I remember the magic of Disneyland from my childhood: shyly hugging my favorite characters, spinning on teacups in Wonderland, and getting “It’s a Small World” stuck in my head. So when my husband Steve found out that he had an upcoming professional conference in Anaheim, California, we just had to plan a family trip to the happiest place on earth.
My daughter Karys was over-the-moon excited for the trip. She set up a desk where she could do “research” about Disneyland. We printed out a countdown calendar, park maps, and pictures of her favorite characters, posting them on the wall in her corner of the office. She watched YouTube videos about trips to Disneyland, and took notes in her kindergartner handwriting about which rides she had to experience, and which she thought were too scary.
We headed to California, and while Steve was at his conference, Karys and I spent a day collecting princess autographs, riding rides with the shortest lines, and eating lunch in Tomorrowland. We made notes on the rides we’d revisit with Daddy.
After the conference, Steve joined us for fireworks and the light parade, and the next morning we went back as a family. As we were walking near Tarzan’s tree house (called The Swiss Family Robinson tree house in my day), we noticed that Pirates of the Caribbean only had a 15 minute wait. If you’ve ever been to Disneyland, you know that the chances of a 15 minute wait for Pirates is unheard of, about the same odds as winning Powerball (I might be exaggerating a bit, but not much). It was one of my favorite rides when I was a child, and I couldn’t wait to float through the canals with Karys.
As we hurried over, Karys said she didn’t know if she wanted to go, but Steve and I brushed it off, thinking she would change her mind once we reached the front of the line. While we waited, she kept insisting it was too scary, and we kept reassured her that it would be fine and mommy and daddy would keep her safe. But as the front of the line approached, Karys got more and more adamant that she wasn’t going to go. We stepped into the boat, telling her again that she would enjoy it, and if she didn’t, it would be over in a few minutes. That’s when the ride attendant told us only two people could sit in the boat, and the other would have to wait for the next. It was the last straw. My patience, worn thin by Karys’ whining was gone. I picked her up, told Steve to enjoy the ride, and walked through the exit door.
My mind reeled and my cheeks burned. I was irritated that we had gotten that far only to be told that we couldn’t all go. I was frustrated that Karys didn’t trust us enough to go on the ride. I was jealous that Steve got to relive his childhood, and I couldn’t. On top of all that, I was tired and sore from all the “fun” we had the day before.
As we sat on a bench outside the ride exit, I told Karys I needed a time out. After a few minutes of quite time, I was calm and ready to talk again.
“Are you mad at me because I was scared?” she asked.
“No, honey. I’m just upset that I didn’t get to go on the ride. I was really looking forward to it.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t want to go. I’m sorry you didn’t get to go.”
“It’s okay. Sometimes that’s part of being a parent. I don’t always get to do things I want, so that you can do things you want.”
I realized then that what I told Karys was true, and I was frustrated at myself for ignoring her hesitation about doing something that scared her. Sure, I’d like her to be brave, but she won’t if she is forced into an experience she’s not ready for. Her courage comes from deciding to do something and then doing it. I’ve seen this pattern over and over again: when she learned to walk, when she learned to swim, and when she sang “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” all alone on a stage in front of 500 people.
I asked myself then, “Who’s the fun for?” and the answer was Karys.
When Steve came back from his trip through the lagoon, I told him that we needed to remember this was Karys’ trip to Disneyland, so she should get to choose most of our activities. Keeping that in mind, we were able to enjoy the rest of our day at the park sans whining (from us or Karys), including a family trip on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (much scarier than Pirates. if you ask me).
I’m sure there were long lines and family disagreements on my first Disney trip many years ago, but I don’t remember them, and I hope that’s how Karys remembers her as well.