Thursday, December 23, 2010

The One That's Not About Disney

by: LaLa




We spend a good bit of time writing about these three words here, as it relates to our vacations and time spent reliving happy moments with the ones we love the most. In a place that we all love dearly. But as I put up a 'last minute' tree the other night and breathed in the heady aroma that announces the arrival of Christmas, I was instantly and quite surprisingly transported back in time thirty years. And in that moment I was reminded that there is no time or place that brings about any greater joy, any more priceless memories, any more pure and unbridled gleeful anticipation than Christmastime.

Sweet, glorious Christmastime.

It all started not with a mouse, but with a spontaneous purchase. A whim, if you will.

For weeks our home has been fully decorated, inside and out. Ready and waiting to ring in the holiday season with its perfectly perfect white lights and painstakingly color coordinated ornaments strewn everywhere and anywhere they will fit. But as beautiful and convenient as our artificial tree in all of its decorated glory is, it felt like something was missing. Like I was doing it all wrong. At least as far as the decorating goes. So while I was out finishing up my shopping, I happened upon a sale I couldn’t pass up and picked up a small Frasier fir for less than the cost of an Arby’s combo.

Little did I know the memories that little purchase would evoke.

As soon as we got home, I went to work. I promptly set the tree up in the kid’s bonus room just off the kitchen and proceeded to decorate it in the exact opposite fashion of the rest of the house.

There were no matching ornaments and not a single white light to be found anywhere. Instead, I went with a multitude of old school C-7 lights in every color of the rainbow, as well as multi-colored twinkling lights. Once I was finished, I took a step back and took a deep breath.


One little tear.

The happy kind.

Because as I stood there taking it all in, my mind was immediately ushered back to SO many Christmases of my youth. As I watched the lights glow and dance and smelled the familiar scent that has always signified the arrival of Christmas, I was no longer on the verge of 40. I no longer had responsibilities. No longer had any grown up worries. I was five again, wearing my favorite ruffled flannel nightgown and I could feel the cold hardwood floor beneath my feet and hear my big brother’s excited whisper as we tip toed through the darkened house together, being ever so careful not to awaken anyone else. The anticipation was like a knot in my stomach and I felt as though I could hardly breathe the closer we came to our destination. But we were greeted with sheer unbridled bliss as we peeked into the living room and beheld the wonder of Christmas morning. In an otherwise darkened cold room, the multi-colored lights that shone like glowing Easter eggs reflected off the wooden floor and cast just enough light on the items below to send a five year old snaggle-toothed little girl and her seven year old brother into uncontrollable, giddy, quiet laughter. Christmas had indeed arrived, and it was everything we had hoped it would be. It’s curious that, for the life of me, I can’t recall a single gift I received that year. But I can recall perfectly, can still FEEL perfectly, every emotion I felt that morning and so many other mornings like it over thirty years later.

Looking back on all of those years, there was always so much joy in our lives at Christmas. And as a parent, I feel blessed beyond measure to be able to see that same joy reflected in my own children’s eyes at this time each year. Earlier today our daughter pleaded, “Mama, PLEASE make Christmas come faster, I can hardly wait for it!” She’s got joy, oh yes she does. And it mirrors ours exactly because as a parent, we take joy in giving good things to our children. You think the lead up to a surprise Disney trip is momentous, you ain’t seen nothing’ till you’ve seen us at Christmastime. My husband and I both turn into giddy, sneaky little kids around this time of year, but it’s not because of anything we hope to gain. It’s about giving good things to our children out of love and anticipating how happy it will make them. How it will make their lives better. How it will make them smile, or possibly dissolve into a fit of uncontrollable, giddy, quiet laughter in an otherwise darkened room illuminated only by the light from the Christmas tree.

There is so much joy that comes with being able to provide something that your beloved child desperately wants or needs and seeing them appreciate it fully, especially at Christmastime. I sometimes wonder if that’s the same kind of joy that our Heavenly Father felt as He gave us the ultimate gift, the gift of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. I say that knowing full well that there is absolutely no comparison between anything we could give and what He gives us, His children. What He gave us with the ultimate gift. Because with the unwrapping of that gift, there truly is no greater joy on this earth.

It’s my prayer that each of you have a safe, wonderful, Christmas. One filled with joy and giddy anticipation as you relive special memories from Christmases past and make new ones to add to the priceless collection in your mind.

