A Tale of Mice and Moms

DisneylandI have to admit I was a little skeptical when I received the invitation to attend a “Mom Bloggers Day to Learn, Eat and Play at Disneyland.” I love Disneyland, and I like eating, playing and learning, and I am a mom and I do have a blog. But was I really a “mom blogger?” I wasn’t so sure. First of all, I have no idea what they call themselves. Moggers? Bloms?

At the same time, there aren’t too many perks for members of the press these days-unless you count all of those forwarded articles about the demise of the newspaper business from my college friends who I accused of “selling out” when they went to law school-so when I read the words “free admission for your whole family” I was sold, despite my apprehension about the words “mom bloggers.” Not that I have anything against these little moggers. But unlike them, I’m a working stiff, who doesn’t have the luxury of spending hours writing blogs only to be paid with cases of Rice-A-Roni, or even trips to Disneyland.

Okay, maybe I have a little bit of resentment toward the blommies because I actually make my living writing stories, meager though it may be. This isn’t just a hobby for me like it is for most mommygrrs, and I can’t help but remember what my mom used to say about not buying cows when you can get the milk for free.

But the waters are getting murky out there for journalists and bloggers alike. Back in the old days, reputable publications and journalists didn’t take any freebies. But the times are changing, and with barely enough money coming in to pay their writers, publishers are getting much more relaxed about letting their employees enjoy whatever perks they can get.

Just last week, The Wall Street Journal had a story about bloggers getting paid in hard, cold cash to pitch products, which used to be called public relations. According to the article, “Companies see the freebies and payments to bloggers as a cheap way to boost brand buzz during the recession.” It goes on to say that, “The Internet is becoming so rife with paid blogging that the Federal Trade Commission, which guards against false advertisements, is examining whether it should police bloggers.”

I decided to do some detective work of my own. I wasn’t just taking a free trip to Disneyland-albeit with absolutely no promise to them that I would write about them- I was doing some investigative reporting.

I was infiltrating the exciting world of mom bloggers.

Judging from my extremely unscientific sample survey of momoggers who came to Disneyland last week, the vast majority of them took their responsibility to report the objective facts about Disney’s “summer nightastic” plans very seriously. This is despite the fact that some of the mom bloggers had been buffed and bouffanted at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique; many had limbo-ed and conga-ed with Mickey’s crew in his Celebrate! Street Party parade; and all of us had indulged in the tasty “Cowboy Conecakes” served in Frontierland’s new Celebration Roundup & Barbecue restaurant. Seriously, no one turned them down. The presentation was very Martha Stewart, and the frosting to cake ratio was just right, which any self-respecting mom can certainly appreciate.

I struggled to keep my conecake enthusiasm in check, hardened professional that I am. But I couldn’t help but get a little giddy at the reserved front row seating we had for the parade (I could see the flop sweat on Pluto’s face, as he danced his goofy little heart out), and did a little happy dance when they gave us front of the line fast passes for “It’s a Small World,” “Toy Story Midway Mania” and “Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage,” none of which have regular fast passes available to the hoi polloi.

I tried to keep my excitement on the down low as I listened to the mom bloggers talk about some of the biggest issues on their websites.

“Our most lively discussions are always about breastfeeding,” said one of the mooggers, who happened to be 15 months pregnant.

“Not our site,” said a perky blonde. “It’s all about whether or not to go back to work. The great stay at home debate.”

“Not that anyone can afford to stay at home with their kids these days,” offered a tall brunette blogger, in purple sequined Minnie Mouse ears.

Seeing my opening, I pounced. “So do you any of you get paid for writing your blogs?” I asked. They all looked at me like I was crazy. “Does 500 cases of laundry detergent count?” asked a sweet-faced woman with exceptionally clean clothes.

They continued their conversation without missing a beat. It was fascinating, it was fun, and best of all-it was free.

I still don’t know if I’m really a mom blogger. But if you want to know the specifics about all of the new attractions at Disneyland, you can read about them on my, ahem, blog.

When Leslie’s on deadline, or blogging, mogging or tweeting, or on Facebook, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 1, 2009.

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.

