Are there support groups for parents of kids who don’t like Disney?
I’m not a big fan of Disney or theme parks or any place where I feel like a Machiavellian sheep being used and herded through the commercial machine. But even my cold, anti-establishment heart can see how it’s fun for kids. And, I admit it: the 7-year-old inside me still thrills at the prospect of hugging Minnie Mouse. My two older daughters went to Disneyland when they were four and five—that wonderful age where princesses sweat glitter and make-believe is the truth.
I wanted my youngest daughter to experience the same joy her sisters did. “Let’s go this year!” I told my husband. “While she’s still too young to understand that characters are just people sweating their butts off inside polyester fur.”
So, we went to Disney World. I was looking forward to the smiles and gasps from all my girls— but especially my little 5-year-old.
Things started out well. Her hotel bed had a drawing of Mickey in a hammock on the headboard! She happily gazed at him as she drifted off to sleep. His image portended the wonder to come.
But, the next day, one hour and two carousel rides into the Magic Kingdom, she asked when we were leaving.
“Leaving? Like, leaving the carousel?”
“No. I want to leave here. I want to go back to the hotel now.”
I was stunned. “But this is Disney World. Don’t you want to ride Dumbo? See Mickey? Go to Ariel’s house?”
“I want to do one thing,” she said.
“What is it? Whatever it is, we’ll do it.”
“I want to go to the hotel and rest in my Mickey bed.”
“We can’t do that,” I told her.
Because we didn’t spend thousands of dollars so you can lie in a cheesy fake wood-laminate bed all day! Because you’re supposed to be awestruck and elated! Because this is your only chance to feel childlike wonder at Goofy’s freakishly large shoes! Because it’s Disney! This fake magic costs a lot of money! So feel the frickin’ magic!
Instead of yelling all that, I controlled myself. I calmly explained that we were probably not coming back. This was her one chance to enjoy it. “And if you don’t like it, then you never have to come back here again in your whole life.”
So, she politely tolerated it. She was happy to meet Piglet and Pooh and Ariel and Mickey. She rode Dumbo. She enjoyed herself. But I never saw that flash in her eye or heard that wonder-struck gasp that meant the magic of Disney had entered her little spirit.
Until about 3 p.m. She suddenly shrieked with excitement. She skipped. She clapped her hands with joy. “Look, Mommy! Look!”
Donald Duck? Rapunzel? What finally captured my child’s heart? “What is it?” I asked her with bated breath.
She pointed to a trash can. “A squirrel!”
If we lived in a place that had no squirrels, like…. I can’t really think of a place with no squirrels. Aqua Man’s house? The Matrix? If we lived in either of those places, I’d have understood her rapture. But we live in a regular, squirrel-laden suburb. Clearly, her backyard—not Disney—is the Happiest Place on Earth.
When I told my travel agent that my only requirement for next year’s family vacation was that there be plenty of trash cans and rodents, she gave me an odd look.