Merry Christmas, friends. May time spent with your loved ones at this special time of the year be filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Battle for my Wallet VII: Lost and Found

Chapter Four: I Found a Hair

One thing I really like about the Contemporary Resort is how easy it is to get to the Magic Kingdom. You walk out of your room, down the hall, hop an elevator, walk to an escalator, ride up a floor and voila. You’re in your first line of the day.

Easy peasy.

Whatever that means.

The park was opening at 8:00 that morning and we were boarding the Monorail at 7:30. And on that morning, the Monorails were running smoothly and quickly. Something which wasn’t happening a few days later. As we approached the platform from the escalator, a Monorail was coming into the station. I noticed the front was empty. I wondered to myself if we were going to score the front on our very first Monorail ride. But there were about 15 people in front of us. Surely one of them is going to snake us for it.

Honk if you know what happens next.

I can hear you in Macon, GA.

I can hear you in Boston, MA.

I can hear you in Biscuitville, TX. But that might just be the beans you had for lunch.

I watched with some trepidation as the folks in front of us moved onto the Monorail and not one of them asked for the front. I was harshly critical of them in my head, “Idiots! They could have had the front all the way around the Seven Seas Lagoon. So dumb.” Realizing I could still get snaked, and like the full on Disney knowitall I am, I leaned over the rail as we moved towards the entrance and I asked the CM if we could ride in front.

He quite literally snarled at me.

“We don’t do that anymore.”

I realized the reason why quickly and confirmed, “Because of the accident?”

“Yeah,” he said with unnecessary disdain.

Excuse me for not having been in WDW since the accident.

But truthfully, I was less embarrassed by that exchange and more embarrassed that I had been out Disney nerded by the 15 people ahead of me in line. I can only hope they were some of you.

Anyway, we got on the Monorail. We had our first “por favor mantengase,” and we were off to the MK.

One thing that annoys the cuss out of me is mechanical application of rules. Stupidly following the rules without stopping to consider why the rule exists or whether it could be amended without, you know, going to jail.

It was a morning EMH at MK. We came down the Monorail ramp and split up to go through security. Why? Because having not been in WDW in 2 years, I quite literally had no clue what I was doing.

There. I’ve admitted it.

I thought we could save some time by going in separately. Mrs. Z would take the kids and the bags and go through security. I would walk straight in to go rent a stroller for Li’l Z. As far as I knew, they were where they always were, on the right in front of the train station. I told Mrs. Z to go through the turnstiles and go all the way to the right and meet me in front of stroller rental.

So I come walking down the ramp at Disney Pace and smugly walked through the no-bag line and headed to the far right turnstiles. Marveling at my beautiful plan. Everything going swimmingly. Only when I got down to the far end, I didn’t notice the signage said, “Breakfast” or something like that. I got in line behind a handful of people and this little CM, we’ll call her Ricki Rules-Rule, asks me if I had a reservation for breakfast. I said, “No, we’re here for EMH.” Only I actually said it out. I didn’t verbally abbreviate. I don’t work for NASA.

Would that I did though.

She said, “I’m sorry, you need to go over there.” She gestured towards the completely mobbed turnstiles. I showed her my Key to the World of High Prices and Endless Aggravation and said, “Ma’am I’m here for EMH,”

She said, “The park isn’t open yet. This line is only for people who have breakfast reservations.”

Two things to bear in mind: it was 5 minutes until 8:00 and, in fact, the other turnstiles were passing people in. So the park was, in a word, open. But Ricki Rules-Rule would not budge. So I walked over to the sea of sweaty humanity in humidity and made my way through. As I stood there, silently steaming, I was reminded why we shouldn’t give clipboards and turnstile control to people making minimum wage. Ms. Rules-Rule is clearly training for a job with the TSA.

Once inside the turnstiles, I made my way to where I thought I could rent a stroller only to discover it wasn’t there. I asked a CM where the stroller rental deal was and she told me under the train station. But they weren’t letting anyone in yet. The train had just pulled into the station and they started the oh-so-annoying welcome show. I pulled out my phone to text Mrs. Z when I saw her walking my way. We watched the opening show and I considered how annoyed I was by Ricki Rules-Rule and then I thought better of it. It was the first morning of the first day.

She was just doing her job and all that. I purposed in my heart to not allow myself to be annoyed so quickly. Dumb things are gonna happen. Don’t let it steal my joy. The sixth floor isn’t a bad view after all.

You know why you don’t pray for patience, right?

You also shouldn’t purpose not to allow yourself to be annoyed by dumb people in Disney World. Because a test is gonna come. And right quickly at that.