Disneyland never gets old

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Resort, Anaheim CA, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Resort, Anaheim CA, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Magic Kingdom brings out the kid within

Outrageous prices, long lines, and theme park feet aside, taking a child to Disneyland for the first time is still an E-ticket ride. While my 5-year-old son Koss is a seasoned Disney veteran, his cousin Jordan recently celebrated her fourth birthday with Mickey and friends at what was, for her, truly the happiest place on earth.

Of course my brother-in-law, Brian, would have rather had a root canal — but some people don’t recognize fun even when it’s screaming in their ear.

I, on the other hand, love Disneyland with an almost geek-like passion. My fervor would be more than “almost geek-like” if I were talking about vanilla lattes or Chuck’s Mai Tais, but with mouse-maniacs rivaled only by trekkies in their fanaticism, my enthusiasm is relatively tame.

Sure, I make my family wear the same color shirts when we go there, but it’s not like we have “Dinaberg Family Disneyland Trip” t-shirts printed up like the Densmore family did, and it’s not like we’ve fashioned our old curtains into Butterick Pattern Nos. 1187-1199 like the Von Trapp family. No, that would be ridiculous. At least, not until after I finish my sewing class.

My obsession certainly doesn’t reach the heights of the Krock’s, who created a website about “the happiest potties on earth” (www.mouseplanet.com/potties/). While it’s a truly brilliant site, and would have been useful when Koss 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, I’m not that obsessive.

Still, my heart starts thumping a little faster as we pull into the lot, and it’s not just because of the $37 parking fee — I love Disneyland.

I’m probably the only person to have enjoyed visiting Walt Disney World and Epcot Center solo, on more than one occasion. (OK, so I was there on business, but I still bought — and wore — the mouse ears.)

I couldn’t help reflect on how well my son and his cousin Lauren would have fit in at Tokyo Disneyland where all sense of personal space is eclipsed by a strange need to fit as many people in as small a space as possible. I know that Disneyland can sometimes feel like the most peopled place on earth, but trust me, anywhere in the U.S. would feel spacious in comparison to Tokyo Disneyland.

I bet Brian’s head would explode if we made him go there.

Jordan’s eyes turned to saucers as she watched the teacups spin. New things come and go in the real world with alarming frequency, but everything in Fantasyland is just where I left it when I was 4. I can almost see my lip print on Dumbo’s ear and my Grandpa Alex’s belly jiggling as he danced along with the birds in the “Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room,” and just about hear my dad singing “It’s a Small World After All.” Oh — never mind. That really is my dad singing “It’s a Small World After All.” Some things you don’t have to remember, you can just relive them over and over again. Like, “It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world….” I must stop now.

One of the greatest things about being a parent is getting to re-experience magic through the eyes of a child. Watching their responses was often more entertaining than whatever it was they were watching. Lauren wanted to dance with the prince in the “Snow White” stage show, Jordan tried to pick a fight with some of the pirates in the Caribbean, and Koss believed that Buzz Lightyear remembered him from their last hug and photo op.

I guess it is a small world after all. It’s a small world after all. It’s a small, small…No! Stop it!

It certainly feels like a small world when a woman I don’t recognize spots me in line and asks me, “Are we going to read about this in the Beacon?” I’m not sure whether to feel flattered to get recognized or guilty because she busted me for taking my son out of school.

“It’s my sister’s fault,” I want to say. “She didn’t want to fight crowds on a weekend.” And really what I mean, if you’re reading this and you happen to be the principal at Vieja Valley, is that he was very sick that day with a fever of 112. Or, at least a massive stomachache from all the $12 boxes of popcorn that grandma bought him.

Jordan’s chubby little legs bounce along to the Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata,” landing her on her rump every so often. She laughs out loud just because she’s 4 and in her world this is nothing short of nirvana. Even Brian cracks a smile, and I feel grateful to have a glimpse back to feeling that way.

Though my theme park feet are asleep after the long drive home, and I’m too tired to wash the theme park film (saturated fat, sunscreen, sweat and spilled sugar) off my body, laying in my own somewhat lumpy bed next to my own somewhat grumpy husband is actually the happiest place on earth.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on June 2, 2005.