I’m sitting perfectly still at my computer, but the room is rocking — back and forth, back and forth, back and….
It’s not a completely unpleasant sensation, which is good, since I’m not sure how long it will last. I do know how it started. I knew better than to agree to ride Mulholland Madness — a roller coaster my husband describes as a “baby ride,” but definitely the most intense one I’ve been on since a bad Space Mountain experience in college — but Annabelle’s face lit up when she suggested it and I agreed.
This was our fourth trip to Disneyland as a foursome. It’s an interesting way to mark both girls’ growth. The first year, Sophie wasn’t walking, and Annabelle was too short for any of the rides. Last year, Sophie wasn’t potty trained, so each time we met a character, I asked the character whether he/she/it used the potty. Some didn’t appreciate the question, but most played along. (Looking back, I sort of can’t believe I did that. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. For whatever reason, Sophie was potty trained by the end of the following week.)
This year, tastes definitely had changed. There are still rides girls both want to do, but Sophie’s not tall enough for the roller coasters. And this time, Annabelle wasn’t into the princesses, so I took her to stand in line for Tinkerbell and the other fairies while Ray and Sophie waited for Snow White. (I have no idea where the Snow White obsession came from — and no, I don’t think it has anything to do with Dopey! More on him later, I hope; I have some requests out to fairy tale experts to try to get to the bottom of this.)
For much of the trip, Ray and Annabelle teamed up for the big kid rides, while Sophie and I waited for Pooh and Tigger, or partied in the Tiki Room. The last day we tried to mix it up, and in our final moments, I really threw caution to the wind and got on that roller coaster.
“Don’t worry, Mommy, you can hold my hand,” Annabelle said, advising me to keep my eyes shut and announcing the big drops are “yummy” when I casually mentioned afterward that they’re not really my thing.
So it was worth it. But I’m having a little trouble concentrating today. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Wait, where was I?
I knew it would be a good trip when we walked into the park and the first thing we saw was Mickey Mouse wearing a party hat. There were party hats everywhere — teeny tiny hats on top of this year’s edition of the mouse ears; big upside down hats filled with flowers, decorating the lamp posts on Main Street; hats on the popcorn boxes, cups, paper napkins.
This year we were, at times, part of a large group of various friends — including Sophie’s Ms. X! — which sometimes presented challenges (have you ever tried to make a decision at Disneyland with 12 people in your party?) but ultimately made it a much better trip. Our little family tried a lot of things we hadn’t tried before.
But time was short, and we found ourselves rushing to cover our favorite bases. By the end of the second day, I was in a mood so crappy even a margarita (yes, they sell booze at California Adventure, the park next to Disneyland — very good to know) didn’t make a dent as I rushed to get Sophie over to the last performance of the day of Playhouse Disney.
Now, part of this, I know, was because of The Game. Ray and I have played it since our first trip — I wrote about it in the Tomorrowland piece I posted the other day. We keep an eye out for people with Down syndrome. As I wrote earlier, the Happiest Place on Earth attracts the (allegedly) Happiest People on Earth.
When you refuse to join a support group, you do a lot of surreptitious staring. I know this is not healthy. But I do it anyhow. Ray and I agreed this time that we don’t stare as hard anymore; as Sophie gets older, it becomes easier to imagine the adult she’ll be. But still, walking through the park, Ray would call out, “Hey, hon! Two o’clock!” And I’d rubberneck to check out our possible future, dressed in a red sweater with bobbed hair.
I’d only seen a few people with DS so far (attendance was clearly down overall at Disneyland this year — even Mickey’s not recession-proof, I guess) but while Sophie and I were waiting outside the Tiki Room, I had noticed an older woman with what were obviously her twin sons; both had Down syndrome, and both appeared to be fairly low functioning. The situation looked pretty grim, and I admit that it put me in a funk for a while.
