Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The mouse's house

We did it. We were planning to wait until he was at least five, but we broke down and officially introduced Josh to the Disney cult last week. And he is now wearing the hat, singing the song, and drinking the kool-aid. Oh what have we done?

When you grow up in California, your first trip to Disneyland is practically a right of passage. It's right up there with your first bike, your first slumber party, and your first piercing. Parents agonize over the right time: Are they too young? Will it be too scary? Will they remember it? Kids beg and argue. Parents finally acquiesce (and sometimes regret it).

My parenting philosophy has been that Josh has his whole life to enjoy the granddaddy of amusement parks, so why rush the first experience? (Coincidentally, this is also my parenting philosophy on drinking soda and eating candy, and aside from a couple of birthday party lollipops and a hard-earned chocolate bar from his trick-or-treat bag, I'm standing firm on that.)

But a family wedding an hour outside of Anaheim changed my mind (as did the thought of driving six hours down a long, boring, dusty freeway with a three year old in the backseat on a Friday and then turning around and doing that same thing two days later). So we added more time to our trip and decided to immerse ourselves in what is now the Disneyland resort, which not only includes the classic park and hotel, but a fancy lodge (that costs a fortune to stay at), a new-to-me park aimed at teens and adults but with plenty of preschool-friendly attractions thrown in to make it a worthwhile stop, and an enclosed outdoor downtown area complete with the coolest niche shops as well as slick restaurants that beckon you to sit on the patio and drink tall, pastel drinks with hunks of fruit hanging off the side of the glass.

At the crack of dawn on the first morning, we packed a bag, hopped a tram, and headed for the Mouse Mecca. "I can't wait to see the castle," Josh kept saying as he bounced up and down on the bus seat. He has been pointing to the castle at the beginning of his Disney DVDs and books for weeks now saying, "I'm going there!"

After wrangling with the ticket booth over my Internet-purchased tickets and waiting in a long line at the entrance gates, a loud bell rang at exactly 8:00 a.m., an old man made a spirited announcement, and the crowd surged through the turnstiles and randomly dispersed to roller coasters near and far. We sauntered in and tried to casually observe the wonder we expected Josh to exhibit. We pointed out the Mickey Mouse head made of flowers with flashing lights that Tinkerbell seemed to control. We talked up the train station and the fire truck. And when we finally got a straight shot of the castle, we directed Josh's gaze toward the vaunted icon with a drum roll. And he looked at it as if to say, "That's it? That's the big castle?"

Much of the first morning followed that same theme. We took him on Pinocchio and Peter Pan, those classic Disneyland rides that take you in a little cart through doors that open just as you arrive and roll you through scenes from movies Josh has not yet seen. He didn't like the doors or the darkness behind them, so we quickly shifted gears to the Flying Dumbos and the carousel and other rides that make grown-ups dizzy. And all the while, Josh followed us from ride to ride with a distinct lack of wonder. In fact, I started to worry that he was coming down with something, and I kept checking the temperature of his forehead to reassure myself he was not about to confine us to a cheap hotel room for four days while our prepaid Park Hopper tickets wasted away.

But then we spotted Minnie and Pluto in Toon Town. They were shaking hands and giving out hugs, and although he didn't want to meet them, Josh was thrilled to run into some familiar faces. He watched from afar as they greeted child after excited child (and parent after excited, camera-posing parent). And slowly throughout that first day, Josh started to catch the Disney spirit. By the time the pirate band on Tom Sawyer Island started singing, "Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirate's life for me," and the waitress brought him a lunch menu printed on a paper pirate hat, Josh was adorning his head, singing along, and looking like a walking advertisement for the Magic Kingdom.

And his enchantment only grew the next day when we arrived at California Adventure and got to explore it for the first time together. From the 3D Muppet glasses and Turtle Talk with Crush from Finding Nemo to the ladybug ride and surprise water play in A Bug's Land, Josh found his utopia. While he loved drinking a milkshake for lunch and he couldn't get enough of the rope bridges in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, the pièce de résistance was the Pixar parade that marched down the main drag just after naptime because it was led by his all-time favorite movie star: Lightning McQueen. I thought Josh was going to hyperventilate when he saw his red racing hero leading the way through Sunshine Plaza.

Suddenly, all the wonder and amazement I had expected on day one culminated, and Josh was so exuberant that he simply couldn't sit still. He bounced on my shoulders, pointed from character to Pixar character screaming their names, and ooo'd and ahh'd every acrobatic trick. We caught sprays of water from the floats, chased bubbles, and danced to the contagious music as Josh's favorite fuzzy friends paraded by us, smiling and waving. And I stood tall, boosting my little boy up to catch as much of this fantasy as he possibly could. His excitement pulsed through me as I realized that this is exactly what every mom strives to give her child every now and again: an experience of pure joy and delight, the thrill of anticipation, and the gift of discovery and imagination up-close and personal.

When the crowd finally dispersed, I lifted my son off my shoulders. As he took my hand, he looked up at me and said, "I didn't know it would be this fun, Mom!" And I looked down, admiring his glowing, galloping, Mickey-eared self and said, "Me neither."


Laurie Rodak said...

"I didn't know it would be this fun, Mom" This blog entry made me want to hop on the next plane to Disney World!

Sus said...

I'm a sucker for Disney World (Land, whatever). I just introduced a handful of the best scenes from Sound of Music to Frannie, and I CRIED I was so sentimental about passing on the fantasy to her. Seeing her hang on every word Julie Andrews uttered, and totally sympathize with the kids terrified of the storm outside but cozy and happy singing inside about their favorite things, was such a surge of joy for ME. This is what it's all about, this parenthood stuff, isn't it?

Damselfly said...

I know what you mean Disney being a rite of passage. We're a three-hour drive from Disney World. My husband and I grew up going there, and we're taking our son later this year.

Love how you tell the story!

Sus said...

hi - left something for you at my place today!

Kate said...

I swear, I hate Disney World (I live on Sus's side of the US) but reading this makes me ALMOST want to go back on the no-more-disney-in-this-decade pact my hubby and I made after our last trip, when Max threw his blankie over his head and yelled "It's too much!" Glad you had a great trip, and thanks for the great story-telling to boot;)

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