Not Always the Happiest Place on Earth

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OK, I’ll out myself. We went to Disneyland this weekend. I know I know, I know don’t get all surprised. I am a mom. I do have kids. I did grow up in LA. For God’s sakes I went to prom at Disneyland. And despite swearing for years that I would never ever ever never take my kids to the Magic Kingdom, I did, I do. And I love it.

And hate it.

Both times that we have taken Kai and Nikko, I was on assignment for international magazines. This eases some of the sticker shock, I mean, I am getting paid to write about the the happiest place on earth. It’s my job! I tell myself.

But that doesn’t excuse the reality, that horrible reality of what Disneyland is. And isn’t. It’s a Petri dish of humanity, with kids on leashes, and grown women dressed in princess costumes, and tattooed dudes eating caveman-sized chicken legs.

There are more screaming children in Anaheim’s zip code than any other place on the planet. And don’t get me started on the snapshot of American culture, nor the clash of world cultures coupled with extreme heat, boredom, sugar highs and lows, adrenaline rushes, and straight up exhaustion.

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Cars Land

I dread the overpriced food, the epic parking lots, the traffic, the waiting (I mean how many games of ro-sham-bo, or I Spy can one mom play?), the facts that Kai wants to ride Space Mountain, and Nikko, despite wanting the thrill of roller coasters, is too small, so my husband and I divide and conquer and don’t get to hang out. I hate the commercialization, the pornography of marketing to kids. I despise the inevitable meltdown of not one, two, or three, but all four of us at one point of our visit.

I hate the overpriced food, the perfectly placed stores that just beg my kids to enter. It kills me that when my 2 year old spots Mickey Mouse posing for photos that he cannot run straight up to him like he wants to, in order to give him a hug, but must wait, impatiently, screaming and crying, while college students pose with the world’s most famous mouse. Seriously I could go on.

But the real truth is that despite all of that, or maybe because of all of that, I love Disneyland. I wish everything were are well-oiled as the Magic Kingdom. I mean when you arrive there is a tribe of parking attendants who tell you not only where to park your car, but also which direction to face and how far to pull into the spot.

And whoever thought up Fast Passes (the appointment window you get for big ticket attractions to bypass epic wait times) should get a medal of honor. And the brilliant guru who introduced the Rider Switch passes for parents who are traveling with a young child to both get to ride a big-kid attraction without both having to wait in a ridiculously long line should be Time Magazine’s person of the year. I’m serious. It simplifies everything.

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Kai’s first spin on the Matterhorn

I want to blame my kids and say that seeing their shining grins made me love Disneyland like I did when I was a child. But the truth is, I might love it more than they do. I was more excited to see Lightning McQueen in the new Radiator Springs Racers than Kai was (though he was pretty darn giddy). And it was at my urging, even though we were supposed to leave to meet Eddie and Nikko at the exit, that I needed just one more spin on the Matterhorn (don’t judge, the parade was blocking our way to met him anyways).

You see, the magic of Disneyland is infectious. Born of a lifetime of adoring these stories crafted by creative geniuses, I come here to believe in a world where dreams come true. Not the reveries of a prince saving me from a life of cruelty, but real dreams: where we are all equal, no matter where we are from, or how much money we have. We all have to stand in line to ride Space Mountain (even the peeps with Fast Passes and Rider Switch passes have to wait in a line). We all have to suffer through the heat and the crowds. Yet we can all consider the world just a touch shinier after watching Mickey meander through Main Street USA, coaxing grins out of just about every human he passes, offering us his best smile as if there is nothing in the world to be bothered about.

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