Forget all these so-called parenting experts. From now on I’m only taking advice from successful gamblers and hustlers. After all, what is raising children if not a huge game of chance?
While there are many deep and meaningful examples I could give of parenting bets and their payoffs, I’ll stick to the one that inspired this entry: a trip to Disney World.
The Hajj of middle class families everywhere, a trip to Disney is a gamble like any other. Unless you’re among the wise and principled parents who don’t allow their children access to TV, the bet isn’t whether you are going. (You are.) The game of chance isn’t whether you will spend money. (Prepare to bleed.) It’s whether you will spend enough money so that you don’t lose your f—king mind in the process.
My husband and I put off going for as long as possible. We wanted to wait until our kids were old enough to appreciate it and save up enough money to “do it right.” But when a family reunion drew us to Orlando for the 4th of July weekend, all our wisdom went out the window.
I barely got the words “trip to Florida” out before my son punched the air and yelled, “Disney World! Disney World! We’re going to Disney World!”
One look at the rapturous expression on his face and I heard a voice that sounded remarkably like mine murmur something about “giving it a shot.”
This was how we found ourselves in the swarm of humanity that descends on Disney World during one of its busiest and hottest weeks of the year.
A common misconception about Disney World is that it’s located in Orlando. This is false. The parking lot is located in Orlando. The parks themselves are near the Georgia state line. At least, this is what it feels like after you have taken two forms of transportation to get from your car to the front gates.
Some families enjoy the tram-ferry-monorail connection, as it feels like a ride. But that magical train in the sky struck my son as a death trap and he began screaming bloody murder the second the doors slid shut.
“Too high! Too high!” he wailed and scampered up me like a monkey. I think he added something about how we were all going to die but I couldn’t hear very well because his knees were digging into my ears.
My husband was able to pry him from my head when Cinderella’s castle came into view (“It’s Cinderella’s castle! Cinderella’s castle! Look at Cinderella’s castle, g—dammit!”), and he calmed down somewhat when the monorail discharged us at the front gates of the Magic Kingdom.
My husband and I had a brief “aren’t we awesome” moment as we gazed at the main thoroughfare of the park in all of its turn-of-the-last-century splendor. But this was cut short when I looked down and noticed my daughter flushed bright red and blinking sweat out of her eyes.
“We need to get her out of the sun,” I said.
We took Main Street, USA like soldiers on a house-to-house search, ducking into shops just to enjoy a few moments of air conditioning and forcing our children to sip water from slick and sweating plastic bottles.
(“So, have you met Mickey Mouse?” I asked a shop assistant lamely as I wiped my forehead on my T-shirt, stalling for another minute in the cool air. She gave me a funny look and I wanted to snap, “Oh right, you’re wearing orthopedic shoes and a dirndl and I’M the a—hole.”)
Once we made it to Cinderella’s castle, I called over my shoulder, “Head to It’s a Small World! There won’t be any line.”
There wasn’t, because, as anyone who has been to the Magic Kingdom knows, it is the dumbest ride every conceived. As we stood under the awning waiting for our turn, panting like dogs, I was struck by Mr. Disney’s brilliance. Locate your amusement park in one of the hottest, most humid places in the continental USA, and people will be so grateful to get inside for some air conditioning that you could put on a shadow puppet show and they would declare it “magical.” Hell, I would have happily listened to someone make armpit-farting noises just for a few moments of respite from the sun.
“Wait, why is there a boat?” my son asked in a panic when ours pulled up.
“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s just going to take us for a little ride to look at some dolls.”
“It’s going too fast!” he said, as we began inching along.
When the singing, dancing dolls came into view, it was all over.
“No!” he screamed into my husband’s chest.
Charlie looked around in confusion.
“Dolls,” she said.
Yeah, pretty much.
We gritted our teeth and braced ourselves to get the damn thing over with. If you’re not familiar with the ride — and you don’t want to be — right towards the end you enter a room where all the dolls are dressed in white (what a statement, Walt). The music crescendoes and the flashing lights go from irritating to seizure inducing. My son screamed in fear and even my daughter began to cry.
And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the ride got stuck. It got effin’ stuck in what should officially be known as the 10th circle of hell. As I sat there holding my sobbing daughter, listening to my son shriek, I muttered:
“You better hope I don’t find out where they’re keeping you, Walt. Because if I do, I’m gonna hit the defrost button, kick your ass twice and then kill you.”
Our visit to the “Magic” Kingdom ended the second our boat docked.
As much as I want to hold the Disney folks responsible for our misery, it was really our own fault. We didn’t stack the deck. We thought we could pull a quick one over on the Mouse by just dropping in one of the busiest and hottest days of the year.
Any skilled player/parent would tell you to stay away during the crowded seasons and visit when the heat index isn’t 1,000 degrees. Celsius. They would advise you to hock any non-essential organs so you can stay in a Disney resort and avoid the hour-long — apparently terrifying — commute from the parking lots. Shore up your trip in any way possible because there will always be variables you can’t foresee, such as your son being scared s—tless by the lamest ride in existence.
What we should have done is taken them to a McDonald’s play area and said, “Holy crap! We’re at Disney World!” because it would have saved us a lot of money and misery.
But see, here’s where the wisdom of gamblers and hustlers falls short. (Don’t get me wrong, they’re still smart people but all advice falls a little short when it comes to parenting.) When gamblers place their bets, they need only keep greed and ego in check in order to think clearly. Parents have to contend with the angelic faces our children assume when they think they want something.
It’s kryptonite like no other and leads us to make the same mistakes again and again. Because do you know what my little boy did as soon as we got him back to the hotel and administered first aid for heat stroke? (I’m only kind of kidding, they were both in bad shape.) He smiled sweetly and said:
“Mama, that was so much fun! Can we go back tomorrow?”
I’m glad I’m not the only person that thinks that Disney World is anything but magical. Going there a few years ago was possibly the worst experience I’ve ever had with the heat, the inability to do anything with a toddler, and the torrential downpours that force you to wade around in a foot of water due to the lack of proper drainage.
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