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Disney Post Mortem

June 2, 2011

This is a followup to a post in January called Impending Disney. This one is long and may well be edited shortly. It may have typos at the moment. Bear with me. Thanks!

I used to picture the day when I would have kids, and my sister would try to rope me into the trip that she kept taking with her husband and two kids every May. I’d picture myself explaining my principles in a heavy handed way as I stood up for the sort of vacation that like to take, rather than the one she and her children liked. I don’t want a homogenized vacation in a fake world, I’d explain, huffy. You might like that kind of thing. But I don’t want that.


The kids will love it she explained, inside my head. They’ll remember it forever, and we’ll have a lot of fun. Come on, Mere. I think we should all go, together.


I knew my kid, the one I hadn’t had yet, would want not just one mouse hat, but a lifelong series of Mousehats, that I would have to buy, that I would have to carry, and store, and mend.

If I go to Florida, I’d retort, I want to be eating boiled peanuts, and oranges, and, I don’t know, seafood. Manatees. Local culture. I’ll have a manatee, and you can have your mouse.

But things have a way of changing, don’t they.

We really wanted to be part of a family trip with my sister’s kids and my brother-in-law. He called us to suggest it one evening. He took me by surprise, but I realized that we could not say no, and that I didn’t want to say no, so we glommed onto their plan. We’d stay at a resort they had always stayed at, where they’d last been two months before Beth’s diagnosis. In mid may, my husband and two year old son and I joined them at Disney World for 4 days. (They went for 7.)

And now, I will try to convince you to go to Disney, too? Do I have the zeal of the converted? I haven’t decided, but this is what happened.

Before we even left, I started getting mileage out of the trip. Whenever things were getting difficult in terms of putting on shoes or doing a diaper change or any of the other zillions of things my two-year-old Henry would resist me on, I’d start to tell him about taking an airplane with one set of his cousins, a five-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy. His eyes would get wide. Soon, we were yelling the name of everyone who would go on the trip in a list, time after time. He was pretty much hyperventilating with anticipation.

And then one day, a foldout Disney mailer with a picture of a monorail arrived in the mail. Train! Flying! With Tinkerbell! The trip was already the stuff of legend by the time we went.

Though expensive, it was certainly an easy trip to take. You stay “on property,” meaning at one of the myriad Disney branded resorts, and you can pay for things with your room card. You take shuttle buses anywhere you’d like to go. There is very little thinking that you have to do. At least, there was very little thinking that Ihad to do: my BiL knew everything about “fast passes,” and what we’d need them for, and what days to get “park hopper” passes for, and where to eat dinner, and what my son could handle and couldn’t.

We started at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is sort of spectacular looking and feeling and there are giraffes roaming around outside and you get to eat dinner at a delicious and regal pan-African buffet, so long as you give them most of the money you have ever earned. It was an ethnic food experience that I definitely enjoyed, I have to admit. At the end of the meal, my nephew was getting me cookie after cookie, and trying to get Henry to try the brownies that he loved, but that would keep Henry up late into the night with a caffeine and sugar rush.

The next day we did a fake safari at the Animal Kingdom Park, and you would be surprised — or perhaps not — at how much I like being on fake Safari.

We visited Epcot for a German meal. I had the world’s largest stein of beer, and some fantastic German meatloaf, and a schnitzel, and some red cabbage, and it was completely delicious. Then we danced a whole lot to an Alpine German band. My brother in law was enjoying it enough — he’s German — that he made us dally enough that we could see we two whole shows. I think that the plan involved him eating a tremendous amount of vanilla pudding very slowly. It’s definitely in keeping with his personality.

(We’d also eat another meal at Epcot, at the Mexican place. As I watched the fake volcano erupt over the twinkly Aztec-inspired sky, I had a really delightful margarita, and some insanely good steak, and after dinner, you take a boat ride through a wending channel. It was a lot of fun, overall, Epcot, I have to say. It’s a very fun place with very good fake real culture. Touche, Beth.)

The day after Germany, at the unceasing insistence of the ten year old boy, we went to a park called “Blizzard Beach,” which is a park built around the conceit that there has been a terrible snowstorm on a Florida beach, and now it is very snowy, and yet we will definitely still go on extreme water luges. I have to admit: I like the ridiculous conceit. And it was at Blizzard Beach one morning, climbing to the top of a fake ski / water mountain, that I felt so daunted by my good fortune at having my family as my family, despite our recent sadnesses.

