During the week of Fall Break, my family and I went to the place where dreams come true: Orlando, Florida. We spent five days at Walt Disney World and 2 days (give or take) at Universal Studios. (Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, or at least the threat of Hurricane Matthew, we spent 24 hours hunkered down in our hotel on Friday. Then we rose early Saturday morning to squeeze in a few more hours at the park before our flight out of town.)
This trip was just one more way to Americanize our African-born son. He saw ordinary people lined up to get signatures of other ordinary people dressed up as famous movie characters. He saw able-bodied 8-year olds being pushed in strollers. And with the Disney meal plan, he got a dessert with every meal. Fame, food, and easy living, brother, that’s what we’re all about!
For our 5-year old, the most maddening part of the trip was the lines. He loved the rides and the shows and the general atmosphere, but those lines! The planners of the parks usually try to make the lines tolerable. They often add fans, interactive games, and television screens. Sometimes, they even make the lines snake around cool set pieces, preparing you for the ride you will eventually board. But a 45-minute wait is still a 45-minute wait and to a 5-year old it might as well be a month.
This is especially true when said 5-year old needs to go to the bathroom. Like, hypothetically-speaking, when he tells you that he needs to pee after you have spent half an hour waiting to make a daring escape with Harry Potter through a series of goblin-guarded bank vaults but he doesn’t tell you he needs to go until you are almost there so you tell him to hold it which he does until just after the ride is over and now he is standing in the middle of a scale replica of Hogsmeade village with wet britches and no extra clothes so his mom goes in to a shop and buys the only pants available—a pair of Harry Potter pajamas—which he will wear the rest of the day sans underwear.
There are times when you are given the opportunity to get permission to move to the front of the line. At Disney World this is called a Fast Pass. It is an ingenious way to teach kids about the “haves” and “have-nots”. When you have a Fast Pass, you practically jog down the short line to step in front of the suckers who are suffering from heat stroke as they wait to climb on the ride. When you don’t have a Fast Pass, you see those arrogant jerks looking fresh as a daisy and walking right on the ride without even stopping for a minute and you try not to hate them. Voila: Empathy education. (Beware: The Fast Pass mentality can really get in your head. I found myself wanting to get a Fast Pass for the bathroom and the restaurant lunch lines.)
Waiting in lines at an amusement park is a lot like life. You spend most of your time doing the mundane and boring—emptying the dishwasher and folding towels—waiting and dreaming and counting down the minutes until the precious, magical seconds will finally arrive. It’s not unusual to work for hours for a meal that will last 15 minutes or plan and prepare for days for a 2-hour birthday party. This is how life often feels, mostly cloudy with sporadic rainbows.
What if we take at least a few of those mundane moments and make them a different brand of magical and precious? What if we turn off our cell phones and tell our kids a story or play rock-paper-scissors with them instead? What if magical moments can occur in places outside of Orlando like the grocery store or the front porch? They don’t have to be documented. They don’t have to be planned. They don’t have to cost more than the price of your time and attention. Don’t Fast Pass the commonplace. They may be the ride you didn’t know you’re waiting for.