Once upon a time, I was a first time mom. I was struggling to keep it together, constantly second guessing myself, and had to remind myself on a daily basis to shower and brush my teeth. My husband probably saw me in the same pair of yoga pants for days in row, and we both knew there was zero yoga going on. During this time of having to care for myself while keeping a tiny human alive, my Grandma told me something I’ll never forget. She looked at me and said, “I know it’s crazy now, but one day it won’t be like this. The days will drag on, but the years fly by.” Boy, was she right.
Today my oldest son, Jack, turns 6. Like most moms, I’ve been consumed with memories of the day he made me a mom and the days leading up to his arrival. How can he be 6? It feels like I was just rocking him to sleep in my arms, in reality I’m making his 6th birthday cake (Toy Story theme, as per his request) and getting him ready to start 1st Grade next week. Over the past few days, I’ve looked back on photos and I quickly realized there was a constant trend in all of them, Walt Disney World. I grew up going to Disney, my husband and I honeymooned there and we love raising a Disney family and bringing our boys as much as possible. But somewhere along the lines, over the past 6 years, Disney became much more than a vacation destination. That Mouse had become our family and the Magic Kingdom our home.
Jack, along with his younger brother- Dean, have been to Disney World more times than I can count. We’re even going this weekend to celebrate his birthday and we’re staying at his favorite resort, The Polynesian. Our children are certainly blessed and won’t be lacking in the Disney childhood memories department. But seeing all these videos and pictures I started to wonder, what makes Disney so special to our family? Why is it the only place we consider vacationing as a family?
Jack first went to Disney World when he was 5 months old. I remember every minute of that trip like it was yesterday. I was extremely tired and still trying to figure out this whole mom thing, he was up super early (most days, before the sun came up. One specific morning, my husband put on the Baby Bjorn and we took a 5:45 AM stroll around The Polynesian), we did a family photoshoot, and we took him on every ride possible. It’s funny because any parent will tell you the age their child first walked or talked, what their first word was, and I can too- but I can also tell you what his first ride was or who the first character he ever met was. I was there to see his face light up when he saw Cinderella Castle for the first time.
From his very first visit, Jack loved Walt Disney World. His first ride was Dumbo, and I still have the video saved on my phone. As many times as we’ve ridden it, I still make a point to always go on it. I guess you could say, it’s my way of revisiting that core memory I have of him on it for the first time. Right now my kids love that ride, but I know the day will come where they will roll their eyes at their mom for asking them to go on it with her. Just last year, Jack went on his first roller coaster, Slinky Dog Dash. It also happens to still be his current favorite and must do/non-negotiable ride. Don’t think for a second that memory of him on Dumbo for the first time didn’t flash before my eyes as my brave little man hopped onto a giant slinky dog, reached for my hand and said, “sit next to me, Mommy!”
I’ll never forget his first bite of a Mickey waffle, first Mickey balloon, his first taste of dole whip (also the moment I realized, dole whips were no longer just mine. I’d be sharing from here on out), even his first haircut at the Harmony Barber Shop. One of my recent favorite memories was him getting these R2D2 Mickey ears, and I have his dad to thank for this one. This past November we were shopping around Disney Springs when Jack spotted a pair of R2D2 Mickey ears at World of Disney. Him and his brother had been told that they could choose one souvenir during our trip, just one. I assumed he’d want to shop around, not pick his one thing on night one. I quickly scooted him and his brother out of the store and told them we needed to be really sure before we picked out our one souviner. The rest of the night he kept talking about the ears. We sat down to admire the holiday decorations and I saw my husband quickly walk away and go towards the World of Disney. Fifteen minutes later he comes back with a shopping bag and handed it to Jack. My husband had this look on his face like, “I’m crushin’ this dad thing.” Seriously, he was so excited to show Jack. But more importantly, I’ll never forget the look on Jack’s face as he opened the bag and saw the R2D2 ears. If you were to ask me what pure happiness looks like, I’d show you the picture of Jack “earning his ears.”
There was also the time last Summer where Jack lived in his Stormtrooper costume. Not just at Disney, but every day at home. I’ll give him credit, no one can pull off some serious Stormtrooper vibes at Publix, like Jack can. While at Disney one weekend, he was wearing his Stormtrooper costume and his brother was rocking his Darth Vader outfit when we went to Launch Bay to meet some characters. While waiting in line to meet Kylo Ren, there was a glass display case of light sabers used in the movies. Well, they were the end of the saber, the part you hold in your hand. My sweet Jack, held his hand up to the case and proceeded to use “the force.” Just like the movies, he thought he could use the force to activate the light saber and it would break through the case and go into his hand. It was just ones of those pure Disney moments where I realized, he believed in light sabers. Just like he believed Tinkerbell, Pirates and Mickey Mouse. I want him to believe in all those things for as long as possible.
If we can’t be at the parks, Disney music and movies step in and fill the void of missing the Mouse. When we took Jack home from the hospital, while also managing the sheer fear that came over us as new parents, I remember sitting in the back seat next to his car seat and my husband put on “When You Wish Upon A Star.” We listened to it on repeat the entire way home. To this day, I cry the instant that song comes on. When he was a baby I would rock him to sleep by singing the theme song from Winnie The Pooh. Do you know, to this day, he’ll still ask me to put that song on. He tells me it “relaxes” him (as I smile thinking how a 5-year-old needs his relaxation time). And my heart melts over and over when he says “play it again, Mommy.”
The role Disney has played in my boys’ childhood isn’t just providing our family with a handful of core memories, its connected us as a family and made us stronger. If you visit Disney’s Philanthropy page, you’ll see their mission statement and I wanted to share it because it really hit home with me;
“A Better, Brighter Tomorrow: Disney is committed to strengthening communities by providing hope, happiness, and comfort to kids and families who need it most.”
Who doesn’t need hope, happiness, and comfort, especially in today’s society? I think we need all of those and a large side of kindness like never before. Disney is the glimmer of hope and happiness in all of our lives. It’s the way my family escapes reality and can enter our own magical world. I don’t think I’m alone in this, I think millions of families go to Disney every year so that they can escape whatever is happening in the world around them and provide their children with the comfort of knowing that there is good in this world, and happiness and hope are all around us if we know where to look.
I’m not sure what the next few years and birthdays will bring for Jack, and even my other son, Dean. But I know this for certain, Walt Disney World will continue to be our escape. Whether it be their 4 parks, the music, or those beloved movies, Disney will comfort us in times when we’re sad and times when we need to hear a friendly voice say- “Hi Ya, Pal!” It will continue to inspire my children, encourage them to use their imaginations and teach them to dream big. I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it, Walt Disney World will always be my family’s #NowMoreThanEver.
To my sweet boy, Jack, Happy 6th Birthday! Here’s to many more Dumbo rides, being my ride buddy on Slinky Dog Dash, and tons more cuddles on the couch while watching some of our favorite Disney movies. I hope you continue to dream big and actually become a monorail driver when you grow up (specifically Monorail Red, or as you call it- “Jack’s Monorail). You and these memories will always be in my heart.