This month marks the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, Walt Disney’s vision of a place where parents and children can have fun together. I don’t know if he ever imagined that it would become so much more to so many people.
Disneyland is a very important part of my life, and always has been. It is my tangible happy place. My very first trip to Disneyland was when I was three years old. It is also my very first memory. Of course, the only thing I remember is I was so excited that, when we got there, I threw up in the parking lot before we even made it to the gates. Heck of a first memory! Once inside, I’m told I danced with Chip and Dale and had a merry time!
Over the years of my childhood we went several times, averaging once a year. We didn’t have much money and, even though we lived only an hour away, a one day visit was our big vacation for the year. We ate breakfast at home and packed a lunch so we would only have to buy one meal there. Those were the days that you couldn’t bring food into the park, so we rented a locker and put our lunch inside. At lunch time we would leave the park and get our cooler out of the locker. There were lunch tables set up with some shade under a section of monorail track. We would watch the monorail overhead as we ate lunch and then go back to the park. I remember being allowed one snack per kid and agonizing over whether it would be a churro or a chocolate covered banana. When night fell the park became an ethereal place of twinkling lights. We each got to have one glow necklace and that was an important decision too. Violet was my favorite, but it didn’t last as long as orange or green. We would get home and put our precious necklaces in the freezer to get one more night of weak glow from them, extending the magic as long as we could. After the fireworks we were allowed to choose one souvenir each and we lingered over all the items trying to decide which treasure to take home. We clutched our keepsake and rode the tram back to the parking lot. Back home I would wonder why it took so long to get to Disneyland, but only a few minutes to get home. As an adult, I realized it was because we fell asleep before we made it to the freeway onramp. Those days spent at Disneyland, regardless of the frugality, are my some of my favorite childhood memories. I remember feeling nothing but pure magic there. It was a place to be happy and carefree and leave the worries of a difficult childhood at the gate.
I carried that love of Disneyland with me into adulthood. Every time I go, I leave the “real world” behind and bound through the gates with the exuberance of a happy child. I marvel at the pageantry and let myself get carried away into the land that Walt Disney created. I feel the love and care that he put into creating it. He intended Disneyland to belong to the child in all of us. It’s a place where it is perfectly normal to see a grown man wearing an ear hat and bowing to a princess or a grandmother blowing a kiss to Mickey Mouse. We are all there for the same reason, to have fun. It’s okay to be silly there, to channel your inner five-year-old. It is marvelously freeing to focus on fun and forget about image and all the requirements and expectations that come with being a “grown-up.”
I’ve been to Disneyland with my family, with friends, and with co-workers. I’ve been to Disneyland with my high school marching band and been in the afternoon parade on Main Street twice. I took my boyfriend (now hubby) to Disneyland for his 21st birthday. I got engaged at Disneyland and visited Disneyland while seven months pregnant (in July!) Jack is three and has already been twice (three times if you count when he was in my belly.) When we went last month, it was our first time there in two years. I cried on the 5 freeway because I was so happy I was going “home.” When we got there, my husband spoiled me rotten and bought me annual passes, even though we live a six hour drive away. (I think the crying did it. I cry every single time I see the fireworks, but crying before arrival? Not so much.) I have seven visits planned before the pass expires. I’ve been more times than I can count and I never tire of it. It has never lost its magic for me. In fact, it has grown. Sharing my happy place with my son brings it to a whole new level. The look on his face when he experiences something for the first time brings tears to my eyes.
I put together a pregnancy scrapbook and after the slew of photos of me pregnant and blissfully happy at Disneyland, I wrote this note for my son:
By now you might have noticed that your mommy is just a tiny bit of a Disney fan. Faith, trust and pixie dust are at the core of who I am. Disneyland is my favorite place in the world. It’s where any dream can come true and the world is full of love, happiness, and magic. It’s a place to forget your worries, fears, and problems and feel joy. When I was a little girl, I would dream of living there, in Sleeping Beauty’s castle. I never wanted to leave. After I met your daddy, we went there a lot together. Every time, I threw pennies in the fountains and wishing well. In the beginning, it was marrying your daddy I wished for. My wish came true and he proposed at Disneyland. Then, I started wishing for a happy, healthy baby. Right after a Christmastime trip to Disneyland, we learned you were coming. Another dream come true. I couldn’t even wait for you to come out of my belly to share this magical place with you. You and I will spend many a day carefree and joyful in this place where dreams come true. It will only get more magical with your beautiful smile and infectious laugh filling the kingdom. All my love, mommy.
I can’t wait to go back home.
Thank you, Mr. Disney. Happy Birthday to your dream come true.