The welcome show ended and we moved through the tunnel behind a lot of other people. I was stuck behind a very slow moving woman wearing mom shorts.  And the faint smell of maple syrup. I was blinded by the white of her legs. Her fanny pack was festooned with pins and whathaveyou. I didn’t see it, but I was sure she had a lime green Mickey head on her somewhere. Bonnie Budgetboard was moving slowly. But I was determined not to aggressively move around her. She was walking in that way large women do.  Kind of waddling.  Although it was only a few minutes after 8:00 in the morning, I could hear her thighs chafing. Her large lady waddle prevented a horde of us from getting around her in the tunnel.  Unfortunately, she was headed the same direction I was, and I remained behind her in line for the strollers.

It was as if she just decided in that instant that she was going to rent a stroller. She didn’t know what they cost. She didn’t know if she wanted a double or a single. She needed to know the price if she rented it for 6 days. No, 5. No, 7. No just 6. “What if I need a stroller in EPCOT?” “Do I get a dollar back if I return the stroller?” “What happens if I lose the stroller?”

I was actually amused by this spectacle. A long line was forming behind me and Bonnie Budgetboard was comparison shopping. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she got on her phone and called Orlando Stroller Rentals. I knew I was being tested.

But the test had only begun.

And before you shout, “Hypocrite!” I knew I wanted a stroller, knew how much it cost, knew what size I wanted and I knew there was no $1 back if I returned it. I just didn’t know they moved the rental location.

So the CM gives her the total and Bonnie asks if she can pay with a gift card. Or 7. She whipped out a stack of gift cards thicker than the stack of Mickey shaped waffles she ate for breakfast. I surmised that she put aside money for the trip by buying Disney gift cards in $50 increments. Nothing wrong with that I suppose. Only, she didn’t bother to consolidate the cards. I was incredulous.

But I was NOT going to get annoyed.

Or was I?

Mercifully, another CM opened a second register and I walked up and said, “Single stroller, 6 days, please.” I handed her my KTTW and she said, “thank you. Boy you did that real fast. Like you knew exactly what you were doing.” I said, “I had some time to think about it.” She laughed knowingly and glanced furtively towards her co-worker who was still swiping Bonnie’s various gift cards.

She handed me my pink stroller certificates and a receipt and then she realized she’d only charged me for five instead of six. So she had to void the transaction and start over. Because she couldn’t just charge me for another day. And then after she voided the transaction and swiped my card two more times, someone told her she should have just charged me for the extra day.

Then the stamp wouldn’t work. Well it did work, only she stamped the wrong date. I said, “no problem, I’m picking it up here, it’ll be ok. Just tell the lady you stamped it with yesterday’s date.”


She had to stamp it correctly. Only every time she adjusted the stamp, she adjusted everything but the date. She changed the month. She changed the year. She changed the 1 to a 2. But she couldn’t get the actual date correct.

I suggested she pull the register journal.

She was un-amused.

Imagine that.

Eventually, she got me all stamped up and I headed around Bonnie Budgetboard’s butt and grabbed my stroller.

It was now 12:31.

Only it wasn’t.

Properly strollered up, we walked right down the middle of Mainstreet, USA. As we neared the castle forecourt, I suggested we stop and have our picture taken in front of the castle. Mrs. Z turned to me and asked, “Who are you?” You see, I’ve NEVER wanted to stop for such frivolousness before. On the first morning of the first day, ZZUB don’t stop for pictures. But I was overtaken.

We walked up the ramp and through the castle. Little ZZUB was AMAZED! She calls the castle in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, “our castle.” As distinguished from the one in Disneyland. Anytime she sees a Disney castle in a DVD or a picture she’ll ask, “Daddy, is that our castle?” So I thought it was probably important that she get up close to “our castle” on this our first morning of our first day. Walking through the castle she was taken back by it all. It was blowing her mind that we walked right through it and “it’s a real castle!”

To be 3. To imagine things the way you want them to be.

Coming through on the other side, Donald Duck greeted us. All decked out in his frontier clothing. Which was out of context in Fantasyland, but neither of the little Zs seemed to mind. They ran up to hug him and get their picture taken with the Main Duck. We’d been in the MK almost 30 minutes now and hadn’t ridden a ride. And somehow I was okay with this.

Our first ride was up on the left, Peter Pan. But not because ZZUBY wanted to ride it. She’s over the man in tights. Moved on. But Little Z wanted to confirm that Capt. Hook gets his from the crocodile and calls out to Mr. Smee for help.

