The Cost of Magic

Our trip to Disney World was cold, rainy, and wonderful. When I told friends about the weather we endured in Orlando they offered sympathetic responses. But they don’t know. Because when you’re a Disney Pro, cold and rainy is what you want; inclement weather keeps the Floridians with season passes at home and brings the wait times down! Throw disposable ponchos in the backpack and you are king of the park. Add extra magic hours and at 1 am on a rainy day you can walk right on to Space Mountain over and over again.

Disney World is a place of magic for my family. It all started when we had three with the forth on the way. We saved our pennies and took the plunge for our first trip. It was a lot for a young family, but was worth it the minute we walked onto Main Street and our oldest (5 at the time) broke into spontaneous dance when she took in the lights and sounds around her.

We went back a few years later when we had our full complement of children. Even at two, Kylie was so happy on the ferry ride that she had to pull her shirt up and rub her belly – which is the ultimate expression of joy!

I won’t bore you with our memories – they are special to us, but most are the, “you had to be there,” kind of funny. This trip might have been our last as a family living together. It was a graduation present for Meredith (college) and Jenna (high school). Pretty soon, real life will set in for them. We may get back there again, you never know. But there are no guarantees once they start leaving the nest. In fact, there are no guarantees at all.

This trip, we walked just over fifty miles in five days. In the past, with my head visible above the crowd, I was the exclusive leader of the pack. But now, at 50, I followed some. Only Jenna and I have the fortitude it takes to successfully navigate Disney – to crush the elderly and push small children aside. The others are too soft-hearted to get anywhere because you have to be decisive in a crowd and move with purpose. That’s a joke, of course, no one (that we know of) was actually hurt during our Disney Trip.

While we were on a bus one day, our 20-year-old, Kendall made the statement that this was her ninth trip to Disney. I was floored. One of those was with her high school chorus, but eight were family trips. Thinking of the money I had just shelled out, I found it hard to believe we got there eight times! But she remembers everything so I stopped doubting her long ago.

With the girls sleeping on the trip back, the old, worn-out folks began to reminisce about the week. We talked about how much we missed Kylie there – she would have loved every second of it. Of course, we also felt her there often. Our life is now a conflicted state of hard/easy, joy/pain, contentment/discontent.

As a father who has had to hammer at the budget for over 22 years, I pondered the amount of money we spent on those eight trips. There have been some lean years mixed in there; years of belt-tightening and tough decisions. Yet we went eight times! That total cost must be mid-five digits before the decimal – likely enough to buy a nice car. That’s a lot of money.

And I don’t want a dollar back. My circumstance has taught me that experience trumps anything I own or could own. Kylie was taken away from me too early, but no one can ever take away the memory of her first meeting with Mickey Mouse or her smile when she was finally big enough to ride Splash Mountain.

Kylie’s knee would start hurting soon after we returned from this trip

If you are a young dad, please listen to me: Take the trip! Use your vacation! Spend the money! I am not advocating financial irresponsibility – if you are struggling to make ends meet, take a camping trip (I grew up with vacations in tents.) But most of us could endure a smaller house, a less expensive car, or fewer nights out. Skimp somewhere else but do not shortchange your time and experience with you children. The big car will always be at the dealership, but the reality of life is that none of us are promised another day with our loved ones. We should live our lives with that in mind and leave no room for regret.


Our last trip with Kylie

Father Doesn’t Always Know Best

When kids outnumber their parents, something strange happens. There is a sadistic magic that multiplies their messy hands while shrinking our arms so that everything soiled is slightly out of reach. And the children are everywhere at the same time like little wind-up toys that rumble this way and that – only kids never power down. They just keep going and going until the parents fall out from exhaustion and give up on things like bedtime, nutrition, and cleanliness.

In my house, we grown-ups played a little game called divide and conquer. At three kids, we went from a man-to-man to a zone defense. When we had our fourth we switched to a box-and-one to manage the troublemaker of the group. Whatever the game, I am sure we lost more than we won.

There were years when neither of us spent ten minutes alone, not even to go to the bathroom. If we managed to shut them all out, there would invariably be little fingers wiggling underneath the door or a persistent knock.

But then, something happened. They began to construct vivid scenarios using their imaginations. They dressed up, created games, and directed plays while closing themselves in a different room to keep our prying eyes out! We weren’t invited to their budding world of make-believe.

And for the first time in several years, we got to do adulty stuff.

I held the remote, which I hadn’t controlled in forever. Our TV had been stuck on Disney and I yearned for a mindless R-rated movie. You know the kind: blood, guts, killing, and mayhem. A movie short on plot and high on action. We short-on-brain men love that stuff.

One day, my wife left me alone with them and when they entered their make-believe world, I found a movie: Déjà Vu with Denzel Washington. I was quickly entranced as Denzel flirted with time-travel to nab the killer. (Spoiler alert) The flick culminates with a spectacularly violent death scene in which the villain gets shot, hit with a car, AND blown to smithereens! Awesome.

Awesome… that is, until you emerge from your movie coma and realize that your youngest three children are in the room with you and have witnessed the entire bloody conclusion.

“What happened to him, daddy?”

“Was that his head flying in the water?”

“Can men really burn like that?”


As I imagined the incendiary stare I was soon to get from my wife, the question rolling through my mind was where she would store my ashes – if men do, in fact, burn.

How can you scrub the memories of three bright children before mom gets home?

I’ll answer that for you – you can’t. They remembered then and they remember now. With all of them home from college, dad’s parental lapses have been a favorite topic and this one ranks right up there. I would say it is an anomaly, but that would be a lie. There were several sketchy choices that backfired, many of which were centered around movies they watched too early. But looking back, it was kind of a mixed bag. I mean, follow my logic: if I hadn’t periodically scared the bejesus out of them, they probably would have learned to sleep in their own beds. Ergo, they wouldn’t have come to our bed every night and mommy loves to snuggle with her babies.

So I suppose you could say, my dear, I did all of those boneheaded things that scared the crap out of our children for you. You’re welcome.