I grew up in a very tiny town that bordered Lake Ontario. We had frigid winters and less frigid summers. My town wasn’t a very wealthy community–family vacations were usually to places like the Adirondacks or Thousand Islands–but every now and then during winter school breaks, there was one kid whose parents had the foresight and resources to escape upstate’s frigid winters and fly to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Word of Disney-bound kids spread through the cafeteria and lockerrooms like wildfire. I remember feeling jealous.
My family never visited Disney World or Disney anything. Time passed, I grew up, went to college, and lambasted All Things Disney: how it commodified fantasy, how it sold everyone a pipe dream to middle class suckers.
Flash forward about 15 years, and here I am in Los Angeles, joining my husband on a business trip, seeing friends, and once again questioning whether I am bicoastal. More on that later. We arrived Thursday and took Anna to Disneyland in Anaheim yesterday. This was the ultimate score because we got to visit the Magic Kingdom for free! Thanks to the generosity of our landlord, who lives in Pasadena and has a friend who works for the Mouse, we didn’t have to drop a dime on admission. Dreams do come true.
First stop, the Dumbo ride, which was a flashback to the smalltown carnivals my brother and I went to during the 1970s and 80s. Next stop, Princess Headquarters, marked by a pink trail on the Disney map. Anna was only marginally interested in the princesses and more interested in Minnie Mouse. Maybe it’s because Minnie has true power, a real stake in the success of Disney. The princesses are merely decoration and all they talk about is kindness. Who cares when there’s a company to run?
When Anna was a baby, I would swear to Mike that we would never take her to Disney and subject our daughter to such greedy, corporate influences. We don’t need some giant company to tell our kid what to like, what to believe in, and what to tell us to buy. I never understood why families dropped thousands of dollars in Orlando and Anaheim for weeklong Disney vacations.
But when Mike joined a company based in Los Angeles, we knew a trip to Anaheim was our parental responsibility. What changed my mind? My liberal ideals haven’t necessarily softened–I just became less selfish. My kid likes Disney princesses. It was perfect–we could take Anna to Disney for free and just spend a day there, not a whole week in Florida. We would go to the Motherland of Disney amusement parks, like visiting the original Starbucks at Pike Place Market in Seattle. And really, I just wanted to take her to Disney and see her smile.
And that’s the lesson that Disney taught me. It’s OK to enjoy the fantasy for a while. I admit to being charmed by the bubblegum colors of Main Street, the posters of Gibson girls enjoying an ice cream, Snow White teaching six-year-olds how to courtsey, Darth Vader (how did Disney score that?) dueling a three-year-old wearing mouse ears and a Jedi robe far too long. We enjoyed tea in Minnie Mouse’s cozy pastel-colored kitchen. I was wooed.
Birds sang, flowers danced in the breeze, wizards walked the streets, and magic wands and french fries were for sale everywhere. It was 92 degrees out, hundreds of people stood in line to ride the Nemo submarine, and no one was in a bad mood. So 25 years after being a fan of Disney, I’m back to being a fan of Disney. As we exited the park, we walked into a parade. (I’d say only in Disneyland is that possible, but we actually have a habit of walking into parades; that includes the gay pride parades in Seattle and in New York City.) We caught the tail end of it, which featured the Disney princesses dancing, waving (naturally), and bidding those not frosted with makeup and buried in tulle a fine farewell. Above the princesses riding in the castle balcony was Minnie Mouse, who waved to Anna. That, right there, was the ultimate mommy moment.