They always say it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters most. I can’t think of a better way to describe our trip to Disney World.
The preparation for a trip to Mickey’s land is like training for a marathon. It begins months in advance and requires all-out effort. And then — when the day — or trip — comes, you hope for good weather, put your best foot forward, and hope to stay healthy and finish strong, exhausted but content. Then, after crossing the finish line, you realize the unexpected surprises along the way made the best memories.
Take first, for example, the way Disney skirted the labor laws, hiring my three-year-old as our hotel guide. At least that’s what she made Nana, Papa and myself believe nightly as we disembarked from a Magic Kingdom bus or Hollywood Studios boat, cuing us to say:
“Excuse me. Are you able to help us locate Room 4117, please? We’re new here.”
Then we’d follow her in line, like the dwarfs returning from work, as she bounced along, leading us down long corridors, chit-chatting questions about our day – as if she hadn’t joined us – before using her magic bracelet to unlock our door.
Then there was the room itself. Papa had no idea when booking that the set-up lended itself to magic shows — Autumn disappearing behind one door and then — poof! — emerging from another. There was the jacuzzi tub that doubled as the ocean, our little mermaid splashing around, motioning for Prince Nana Eric to rescue her voice from Mommy Ursula, who had trapped it in a reusable Starbucks mug.
During the days, there was the stroller saga. To bring or not to bring had been the question, and the answer had been to rent. But reality is different from fantasyland with buggy rental lines too long when our times to get to Minnie’s breakfast or Belle’s dinner were too short. And so my yoga deficient biceps, deteriorating into flabby weakness, were reincarnated. My arms became seatbelts, fastened tightly around Autumn’s hips.
“No matter how big she gets, I will never tell her I can’t carry her,” I said to Mom.
And so, each time she looked up at me, arms raised, I breathed in and lifted up, then held on and drifted off. To Adventureland with my daughter. Her destinations, shows and rides, carried by me in-between. But for me, it was the opposite. My destinations, the journeys, hugging her close, us enjoying a view – her of the park, myself of her.
One time, her destination was the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. I eye-rolled when finding out it’s where kids receive makeovers.
Weren’t those to help people look younger and relax more? Last I checked, toddlers were wrinkle and stress-free. But I went along with it. Even when the woman at the counter asked Autumn, “Would you like to be called Princess or Queen?”
I pictured raising a daughter who ran around outside barefoot in overalls, and there I was, watching her prance around a castle in heels and a ballroom gown. As they pixie dusted and eye shadowed, transforming Commoner Autumn to Royal Elsa, I wondered if being treated like royalty would spoil her. And then I remembered all the females I’d known who were left out and taunted, bullied and harassed, and suddenly felt grateful for this opportunity. What a necessity and privilege to build her confidence – a solid shield she’ll no doubt need someday.
On our way back to the airport, my mom said:
“We did it! We did Disney!”
And just like when completing 26.2 miles, I felt relief, but also sadness, withdrawal from the planning and anticipating, wondering and hoping. Luckily, there’s not much time to dwell when bags need unpacking and Autumn needs bathing, food needs cooking and mail needs opening.
But mostly, our next journey needs beginning.