Dragging the kids through Disneyland OR Oh, the Magic!

It was the summer of 1975.  My brother was 8, I was 7 and my lil’ bro was 5. My baby sister had just started baking in the oven but my parents didn’t know it yet.  Standing in front of our green Pontiac station wagon outside our brick Southside Chicago home in our denim leisure suits (yes, all of us), we were on the brink of a family vacation.  

A dream vacation.  

To Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
My parents had to skimp and save for years to send us on that vacation. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad made a modest salary working at Campbell’s Soup in Chicago.  I wonder if they thought about whether it would all be worth it.  I mean really worth it.  A week long vacation visiting the Happiest Place on Earth.  The airfare, the hotel, the books of ride tickets that had to be purchased (including the infamous E-ticket), the meals out at restaurants, the souvenirs.  

In my 7-year-old brain, it was totally and utterly and perfectly worth it.  

We stayed at the Polynesian Hotel, one of the Disney hotels.  I remember swimming in that lava-rock-themed pool with multiple waterfalls to dip under and a rock slide that dumped you into a frenzied pool of happy splashing.  I remember walking through the lobby and having Goofy tug at my pigtails.  I remember taking the escalator up to the Monorail Boarding Area where the sleek train whisked us directly to the park.  I remember surveying the shelves of the park’s souvenir shops carefully considering what trinket would become the physical memory of this magic I had experienced. 

I felt special.  I felt privileged.  I felt tingly all over.  I was seven.  And I was in heaven.

But were my parents?

I have, just this evening, returned from two-days at Disneyland in Anaheim.  It was a weekend hosted by my in-laws who are notorious for hosting special little events and getaways.  (Need I remind you of that fabulous TBT? Yes, the in-laws.)  Since my dude was spending some time with a few of his old college friends for the weekend, the kids and I were invited to a two-day Disney extravaganza with Grandpa and Grandma.   

As I sit and write, mere hours after returning and only an hour after all of my three crazies have fallen asleep, my brain feels like a pile of mud. My body feels like I’ve run a couple of marathons and my mood is well, mixed.  To say the least.  

My muscles hurt from wrestling El Destructo, my 21-month-old, just too many times back into his stroller or into his diaper or away from the pool or into his highchair at too many restaurants.  My brain is muddled and flooded with too many emotional tug-of-wars with The Love Fairy, my brilliantly, stubborn 4-year-old, as she shrieked and cried when she didn’t get her way.  Yet, my heart is filled with gratitude and pride when I think of CR, my 6-1/2-year old who walked everywhere for two days straight without so much as one complaint and who tirelessly sung “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to get her lil’ brother to sleep as he cried and rubbed his overtired eyes in his stroller.  

One minute I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when The Love Fairy and El Destructo chose to spontaneously combust at the same time for no logical reason, and the next minute I had tears welling up in my eyes as I watched The Love Fairy meet Belle at a Meet-the-Princess Dinner and stand proudly by her side for a photograph.  

The highs and lows of a two-day trip to Disneyland are unrivaled in the parent sphere.  And all the while, as both headaches and heart swells existed side-by-side, the wallet was opened again and again for tickets, hotels, meals, snacks, souvenirs, and the like.

And although most of the dime was not MY dime, I am still left wondering, is it worth it?

All around me, I saw parents bargaining with overtired kids, standing in endless lines with crashed-out kids on shoulders, protecting their little ones from those damn scary characters that freely roam the restaurants waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting prey, and opening their wallets for the next overpriced Disney thingamabob.

Is it worth it?
I’d like to believe that my kids are catching real glimpses of Tinkerbell’s fairy dust in the Anaheim air and that their little minds and hearts and souls are tingling, like mine once did, with the beauty of unexpected magic most everywhere they turn.

But now that I’m the parent, I’m having a little trouble gulping down the Disney Kool-Aid and accepting the blatant gouging that seems to be going on when it comes to anything Disney. Sure, we all want our kids to experience the magic but at what expense?  At the expense of hard-earned wages?  At the expense of our mental sanity?  

An autograph book for $14.95?  A pen for $5?  Two scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast for $19.99?  An entry ticket for $80?  A too-cramped hotel room for $400? A bottle of water for $3? A Mickey-Mouse ice-cream bar for $7? A crappy hockey-puck of a hamburger and fries for $10?  

Is it worth it? 

And the lines keep getting longer. Despite this economic downturn, the people keep coming. Opening their wallets.  Searching for the magic.  

I need to ask my parents how they felt on that dream vacation of mine as a 7-year-old impressionable brain.  Because that 7-year-old would definitely have told them it was worth every single penny they saved.  And then some.

Will my kids feel that way?  And if they do, when they will be able to tell me? When they will be able to vocalize their feelings to let me know that they did indeed see and feel the magic? That it was worth me dragging their tired asses from Toon Town to Frontier Land all for the sake of childhood memories that might last a lifetime.  That it was worth me digging deep for unknown slivers of patience to endure yet another meltdown of epic proportions all in the name of childhood wonderment.

All I can say is I’m hoping I’m gonna hear the news sometime soon ’cause I don’t know how many more of these Disney trips I can take.

Because you see, as the weekend ended, my father-in-law surprised us yet again.

With annual passes. 

God, I hope they’ll be worth it.

Leave a Reply