Every year we say we won’t.
“We did it last year, we don’t need to go again.” “We should save the money.” “If we’re going to take the time, we should go somewhere new.”
And yet, year after year we find ourselves here.
This year marks our fifth January trip to Disneyland, and with the exception of the first one (which was planned) each trip has been hastily booked in late December or the early weeks of the year. I think we are so caught up in the chaos of December that it’s too much to wrap our minds around. Then, in that miserable black hole that is the week between Christmas and New Year, we see the gray weeks of January and February looming ahead. And we panic.
Say what you want about the Disney experience, but a quick getaway to the Happiest Place On Earth is the perfect antidote for the post-holiday blahs. The weather in Anaheim has been consistently mild, the crowds are relatively sparse, and the trip from Denver to John Wayne airport is about as easy as any we’ve taken with our kids. The palm trees, fantasy atmosphere, and sunshine join forces to create a magnetic draw that pulls us back year after year.
Those are the obvious reasons we go. The true magic that lures us to California is harder to articulate. I’ll try anyway.
As parents, one of the superpowers we often wish for is the ability to manipulate time. As in, “Give me more time to get it all done!” or “They’re growing up too fast… please let time slow down a little.” Time waits for no man, but 3 whirlwind Disney days sure make it feel that way.
This week, as we walk around enjoying the present (and doing plenty of reminiscing about the past), I’ve been thinking. What it is exactly about this experience that provides such a feeling of escape for our family? Why does it feel like time stops when we’re here? Why is this so special?
First, there is the obvious fact that we are together. Like, together together. We’re pretty much side by side 24/7 from the time we head out the door for the airport to the moment we pull back into our driveway again. Our family life at home is busy with work, sports, and school pulling us in different directions all week long. On a normal day we are together for breakfast and again at dinner, but we are rarely as close together in a literal sense as we are when we are at Disneyland. Even when we go on a beach vacation, there is a lot more room for us to break off from the group and explore different agendas. At Disneyland it’s different. We are in it together sunup to sundown… and that closeness leads to a stronger sense of shared experience.
Another part of the magic of this particular kind of trip is that it becomes a yardstick for measuring exactly how much growth the children have made in the past year, the past 2 years, the past 5. I suppose that this is true for anyplace a family visits annually. This year, for example, we measure growth quite literally as our little guy hit the 40” mark and is tall enough to ride almost all of the rides. I’ll never forget how he pumped his fist in victory when the unruly hairs on the tippy top of his head cleared the first height measurement bar.
Growth is also apparent in more subtle ways. Whereas we once spent our time hunting down Princesses autographs, our daughter barely acknowledges their presence when we pass by one now. Sigh.
Time passes so fast that I don’t realize just how much bigger the kids are or how much their interests have changed until I take a moment to stop and really consider it. The train of thought that begins with “Last time we were here….” has a way of making me very conscious of these changes. Sometimes it makes me melancholy, but mostly it makes me feel grateful and present.
Finally, I love our pace while we are here. There is no agenda other than to have fun and do what we want in any given moment. Sometimes we dash from ride to ride in a quest to get it all done. Other times, we stop and sit at a shady table and have a snack. We rest, unhurried and unbothered with our surroundings. We savor the stillness until we are satisfied; only then do we rise and chase the next adventure.
Someday this will cease to be an annual trip for us. We’ll start spending our family vacation time at baseball tournaments and cheerleading competitions. Our kids will roll their eyes if we suggest going to Disney for Spring Break.
They’ll be big kids in big bodies and this won’t be at the top of their travel wishlist anymore.
Then (and this is even more tough to swallow), they won’t be kids at all. Someday they’ll have lives and families of their own; these trips will be nothing but a distant memory.
“When I was a kid, we used to go to Disneyland every year.”
But maybe, just maybe, there will be a part of them that looks back fondly on these days. Days when we were together and we were happy and life was simple. Maybe, we will travel here together again. They will throw their hands in the air on Space Mountain and laugh and remember what it felt like when they were young. I hope they will. I know I will.
That is the true Magic of Disney.