It was one of those mornings. Both kids were crying in different rooms. My husband and I, on the other hand, were laughing at the whole charade. There was nothing else to do. Why were these two precious children crying, you ask?
One was face down on the kitchen floor wailing: “I wanna go to Disney world. I wanna eat in a castle.”
The other was dressed in a red and white polka dot dress, black tights, and dress shoes with a bow. She was burying her tear-streaked face in her stuffed Minnie’s soft body. She too was wailing: “I don’t look like Minnie! Minnie has YELLOW shoes and white gloves with stripes.”
There really was nothing we could do but laugh… and document for posterity’s sake. We videoed the entire escapade. I won’t post it here, but I sure am saving it for a projection screen at their high school graduations.
When I sent to video to my parents, my mom said, “You did this, you know.” To which I responded, “Uh, pretty sure, it was you.”
Of course, it’s both of us, but I maintain: it didn’t start with me.
It all started with a Mouse … and a little girl, who watched The Mickey Mouse Club every afternoon on her black and white TV set. She was entranced – especially because there were Mouseketeers with both of her names: Karen and Darlene. Her mother (my grandmother), seeing her love, sent away mail order for Minnie Mouse ears. Mom said the ears had a little sponge bow on the top. Unfortunately, the ears have been lost to time and any pictures with it. Yet that time lives on in my mom’s heart. When Disneyland opened in 1955, my mom was 6 years old. As the family watched the grand opening on TV, her father promised to take her there.
But … he never did. She’s been upset about it ever since. Mom never made it to Disneyland as a kid. So, when Walt Disney World (WDW) opened 50 years ago, my mom, now a working adult, traveled to Florida with some girlfriends and had the time of her life, re-imagining herself as that small child.
Ten years later when she became a mom, she vowed to give her children what she never had: the magic of Disney. As a child, we were blessed to go nearly every other year throughout the 1980s. (A note that it was not nearly as large or as expensive in those years). When I graduated high school, I chose WDW for our family trip. The following year, my brother chose Disneyland and my mom FINALLY got there, in her 50s with her college-aged kids. I’ve visited a few more times as an adult. Once for a college band trip. Another Disneyland day when my cousin was married in LA (That day we pushed my 85-year-old grandmother around Disneyland in the pouring rain. It remains one of my all-time favorite days). In 2009, we took my mom for her 60th birthday – our last trip before the 4 of us became more of us.
In preparation for my own family’s upcoming trip, I’ve been reminiscing by looking through old photographs. In flipping through the years, I watched my brother and I grow up. Here is one picture from each of our special trips to WDW and Disneyland.
As a young child, I have a vivid memory of watching my mom get off the phone from booking a Disney trip (before the internet, of course). My 40-something mother hung up the phone and started jumping up and down yelling: “WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!!!!!!” I will never forget her excitement. I don’t think I’d ever seen an adult exhibit such unadulterated joy. What is it about this place that makes humans of all ages literally jump for joy?
For it’s the exact same joy I saw on the faces of my mom and daughter in 2019, when my family went to WDW to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. There, we gathered in our favorite place with my family nearly doubled in size – my parents, my brother’s family of 4, and our family of 3½ (as his sister likes to say, my son was there but couldn’t see anything from inside my belly). My most favorite Disney moment came that first morning in the Magic Kingdom, standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle for the opening ceremony. As Minnie Mouse came on stage, I turned my attention to my mother who was holding my then 2-year-old daughter. I snapped this picture. Both of their faces beamed in joy and delight and pure Disney magic.
I’ve been asked why I love Disney World so much. Why does a reasonable, rational adult, an ordained pastor, and generally leveled-headed person love Disney World? Why? Because I like to! Honestly, though, I really can’t explain it. I just do. In fact, the pictures speak for themselves. The same magical joy on my mother’s face at 70 that’s on my daughter’s face at 2. The silliness of my brother and me on Thunder Mountain at 30. The ridiculously awesome Mickey t-shirt my husband wore at 40. My dad’s grandchildren fully believing that his favorite song is It’s a Small World, because he rode it with them SEVEN times. It’s a place to be silly and ridiculous. It’s a place for memories, new and old. It’s a yearning deep inside to feel the magic of childhood again. It’s that pull to once again be a small girl watching a marching mouse. It’s that thrill of hugging a favorite character and believing them to be real. It’s watching that same twinkle appear in your own child’s eyes.
As children, we get really, really, really into things. Fire trucks. Princesses. Dinosaurs. The solar system. A favorite character. We go all in – decorating our rooms, wearing the costumes, playing with the figurines. We don’t get to do that much as adults. When asked what I’m interested in, I’ll name travel, beaches, museums, books, and national parks. We don’t generally name: dinosaurs … or the solar system … or Disney World as the things we love. But let’s face it… we do. (For the record, I’m Team Brontosaurus, Team Planet Pluto, and Team Minnie Mouse)
I’ve noticed lately that so many people seem to be leaning into their inner child. Posts about favorite dinosaurs. Word games that enthrall us. Enjoying the thrill of an old fashioned slide or swing. Amusement parks – WDW included – filled to capacity. It seems, we adults are in desperate need of some childhood joy. With all that we’ve been through in these last 2 years, we are seeking joy in the midst of sorrow and fun in the midst of trials, We need a dose of childhood magic after doing so much heavy adulting. Now more than ever, we need Minnie Mouse and Dinosaurs and swings and games and Pluto (dog and planet).
Jesus once said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). He was talking about actual children, of course. Yet, as children of God, we adults also have a need for the innocence, fun, and awe our childhoods gave to us.
Friends, feed that inner child — some magical joy awaits.
All that to say, a few weeks ago – exactly 60 days before our upcoming Disney trip – I woke up at precisely 6am. While my family slept, I crouched in the dark beside my bed with my laptop. I opened my spreadsheet. I logged into My Disney Experience. I carefully selected our dining options for each day of our WDW trip. When I scored a character dinner with Minnie Mouse and a spot at Cinderella’s Royal Table, 40-year-old me jumped up and down, yelling, “WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!” I couldn’t contain it.
I’m also fairly certain that’s the reason my son was wailing “I wanna eat in a castle” later that morning. … That one’s on me.