Why Disney World is magic for parents, too

It’s been 10 months since our trip to Disney, and that means it’s finally the perfect time to post my memories from the vacation.

June 5, 2017 10:11 p.m. ET: LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – As we finish our first day at Disney World – a day that began at 6 a.m. with a wake-up call so we could be at Animal Kingdom by 7:30 and one that ended just a few minutes ago as the kids fell into an exhausted slumber – I have one big reflection.

With the kids finishing first grade, I have begun to think, as I so often do, about the regret that they’re getting older and getting one day closer to outgrowing the little kids they are. B and J claim they’re big kids, but they’re not. Not really.

They still wake us up in the middle of the night when they have a bad dream, and they still need us to carry them up to their rooms and brush their teeth when they fall asleep in the car. But someday, their 3 a.m. visits will cease. Some day, they’ll just walk upstairs themselves and go to bed without so much as a good night.

About a week ago I read a story from a mom blogger about how she’s haunted by the thought that one day she’ll put her kid down, and never pick them back up again. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that moment with B and J – they still, after all, love to be carried around – but in the next couple of years, surely that moment will pass without me realizing it until it’s too late.

But on this day, with the kids blasting out a 14-hour day at Animal Kingdom like big kids, I got to feel that moment when a 7-year-old can still be just a little boy.

We were on Expedition Everest, one of the scariest rollercoasters in the place (and one that made me totally nauseous – going backward really fast on a thrill ride is no longer for me). The first part of the ride is relatively tame with not much of a major drop and not much speed, and I convinced J to put his hands in the air as he screamed in delight.

But a minute later, he was frightened, and he reached out with his hands, grasped my arm and pulled it toward him. He was holding on to me like his life depended on it. And it was so cute and so suddenly sweet that, for a second, I forgot that I was getting majorly motion sick.

A few hours later, he did the same thing again on the Dinosaur ride. It’s not that scary, but a couple dinosaurs do jump out at you and make loud roars. J insisted on riding in the seat on the end, even though Mom told him he could sit next to his sister in the middle of the car between her and me. But again, he was frightened, and he said that if he ever went back on the ride, he would want me to sit on the outside.

It was so refreshing. And probably just as comforting to me as it was to him. We’re in a place where a kid can truly be a kid, where the kid shouldn’t want anything more, where a kid should feel all right reaching out for his father’s hand when he’s scared and needs it most. Big kids need that too.

June 7, 3:59 p.m.: While eating a cinnamon roll that was about the size of his head, J had an important declaration to make today. “I think the best vacation in the world is a Disney World vacation.” Really, I asked? But why?

“It has parks and fun rides,” he said.

Disney World is great and all, but it was probably the sugar high talking.


June 8, 9:12 p.m.: After we went on Spaceship Earth for the second time today (and as the last attraction before we left Epcot for good), B couldn’t stop talking about the postcard from the future we had made. It featured Daddy and B in the future, living together as we ate breakfast at a pop-up table in the kitchen, got dressed by some kind of algorithm that picked out our outfits and took a hover train to our respective jobs that stopped in front of our house and connected us directly onto the back of a centipede-like train.

Anyway, it was a cute video that we helped select on a kind of choose-your-own adventure screen at the end of the ride. But damn if it didn’t tickle B. The video was about 30 seconds. She literally told and retold the story for about 30 minutes.

June 9, 2:10 p.m.: We had our second character meal of the trip today.

The first occurred at Epcot yesterday when we traveled to Norway to eat brunch with five princesses (Belle, Aurora, Snow White, Cinderella and Arielle). Most importantly, the restaurant served us about 20 pieces of bacon (I ate all of them, and so far, it’s my greatest accomplishment of the year).

The second occurred today at the Contemporary hotel where we had a character brunch with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald. I wondered if these were the last times we’d attend a character meal. Assuming we return to Disney in a couple years, will the kids be too old at, say, 9 or 10 years old to appreciate meeting and taking pictures with big costumed characters?

There’s no telling, but here’s what I know. On this day, B and J believed. B wore her Minnie dress, and she was so pleased that Minnie seemed so excited that B was basically her twin. And when B hugged Minnie and when J wrapped both arms around Pluto, the love was real. B and J hugged with an intensity I didn’t expect, and it was so cool to see, especially if this is the last time we do this.

Goofy and Pluto both twirled B around like she was Minnie Mouse herself. Pluto waited patiently (and pantomimed that he was, in fact, impatient) while J swallowed his Mickey waffle before the photo. And both kids gave all their love and affection to Mickey.

If this was the last time, that’s OK. It was also the best time.

June 9, 9:55 p.m.: As a parent, there are some moments you wish you could bottle forever. Most of those moments, you end up forgetting.

I had one of those moments with J on our final day at Disney.

It had been a tough evening. Seemed like everybody was annoyed with each other. B was cranky. J’s feet hurt. The ice cream had run on people’s fingers and sloshed on people’s clothes. It was time for the trip to be over.

But with one last thing to do, J reminded me why we had taken the trip in the first place. As we began watching the night’s final show – an outlandish video montage broadcast unbelievably on Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom – J wanted me to pick him up because he didn’t have such a good view while sitting in his stroller.

I didn’t really want to have to hold this 50-pound boy for the 15 minutes it would take for the show to finish, but I sucked it up and said OK. Then, as Mrs. Potts and Chip began to tell the story that would glitter across the castle, J leaned his face into mine and rested his cheek on my cheek.

And I was transported back to our bedroom in Cincinnati at 3 a.m. in the first few months of the kids’ lives when we’d have to feed them every three hours and I’d hold them against my face for just a few extra seconds to make the world stop. So I could bottle that moment and let it breathe for only a couple moments.

Tonight, J was initiating the contact. He was putting his face on my face and watching the wonders of Disney, watching the true magic of the world. You wish you could bottle those moments, but you can’t. I write about them, and some day, the kids will read about them. J probably won’t remember this moment. But I hope I will. Because it was the moment that makes everything worth it.

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