Our First Trip to Disneyland: Some Naval Gazing!

Well hello world!

I did something ridiculous last week. On my middle child's 7th birthday, I surprised the kids with a last-second trip to Disneyland. I took a video of their faces as they opened the trunk of the car and saw the packed suitcases-- their confusion turned to deeper confusion. The new 7 year old began bouncing around and the 9 year old munched on her doritos in profound shock. Hours later at the airport she asked, "Why are we going to Disneyland?" I said, "Just for fun!" She looked blank. "Oh."

So I may have failed in instilling a rabid lust for all things Disney and Princess in my children. Up till now I always thought of that as a sort of cultural triumph-- that and they've never been to McDonalds. After this week though I feel a little differently about my kids' cultural upbringing. I've missed some opportunities to create a shared experience with them-- to plant the seeds of nostalgia. The first few years of my oldest's life, we didn't do Santa Claus. Christmas can be perfectly lovely with just stories about Santa, and Jesus, and Sinterklaas, and Saint Nick, and a few token Hannukah books for good measure. But as my kids and I have all gotten older, I've embraced the fantasy of Santa and Elves and Sinterklaas and his horse tripping across the roof-- of the Tooth Fairy (and if she's unavailable, the Tooth Troll), of the Easter Bunny leaving weird fruits, and other little moments of imagination and surprise. When the kids ask if it's REAL, I respond with a Dumbledorish line: just because it's happening in our heads, doesn't mean it isn't real.... And we're on the same page. We can foment magic in those moments of connection and play.

So back to Disneyland. It was magical. It was. I loved the way I could point in any direction and have the details be charming and interesting. From the landscaping choices to the details on the sets-- everything is so lovingly, so commitedly performed. Plus, it's BLOODY expensive, so I was savoring every moment, knowing that each minute in Disneyland was ringing Cha-Ching and cheerfully draining my bank account. I was reminded of the $100 melons I saw in Japan a decade ago-- they were gently and lovingly grown in square boxes, so that when fully mature, they were delicious, organic melon cubes. The point? You buy one. It costs a lot of money. You get a little thrill spending the dough. You give it to someone whom you want to impress. They get a little thrill. In the meantime, it's 80 cents worth of melon, but you've gotten $100 worth of thrill out of it. The more you spend, the more thrilling it is. So Disneyland was kind of a square melon for me. The expense made it more titillating and dear.

At first, I found the myriad adults wearing Mouse Ears a little embarassing. And the couples and families in matching T-shirts-- yeesh! But by the end of the trip I was utterly won over. Those mouse ears are ADORABLE. Come on, there are STEAM PUNK MINNIE EARS. And the matching shirts-- so convenient! So fun! So easy to spot in a crowd!

I loved the people watching: the tattoos, the aggressively applied highlights and rectangular eyebrow makeup. The dainty Japanese tourists. The many languages and races and clothing and families. The pros-- those folks who clearly have the Disney thing down to a science. And then us-- I'm clearly a mark-- underinformed, underprepared-- just take all my money already. My baby was patient with the whole thing-- in and out of the stroller as we waiting in line, jostled on a fun and bumpy ride, strolled across the park. One of the sweetest moments was when were tired on our first day there and sat down on the pavement to eat some ice cream. A little kid, maybe three, came up to me and gave me a piece of popcorn! She scampered back to her mom, in a hijab. I said, "oh, thank you! That was so sweet!" Did we look like beggars? And what beautiful impulse for a tiny kid to share their precious Disneyland popcorn with strangers! I wondered what that family's story was-- things are so grim in the US right now, a Muslim travel ban stalling innocent people at airports, causing pain and stress and confusion around the world, and emphasizing dark strains of xenophobia and racism. What brought this little family to this place? How do they see the pure-distilled American Dreaminess of Disney? And how did they raise their little kid to be so automatically sweet and generous? People are good.

It was fun to realize that Disneyland is really for adults and enthusiastic groups of teenagers racing to every attraction. The place is nearly orgasmic for 6 year old girls-- lucky ones can sign up for a slot at the Bibbity Boppity Boutique and for a mere $80 get all a glittered and bedecked and float through the park for the rest of the day in a transcendent aura of sparkle and rainbows. My seven year old admired the extra fancy dresses wistfully, and even the disgruntled 9 year old admitted that they were nice, and I fought my urge to throw money at my kids' happiness. But no. We can admire and enjoy without the spending, I repeated to myself like a mantra. Ask me how I know this truth? My 9 yo was growling about the horrifyingly racist river cruise (shrunken heads and black-skinned tribesmen? WTF Disney) and the downright STUPID tiki stuff-- she bloomed into full RAGE when a little animatronic dared call itself Pele. I agree, but still. "Let's choose to have fun! We're at Disneyland!" Grrrrrr was her answer. "Fine," I said as we were waiting in line for our Dole Whip Floats, "Sheesh, next time we'll just go camping at some junk BLM land desert mesa!" Both kids said, "really? Yaaay!!"

This is a good reminder to me. Throwing money at my kids' happiness-- giving in to the requests for ice cream and stuffed animals and cute Star Wars gear-- it feels good for a second. It's the emotional equivalent of a sugar rush. They want something! They beg with big shiny eyes! I give it to them! We all feel good for a moment! But then the new star wars sweatshirt is wadded up, the oversized lollypop is dropped on the ground. It was the exchange, the connection that was the actual goal. So rather than go from one emotional sugar rush to the next, I can sustain myself and my kids through a steady diet of ordinary connection. This trip was fun! I had a great time! It was a $100 melon! But I don't think the expensive stuff actually made us any happier as a family. But playing Monkey in the Middle in the hotel pool did. And making up silly riddles in line did. It's a tired old lesson I suppose, but I needed to learn it for myself.


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