“Dad, are you rich?” he asked.

“Yes, Riley,” Danny replied. “I am rich. I’m rich because I have you, Will, Hannah, Colin, and your mom. People who are rich aren’t the ones who have money. People are rich if they love their family, and love God.”

Now that’s a real hero’s lesson.

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