Friday, April 26, 2013

Confessions of a Disney Hypocrite

When I was pregnant with Kysa I banned Disney from our home. I asked for baby gifts with no characters, gender neutral colors, and wooden toys with no batteries. And princess stuff.

Yep. I'm anti-princess, and kind of anti- Disney. It's one of my quirks, and yet my family just came home from four really fun days at Disneyland.

Yep. I'm a hypocrite too.

I hope I don't offend anyone as I know many parents have navigated their way beautifully through the princess phase with well adjusted, strong and super smart girls. But here is my boomerang journey to Disney and back again.

While most of my issues are with the Disney princesses, personally, I don't want to teach my children that it's okay to feel entitled. Do I want her to feel like the most special, loved, precious treasure on this planet? Yes, of course (!)...but I also want her to think that everyone else she meets in this world is also just as special and precious as she is. That's a tough one to master regardless of age; confidence with kindness and humility. But I think it might be even tougher if her imaginary life is guided towards princess play all the time. Not to mention that the Disney princesses make some pretty stupid choices. I mean, Ariel literally gave up her VOICE for the chance to win over a man she's never met. Not exactly a role model for my kiddo. And don't get me started on Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Belle with ageism, sexism, family dysfunction, and absentee mothers. No thanks.

And then my husband had a conference in Orlando in early May right around Kysa's 1st birthday. Our plan was to just accompany Fredrik on his trip and enjoy the amenities at the hotel, it had a seriously awesome pool. But when Kysa's birthday rolled around on a Tuesday, and one of Fredrik's meetings was cancelled we found ourselves with a free day. And so we went to Disney World. We knew she wouldn't remember a thing, and we kind of hoped that was the case. To our surprise we were able to surrender to our Disney skepticism and we ALL had a fantastic day. A beautiful day. The park was nearly empty and Kysa ran around and sniffed flowers, we rode It's A Small World multiple times. We watched her eyes twinkle in wonder as my hardened Disney heart began to melt.

But while my heart began to melt a bit in the Disney magic, my inner cynic and skeptic still remained. As I understand it from watchdog groups about 15, 000 sweatshop factories supply the Disney company with the retail products they sell, and virtually nothing sold at Disney is made in the USA.  Kind of ironic for the Americana Main St USA image Disney wants us to "buy" as we enter the park dontchathink?

The following year, Fredrik had another conference on Kysa's 2nd birthday...this time in California. And so we did Disneyland. Again, we had a magical day. Top to bottom. Start to finish. I completely appreciate the extreme attention to detail, the seamless presentation, the ability to make sure EVERYONE has a good time. I loved feeling myself pass through the veil of mundane to a world of fun and fantasy with my family. We loved that our little one was getting big enough to ask questions and take in more information without begging for all the Disneycrap or know or really care who any of the Disney characters were. Once again, we allowed ourselves to be swept away for the day by Disney Magic. And it felt great.

Somehow we managed to get to age 2 without any interest or inquiry about princesses from Kysa. But I had been hearing about a new Disney princess named Merida in the movie Brave. I read reviews and articles, and she seemed to be the princess many of us strong women have been waiting for. She rides horses and shoots bows and arrows, drinks from waterfalls, and doesn't want to get married. YES! And it gets better....she has a difficult relationship with her mother and THEY WORK THROUGH IT!!!

I took Kysa to the movie one weekday afternoon. She sat on my lap in an empty movie theater, because I wasn't sure how long she'd last in a full length movie, and I didn't want to torture many other movie goers. She sat transfixed for the entire movie. I don't think she moved a muscle the entire film...but when the credits began to roll my child collapsed into a heap of heaving, sobbing, hysterical tears. "MOM....I LOVE MERIDA!!" I REALLY CARE ABOUT HER!!" "MAKE HER COME BACK!!"

