It’s 3:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and we are driving home after a morning filled with indoor soccer practice and an afternoon spent in a crowded mall buying Christmas presents for various friends and relatives. The conversation in the car is about to take a sudden left and then a sharp right into the religion of the Star Wars obsessed, but right now I am still thinking about the mall…
Santa Claus was at the mall, but he’s taken a break, probably for lunch, and so we wait in line for his return. Snags has scoped out Santa’s sled and determined that this is the REAL Santa, because “Look! He’s got three XBOX 360s in his sleigh! And why would he have those if he wasn’t the REAL Santa?” Snags is torn between waiting not so patiently in line for Santa to return from where ever he’s ventured off to, and leaving the line to hunt him down somewhere in the mall, perhaps in the food court.
“I don’t think Santa wants to be bothered when he’s trying to eat his lunch,” I tell Snags.
He ponders this for a moment before he spots Santa’s coat and hat hanging from a hook near his sleigh. He decides that I am probably right, that it might be hard to find Santa since he’s left his uniform behind. “He might look like a regular guy out there. Except,” Snags proclaims, “Santa has a long beard, right? He couldn’t take that off!”
I convince Snags that we should just wait where we are, Santa’s due back in 25 minutes anyway, and the line forming behind us has at least 30 people in it.
So we wait, and I listen and silently sigh while Snags goes on to ponder where Santa parked his reindeer. He wants to look for them, but I know the parking lot is full of nothing but cars.
Eventually Santa returns, carrying a metal lunch box and a large thermos, proof that he was indeed on his lunch break. But now he’s full and ready to have hordes of children sit on his lap, tell him what they want for Christmas, and get their picture taken with him.
When it’s his turn, Snags lies and tells Santa that yes, he’s been a good boy all year. I know he’s lying because even though I cannot hear him speaking, I see his nervous glance in my direction as he answers. His worry is palpable, I can tell he’s afraid I might jump forward and refute his claim to goodness. I don’t. I let him convince Santa that he is worthy of the three things he’s asking for this year: a Star Wars LEGO Star Destroyer, a Quadrilla Twist and Rail (made in China, full of lead?), and some kind of door alarm for his bedroom door. I don’t understand this last request. I am not surprised by it, but this is the child who is afraid of fire alarms sounding and home security systems beeping. An alarm on his bedroom door suggests he’s entered into therapy, the kind where the doctor purposely exposes you to your fears so that eventually they don’t scare you anymore. And I know that is not the case.
I fork over $19.99 for two 5×7 shots of Snags forcing a nervous smile on Santa’s lap – nervous I’m sure because he still doesn’t know if he’s got Santa fooled or not, and he doesn’t know if a lying alarm might sound when he climbs down from Santa’s lap.
Lately, before bed, Snags has been looking at an old book I have on Rome. I bought it back in ancient times, when I was a Junior in High School, and went to Rome on a trip. The book is full of glossy color photos of fountains and Roman architecture and statues. Michelangelo’s Pietà has caught his eye, so I’ve been trying to explain it to him. It’s Christmas time, and we should be celebrating Jesus’ birth, but Snags is currently worrying over Jesus’ death. He won’t leave it until Easter and it must be playing somewhere in the back of his mind because now in the car, on our way home from the mall and Santa, we pass a church with a cemetery beside it. Snags asks from the back seat, “Mom, why do all the gravestones have crosses on them? It’s not like there are a whole bunch of Jesuses buried all over the place!”
My husband is driving and so we explain, as best we can, what the crosses mean. Snags seems to understand and we continue on our way until the sudden left and sharp right come at us, like questions from a child’s mind so often do, out of nowhere…
“Mom,” Snags asks, “Do you know the difference between Jesus and Darth Plagueis?”
My head starts to spin with the craziness of the question. I feel like Dorothy in the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. “Um…” I stall. “Uh… let me think,” I say.
And here my husband starts to shake with silent laughter. I can see him trying not to pump a fist into the air in triumph, trying not to say “Ha! He asked YOU! You take that one…”
“Uh…” I say. “Jesus was a good guy, and anybody with Darth in their name is a bad guy?” I venture.
“How about Jesus was a real person and Darth Plagueis is just a made up character in a movie?” my husband offers, trying to help me out, although I can see he’s still shaking with laughter.
“Yes, that, but also,” Snags says. “Also, Jesus could save himself and Darth Plagueis couldn’t!”
And I sigh and say that “Yeah, I see what you mean.” Although I don’t. I have no idea who Darth Plagueis is, expect to know that he’s from Star Wars, and a bad guy to boot. I say a silent prayer promising to take Snags to church on Sunday if lightening doesn’t strike us all down right then and there.
It turns out that Darth Plagueis was a Sith Lord who found a way to prevent death and create life. The legend of Darth Plagueis is recounted in a brief scene in the movie Revenge of the Sith where Chancellor Palpatine tells the story to Anakin Skywalker. “Ironic,” Palpatine says. “He could save others from death, but not himself.”
And somehow, some way, Snags has remembered this scene, these supposed facts, and put them together into a Jesus versus Darth Plagueis scene in his mind.
Dinner and bedtime pass without incident as I think about what mass we should go to in the morning. It will depend on what time I get back from my morning run. My clothes are set out and ready to go.
But at 3:00 a.m Sunday morning I am awaken from sleep by Snags calling, “Mom! I need you!” I go into his room to find he’s gotten sick in the middle of the night and vomited all over the place. It looks like I won’t be running in the morning after all. And church won’t be seeing the likes of us this weekend either. I guess Jesus and Darth Plagueis will have to work things out without us. I hope the good guy wins. His birthday is coming up, after all.