We took Henry on a water ride that involved six of us in a tube, each holding on and shrieking with that delightful false fear as it careened back and forth and up the sides of the track and down, and we’d get soaked. The fortysomethings loved it. The ten-year-old loved it. The five-year-old wanted to go again, immediately. The two year old thought that something was terribly, terribly wrong. I was holding onto the tube with one hand and a stunned Henry with the other. It was not completely relaxing, worrying about him being uncomfortable or afraid, but I would have loved it, otherwise. When it was over, and the water was out of his eyes, and we’d hugged him enough times and asked him enough leading questions, we did get him to say it was fun.

We did not get him to say that he’d like to try it again, no matter how we phrased it.

As it happened, my son couldn’t really handle too many of the attractions: he’s too little. I’d say that he loved Disney in spite of the attraction. But the 3D glasses, hovering bugs and cellos, water squirted at the audience, and fake wasp bites had him clamoring to climb up my shoulder and into my hair, in a way that reminded me of the cat when we try to stuff her into her carrier.

He did love floating down a “lazy river” at the water park. Though he was simply nestled into a tube with his dad and I, he kept yelling “POLICE BOAT!” as though he were doing the most exciting thing ever. (The lazy river is much less like a police boat than the tube ride he hated, I think.)

It was usually impossible to get him back to the resort take a nap, and we were getting up early every morning, and getting home late every night. One of my favorite aspects of Disney was, since Matthew and Henry and I were all staying in a room together, we all went to bed together at 9:30 or 10 pm. Henry was totally exhausted for the whole trip, but I got more rest than I have gotten in months.

This did mean that I was missing out on late night splash battles with my ten year old nephew, whom I am assuming will be able to support me in my retirement due to his razor-sharp, perfectly honed negotiating skills. Never for a moment did he stop trying to talk me into getting a game for my phone, or committing to going on Space Mountain, or agreeing that I would have the mouse-shaped waffles for breakfast the next day, or that I would have a splash battle with him, and his dad, and Matthew, at the next possible opportunity.

Our time in Florida was running out, and we still hadn’t seen the Magic Kingdom.  At first I’d suggested that we skip out on the Magic Kingdom in order to see some science and culture stuff at Epcot, but my brother-in-law, who’d already spent a few days there at week, intimated that I was crazy.

A trip to the Magic Kingdom is what everyone imagines when they think of Disney: hot sun, humid days, people in fur suits either scaring your children or wooing them into nagging you to buy things.

On the first day of our trip, as we were waiting to check into our room, Matthew told me that he’d read that the people in those suits frequently vomit because it is so hot and humid. And then, they can’t get out and away from the vomit, because they are at work: basically the worst working conditions imaginable. A fur suit filled with vomit in the sun? Matthew thought he was being nice in not telling me this before we arrived, but he told me the *moment* we arrived,  which just seemed like it would make it fresher in my head.

We saw very few people, if any, in fur suits.

I didn’t ever tell him what I think of when I think of Disney, which is that I’d heard long ago that if you somehow lose your child, you’re brought underground to a place with hundreds of subterranean cameras, and told to scan the crowd for your child’s shoes, because the drug lords or child pornographers or whoever it is who has stolen your child will have changed their clothes and cut their hair immediately, but that they never manage to change their shoes.

Why someone in a child pornography ring would steal a child and change its clothes and hair but not shoes and remain on property to be glimpsed by the hundreds of subterranean cameras is beyond me, but I did worry about it. And I was smart enough to never mention it to Matthew.

The Magic Kingdom made me feel a lot of things. First of all, it is completely iconic. (As is the ball at Epcot, but that just made me feel sort of special.)

I hadn’t been to the Magic Kingdom since I was six, with my sister and parents, but when I saw it I still remembered the flavor, if that makes any sense. And the hokey Main Street-ness of it all really struck a sad chord with me. Normally I judge such false worlds pretty harshly—or at least the idea of them—but add a bit of music, and some show people just happened to be doing a production in the street, the sort with stripes and suspenders and ladies riding in carriages. It doesn’t take much to get me crying behind my sunglasses. I can’t describe why. Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeleine books and a favorite essay, once tried to describe why he, as a natural social outsider, would cry when he saw a marching band. I could relate so well to his description of himself and to his reaction. But he nailed the rush of emotion I often experience watching a marathon, or a marching band, or a hokey show at Disney, so well.