Sophie, on the other hand, was all smiles. And she’s developed a little habit I’m not so fond of — randomly hugging strangers. For the most part, the strangers love it. I wanted to strangle the middle-aged woman who actually picked my daughter up and held her as I struggled to get her back; I know people are just trying to be nice, but hasn’t anyone else ever had to teach a child about Stranger Danger?)
By the time Sophie jumped out of the stroller and ran to hug a Playhouse Disney employee named Heather, I’d pretty much given up on stopping the hugs, as long as the person looked safe. (And don’t worry, I wasn’t drunk. I’d had way too much soft pretzel to catch a buzz.)
Heather was thrilled. She and Sophie chatted for a while, then I turned to get in the now-substantial line.
“Hey,” Heather said, “why don’t you and Sophie come inside the white rope?” This was clearly the “preferred seating” area. Or, as I silently and instantly named it, the “f-ed up kid” area. Another woman was already waiting there with her kids — I eyed them, trying to figure out which one had the diagnosis, and what it was. My heart sank for a minute, but I couldn’t deprive Sophie a front row, center seat — which I was pretty sure we’d get. (We did.)
Still, it was a little weird when Heather called all of her fellow employees over one by one to meet Sophie, who was now standing behind the white rope, sort of like she was — well, sort of like she was in the zoo. “Look! Look! This is my friend Sophie!” Heather said, and Sophie obliged by hugging everyone.
I was beginning to wish I’d been the one to take Annabelle on California Screaming. (Turned out she was still too short for that one, she never made it on.) But Sophie was having a ball. We saw the show, she was thrilled, and I had to admit that it was nice to get preferred seating.
As we were walking out, Heather stopped us and offered to get Sophie and me into the VIP area for the parade, which was about to start.
“OK,” I said, “that would be great. But, um, we’ve got a party of 12.”
She said that was fine. It made think of the time the ranger at the Petrified Forest told us Sophie and her family can get into all the national parks free, for life, explaining when I turned her down that it meant families would never leave their disabled loved one at home.
For the record, I’d bring Sophie to Disneyland any day, VIP section or not. But it was pretty nice to be able to call Ray and say, “Hey, tell everyone to head on over! Wait til you see what Sophie got us!”
Sophie was oblivious. She was looking for more hugs. While we waited for Ray et al, she spotted another Playhouse Disney employee, and ran up for a hug.
This one was not much taller than Sophie. His name was Teo; he’s a little person. (I swear, I’m not making this up. I know, I was just writing about midgets and dwarfs!)
“How old are you?” Teo asked Sophie.
“Five,” she answered. “Are you five, too?”
Teo looked sad. “No, I know I look like I’m five,” he answered. “But I’m not.”
Sophie hugged him again.
It was one of those magical southern California days with bright sun and a cool breeze, and the parade was short but sweet, with all the Pixar characters. Sophie was really excited. We all were.
After the parade, both Heather and Teo came over to see if we’d had fun. They both admitted they’d had really rotten days (“My first bad day at Disneyland in three years!” Heather said. Turned out that other mom and her kid had been nasty to Heather earlier, which is why they were getting preferred seating.) and when I tried to thank them, insisted that Sophie deserved all the thanks.
I felt my bad mood melt away.
We left Heather and Teo (after several more hugs) and headed back to Disneyland for a few more rides, realizing we were all tall enough to ride the cars at Autotopia.
Standing in line, I spotted an older guy with Down syndrome. He was with another man; I don’t think he had DS but maybe some other kind of developmental disability.
I couldn’t stop staring at the guy with DS, and not because I was worried about Sophie’s future. To the contrary. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but this guy in his cardigan and jeans looked so confident, so content, so wise, standing there chatting with his friend. I had this weird, overpowering sensation that I was staring at the smartest person at Disneyland.
I wanted to talk to him, or at least try to overhear his conversation, even though that’s not typically part of The Game. But it was our turn in line. So instead, we got in our little cars and sped away.