How Disney World Perfectly Mirrors The Joys And Horrors Of Parenting

by Lisa Goodman-Helfand
Originally Published: 

Grab your tissues! I’ve got quite a sob story for you. Ready?

I never went to Disney World as a kid.

Cue the somber violin instrumental.

As an adult, I was bound and determined to take my kids to the Happiest Place on Earth and soak in the sweet nectar only this location could offer. We recently made the trip, and upon our return, I posted some cute photos of our family vacation on my Facebook page and felt satisfied that I had fulfilled my parental obligations.

Now that we’re back, I realize that the planning and execution of our trip mirrors a typical parenting journey. This may seem like a stretch, but allow me to explain.

Phase 1: Make the Decision to Do It (Pun Intended)

There’s a lot that goes into the decision to have kids. Can we afford it? Is the timing right? What if we don’t like it?

The same can be said about deciding to go to Disney, especially when negotiating with my fiscally conservative husband.

Phase 2: Plan for It

Once you find out you’re pregnant, the planning really begins. Where will this person stay? What books should I read to prepare? What products do I need to buy to optimize this experience? What kind of birthing plan do I want? You consult with your family and friends for guidance on all aspects of planning.

Once again, the parallels are uncanny! My husband devoured the The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and spent a ridiculous amount of time selecting a hotel. We researched the best rides and asked our friends and family for advice. I got up early every morning for a week to reserve our Fast Passes and make dinner reservations.

Phase 3: Fantasize About How Great It’s Going to Be

Before you have your first baby, you spend loads of time imagining the incredible delight that awaits you. You envision the adorable pictures you’ll post, the cute outfits you’ll buy for your prince or princess, the darling nursery you’ll decorate, the joy you’ll glean from every moment with this precious bundle of joy. You are anxiously anticipating the boundless pride you and your partner will derive from raising the next president of the United States. Sure, you hear rumblings from your Debbie Downer friends about sleepless nights, colic, explosive diapers, teething, yada, yada, yada. Come on, how bad could it be? Millions of Americans are doing this every year, and many keep repeating the experience.

This is freakishly similar to the fantasy I had about our dream vacation to Disney World. I envisioned my son, 12, and daughter, 9, frolicking through the parks wearing adorable Mickey Mouse ears. Visions of us screaming on roller coasters danced in my head. Sure, some people warned me that the lines for rides are insanely long, the nonstop days are exhausting, and all the walking takes its toll. Again, I thought, how bad could it be?

Phase 4: It Actually Happens!

© Courtesy Lisa Goodman-Helfand

The moment you’ve been waiting for finally arrives! You are holding your beautiful baby in your arms. Let the fun begin! You are about to embark on the most thrilling journey imaginable: parenthood.

I know I’m only 12 years into my personal parenthood journey, but I have to say it is magical! I can honestly claim I have found the greatest happiness of my life in raising my two kids. Every emotion is enhanced since I became a parent. The sense of love, pride, joy and adoration are indescribable. There is nothing else on earth that I would rather be doing than parenting my two kids.

But, I don’t eat rainbows for breakfast or carpool my kids around on a unicorn. Sometimes motherhood looks nothing like I thought it would.

I’m not the first mom to say this, and I know I won’t be the last. The crying, teething, potty training, extreme sleep deprivation and mortifying public temper tantrums sometimes made me want to throw in the towel before we were done with toddlerhood! Then there’s the boredom—nothing worse than being locked in the house on a rainy day with your kids as the hours stretch out like caramel in a slow-motion Twix bar commercial.

Now that I’m raising a tween (and a soon-to-be-tween), I’m knee-deep in ungrateful attitudes, eye-rolling, whining, complaining, obnoxious behavior, carpools, homework projects, irritating jokes, fighting and insistence on buying crap we don’t need.

That said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world (seriously).

The same claim can be made about our recent trip to Disney World. Every emotion was heightened in this magical kingdom. There were moments of sheer joy, like witnessing my daughter learn that she actually likes roller coasters, or seeing the look on her face when the neon-lit floats paraded before her gleaming eyes. I will always treasure the memory of belting out Frozen tunes with her during the “For the First Time in Forever” Frozen sing-along.

My son loved the roller coasters and said his favorite part of the trip was the day he and I spent together, just the two of us, at Universal Studios. Drinking a butterbeer and buying a wand in Diagon Alley were thrilling. There were moments when my husband transformed into a kid again and banged on bongos or screamed for dear life while riding the Tower of Terror. If condensed, those fabulous moments could have easily spanned a solid five hours. Too bad our trip lasted 144.

There were the negatives too. Here are some things that happened, which you won’t see in any guidebook or find posted on Facebook:

I heard more adults screaming at their kids than I ever have in my life. I am a mom, teacher and former camp counselor, so this says a lot! My own children were sometimes frightened when they heard parents say things like, “Shut up and quit complaining! I’m hot, too!” or “I need to take a break or I will seriously hit him!” or “Move! Let’s go! You can run faster than that!”

I did not utter any of those particular phrases (out loud), but I did find myself less tolerant than usual. My daughter’s pink sparkly mouse ears injured my son and me (those damn things can scratch!). The lines were long, the parks were crowded, and my feet swelled up so badly on the last day that I could hardly walk.

Just like parenthood, we bought a lot of crap we didn’t need, endured long stretches of boredom, and dished out and received large doses of sarcastic commentary.

Phase 5: Saying Goodbye

I’m grateful I won’t have to send my son to college for another six years, or my daughter for nine. Just the thought makes my eyes well up and my nose sting, because I can’t imagine ending this era. I suspect I will be a hot mess when those goodbyes come.

Saying goodbye to our vacation was not so hard. When we got on the airplane to go home, I sunk into my seat and finally relaxed. I couldn’t wait to resume our normal life. I can’t imagine I’ll feel that way when my kids leave for college. My normal life is parenting my kids. I know I’ll always be their mom even when they’re grown, but I only get to raise them once. If I tried to condense all the minutes of pure joy I’ve felt as a parent, it would add up to…an impossible task. I cannot quantify emotions. They are glued together in a messy mosaic artwork titled “Parenthood.” It may not always be magical, but it is mystical, enchanting and priceless.

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