Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fourth and Final (?)

It's been 11 years since I've been to Disneyland. The last time I was in the area, all I needed to do was get near South Harbour Blvd and Katella Ave, and whoosh, magically, I would end up in the parking lot. And it seems to me, that over the years, regardless of when during the day, week, or year that I arrive - we always end up in the Jimminy Cricket section of the lot.

I could be wrong.
But that's what my memory tells me.

Things have changed.
That parking lot?
Is now a theme park.
(California Adventure)

And the parking lot?
Is way over there. On the other side.

It took us awhile to find it.
We had to read signs and do an assortment of U-Turns, but eventually we were on the roof of the largest parking garage in America (Minnie Mouse level).

Whatever angst we were carrying with us, dissolved in the warm California air as we made our way to the tram.
"What should our first ride be?"
"Does it matter?"
"Well, this is Danica's first time to Disneyland. Her first ride is going to be set in her memory forever."
"Right. We should think about this."
"NOT Jungle Cruise. We always start with Jungle Cruise. We need to start with a better one."
"Like what? What? A roller coaster ride? Like Space Mountain?"

We walk 10 miles across the parking garage down 6 floors to the entrance and wait for the tram to transport us to the front gates.
"Space Mountain's lineup will be super long. How about Indiana Jones?"
"Actually THIS is Danica's first ride," I say as we get on the tram.

Hours later, after we've toured most of Southern California and all of Anaheim, we are deposited in Downtown Disney. I never knew such a place existed. Shops and stores and restaurants and theatres and kiosks and cotton candy and eye candy and it was all colorful and bright and wonderful. And none of it was familiar.

"Where are we?" I ask.

Drew, who has been here far more often than I, directs me towards the ticket booths for Disneyland. We present our printed 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper with bar codes that I printed a few days before we left because that's the way I prepare for a trip.

And then?

Everything was familiar.
The train station.
The Mickey Mouse flowers on the slope behind the fence.
And the entrance under the tracks, that little tunnel area. With the plaque on it.
The plaque that says: "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy"

And as we walk through the tunnel, one of the kids reads the words out loud, and my eyes just start dripping. I can't stop the tears.

It's been a long day, with many challenges.
Not only was the border crossing and airport situations stress-filled; I've been driving a new-to-me VAN with  4 passengers, three of whom are very critical. And opinionated. And prone to sarcasm. Driving on 6 lane freeways and 2 lane highways with no map. Or sense of direction.

Plus, this is the first time I've added girls to a vacation. So I'm hyper sensitive to well, everything.

And by 6:30-ish pm on Friday Nov 11, I let the stress of it all leak out my eyes.
The kids don't notice. Thankfully.

"Where to first?"
"I think we should get a fast pass to Indiana Jones. Let's go there."
"Yeah, first left past Main Street."

We arrive in Frontierland, go past the Tiki Tiki Room and there, on the left, is the Jungle Cruise.
With NO lineup.
"Maybe we should quickly do this."
"No lineup. We could just hop on..."
"I say yes."
"Yeah. Let's do it."

And Clint? My oldest? Says, "Yes!" like he's won the lottery. "Tradition wins out."
And everyone agrees.
We always start with the Jungle Cruise. It's the way we do things.

And at that moment, I remember the Fall/Winter of 1999. Their dad moved out during the Christmas season the year before, so this was the first time we were facing the 'big' holidays without him. Other than Max (who was 8 at the time), crying on the night he left, there had been no tears. No anger. No acting out. Just life as usual.  Until Halloween.

That's when Clint realized that his mom wasn't his dad when it came to explosives. And that night? He got mad. And was sad. And didn't know what to do with his anger.

Less than two months later, Mark's dad dropped by with a Christmas Tree he'd cut for us. He'd brought it over in the trunk of his car. Twelve year old Clint took one look at that 5 foot tree and burst into tears. He fell into my lap and sobbed. "But we always go to a tree farm and cut down the biggest tree in the lot. And we get hot chocolate. And you always say it's wayyyy too big... that you don't have enough ornaments. It's our TRADITIONNNN."

Drew's breaking point was about a year later, on the evening that we moved into our brand new house in Fraser Heights. The movers had placed boxes in every room, most of which were still packed and sealed. I'd put the kids' bedrooms together though, so 'their' spaces were filled with their familiar things.

Drew and I were on the floor in the living room, wrestling, like one does with a 5 year old when all of a sudden he started crying. Then panicking.
"What's the matter? Or you hurt?" I asked.
"Dad's not here," he waled. "I can't feel him here. There's nothing of his in this house!"
He was frantic.

I knew what he meant.
This new house was very definitely mine.
Mark, his memory and his things were not there.
Which was healthy for me, and devastating for my little man.

"Here. I know just what to do," I assured him. "Let's look in this box, here."
I knew exactly which boxes contained which photo albums and we spent the rest of the evening on the carpeted floor of my brand new, empty living room looking at pictures of Drew and his dad. I had a few empty frames, so we took photos out of albums and into frames so he could have them on the walls in his room. And on his night table. And in the hallway. And in the kitchen.  Just like we had in all the houses before this one.

It's a tradition. To have family photos out and on display.

That was like, a decade ago. These boys of mine have been through alot; both good and bad. (The bad they did on their own. I had no part in their shenanigans.)
They have fought against just about every value I hold dear. They have argued with me til we're all blue in the face about us 'not being a typical family' - and how they need to do things their way. And yet.

And yet, now, in 2011, when we're all together in Disneyland for the first time since 2000 - they hold onto the Jungle-Cruise-as-first-ride tradition.

As we cruised the murky waters of the Jungle, listening to silly jokes and bad commentary about the plastic animals along the shore, in my heart, I pondered a few things. One them being that verse in Proverbs:
When you train up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it when he is old.

Clearly I did a good job training them up to take that Jungle Cruise ride first. No one is departing from THAT tradition.

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