About three years ago, we decided to put a big Mason jar on the kitchen counter that would be devoted solely to our Disney adventure. We decided to make it something more tangible and present — every day, we would see the jar, and every day, we would be reminded. We devised schemes and strategies and even punishments that would result in adding money to the jar. If we wanted to go out for pizza, but chose to make sandwiches at home instead, we would take the money we would have spent on the pizza and put it in the jar. If the kids misbehaved in some particular agreed upon way, they contributed to the fund. If the parents said a bad word, they would contribute. If we had change left over for any reason at the end of each day, into the jar it went.
After a few months of this, we managed to save nearly $200 toward our trip. The kids were thrilled.
“Boy, we’re getting CLOSE now!” they exclaimed. “Will we be able to go this summer, dad?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that, at the current rate of saving and scrimping and taxing bad language, we would have enough to make the trip in approximately 78 more years. My wife has a fragrant and colorful assortment of bad words in her vocabulary bouquet, but not nearly enough to fund a trip to Disney, or even to Dollywood.
Even worse, we had taken to plundering the Disney jar in emergency situations, such as funding impromptu trips to the movies or slipping some cash into a kid’s birthday card. Sometimes we’d replace it, sometimes we’d forget.
Finally, last summer, my wife and I took inventory of the jar, of our bank account, and of our lives. Our daughter would be a teenager on her next birthday. On some days, she played with dolls and watched cartoons. On others, she texted her friends, perfected new ways to roll her eyes at the ceaseless travesties of her existence in our home, and cried an hour for no discernible reason. Adolescence was just about to toss a Molotov cocktail right into the middle of our Disney fantasy, and we knew it. Wait another year or two, and our daughter would be too, too cool and angst-ridden to stomach a week of Mickey Mouse. It was now or never for Never Never Land, so we (and by “we” I mean my wife) began researching the Internet and making travel plans, and within three weeks, we had it all planned and booked.
On paper, the plan looked flawless. We would do five theme parks in five days — Universal Studios, Legoland, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom. We decided on a meal plan and made reservations for restaurants that looked particularly appealing, or ones that had been recommended by friends. We sought counsel from anyone we could find who had “done Disney” so that we could develop a strategy for how to maximize our trip, we bought cheap headphones and portable DVD players for the kids for the drive to Orlando, and we hit the road with an alarming volume of DVDs, CDs, books, crossword puzzles, bottles of water, and about a gallon of hot coffee. If we ran out of money and maxed out every credit card — which seemed all too likely — we could always open a roadside flea market with all the “stuff” we brought along to get us through the drive there and back.
Did someone say “money”? I tried not to think about it. The best advice we heard was to think of the trip as a priceless family milestone, a once-in-a-lifetime event, something we would reflect on and cherish for the rest of our lives. Who could put a price tag on such a thing? Well, Disney could, but we shouldn’t.
“Don’t look at or think about what anything costs while you’re there,” my brother said. “Just savor it and focus on the experience.”
Sage advice, that. I decided to take it and bravely spent the week without a second thought to how much money we were spending, regardless of how frivolous it might have seemed at any given moment. It felt like being in college again!
On our very first morning, we went to Universal Studios, and the very first thing we did when we arrived was walk all the way back to Hogwarts, home of one Harry Potter. On some days, my daughter, who has read every Harry Potter book and has seen every Harry Potter movie at least twice each, is just too fed up with the world to be impressed with much of anything.
But not today. As we entered, the castle towering before us, she literally jumped and shouted with unbridled glee. Then I noticed that my wife, the original Harry Potter fan in our home, was weeping with happiness.
That was just the beginning. Each day contained similar “I can’t believe this is really happening right now” moments. We forced ourselves to get out of bed every morning at 7 a.m. so that we could be at each park when it opened, and we stayed until we could take it no longer, sometimes well after dark. By the end of the week, we had all reached a level of exhaustion we had never known from the relentless walking and standing, as well as the endless navigation around tens of thousands of tourists squeezed into each of the parks.
But we did just about everything that we wanted to do, everything that is humanly possible to do at Disney in five days. And we made pictures of everything, documenting the trip as if we were scientists who had just discovered a new species.
Our Disney jar is gone now, but we have about 10,000 photographs and countless memories to replace it. When “the world is too much with us,” as Wordsworth said, we can always close our eyes and be transported back to Hogwarts in an instant, playing quidditch with Harry Potter himself.
No matter how old she gets, I will always think of my daughter just as she was on that day, unselfconscious and filled again with wonder and joy. Come to think of it, we all were.