Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Happiest Place on Earth?

I know Walt Disney was a man of vision, but I wonder if he truly understood family dynamics when he called his world “The Happiest Place On Earth.”   I just finished a four day stint there, and here are a few snippets I heard while in the park...

“Yeah?  Well if you don’t like it go home!”

“I waaaaaaaant it!”

“I’m am tired of this behavior...”

“Maybe you’d be happier in the hotel room?”


“I’ve had it with your belligerent attitude.”

“You can do it if you want to.  I don’t!”

“I hate you!”

“Did you just kick me?!”

“If you’re going to keep acting like this you can just wait in the car.”

“Go ahead--pout if you want to.  See if I care.”  (Wait, I don’t think I heard that so much as I said it.)

And my personal favorite....

“Shut it.  Shut your mouth!”

In addition, I heard bawling of all kinds, saw feet stomping tantrums, and witnessed Jehovah’s Witness like collapsing to the ground.  The children weren’t much better.

Something about the place just brings out the worst in kids and therefore parents.  I don’t know what it is.  You’d think kids would be thrilled and happy and just play nicely while there.  But no, they see it as a prime opportunity to test the boundaries and see just how far they can push mommy before she goes crazy crackers and pulls them into the bathroom for a “come to Jesus” talk.

I noticed this when my husband  and I (still childless) first went to Disney World for our 5th Wedding Anniversary.   Kids were melting down faster than a Mickey Pop on the cartopia in July.   I concluded then that Disney World was the litmus test to determine if your child was spoiled.  After all, if they can’t be happy in Disney World, where could they possibly be happy?

The first time we took our daughter to Disney World was when she was 2 and half.  We failed the test by a wide margin.  I still clung to some hope that we might come out of it ahead until the screaming mimi in the middle of Hollywood Studios.  But, as I mentioned, she was just under 3.  I rationalized that she was too young and blamed myself for dressing her in long sleeves in what turned out to be 80 degree weather. (I don’t know what I was thinking.)

But this time she was 5, and I stocked up on short sleeves and scooter shorts.   We dedicated entire family home evenings* to troubleshooting problems and coming up with solutions.  I felt prepared.  I felt hopeful that this time we would pass the test and have a pleasant, happy child while at the happiest place on earth.  That we would all have an easy stress free vacation.


That child did not miss a chance to come up with some new and freakish behavior to embarrass me with in front of Grandparents and strangers a like.  Every time she got on a ride she’d ask at least a dozen tearful times if I was sure we could get off.  I could understand that on “The Haunted Mansion”, but “Small World”?  Even the most innocent rides were fodder for suspicion.  “Will this ride end Mommy?”.  Yes, the ride will end but apparently your question will not. 

People were looking at me askance as I tried in vain to explain to her that Walt Disney loved children and that he made the rides so they would laugh and have fun, not to kidnap them and then sell them into slavery.   It was as if she was suspicious of the purpose of the park itself.  Why would someone go to this much trouble just to make kids happy?  There must be some dark and horrible ulterior motive.  I beginning to think she’s right, there was an ulterior motive and I wonder if Walt himself isn’t looking down at his famous theme parks right now and having a good side splitting laugh.  “And they PAY for this.” he says as he slaps his knee and wipes a tear from is eye.  I’m sure for him and his beneficiaries it is the happiest place on earth.  They are making buckets of money off of the misery of others.

And I swear to you, I took that child to the bathroom no less than 200 times in four days.  That’s 50 times a day.  I couldn’t get through a meal with out having to take her to the bathroom at least twice.  I was concerned she had picked up sort of bladder infection. 

Of course, if you she did get a bladder infection I wouldn’t be surprised.  She suddenly became fascinated and obsessed with textures and patterns.  I don’t think there was a surface in the whole park the she didn’t touch or actually lick.  There’s not enough Purell in the world to counter that.