And while it broke my heart that her heart was breaking, a part of me was so happy to see that she has the ability to enter a story, to really experience it, to LIVE in it. She got so swept away in Merida's world. It was so REAL to her. She entered it completely and she wasn't ready to leave it. Kysa sobbed all the way home....

We got the "Brave" Little Golden Book and Kysa memorized it.

But still, miraculously Kysa didn't go princess nuts. Despite her love for Merida, Kysa would often dip her imagination into being a ballerina, or a fairy, or a dinosaur, or a hedgehog...

This year's birthday(s) rolled around. Wynray had joined us and with his birthday, my birthday, and Kysa's birthdays being bam bam bam one right after the next, and Fredrik's conference being held once again in California we decided, what the heck! Let's all go to Disneyland.

Actually, the decision making was more along the lines of:

Fredrik: Honey, I have a conference coming up in Anaheim in a couple weeks. We should look for someone to come help you with the kids while I'm away.

Me: Anaheim...hmmmm. Isn't that where Disneyland is?

Fredrik: Yep. The hotel is just a few blocks away.

Me: Um, we're coming with you. It's still free for the kids.

Yes, the sad truth is I'd rather fly across the country with my two littles than face bedtime alone. This mama would rather be exhausted yet entertained at Disneyland with her two crazy kids than struggling alone at home. I mean, I'm a Disney skeptic....but I believe in the MAGIC, and the magic would see me through.

Since Kysa, now almost three, would no doubt be struck down hard with the case of "I wants," I spent the next week buying, hiding, and storing Disneycrap from Target and t-shirts from Old Navy. Yes, I'm sure all the things were probably made in China by small children (sigh), but I felt some satisfaction that I wouldn't be under the influence of Disney Magic purchasing the Disneycrap on Disney's Main St USA. Okay, maybe this doesn't make any sense at all...but it was cheaper, no doubt and made me feel like I still had some power.

We arranged our time around Fredrik's schedule so that we could all spend time in the parks together, and the rest of the time I took loooooong walks through Downtown Disney with the kids thinking they were in Disneyland. I did venture into Disneyland with the kids alone one day, but it was like (on a much grander and dramatic scale) taking kids into a candy store, handing them candy, and saying you can begin to eat when your papa gets here. Let's just say Kysa had such a meltdown that Snow White had to intervene. I'm not kidding.

Other than some expected toddler meltdowns, we had an incredible time. I dare you to ride It's A Small World with your Swedish/Ethiopian/American family and not get teary. Or watch your daughter, starstruck, have a conversation with Merida, her hero, and not loose it.

We scored the pink elephant on the Dumbo ride even though we were the last riders to get on. I KNOW...a Disney miracle! Kysa, now really aware of who the Disney characters are, met almost all of them. She rode her first roller coaster.We got great seats for the parade and my excitement might have surpassed Kysa's and Wynray's. When the princess float went by with all the grand dames of Disney, Cinderella waved and blew a kiss directly to Kysa. Kysa squealed and her eyes twinkled, while mine got misty. And on our last night we were named the Celebration Family of the day (How? I have no clue), and in the middle of the busy lobby of the Disney California Grand Hotel, a happy little man announced our family to the entire facility. Our children were presented "autographed" photos of the Disney princesses and Chip and Dale as well as buttons and other certificates providing "proof" of this (ahem) honor. Fredrik and I were DYING while our kids beamed.

As for sweet Wynray, he didn't have a clue what was going on, but he was so happy to be spending time with all of us. Happy, magical, exciting time. Time that mom didn't have to worry about leaving a mess, because a "cast member" would only allow a crumb to be on the floor for 2.5 seconds before they swept it up. Magic, I tell ya.

I don't have a clear conclusion about how my family will continue to interact with Disney...especially because we'll have to start paying for Kysa since she'll be three in a few days (Ha!). Just as I hope to teach my kids about how special they are, but also how special everyone else is,  I want to make sure that if we continue to allow ourselves to get swept up by the Disney Magic that we also pay attention to the Disney Reality.


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