It happens to me all the time, but it happened to me bad at Disney. The world of the Magic Kingdom is one that Beth, my sister, really wanted. Everything is small town, everyone is scrubbed and nice, and as an added bonus, they are singing together. There is commerce – she loved commerce of all kinds — and this iconographic castle looming over you.

I had tears in my eyes almost immediately. The two things I’d requested were the Small World Ride, which I’d remembered doing with my sister, and I knew that she loved, and something where you walk on a wobbly bridge, that I remember from being six, but never found again on this trip.

We got passes for the Small World Ride toward the beginning of the day.

So, what is it the It’s a Small World ride? It’s a slow boat ride through different “continents,” where one watches hundreds and hundreds of tiny dolls from different cultures all singing and doing culturally relevant things.

Hokey, glittery, and crafty; everything and everyone in sync. It’s just nice. Beth just wanted everything to be nice. Whoops, here comes the Bemelmans problem.

She wanted the world to be small, and for everyone to get along, and to do special stuff, and to share special stuff, and remember special stuff, and I sat in that boat cruising along through the continents and I cried and I cried and I cried for a solid ten or twelve minutes. I was overwhelmed but I needed it. Towards the end, there is a shift where everyone is blue and glowy, and all of the little singing and working and living people of the world are together, rather than just on their own continent. It’s a melting pot of tininess, of perfection, of happiness. I sobbed. We got to the end where it says goodbye in every language. My husband was aware of what was happening to me. He put his hand on my knee. Take pictures, I implored him. I wanted to suck on the small world like a loose tooth. I could see myself coming back to this, to being six or 39 or however old I wanted to be, and always being with Beth.

I was in front of my niece and nephew and I could hear my nephew behind me cursing the ride as a 10 year old will curse things. He loves what he loves, and he doesn’t love twee rides from the ’60s that don’t go fast. I get that. When we got out, I tried to hide behind my glasses.

He told me that he couldn’t stand the ride: thank god we could go eat more ice cream and see Space Mountain again. I nodded.

He dropped back to talk to his dad, but came back a moment later and asked if I’d been crying. I admit that I had. Why would you be crying? Oh, this ride reminds me of your mom, I guess. You know what else reminds me of your mom? You – with your slanted blue eyes and your unrelenting desire to share your passions and convince people to try what you want to do.

He grabbed my arm. I hope you feel better really, really soon, he said.

He made me go on two roller coasters that afternoon. Fast ones, screamy ones. I hate roller coasters. I love him for sure, though.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Dad permalink
    June 2, 2011 3:41 pm

    Very touching. How well we remember with happy memories being with you and your sister thirty three years ago when you were six and Beth was eleven. It was good of you and your little family to be with Beth’s family for their first return visit since her passing. Life must go on and new happy memories must be created.

  2. June 2, 2011 5:38 pm

    I don’t think you need to edit this one bit. It’s perfect and beautiful just as it is. It might have made me cry a little bit. Also, a lot.

  3. Julia permalink
    June 2, 2011 5:46 pm

    This is lovely.
    You are lovely.

  4. nicole permalink
    June 3, 2011 7:05 pm

    I love this. It touches on so many things. Josh and I just admitted a few months ago that despite vowing never to take our kids to Disney, we would now have to go because Disney makes kids SO happy.
    I’m so glad you had this experience. You’re a beautiful writer.

  5. Karen permalink
    June 7, 2011 10:55 am

    As Mia would say: *NO* change it. It is perfect, just the way it is.

  6. Axuve permalink
    June 8, 2011 7:09 pm

    Love it. Also, every time I’ve gone to Disneyworld with my family I’ve had dinner at the Mexican pavilion in Epcot. It’s kind of appalling how good and that fake town square, volcano and stream are. Disney knows how to make fake things look and feel amazing.

  7. Amy permalink
    July 3, 2011 9:43 am

    I remember loving the It’s a Small World ride as a young girl, too. Actually, it’s the only part of Disney I remember. One nice thing about you writing about your sister–so many of us that never knew her now kind of do! I’m glad you guys had such a nice family trip, and that you had a moment of catharsis. That’s very good, and very needed I’m sure.

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