Your bathroom custodian won my heart. As I crammed in the stall waiting for a wee mermaid to finish her business, I overheard the following: “Ladies, come right along. Stalls are open on this end. Oh, and Happy Birthday to you!” All so cheerfully and helpfully crowed by a woman clad in a white uniform pushing a plastic cart piled high with toilet paper rolls. A birthday wish? So heartfelt? In a women’s bathroom? That, Disneyland, is when I fell for you -- head over heels.
Walking through the happy masses at the park, I saw numerous buttons stuck in shirts and lapels: “First Time Visitor,” “Happy Anniversary,” and “Happy Birthday” were among the most popular messages. Then there was the mermaid princess glued to my side. No button needed when your hair is showered with glitter, twisted into an elaborate ‘do that will not be outdone until your wedding day, and worn proudly with an Ariel costume positively dripping with green sequins. "Well hello, Princess Ariel!” The women’s restroom attendant cheered when my mermaid finally exited the stall. "I didn’t see you go in there.” And then, Disney, the woman curtsied to my mermaid. Honest. Dropped a little bow right beside that toilet paper cart. That, there? That’s the magic of Disney.
If anyone was predisposed to be a bit jaded about the whole Disneyland experience, I’ll confess that it was me. I’ve got some issues with the whole commercialization of our children, our American kids who have so much and still want more. I’ve got some qualms about dictating imagination with movies and characters scripted in advance. In general, I’ve avoided welcoming Disney characters printed on curtains, shirts, pajamas, and toys into my home. So, I walked through your gates that Saturday morning with a half-sneer on my face. I was prepared to enjoy the visit for my innocent children’s sake. I did not anticipate becoming a kid filled with the sheer thrill of wonder myself.
The thing is, Disney, I thought for sure you’d make a mis-step. I searched for flaws, hairline cracks even, in the surface of your perfection. I thought I’d be able to catch just a fleeting glimpse of the wizard behind the curtain. But gosh darn it, Disney, I couldn’t find a fault with your performance. Even down to the custodians in the park, you were perfect.
I loved the Star Wars’ theme music that drifted like a tantalizing scent through the crowds at the entrance gates. I loved the maze-like queue for Indiana Jones. I loved the ethereal candles floating tableside at Blue Bayou cafe as we drifted toward the caverns of Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved the extra skip in Rabbit’s step as he bobbed his way to the character meet and greet area. I loved the jazz band with its $25,000 Les Paul serenading the sidewalk crowds as we gnoshed on churros in New Orleans Square. I loved the late afternoon sun, sparking off of the gold dials above Small World. I loved the green beans you served with that pot roast at Plaza Inn.
Most of all, Disneyland, I love what you did to my daughter’s face. Your Bippity Boppity Boutique put blush on my mermaid’s cheeks, sparkle on her nails, shimmer on her eyelids, and fairy dust in her hair. Your crew of Fairy Godmothers arrayed her in Ariel’s mermaid costume, occasioning a tug of war contest for two days as I squinched the outfit together so barely a sliver of skin showed between shirt and tail while she tugged down and up so that her belly button, protruding from the remnants of a baby belly, hung out over the tail as she proclaimed with all of the authority of her four-and-three-quarters years of experience, “Mama, mermaids wear it like this!” Disney, you made her glow on the outside.
And Disney? You made her glow from the inside. That moment when my gussied-up mermaid stepped around the corner to find Ariel waiting in that hushed castle room? That’s the moment I cried. After so many imaginary visits between my mermaid and Ariel (pretended by yours truly), to see her come face to face with the real, live Princess? Well, let’s just say from that point on, I didn’t give a second thought to the price of my admission ticket.
It’s no big secret that childhood is precious. It’s the innocence (believing in princesses) and the honesty (flinging about emotions that range from grumpiness to elation and exhaustion) and the purity (eschewing commercialism for sheer wonder) that make children so captivating. I travelled by airplane, car, and foot to envelop my child in your embrace while the elements of childhood were still strong in her. I was pretty sure you could work your magic on her four-and-three-quarters-year-old person.
But can you work magic on a 33-year-old skeptic? The answer, dear Disney, is yes. You know how your evening fireworks spectacle opens with those blazing missiles launching over Sleeping Beauty’s castle, just like the shooting star in the opening credits of every single Disney movie I’ve ever seen? That wishing star polished the tarnish off my life’s Disney experience. My visit to Disneyland reclaimed the wonder and beauty in believing in something greater than my own jaded experience. In your perfection, Disney, you revised my hackneyed view of all things Mickey and transformed me back into a four-and-three-quarters-year-old who believes that dreams do come true. You reminded me that part of being a child is innocence, yes, and honesty, yes, and purity, yes, and Disney. Yes.
I’ll be back for another whirl on Space Mountain. And I’d like to try the pineapple floats with vanilla ice cream in Adventureland. And I’ve got another princess-in-training who will need her own chance at the Bippity Boppity Boutique beauty treatment in a few years’ time. Maybe it’s the little things that get me, but as long as the trip involves some more of those great green beans and grins from a bathroom, I’ll agree, Disneyland, you really are the happiest place on earth.
A happy Mama
Beth Hendrickson is mother to two daughters, ages 4 and 1, and Director of Marketing for The Being Well Center. Beth chronicles the ordinary miracles of family life at Paper Doll Tales.
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