Things I Learned at Disneyland (It’s Not the Happiest Place on Earth)

301Half of my motivation in planning this vacation was to log some much needed quality time with Zoe, whom I have lately treated, at best, like a particularly stubborn hangnail. The other half was me going green in the face hearing the parents of Zoe’s classmates chat about their vacations in Spain, Mexico, and basically everywhere in the world that sounds at once glamorous and relaxing.

Jealousy is always a good reason to do something, right? But really: cabin fever. I traveled a lot growing up and for the past six years the most exotic place I’ve been is San Francisco. Unless you count living in NYC, which was admittedly awesome.

This was my first vacation as the only adult and my first vacation taking care of Zoe by myself. Wow is the magic of Disneyland a lot harder to hang onto as an adult because I spent our first day here reeling. I love America but there is something uncomfortably American about this place. It’s difficult to see what people do here for enjoyment, beyond buying Mickey ears and staging the perfect pictures for Instagram (Real conversation I overheard: “Okay, you hold this cotton candy, like over here. I’ll stand here. Put your hair in front like this. Mom, you stand over there and make sure to get all of that in the background, okay?”)

Egad! I get the whole thing with the Mickey ears and the spirit of Disney and wee, it’s fun! But I kept thinking, there is literally no use for those after a two-day trip here. And I kept imagining piles and piles of Mickey ears filling giant holes in the earth. A real win for consumerism. About 80% of the place is shops. Toys, tacky clothes, giant lollipops that look amazing but taste gross, pins, collectibles, etc, etc.

Seeing all of this made me wonder: is this why I am here? To buy things, take nice pictures, and pretend we are having a great time… while in reality I am chasing a toddler through a forty-minute line all day? This would be an issue because I no longer like buying things, am not good at taking pictures (nor does my shattered iPhone have memory), and I have never, ever been good at pretending to be anything I am not.

I actually like this about myself, but it means I suck at Instagram. For the record, I love social media. That’s why I blog. I love anything that helps me connect to other people, even if I’m not aware of all the connections taking place. I really dislike Instagram. I’ll use it because enough people in the publishing industry have emphasized the importance of building a platform, but it seems to me that it’s only purpose is to pretend our lives are perfect. What other reason for the filters? None of my posts are ever instant because in the moment I am enjoying something, the last thing I want to do is cut it short by whipping out my phone and trying to show off about how great it is.

I decided that’s not why I’m here. In four days I’ve taken about ten pictures. I’m here to connect with my daughter, notwithstanding the rough start you may have read about in my last post. Disney is nice and my daughter really enjoyed meeting princesses, riding carousels and seeing Snow White’s castle, but my favorite moments of this trip by far have been shacking up with her in a king size bed at the end of a long day, pretending to be Olaf from Frozen at her request for the fifteenth time in a night (burdens of having a talent for voice acting), and talking to her about her day, teaching her how to ask for help when she needs it (her asking a Disney worker the next day: “Where is Olaf? Where is Princess Sofia?”) I loved running through the lobby with her in her footed moose jammies hours after bedtime, with her munching from an open bag of Cheetos. I loved talking to her about what it means to be scared (“Snow White’s stepmother is coming!”) and how she will always be safe, no matter what happens.

Zoe in aforementioned moose jammies with aforementioned Cheetos

Don’t let this fool you; our vacation was not rosy. She averaged about one meltdown per day, which I anticipated given how high feelings run at a place as magical as Disney. I valued those times as opportunities to demonstrate my love for Zoe when it really counts. I let go of any schedules I had planned, let go of trying to see/do everything, and let her guide proceedings, taking her on some rides twice or three times, letting her walk instead of rushing her around in the stroller. This, by the way, freaked out some of the other adults at the park, but I figure I let this kid walk on the streets of NYC; how bad could Disneyland be?

This trip has served as a great reminder that my life is not going to look like anyone else’s, and that’s a good thing. My Instagram account may remain a little sparse but I’m trying to keep it real.

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