Thursday, January 10, 2008
As I showered this morning I realized that some of my Disney experiences are going to make it into my sermon this Sunday. I have only a handful of Petra's 150 photos at present, but I want to get these thoughts down before this brain ("on the wrong side of 45," as I heard someone say recently) loses the files entirely.
A little background. I come to Disney with a little teeny tiny bit of childhood baggage. When I was seven years old my parents took my brother and me to California for a two week trip. My dad was being wined and dined (literally) by owners of a couple of vineyards; he owned two liquor stores, and he had won some kind of trip, I guess. In addition to Sonoma Valley we had plans to go to San Diego (to see the zoo), to San Francisco (we saw "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" and I ate my first ever Chinese food), to the Knotts Berry Farm, and, finally, to Disneyland. We also flew in a helicopter. By the time we got to Disneyland my parents were pretty exhausted. Or perhaps the neuropathy that plagued my mom from her mid-forties was kicking in. Anyway, they hated it. "It's so fake. It's so plastic." We were supposed to stay four days and we left after one. I had gone to the Hall of Presidents, and that was it. I was seven. THE HALL OF PRESIDENTS. We left. My little, bitter child's heart never forgave them. I didn't get to see Mickey or Minnie or Annette. THE HALL OF PRESIDENTS.
Fast forward 25 years. I am happily married to my college sweetheart, and we have two darling children (ages 5 and 7 months). College Sweetheart suggests a trip to Disney World. (He grew up in Florida.) We go, and we have the. time. of. our. lives. We go on Peter Pan's flight (7-month-old Petra in arms). We go on Splash Mountain (doing the baby switcheroo). Larry-O practically faints with joy when confronted by Captain Hook while walking down Main Street USA. It is nothing short of perfect.
We return to Disney several times as the kids grow up. Every time it's more or less magical. The last time we went as a family was 7 years ago. Four years ago February (Valentine's weekend, to be precise), the College Sweetheart moved out, in search of his Violist. That summer he took Larry and Petra to Disney (he invited me to come along; he'd read in a book about divorced couples who did this sort of thing. Uh, no thanks.)
So... this fall I got the little idea of doing Disney with my kids. Rule 1: we were not staying anywhere we'd stayed as a family of four. (We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge.) Rule 2: I was going to do everything the kids wanted to do. Rule 3: We were not going to try to replicate other trips in any way. This was going to be, we hoped, something new.
For the most part, it worked. Disney was decked out in its holiday finery, which was truly gorgeous. Six-story-tall Christmas Trees. The Christmas Parades. The unexpectedly beautiful piped-in Christmas music at the resort. Day 1, we did the Magic Kingdom. One of the cool things about our resort was our ability to take a boat to and from the Magic Kingdom (everything else was accessible by bus). We stood in line for Peter Pan's Flight for about 45 minutes, not bad, really. We went on the Pirates of the Caribbean and marveled at the newly installed animatronic Johnny Depps. Lifelike and babealicious. (And they still have that guy whose dirty foot is hanging over your head as the boat goes into the last tunnel.) We bought those amazing chocolate chip cookies they sell.
Day 2, we hit MGM Studios. First order of the day, a fast pass for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to get out of it. We rode the Great Movie Ride, the Star Wars/ Tours. I declined to go on the Rockin' Roller Coaster (I don't like Aerosmith that much). By 7 PM our fastpasses came due, and I started babbling about how scared I was. "We'll be right there with you mom, one on each side," my children said confidently. We did it. Free-fall and laughing hysterically (rather than screaming).
Day 3 (New Year's Eve) was when things began to go south. In keeping with the "Let's not do anything we've done in Disney before" idea, Larry woke up at 6 AM with a raging stomach bug, every symptom and loud and closeby (these are not enormous rooms). Petra and I hovered a bit, then decided to take his advice and go far, far away. We went to the Animal Kingdom, where the first thing we did was to see the Finding Nemo stage show. It was astonishingly beautiful-- done with actors and puppets, much in the way they've done the Lion King on Broadway. And it's a meditation on letting go of over-protectiveness and letting your children swim free, as it were. It ends with the father fish, Marlon, hovering on stage for just a moment, with the joy and grief of a parent who has had to relinquish his control to his child's growth and development. If I'd been alone, I've have sobbed.
On to Dinosaur, a kind of virtual trip to... you know, the time of Dinosaurs. And also potential inadvertent back and neck realignment. And then to the Kahli River Rapids, wet and fun. And a fabulous meal at the Yak and Yeti. Petra was in line for the Everest Expedition (crazy-ass roller coaster that stops and goes backwards, no thanks) when it began to pour, one of those Florida late-afternoon tropical downpours. We ran for the bus. We'd been on the phone with Larry all day; he was no better, so it didn't appear to be food poisoning or tiredness (which sometimes gives him gastrointestinal symptoms), but a real bug.
Petra and I ate at the snack bar and then the three of us watched "Love, Actually" in our room... which is the last film College Sweetheart and I saw together before he moved out. Ouch. In a big way. New Year's Eve: Asleep before 11.
Day 4: Larry doesn't feel great, but gamely sets out with us for Epcot. We see Spaceship Earth, which has been updated with voiceovers by Dame Judi Dench, and which delicately and deftly handles the issues of religious pluralism and evolution (all around the parks, Disney takes a stand for evolution, and against... well, the abandonment of the scientific worldview. Yay Disney!) Larry leaves after an hour, feeling punk. Petra and I wander around the World Showcase, having a fabulous lunch next to a pyramid and a volcano (in Mexico) and doing some serious Christmas Shopping for cousins. On the way, we see one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen, as well as a troupe of young Japanese woman drummers, who left us breathless at their artistry and athleticism. Larry rejoins us at about 8 PM for dinner in China (he has broth and rice, poor dear.) We leave before Illuminations (the big fireworks/ light show), like old people, wanting to beat the crowds.
Day 5: Magic Kingdom, the challenge of the three mountains. We quickly do Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad (in 43 degree weather; there was a cold snap). Lunch and a parade, during which we eat caramel corn and funnel cake and reminisce about early trips. With the passing of each character, Larry or Petra says, "Oooh, I always loved her..." or "I wanted to be him..." or "She always scared the daylights out of me." (Favorite Disney Villain: Ursula, hands down). More Pirates of the Caribbean (because, you can't do it too much), more shopping, until finally Larry pleads stomach distress (funnel cake perhaps?) and we retire to our resort. To pack. And leave.
The following morning, on the way to the airport, I pondered something Larry said. "Mom, I might be getting past Disney." Oh my heart. I fought back tears. Of course he's getting past Disney. He's a big fish now, swimming in all sorts of directions, but most decidedly away from me. This might well have been "it" for our vacations at DW (though, I did extract a promise from Petra that, if she has kids, I want to be invited along; not too soon I hope. She's 15.) .
It was sweet. It was sad. It was fun. It was expensive. I'm glad we went. I wonder how to be a family, when they're all grown up. How will we do that?