I was failing the litmus test again.  I started the “too” game again.    Am I too indulgent, do I expect too much, am I too empathetic, etc... What am I doing wrong?  Or is it her.  What is wrong with her?   Why can’t she just get on the Peter Pan ride and enjoy the damned thing?  Why does she have to tearfully ask repeatedly and loudly so everyone can hear if someone is “controlling the ride”.  Why can’t she just listen to the African drum players without bursting into tears forcing us to leave just minutes into the show?

The one thing that kept me from becoming completely discourage were the comments listed above.  At least I wasn't alone.  Everyone around me seemed to be struggling.

Disney World might be the litmus test, but I’ve heard other parents who seem to have relatively well behaved children complain about the same thing, so maybe it isn’t as cut and dry as all that.  Maybe there is something about Disney that just makes kids miserable.  The American Indians sold the island of Manhattan on the cheap because the were convinced evil spirits lived there and wanted nothing to do with the Island.  Maybe there are similar spirits lurking around in Disney World?

Nah, probably not.  I honestly think that kids just get so excited about Disney World and when they get there they find out it’s really just a lot of waiting in line and walking around the park while vendors dangle candy and toys in front you that you can’t have because your cheap parents will only buy you ONE.  To come so close to getting what you want and not getting it (even if it is excessive and unreasonable) is torture to children.

Disciplining even the best natured child takes a lot of mental and physical effort.  When parents are on vacation they just want to relax like anyone else, and they let little things slip here and there.  They think the kids will be so grateful, as any human with half a brain should be, that they’ll do nothing but co-operate.  But kids are little opportunist.  They just can’t wait to exploit any sign of weakness they sense.  The smell it like a shark smells blood.  They know you want them to have a good time.  The problem is, for them having a good time is pushing your buttons. That’s what they want ultimately.  Not rides, not candy, or toys.  They want to push your buttons--HARD.   As strange as it seems, it makes their day when you loose your tempter and threaten to pitch the newly purchased unicorn pop they’ve been nagging you about for 2 days into the nearest recycle bin.  

I DO have to give my daughter some credit though.  This time was a vast improvement over last time.  We managed to avoid the stomping, snot running, red faced tantrums.  She declared “Snow White’s Scary Ride” not scary at all.   And there was one night it took 3 trains rides, 2 parks, a boat ride, an uncountable number of restaurants and some serious walking in between to find a place to eat dinner.  My husband would later refer to it as the Batan Death March.  (Here’s a tip from me to you--if you are going to Disney make sure you have dinner reservations no matter how uncrowded the guide books claim it will be at that time of year.)  She was a real little trooper and I think actually complained about it less than her mother.  

Sometimes I think as a parent I’m too worried about the big picture, and I forget to just take the moments as they come.  Recently during general conference* Elder Ballard spoke to young mothers (And I take that to mean mothers of young children, not mothers who are young).  He said we need to “recognize that the joy of motherhood comes in moments.   There will be hard times and frustrating times.  But amid the challenges, there are shining moment of joy and satisfaction.”

He’s right.  We do just have to take the little moments and appreciate them.  Like the look on her face when she got to meet Princess Jasmine and asked her how she liked riding on the magic carpet.  I actually got a little vaclimpt.   Or the way she swooped her arm out to the side towards us when she met Cinderella and said with great formality “These are my parents.”  When the Spaceship earth ride tilted back to reveal we were in the middle of countless simulated stars my daughter asked “Am I dreaming?”  The sound of her laughter while riding “Soarin” made the ride that much better and her dimpled smile at being able to actually drive a car on “Cartopia” was priceless.

And one night while winding down in the hotel room Daddy came out of the shower.  I couldn’t resist the target and I reached out and gave his fanny a little smack.  We all laughed and giggled so hard our sides hurt.

And for one moment, it really was the happiest place on earth.

*  See www.LDS.org  Yes, I'm a Mormon.  No, I didn't vote for Romney.

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