I just returned from a truly inspiring vacation in Disney World. It wasn’t the first time I’d been – in fact I think it was about the fourth time we had visited the park as a family – and since all three of my children (18, 12, and 9) have long outgrown the “magic” stage where seeing princesses and cartoon characters come to life brings stars to their eyes and a giddiness to their step, I was rather shocked when all three actually requested that the theme park be our vacation destination. I’m really glad we obliged!
Now I have heard many a critic bash Disney for the commercialization of fairy tales, the capitalistic pursuits at the child’s expense, etc. etc. (all you need to mention is Jack Zipes in a children’s literary criticism course and you’ll get an ear full!) – and I get that, I do. Any parent does who has tried to escape the park without purchasing something, from fairy wands to mickey-shaped ice cream bars, they get a hold of that wallet. But despite all that, I have to hand it to Disney. They know how to bring the magic to everyone who visits.
Before we arrived, my 12 year old son was in a bit of a depressed funk. He has been struggling this year with school despite the fact that he is one of the most intelligent kids I know; he’ll blow you away with his historical and scientific knowledge and if ever you are lost, you’ll want him navigating you. He’s like a human compass. But he struggles with getting the work turned in and gets overwhelmed with the amount expected of him sometimes, and he just shuts down rather than push his way through. He’s one of the youngest in his class; his classmates are all turning 13, while he only just turned twelve – and he is painfully conscious of his heighth or lack thereof. Rolled all together, you get a kid who rarely smiles. By the end of out first day in the sunshine, not only was he smiling, he was laughing. Disney broke through the glum and found my son again.
My 18 year old too. About to graduate and head to college, she’s usually off doing her own thing. It was fun to see her goofing around with her siblings, spinning in the Tea Cups, flying above Neverland, waving at Belle and the Beast, her and her 9 year old sister oohing-and-ahhing at every little girl dressed head to toe in their princess dresses and tiaras.
My husband and I had worried at first when we decided to go because as frequent visitors to Cedar Point, a roller coaster park in Ohio, we knew that the rides at Disney would not compete in thrill-value to those the kids were used to. But they actually had more fun because as my son pointed out, “it’s the experience more than the ride.” He was right. At Disney, it is about the stories behind each ride; and just like a really good book, the rides let you become a part of that story. You become a part of the magic.
So thank you Disney for helping my family return to those parts of themselves that make them children, for helping them find the magic and the fun, and for reminding me that as I sit down to get back to writing – it is the experience, the magic, the story that makes a reader love a book. It is what keeps them coming back to it again and again and again no matter how old they are.