Although it was several years ago, I remember it well.
We had saved for a year to make it possible. The kids were beyond excited. It was to be the vacation of their dreams…Disneyland…the happiest place on earth.
This childhood paradise has always been my mom’s favorite vacation spot. When I was a kid, we visited it as many times as money would permit, which amounted to a handful over the course of my youth. Consequently, the sights, the sounds, the rides, and the food all combine in my mind to cement wonderful memories of days past. I can still taste the Dole pineapple whip from the Tiki Room, and feel the combination of excitement and nervousness that I felt as I waited in line to ride the Matterhorn for the first time.
I thought taking my kids to this magical place would be just as idyllic as I remembered.
What was I thinking?
I was six months pregnant at the time, which was, perhaps, my first mistake. Not being pregnant, of course. Going to Disneyland while pregnant. However, this trip (with my parents, my siblings, and their kids) was in the works for months before that pregnancy materialized, and I could not reschedule or back out without causing a big problem. It was, after all, not about me. This trip was mostly for the kids.
The older boys had been dreaming about roller coasters for months. They could not wait to hop on Space Mountain, California Screamin’, and the Tower of Terror. Because of my motherly condition, those rides were out of the question for me, so Greg and I chose to divide and conquer. He took the boys and rode all of the fast and fun rides, and I took the girls, who were then three and five, to the rides that were a little more fitting for young kids and a pregnant mother. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride was about as wild as I could get.
A few hours into our three-day adventure, my hopes of making sweet memories at the Magical Kingdom were replaced with the voice in my head that was constantly screaming: “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING COMING HERE WITH THESE KIDS? DISNEYLAND WAS NOT MEANT FOR CHILDREN LIKE YOURS!”
For three days, I listened to these phrases said over and over in the most whiney voice possible:
“My feet hurt!”
“I am hot!”
“I am hungry, but I don’t want THAT food!”
“I can’t walk anymore!”
“I don’t want to wait in line!”
“MY FEET HURT!!!”
“I want THAT souvenir, even though I already spent all of my money. YOU BUY IT FOR ME!”
“WHY WON’T YOU BUY ME THAT? I HATE YOU!”
“MY FEET HURT!!!!”
“I WANT TO RIDE THAT RIDE…RIGHT NOW!!!”
My favorite one, however, happened when we had just come out of the souvenir shop right next to the place where excited guests were getting off the shuttle on their way into the park. We had just told one of the girls that we were leaving the shop without buying anything, and she was NOT happy. Once outside, she threw herself on the ground in the biggest fit of rage that you can imagine – thrashing and screaming because she could not have what she wanted. Meanwhile, the guests from the parking lot were exiting the shuttle a few feet away.
Welcome, friends, to the happiest place on earth.
After three days of this, I was crying right along with her, and that is saying something since I am not a crier. Why were my children so awful when we had saved and sacrificed to take this vacation that was supposed to be amazing? In my mind, their actions were a result of poor parenting, (Who were their parents, anyway?) but I did not know what to do differently.
Disneyland was no longer my happy place, and I vowed never to return again.
It is funny how time and maturity can change everything.
Five years later, we decided to give it another try, but this time we had a nice pep talk with the kids before we left. It went something like this:
“If you do not behave, we will NEVER do anything like this again, and we are not kidding. There will be NO whining, NO complaining, NO saying that your feet hurt, that you are hot, that you are tired of waiting in line, or anything of the sort. If you spend all of your money on the first day, we will not buy you anything else. This is a test…a final exam, really, because it is your last chance to prove that you can handle family fun time at a crowded place. Got it?”
Guess what…it worked! Even though Carson had to ride in a stroller at age four and a half because of a recent foot surgery that made it difficult for him to walk, he did not even complain. We all had a wonderful time, and my fond memories of Disneyland started to return.
I learned a few things from this experience. First, amusement parks, with their hyper-stimulation, are not the best choice for every child. Some kids (and parents) are much happier in a more relaxed environment where they are free to explore and discover things on their own. Bring on the beach and the mountains!
Secondly, as children grow, so does their ability to handle situations that were once too much for them. Although they may still not enjoy walking all day or waiting in line, they will eventually be able to do it while keeping their discomfort to themselves.
In fact, we just returned from a trip to Washington D.C., which required miles of walking in the heat and humidity. While six-year-old Carson eventually needed a piggy back ride for a few minutes after seven miles of walking, all five of the kids enjoyed seeing all of the amazing things that our nation’s capital had to offer. Sure, they were hot, tired, hungry, and their feet hurt. We often did not eat lunch until mid-afternoon, hours past their usual lunchtime. And guess what…there was very little complaining. It was one of our favorite vacations ever.
So, if this summer brings you a vacation experience similar to my disastrous Disneyland trip, have patience and know that someday family vacation will actually feel like a vacation instead of a battle with a caged lion.
Take it from one who knows.