Monday, March 27, 2017

Surprise let down

Maybe you've seen the videos: children being told by their tricky, secretive parents that they are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime - Disney! The reactions vary from screaming, jumping and other forms of physically elating to tears of joy sobbing from within their tiny emotional frames. Maybe you haven't seen them. I have. And because I have, I decided that surprising my children would be an amazing way to tell them we are going to Disney. We'd laugh, we'd cry, we'd tape it all for a viral sensation.

Enter reality.

Our surprise was going to be the day before we left as I, like many other parents, have no interest in prolonging the agony of waiting for my kids (read: I didn't want to spend weeks answering the question "are we going yet?").

They didn't know about it, but for weeks I was deep in planning mode. Every free moment typically spent mindlessly browsing my phone or watching TV I spent researching hotels, restaurants and age appropriate attractions; booking fast passes, double strollers and reservations for character experiences; and looking up packing lists and best food lists (obviously), all while sharing none of this excitement with the kids, because, after all, it was a surprise worth waiting for.

I spent weeks, nay, months, talking to other parents and Disney planners and everyone who had ever known someone that went on this trip to get tips, tricks and suggestions, not-to-be-missed meals and timing tips for where we needed to be and when. The list went on, the planning went on, and still I said nothing to the children.

Ah, the children. The sweet, adorable, well behaved children that deserved all of this planning on their behalf, but who would never know the extent to which their occasional whining and spatting was jeopardizing the very trip they knew nothing about.

The more time I spent planning, the more disgruntled I became at their every slight misbehavior. I use candy on a weekly basis to get them to behave. So why now, for some reason, had I knowingly given up on using the greatest bargaining chip that ever existed for my benefit?

To illustrate my point: my daughter once graciously and willingly went to bed a full hour early because she was going to an ice skating birthday party the following day, which she was very excited about. Can you imagine how excited she would be if she knew we were going to Disney? I'll tell you: very, very excited. Can you imagine how well behaved she could be if she knew about it? I'll venture a guess: very, very well behaved. Can you imagine all the sh!t I could get the kids to do if I used Disney, the greatest thing ever, as a goal or reward for them to work towards? Well I can, because I imagined it every day. Every day as I stayed silent while the little one pulled the big one's hair or the big one swiped a leg as the little one walked by, I grumbled under my breath that they needed to behave if they wanted "something great." But you know what kids think of when they hear the phrase "something great"? Not something great. Certainly not the greatest damn thing they could possibly imagine. And most definitely not Disney.

But it will be the greatest surprise ever, I reminded myself. I can't tell them. But you could be bribing them with it every day, I responded to myself. But then we won't get the "surprise" video. It will be worth it. In the words of Lin Manuel's Hamilton: "just you wait, just you wait." (yes, not only do I talk to myself, but I very often do so while quoting popular music)

So wait we did. Through countless dragged feet down the street and uneaten side dishes. Over crying fits about taking baths and screaming matches for the small rubber duck, not the ever so slightly larger one. We waited for the big day, the big reveal, the big surprise. Finally, after packing us all up in secret and with the arrangements all made, it was time to tell them.

The night before we left, I packed up their Disney packets of ear headbands, autograph books, pens and lanyards and handed them the gift bag. Inside was this note:
Ok, so I'm not a graphic designer

I was buzzing with the excitement. I couldn't stand it anymore. I was about to burst. So we whipped out our phones and shot a video while they opened it. It's a minute:19, but I'll save you that time and get the gist in this clip right here...
video
It's OK. It's nice, sweet even. But I had kind of been hoping for mind-blown screams. I like to think they were in shock. So we doubled back to make sure they got it.
video

Got it mom. You're just not getting your GIF-worthy video.

Now, in their defense, they are not ungrateful children. They are 5+ and 2+ and lack the basic mental capacity to process information in the immediate, hey-guys-I'm-shooting-the-video-right-this-second rate I was hoping for. In fact, the little guy never truly knows where we're going, so to a certain extent, every day is a surprise to him. Over the course of the evening, my daughter slowly came to grasp both the magnitude and immediacy of the journey that awaited. Weirdly, the piece of the puzzle that made it click for her was that Disneyworld is in Orlando, as they advertise Orlando on TV, not just Disney, so that information brought this thing into a whole new light for her and she went to bed buzzing the same hum of excitement that I had. The trip to the airport and every minute of the trip were equally enthusiastic, happy, grateful and appreciative.

But that video.

In hindsight, I realize that I failed to follow my own advice. When I was pregnant, we found out the gender of our baby as we viewed that as an additional day of a surprise since the actual birth day was exciting for many other reasons. The actual trip to Disney is so exciting, we should have brought the surprise up a few weeks to spread out the joy, but mostly to be able to bribe my children for weeks with the promise of the greatest trip ever. Live and learn. I now know that the true magic of Disney is using it as the best damn bargaining chip there is, threatening to take it away if they call out one more time in the middle of the night or don't take at least two more bites of carrots. I know that now, and can only say to others: do what you feel in your heart is right. Do what you think will be best for your children. But most importantly, do a better job than I did managing your expectations for that damn video.

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