Last summer in DL, we attended a character breakfast and Capt. Hook showed up. Which scared the mess out of Little Z. We have very funny pictures of her nearly crawling across the table to get away from the Hook. No fan of his is she! Throughout our planning for this trip to WDW, she asked us many times if Hook was going to show up at breakfast. At dinner. I assured her she wouldn’t have to see him anyplace we ate. In fact, the only place she’d see him was in Peter Pan’s ride. Where he’d end up getting eaten by the crocodile and he’d call out, “Help me, Mr. Smee! Help me!” Little Z liked that. “Daddy, can you take me to see Capt. Hook call out, ‘help me Mr. Smee’?” I assured her I would.

So onto Peter Pan’s ride we hopped. I was amused by ZZUBY telling her little sister that the bar was magic and would come down when we told it to. Together we ordered it, “come down, bar!” The ride through Peter Pan is always fun. A touch nostalgic. It’s one of the places in Disney World where I’m five again. In awe of the magic. Just happy.

It smells Disney in there. Have you noticed that? The a/c in Disney World, in the MK attractions especially, have a smell. A pleasing aroma actually. I noticed it a few times at the Contemporary as well. The doors opened and we were greeted with the Disney smell. It’s a smell that evokes a more carefree time.

Sounds. Smells. Music. Things. All carry me back into my head. Flying over the streets of London and over the mountaintops of Neverland, I was next to my mom and dad and my sister and I were watching our tube socks glow in the dark. I showed ZZUBY and Little Z how the white on their clothing was glowing. My pukas too. Peter Pan’s Flight is maybe 2 ½ minutes long, but it carried me back about 37 years. As it usually does.

Little Z got to hear Hook cry out for help from Mr. Smee and I got to spend 2 ½ minutes being little again. We exited to our right and walking out into the too-early-for-it-to-be-so-blinding sun, I turned back to inhale the smell one more time. Trying to burn it into my nasal memory. And now that morning’s ride on Peter Pan’s Flight with my girls is woven together with the other memories I have of Disney World. It’s been added to the fabric of my mind.

It comforts me to think 30 years on, ZZUBY and Li’l Z will again be on Peter Pan’s flight. With their kids. Ordering the magic bar to come down. Shouting with Capt. Hook, “Help me, Mr. Smee! Help me!” They’ll remember me.

It got cold here a few weeks back. It was the first cold of the year and I knew I’d need something warmer than just a shirt on. I hadn’t even gotten my winter clothes out yet, but I still had my fleece zip up in my closet. Hadn’t worn it since last winter and for some reason it didn’t get put up with my winter clothes. I reached back into my closet for it and pulled it on over my t-shirt. As I was zipping it up, I saw it. Woven into the fiber of my zip up. A light brown hair. Coarse and short.

It was Staff’s.

His hair used to get to the most unusual of places. I used to be amused by it actually. How I’d find a hair of his in my car even though he’d never been in my car. Sometimes on vacation I’d pull something out of my suitcase and it’d have a few of his hairs on it. As if he’d sent along a little reminder. “Dad, I want you to know that even doe you weft me home, I still wuv you so much.” Weeks after he died, we were still finding his fur balls under furniture. But we hadn’t seen any of his hair in months.

Seeing it again in my fleece stopped me. I pulled it out and held it carefully in my right hand, between my thumb and forefinger. I clasped my left hand around my right hand to protect it. And I brought it to my nose. To smell it.

But there wasn’t anything to smell.

So I just held it. And suddenly, it wasn’t the first cold day of the year anymore. No, it was anytime before March 20th. It was any day of any week of any month from 1998 until early 2010. I could hear his toes on the hardwood floors. I could see him built for speed in our back yard. Could feel his cold nose nudging my arm as he tried to get me up to let him outside. Could see him. Greeting me at the door. Licking the mess out of my face ‘cause he was so happy I was home.

It made me at once sad and happy. Which isn’t so common, you know? It’s not normal to feel both emotions simultaneously, is it? But I did. I was sad, so very sad to be reminded that he was gone. But I was also so happy to see that little reminder that he once was here. Loving us. Making us laugh.

Simple things bring me joy anymore. It’s not the fancy things. Not the expensive things. Not the elaborate things. The smell of a ride at Disney World made my morning. And the stubborn hair of my best friend reminded me of the twelve years of happy that dog brought our family.