Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Happiest Place on Earth


I had pledged to resist the pressure to take my children to Disney until we reached the "sweet spot" of parenting, that is the brief period between the time you have to push them around in a stroller and the time that you must be pushed around in a stroller. But resistance is futile, the pull of the Magic Kingdom a a vortex so strong and powerful, the universe itself will probably eventually be sucked through it. The universe definitely wanted us to go, and it made that clear by first, having our good friends and neighbors, whose daughter is Charlotte's BFF, move to LA, then sending us an invitation to a wedding on Charlotte's 4th birthday weekend in LA. The wedding was called off, which should have been a sign that the universe, while wanting us to go to Disneyland very badly, was slightly trepidatious about what might happen in that event. And if God himself is worried about something, well, then you should be spontaneously defecating. So we packed our bags, promised Charlotte she would see "real princesses," and got on a plane to California.

I must commend us, however. Because at least we had the good sense to leave Lawson at home with his grandmother (who is a lot more fun than Disneyland anyway). The 5 hour plane ride alone would have had the universe and everyone in it begging for mercy. I have decided that the year between 1 and 2 is actually the worst phase. At this age, kids are still as messy and disgusting as a baby, but now they can spread it all around your house. They are still incomprehensible and irrational, but now if you don't understand them, they will fling themselves out of your arms screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing your back out, fracturing their skulls, and breaking all the windows in your neighborhood. It's not that big of a deal, just a little annoying. Lawson would no doubt send Mickey Mouse running into the Alice and Wonderland ride, where he would surely be devoured by the Cheshire Cat, and he would be thankful for the escape. I know there are plenty of 15 month olds at the Magic Kingdom. I'm not saying they should be banned. I'm just saying their parents are dumb and inconsiderate of others. Not that I'm judging.

Things started off great. Once you have more than one kid, when you drop back down to one for a time, it feels like you've relocated to Club Med. Especially when that child has reached 4, which truly is the age when full humanity finally arrives. More specifically, it is the age at which you can start ignoring the child without deadly consequences. Charlotte sat on the plane, watched movies, ate snacks without making a huge mess, whined a minimal amount, and generally left me alone. I read an actual book! I went to the bathroom whenever I wanted! by myself! It was amazing. We got to our friends' house and Charlotte and Emma scampered off to play. Easy peasy. The time change concerned me a bit, but I figured if we could keep Charlotte up to a decent hour, she would sleep until her normal wake up time. She stayed up without difficulty, went to sleep, things were on track.

Then the dawn of D-Day arrived. Well, actually it didn't arrive, at least not until a few hours after Charlotte woke up at 4 am anyway. That put a little wrinkle in the plans, but no matter, we had a long drive to the park and maybe she would take a nap on the way and be perky and full of gratitude to her parents for bringing her to such a wonderful place by the time we arrived. Well, that didn't pan out either, but still I was prepared to have a great day, or at least a tolerable one. I wasn't panicking. Until...

The evil fiend that is LA traffic snared us in its evil claws!!! Which still wouldn't have been such a drama, except...We had reservations for lunch with the Princesses!!!! Still, missing such a momentous occasion would not be an epic tragedy, except...I had already told Charlotte about it!!!! TIME TO PANIC!!!!! I frantically called the restaurant to see if they could hold our spot. No can do sister, the Princesses are very busy and important, so get your butt over here and pray they let you in late. PANIC!!!

Let me now do an aside, where I share with those who may not have children yet (in which case I have no idea why you would want to read this blog, maybe to motivate you to use contraception), a wise lesson learned the hard way. When dealing with children, real estate agents, Mormon missionaries, and Chinese spies, never, NEVER divulge more information than is absolutely necessary to come out of the situation alive. So, for instance, if you are actually seated on a plane bound for California, you may tell the child you are going to California. If the child asks what you will do there, deflect. You can mention the friends, if they are reliable enough to actually show. Don't mention Disney, something could happen, like an earthquake could swallow Disney, Mickey Mouse could go on a homicidal rage, or the Abraham Lincoln robot could be assassinated by a Confederate re-enactor. Or you could just get stuck in LA traffic. Still, if you must, you might mention Disney. But do NOT promise lunch with the princesses. Do NOT.

But I had already promised that. Charlotte was counting on it, and she had been up since 4 am. And it was her birthday. If we did not make that reservation, she would be scarred for life. She would marry some con man who promised to make her a princess, unable to resist because her parents had not fulfilled that deep longing years earlier. The con man would turn out to be a serial killer who knocks her off with a poisoned apple. Breathe, Holly, breathe.

We parked the car and proceeded to set a world record in distance running with a stroller. Mr Toad's Wild Ride had nothing on us weaving in and out of people as we sprinted to Ariel's Grotto. Fortunately, our friend Dallas, who had raced on ahead of us, is a communications expert/spin doctor extraordinaire and had no compunctions about lying to Ariel and her friends about the presence of the entire party at the restaurant in order to claim our table. We were 30 minutes late, but the princesses had mercy. We had lunch with the princesses. Charlotte was happy. The rest of the day was smooth sailing.

Think again. Not sure why it is a huge shock, but turns out the Phobic Mom has a Phobic Child. She could be terrified by a snow pea. A Disney villain in a Disney ride might has well be an axe murderer (or Charlotte's version of the boogie man, Robert Mugabe). And forget about the sea monsters on the submarine ride. Horrors. The whole thing was generally overwhelming to a jet-lagged 4 year old whose parents had barely ever taken her to a grocery store, much less the slice of Americana on steroids that is Disney. Charlotte kept saying, "I want to go home! I want to go home!" Finally, I got down in her face, I explained to her that we had spent the equivalent of Malawi's GDP to bring her to this magical place, and we were NOT going home. That actually seemed to get her attention, perhaps being the daughter of an economist, she has an innate understanding of GDP. Then we hit some rides in which the only drama involved is the psychological torture of hearing "It's a Small World" 529 times. She perked up. Then we saw the parade, and Charlotte was finally, FINALLY overcome by Disney Magic. She waved hypnotically at the princesses and other characters as if they were waving directly at her. She was officially brainwashed. We had triumphed.

The whole experience once again made me ponder how the cultural context of parenting really does shape the entire experience. I think if a refugee mother in Sudan--who has walked many miles with her young kids, without adequate food and water or comfort of any kind--could see me and Kevin frantically trying to make Charlotte happy as we dragged her around this entire world constructed for her pleasure, I think that refugee mother might actually pity me. Not because my circumstances are more difficult than hers, of course not, but because I have somehow made a relatively cushy parenting experience more difficult for myself by catering so furiously to the desires of a kid, who then becomes accustomed to the whole world revolving around them but lacks the maturity to handle that (once again I must say the parallels between mother and personal assistant to Mariah Carey are truly striking). I've got to think that refugee mom's children are probably not even whining incessantly even given their dire straits; sadly, they have probably long since given up that even their poor mother can help them. They have learned at a young age how to suffer. Such a situation is tragic, and it breaks my heart to think of a mom not able to fulfill her kids' basic needs or children suffering. But I also must conclude we have gone much too far the other way and made motherhood a refugee experience of a different kind, where one is forced in service to a tiny tyrant to flee the homeland of our former lives so completely, we are literally buried in toys and other desperate attempts to prevent our children from ever experiencing discomfort or boredom of any kind. It's just exhausting. And, as in a refugee camp, no one is going to the bathroom by themselves.

But, hey, we got a cute picture with Mickey Mouse, and that is what really matters in life.