Four years ago, a dear friend of mine, called to tell me that she was planning a trip to Disneyland. She went into great detail about the planning and the excitement, and I played along like a good friend should, but I was also jealous. Our daughters are the same age, and four years ago, a trip to Disneyland was not in the cards for us. Not for our highly sensitive, very anxious daughter. Four years ago we gave up Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and any team mascot that walked by at our local AAA baseball field. From an early age crowds and noise were problems, she even spent part of her third birthday in my bedroom as there were too many people in our house for her liking. It's only been since age five that we can allow singing when we do birthday cake. For many years Disneyland was just a dream, an idea, something that I thought we'd have to postpone until her teenage years.
Then one day, she started to ask about Disneyland after seeing commercials on the Disney channel about the park. She asked if we could go, and John and I began to tell her about the park. We tried to give her a good idea about how big the park was, and how many people like to go to the park. We found videos on YouTube that showed parades and rides, and she seemed open to them. The more questions she asked, the more questions we asked ourselves. Was she ready? Could we really make a trip to the Happiest place on Earth?
Last year after our Elevate trip, we took a detour to Downtown Disney on her way home. The idea was that if she could see how massive the park was, if she could see just how crowded it would get, maybe we could get a better idea of how she would do if we went to the park. From the moment we stepped on the Toy Story, she was overwhelmed in the best way. Her excitement was getting the best of her, and by the time we got to the park gates, she was all smiles. We hit the big Disney store in Downtown Disney and she was beside herself. We walked and talked and enjoyed a nice lunch, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. That's when she cried and begged to go to Disneyland. "Can't we just walk inside the gates for five minutes?", she asked.
It was time.
As we made our way to the park that exciting morning, she gripped my hand, as we hurried our steps. She whispered over and over that she was so nervous. That she was scared. What if it was too big? What if she didn't like the rides? What if? What if? I told her over and over that it would be fine, but as we got in line at the gates to Disneyland, I looked over at her, and then looked her in the eye and told her that I was here. I was right here next to her, with her hand in mine, and we wouldn't do anything that she didn't want to do. If she didn't want to ride a ride, we wouldn't. If she just wanted to walk the entire park, we would do that. If all she wanted to do was eat Dole Whips all day while shopping on Main Street, so be it. But I promised that I'd be right there to hold her hand. She smiled, squared her shoulders, and dived right in.
She had done just fine at the Character Breakfast, so I knew that seeing the characters in the park would be okay. But I had no idea just how bravely she would face those characters. Two hours into our adventure, and Peter Pan himself asked if she would like to go on an adventure with him. And to every one's surprise, mine especially, she said yes.
Peter Pan took my once shy and anxious, almost eight year old girl by the hand, and led her on a short adventure to scare Captain Hook. They ran and skipped and plotted. I took picture after picture, not believing my own eyes. She was excited and brave and smiled ear to ear. It was everything I had always wanted for her and her first trip to Disneyland.
It occurred to me that this was only the beginning. She was just beginning to find her brave heart. Only starting to stretch those wings that so many of her peers have already stretched. She's growing, before my eyes everyday, but the monotony and chaos blind me to it. Second grade has taught her to be more independent and age has taught her to leave her fears behind. And though she gripped my hand so tightly over the course of this trip, it wasn't because she was always afraid, it was because she was finding her brave.
This big trip to Disneyland was also a growing experience for the both of us. Our relationship has been rocky at best since little sister came to town. I didn't mean for that to happen, but as I've written before, as my first born, I project more responsibility and expectation onto her. Unfairly of course. Most days are spent arguing because my expectations are so high, and her need to please me is comparable. It breaks my heart to write that, but it's so achingly true. We don't always get along, even in the best of circumstances. I didn't want that for this trip. I wanted us to have fun, enjoy each other, and for the love of God, not fight about clothes!
So we did. We took selfies. We held hands. We rode rides together. I covered her eyes when I though it would be scary. I didn't push her to ride any rides that she was nervous about. I made it a point not to lose my temper. I made it a point to pick my battles. I said yes, every day in the park was a "yes" day. Even when it meant indulging in a famous Mickey Mouse ice cream bar post breakfast. I just wanted her to remember this as one of the best experiences as a kid. It's my hope that she will.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't perfect. There were some tears. Pirates of the Caribbean was too dark. The Goofy Sky School Coaster was too fast. World of Color was so loud and it was cold. The last night in the park, she and I took a detour to get away from the fireworks, that she didn't like at all. Instead of staying with Dad and sister near It's a Small World, we made our way to Frontierland. We rode The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh three times. And sure, I'm told I missed some amazing fireworks, but I'd never trade those fireworks for the little adventure I had with my girl.
I've been working on this post, in my mind, since we spent that first day in the park. I knew we had turned a corner, her and I. It's as if we floated into this sweet spot, that would help me mind my temper. A sweet spot that would give her pause before she lost all sense of herself. We still have our days, where she tries my temper, where I yell, where we both look at each other and just have to get the last word in. But it's different. We find little ways to sneak out for Target trips and Starbucks without the rest of the family. We stay up late and watch The Golden Girls. We watch music videos on YouTube. I've always wondered if I could recapture some of our magic. The magic between mother and first born is a strong one. The magic that we had all those years ago when she was just a baby sleeping on my chest. I feared that it had been too long, that I hadn't made the effort to recapture her heart. I love her, and she loves me, but somewhere along the way we got lost. There was a piece missing, and I was worried we would never find it again.
Imagine my surprise when I found it. That little missing puzzle piece that would put life and love back together again magically. Would you believe me if told you it's shaped like mouse ears?