The happy-ish place on earth

DisneylandIs it possible that the happiest place on earth is now just a happy-ish place?

From my first visit to Disneyland as a 4-year-old, to the hundreds of journeys I’ve made there since, I’ve always thought Disneyland was an E-ticket ride.

The thing about going to Disneyland– sweaty bodies that aren’t your own, outrageous prices, long lines and theme park feet aside–is that it’s a chance to spread a little magic pixie dust and journey back to your childhood.

But this time, even though our recent trip was a blast, it was also a sad reminder that while I’m still a kid from the moment I spot Mickey from the freeway, my own kid is growing up way too fast. He didn’t even want to buy mouse ears because he’d “have to take them off on Thunder Mountain.”

Excuse me? Mouse ears are mandatory.

Back in the 70s, when I was rocking white Go-Go boots, pigtails and a Partridge Family lunchbox, my Grandpa Alex did the dry cleaning for Disneyland. This meant we got free tickets to Disneyland. We must have gone a dozen times every summer, but I still got mouse ears every time–and that was when your choices were with or without a bow. Now the ears (37 styles) snap on to 1,569 different hat options, and don’t even get me started on the patches. Yet Koss was not particularly interested.

Hmm … maybe it’s a boy thing? At least he still skipped with me.

New stuff comes and goes in the real world with alarming frequency, but everything in Fantasyland was just where I left it when I was 7. Watching Alice’s teacups spin brought back some of the happiest memories of my childhood–but if some kind of extreme thrill isn’t involved, then Koss wasn’t willing to wait in more than a five-minute line. My husband Zak got queasy just looking at those saucers spin.

I realize that not everyone digs Disneyland the way I do, but Zak was more excited by the free soda refills at one of the restaurants than the new Nemo ride. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best ride ever, but still, it’s a NEW RIDE at DISNEYLAND! To which he responded, it’s FREE REFILLS at DISNEYLAND! Point taken.

I think Zak’s happiest moment of our three-day adventure was when he saw that “It’s a Small World,” was closed for re-theming. I was crushed, but soon realized that even without the ride I could still hear the echoes of my dad singing, “It’s a Small World After All.”

Just so they wouldn’t feel left out, I sang it a few times for Zak and Koss. They were amused for the first ten minutes or so, then, I don’t know what happened. Some people don’t recognize fun, even when it’s screaming in their ear.

Like I said, it was a happy-ish place this time.

Still, I got them off the roller coasters and into the Tiki Room for a little while. The line for the pineapple froth was too long, and Koss thought it sounded icky, but inside I could almost see Grandpa Alex’s belly jiggling as he danced along with the birds in the “Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room,”

Koss rolled his eyes when I shared the precious Disney memory of when he was a baby and I gracefully managed to spill an entire strawberry slushie on his tushie and then used the very last diaper in all of Disneyland to clean him off.

While I think that one of the greatest things about being a parent is getting to re-experience magic through the eyes of a child, I guess I also have to remember that as a child it’s not that much fun to hear your parents’ stories over and over again.

But seriously, this is a story that involves Disneyland, bodily fluids, and mom being embarrassed. You would think he’d be a little more amused. Where’s the pixie dust when you need it?

I was starting to worry that Koss might not have inherited my Disney gene, when we stumbled onto the parade. His skinny legs bounced along to “Under the Sea” and he grinned as he explained to the crowd that the starfish were doing some of the aerial moves he learned at Circus Camp. Then he waved to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, forgetting for a moment that he’s almost 9 and too old to get too excited. This place has still got it.

When we finally got home, with throbbing feet and empty wallets, I was too tired to wash the theme park film of saturated fat, sunscreen, sweat and spilled sugar off my body. Koss is still smiling when we carry him to bed and still clutching a couple of magic rings we bought him instead of the mouse ears. Who needs pixie dust? Disneyland’s still got it.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 18, 2008.

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