Artwork: The Other Side of Birth by Helen Redman (130 K)
Ahh...the cliche Disney vacation with your children: Disneyland, more specifically, and a vacation as needed by my husband and I as it was anticipated by our two children. Millions of words of advice have been written about such a vacation experience, but I have discovered that the topic is much like birth. Everyone has their own story.
In planning such a trip, the first priority should be to lessen the stress involved for each member of your family. Navigating airports with small children usually compounds this problem. Someone once told be to always be aware of things that might be of interest to your child, and to take that a step further by looking at things *through* your child's eyes. Their perspective is truly unique and adults should take the time to share it with them. A whole new universe opens to you once you look at the world through the windows of children.
My son is now 5 years old and desperate to be a part of each step of a trip, so I tried to involve him in as much as possible. Here are some things I learned: Keep an eye out for things that a child this age can help do, like looking for gate numbers. Also, be sure the child has his/her own backpack, stocked with one or two favorite pastimes along with new and interesting ones. I chose a backpack over a tote bag because my son can carry it himself without restricting his hands. This was important for him and also for me because I now have a one-year-old, and the necessary accompanying gear, in my own hands.
Once on board, my son anxiously awaited the moment when the plane left the ground, signaling the "official" beginning of our trip, which meant that he could tear into the new crayons (I recommend the non-roll variety), coloring and activity books, and sticker books. A brilliant friend of mine made the suggestion of packing along his read-along books-on-tape with a small tape player and headphones for my son to enjoy. A grumbling little stomach (and the usual complaints about airline snacks) can be soothed by stashing a few cereal or granola bars where your child can help himself easily. Do be careful not to weight down the backpack too much. You can keep some of the surprises in your suitcase for use on the return trip.
The distractions you offer a younger toddler must fit into a full diaper bag. That bag should also be stocked with plenty of formula, pacifiers, snacks, etc., that a little one might need. Most airlines include juices and bottled water on the beverage list, so you don't have to pack too many of those with you. I tried several times to get my daughter to look out the plane's window, wondering what she would expect to see. The look on her face when she finally looked out and *down* was simply priceless! However, sometimes even the best tricks do not work. If you were on a flight from St. Louis to Phoenix on September 15th, I sincerely apologize for my child's behavior during the final thirty minutes of the flight.
In preparing for this trip, I wanted everything at Disneyland to go as smoothly as possible, especially since my husband had never been to a Disney park. I wanted him to be impressed. More than that, I wanted the child within him to be touched and to play along with the other children there. I kept thinking of the song on Disney's commercials: "Bring a heart that's full of wonder and let Disney do the rest!" I wanted to awaken that wonder. I combed over the latest edition of Birnbaum's "Guide to Disneyland", making detailed pocket-sized notes on what would be best to do when and where. I highlighted the things that would interest each member of our family. I was careful to note the rides that would not interest us, too. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men . . . .
I can now confidently say that 5-year-old boys know no fear. So much for what wouldn't interest him! As we entered the Haunted Mansion, I looked at the dark rooms, spooky sounds and lightning from what I felt would be my little son's perspective. It terrified me and I was sure the whole idea was a huge mistake. This was going to rival that first hour we spent at the park in a surprisingly long line that totally ruined his mood for the next 6 hours. He rode in a car in front of us with my sister. Occasionally, I'd catch a glimpse of his little flashlight (ghosts are afraid of those, you know) in the dark. Man, we were in for trouble. "How was it?" I asked him as we left the ride. "Great!" he called as he hopped past me, "Let's go again! Can I go on Big Thunder Mountain?" And he absolutely insisted that each and every ghost he saw was real -- not pretend like Mom said! So much for predicting the children.
So much for predicting crowds, too. The books all said that this is one of Disneyland's less busy seasons. They forgot to mention that this is the final season for their Electric Light Parade, making the park unusually crowded. Once we figured this out, we drafted a new plan. We arrived first thing in the morning (after eating breakfast elsewhere) and stayed until just after lunchtime. Remember that 5 day "Passports" entitle you to one day of early admission, usually 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. However, not all of the shops or rides are open during these early hours. For instance, "Critter Country" is closed entirely and it houses one of Disney's most popular rides: "Splash Mountain". When "Critter Country" opened at 10:00, the rush looked much like marathons I have seen. In any case, we would return to the hotel after lunch and swim or nap in the afternoon before going back to the park at dinnertime. At this time of the evening, people had begun staking out their spots for the parade, which left many of the popular rides almost empty. My husband and I were able to go on "Star Tours" twice in a row without ever waiting in a line. Being a Star Wars fan, I was in heaven!
I was pleased to see that my husband was acting much as I did when I first discovered Disneyland at the age of 10. Disneyland features an area called "Mickey's Toontown" that is especially suited to younger children. However, adults will also find it entertaining. This little cartoon neighborhood is a perfect place to let your innocence run free. Forget how high you jump when the door at the Power House zaps at you! Forget how silly it feels to be conversing with a manhole cover! Enjoy being silly. Enjoy the childlike glee that sparkles inside you as you watch Minnie Mouse's dishwasher bubble and gurgle as the little dishes dance inside. Enjoy the minute and a half rush the Go Coaster gives you. I knew my wistful wishes for my husband had come true when he offered to ride that coaster with my son for the millionth time that night. "No, Daddy," my son loudly proclaimed, "You can't ride again because you yell louder than I do!"
One of my favorite moments occurred as I stood waiting near the shops of New Orleans Square. My daughter watched a little bird hop across the ground in front of her. We followed it up under the eaves of a shop, where a bustling nest appeared from behind a rafter. That nest captivated me in it's simple magic. It was constructed entirely of little bits of "The Happiest Place On Earth". Candy wrappers, popcicle sticks licked clean of Mickey Mouse ice cream, balloon strings, ribbons, dried lengths of grass...there were even bits of popcorn. In this man-made, cotton-candy playground, this little creature had chosen to make it's permanent home. I hoped the family in the nest enjoyed Disneyland as much as mine did.
Artwork: The Other Side of Birth by Helen Redman (130 K)
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