We went to Walt Disney World. If you know us at all, this in itself is pretty surprising. But what’s even more surprising is this: we liked it. A lot.
Some things were as I expected: at times we were miserably hot, exhausted and overstimulated, and ready to tell Mickey exactly where he could stuff his ears. But more often than not, we found ourselves knee-deep in something we don’t get nearly enough of in our regular lives: the full experience of each other, and of silencing our inner critics just long enough to take in the view.
Let me be very clear: I am not normally a “make lemonade from lemons” person, and I have been known to taste sour before sweet on the best of days. But for me, the real Magic of Disney was the way it relentlessly begged me to shelve my hard-won analysis of all life’s injustices and woes for just a little while, and take a good, long, break. For neurotic types like me who struggle with doing ALL THE THINGS and a sometimes burdensome sense of responsibility, this was a beautiful gift, even if it did come packaged in gaudy decor, pervasive, if slightly laboured, good cheer, and oddly terrifying over-sized dalmations.
The Magic surfaced for me in unexpected ways. I was almost embarrassed to find myself tearing up as Belle sobbed over the dying Beast, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the bubble gum pink ball gowns as they twirled effortlessly across the stage. Meanwhile, the seven year old–presumably more of the target audience for such things–fidgeted with her MagicBand throughout the entire performance, stopping only periodically to ask when there would be more french fries. But I will never forget the look on her face when, while relaxing by the pool that night, I handed her a five dollar bill and told her to go and get any drink she wanted. And pay for it ALL BY HERSELF. After clarifying that this directive included orange pop, she nearly tripped over her own excitement running off on what she would later call her Very Important Mission.
There were other moments.. Waiting in line for Big Thunder Mountain wth the Boy, I sensed his trepidation as he listened to the nervous laughter of riders pulling into the loading area. At first I tried to engage him, thinking that talking through his fear would help. It took a few shoulder shrugs for me to realize that this was not at all what he needed. I think all that mattered, and would be (hopefully) be remembered years from now, was that his mom was with him on that ride. Did I mention we went three more times?
We ordered cheese pizza at midnight. We bought tacky t-shirts, and then some of us bought a few more. We hugged Pluto, and fist bumped a Storm Trooper. We watched as the Boy let down his guard and was charmed anew by a bear named Winnie. We sat by awkwardly, as the Girl, having decided that sitting with us was boring, took it upon herself to adopt a new family on every bus trip to and from the parks. She made friends with people from all over the States, scored a seat on a mobility scooter with an 86 year old who had tackled every roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom that day, and even learned a magic trick or two. I tolerated a grown man talking like a pirate (and quite badly at that) for almost an entire afternoon, and felt only mild irritation at his insistence on checking off everything last thing on his personal Must See List. I gazed at palm trees, and ate my weight in baked chicken and green beans, and held on for the ride. It was all so ridiculous, and yet so uttterly, unbelievably, irresistable.
On the return flight, I watched the Girl take out her notebook and write down the list of things she had done in Florida. Interestingly, almost none of them had to do with princesses, pirates or anything you could find in the gift shops. Still, I can’t help but think that those princesses and pirates were a big part of what helped her parents to remember that being seven (and a half) isn’t at all like being forty four, or twenty, or even sixteen. I like to think that over the din of the throbbing crowds, beyond the zillion gift shops and the constant pull of more and more stuff, I could hear them whispering to me some things I could probably stand to hear a bit more often. They were telling me that sometimes, if only for a few moments, or even a few days, it’s really ok to Let it Go, to buy the sugary drink, to tolerate the roughhousing (and yes, even the pirate talk) just a little bit longer, and to remember that most of the time, they’re just doing their very best to be seven and almost ten in a world that’s designed mostly for grown ups.
I think that might be the best kind of Magic.