Saturday, April 30, 2016

Real Magic

Nothing has quite ignited Liam's imagination like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Hollywood.  It is the only place Liam has repeatedly asked to go.  He loves to take his wand and do the magic that makes the animations work in the shop windows at Hogsmeade.  Since there are a limited number of spells, I thought it would be fun to invent some easy ones to use on the staff (if they were up for playing along).

This morning, I thought about simple commands like "laugh," "sneeze," and "hop like a frog" and looked up their Latin translations.  I presented the new spells to Liam with accompanying wand movements.  He loved them and added them to the leather-bound "Ravensclaw" spell book that we got on our last trip.  Below are the spells he remembered from Universal and wrote in his book, including the placards in front of each window, as well as our "original spells."  He did the work all on his own and added drawings and descriptions of what the spells did.
This spell makes a large Quiddich ball levitate.

This spell makes a bubbling cauldron stop making the bubbling noise.

This spell makes wind blow, which plays a number of wind instruments and stirs sheet music.
This spell reveals a chocolate frog in the window of the candy shop.  The frog coaks and wiggles!
This spell lights lamps.

And this one makes plants grow and move!

This is one of Liam's favorites.  It makes the cakes spin on plates.  The second spell stops the motion.
This spell stops a pen from writing in mid-air.
This spell unlocks a box and all of the draws slide open.
This spell makes a dress-maker's measuring tape rise and fall in the shop window.
This spell animates a music box with a dragon chasing Harry.
The wizard in Olivander's Wand Shop used this in his show.  It watered a flower.
Here's the first spell I wrote - it makes someone dance.  The second spell stops it.
This is another original.  It makes a person sneeze.  The second spell stops it.

This is a fun one.  It makes a person jump like a frog.  Second spell stops it.

This is a laughing spell.  Second spell stops the laughter.

The full spell here is "Rhyme Loqui,"  which makes a person rhyme with everything you say.  "Prosia" lets them speak normally again.

The local wizards were playful and willing to let Liam cast his simple spells on them.  And we met two young men who were also doing a circuit of magical spells.  One was a park employee who went by the name of "Wolfman" (his costume during Halloween Horror Nights) and his friend, Ben.  Both were obvious Harry Potter fans and among the many, I've learned, who come JUST to cast spells, like Liam.  
 Wolfman had a similar book to Liam's with more elaborate drawings and spells from the movies and books and even some originals.  We traveled together for a while and Ben asked what Liam enjoyed doing. When I told him he was very into special effects and had taught himself how to use Adobe After Effects, Ben revealed that he was learning the same thing (and joked that he could use Liam as a tutor).  I wished I had gotten a contact, so we could come back when Wolfman was doing his studio tour, but I have a feeling we'll meet this pair again.

Meeting Ben and Wolfman doing the same things that Liam loves to do, made me feel that we were moving closer to Liam finding his "tribe" and his path in life.  Sweet, friendly, talented geeks with strong passions and generous hearts.  The spells may just be special effects, but the magic of making connections was as real as it gets.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


We live in a magical neighborhood.  Literally.  We live within walking distance of Universal Studios,  Hollywood and the new "Wizarding World of Harry Potter."  As subscribers to the "Globe Partner" program offered by Universal to residents within a few blocks of the park, we are invited to previews of new attractions.  So, I was excited when we finally got the invitation for a preview of the new Harry Potter wing.

Liam isn't much into watching movies at home, but he had never seen any of the Harry Potter movies, so I decided to rent the first one from Pay-Per-View before we went.  We managed half of the movie before our preview, but that was enough for him to see the world we'd be entering, and become familiar with things like chocolate frogs, wands and spells.

Our first trip was with a friend.  We rode the rides and went into the wand shop to see the show and purchase wands.  I learned, to my delight, that the wands were fitted with a sensor in the tip, which activated "magic" in twelve of the shop windows, when you moved them in a certain pattern with the "magic words."  The kids were smitten with spell casting and I got great shots of them being helped by friendly wizards, who are stationed near the windows (the sensors are very picky and don't accept any old wand waving!)
This is the wizard that stayed with us when Liam strayed.  I was able to thank him personally on our next visit.

As I was taking a video of Liam's friend, he dashed off to a previous window, without telling us.  This triggered my worst fear.  By the time he dashed off, the area had been opened to the general park attendees and there was a sea of people around me.  I am 4'11" tall.  I hate crowds with a passion BECAUSE I can't see past them.  I swallowed down the panic in my chest while my 6'2" husband scanned over the crowd.

It only took about a minute and a half for my husband to spot Liam in his bright yellow hat (he will forever wear that hat at the park).  As I heard him say, "there he is" and dash through the crowd, I heard the voice of one of the friendly wizards at my left elbow.  "Did you find him?"  He must have followed us.  I knew then that a whole series of "lost child" protocols were about to go into play if the answer had been "no."  Fortunately, the answer was "yes, thank you!"

A week later, Liam said, "I want to go back to Harry Potter to do spells."  In the intervening week, he'd been practicing his spells on us as we tried our best to repeat the animation in the windows.  I had just renewed our season passes and was thrilled to take him back.  We got up and got ready to head to the park just after opening.

"Should we get the ride pass? (the disability access pass that allows us to come back later for rides with a really long line).  "No," he said, "just spells today."  I was thrilled that 1) he was able to be so super-specific about what he wanted and 2) that we live so close that we could go to the park for just an hour or so and it wouldn't feel like a park-day wasted.  He made the spell-casting circuit several times. By the end he had become an expert wizard, and he'd also learned a few more important lessons:

How to handle waiting your turn, when there is no CLEAR line - the markers for the spells are in random places and people don't really form a "line" so much as just gather around.  He needs to learn to be aware of signals that others want to play (Are their wands out? Were they there before you got there?).

Listening to instructions - The wizards that assist with spells give very specific physical instructions.  Because there are lots of people waiting, you need to listen and do your best to follow, so the spell works and someone else can have a turn.
He loved mastering the spells!

Learning to TELL YOUR PARENTS when you want to go to a different place and to TAKE THEM WITH YOU.  The older Liam gets, the more independence he wants.  Being outside of a controlled school situation means that the boundaries are far broader and the need to communicate before heading off is even greater.

On that last point, I realize that I have lessons to learn as well. We need to learn to trust each other.  He's more likely to tell me what he wants to do, if he knows I won't stop him.  So when he wants to climb a tree, ride a bike or run around the track on his own, like any 10 yr. old, I need to let him.  Watch him - yes, but riddle him with cautionary advice or look worried - no.  In addition to living near a theme park, we also live near two parks with great climbing trees.

Time to let the wind blow through the trees - or as they say in Hogsmeade, "Ventus!"