My parents took me to Disney World for the first time when I was just shy of two years old. My favorite story from that trip is of when they bought a popcorn for us to “share.” Yeah, right. I beckoned for the popcorn box, and, “Oh, how cute,” my parents must have thought. The baby wants to hold the popcorn!
They looked away for a moment, and that popcorn was GONE.
At least two things are still true about me from that moment to now, nearly three decades later.
- I can still snarfle popcorn like a damn champion.
- I. Love. Disney.
I was born in 1989, just as the Disney Renaissance was getting underway. I came wailing into the world just a few months before a certain mermaid would sing of how she wanted to be a part of my world.
Disney has always been there. My family and I didn’t miss a single new release. My Mom and I wore out all of those awesome Disney Sing-Along-Song VHS tapes. When my little brother came along, his great loves were Star Wars and Sleeping Beauty.
And even better than the movies? The parks. I was born to Theme Park People. When I was born, my Dad was working for a water park. Slathering on sunscreen and waiting in long lines is just how my family has always done things. My Dad worked and we played, and mostly it’s where we were all together.
And on vacation? Oh, we all hopped in the car and headed down to Orlando. Disney, Sea World, Universal, water parks, mini golf, the Red Lobster on International Drive… I’m pretty sure my family would still pick this trip out of any other trip in the world.
Okay, I’m CONFIDENT that I would. Because, as my 30th birthday loomed, I started to think about how I wanted to see my 20’s out. How did I want to say good-bye to this decade of so many ups and downs? I knew that I was only going to see this thing through with a Mickey bar in my hand.
I deserved it, didn’t I? I had followed those Sing Along-Songs to the letter! You follow your dreams, you wish on stars, you go the distance, you don’t give up. I dreamed of being an actor, and I made that happen. Hello, I am an actor! My dream came true!
Except… it’s hard. Following your dreams is hard. The day will never come when I definitively “make it,” and I struggle with my self-worth as a result. I find the transient nature of this business very painful. I’ve started to lose some of my passion for the hustle of auditioning. I feel really tired, and sometimes even bitter and resentful of the work that I craved and coveted for so much of my life.
I think my dream might be changing, and that’s not a song that Disney taught me.
I feel lost and confused. If not this, then what? If not here, then where? I have to have a dream to follow, otherwise I’m not going anywhere, right?
Going to Disney World became my dream. Completing a half-marathon at Disney World was what I wanted more than anything else. Since December, when my training plan began, I’ve poured all of my dreaming energy into preparing for this adventure.
And, a little over a week ago, suddenly, there I was. Awake at 2:30am, nervously scarfing a bagel on my way to the Epcot parking lot.
If Disney taught me to dream, then Star Wars taught me to hope. My nerd heart is very happy to have honored both of them for my first official 13.1 mile outing. Do you like running? Do a runDisney event. They’re incredible. Fireworks went off for the start of each corral of runners, and I blinked back tears of excitement.
I mostly held my tears back until we made it into Epcot, nearing mile 12. See, each mile marker for a runDisney event features the image of a character in that race’s universe. For whatever reason, we’d seen mostly bad guys on the Rival Run course. But there he was at mile 12. Luke Skywalker. John Williams’ music blasted all around us, and, as usual, I was just too tired to worry about looking very cool. Luke Skywalker means a whole lot to so many of us. To me, he is hope, he is courage, he is the love I have for my little brother, he is learning from your mistakes, he is “peace and purpose.”
In the midst of a time where I don’t feel particularly peaceful or purposeful, it meant a lot to see Luke Skywalker’s face.
Hey, are you thinking about a runDisney race yet? If possible, set aside some time for a post-race nap. I know you won’t, because, c’mon, the parks are RIGHT THERE. But let me tell you, friends, I have never been so tired. We got our medals, showered up, stuffed our faces with Mickey waffles, and got into the Magic Kingdom as quickly as we could.
It was a perfect Magic Kingdom day. I had a Dole Whip, I rode Splash Mountain, I was with my parents. I meant to buy them their own popcorn, but my half marathon and sunshine-addled brain forgot. Next time.
After visiting the Haunted Mansion, it was finally time for the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks extravaganza: “Happily Ever After.” Now, keep in mind once again, that it’s 9pm, and we’ve been up since 2:30am. And run 13.1 miles, and maybe one of us has eaten a hot dog covered in macaroni and cheese.
According to Disney’s website, “Happily Ever After” is “dazzling journey of color, light and song that captures the heart, humor and heroism of many favorite Disney animated films.” Guys, it was like watching one of my old Sing Along-Songs videos projected on Cinderella’s castle! Here’s the opening narration:
And they all lived happily ever after. Each of us has a dream, a heart’s desire. It calls to us. And when we’re brave enough to listen, and bold enough to pursue, that dream will lead us on a journey to discover who we’re meant to be. All we have to do is look inside our hearts and unlock the magic within.
Oh, boy. I didn’t stand a chance.
As I watched the fireworks and listened to all those classic Disney songs that were my lullabies, my lessons, my anthems, my truths, I couldn’t help it. The tears came fast and hard and decidedly not cute, and just like that, I was That Grown Woman Crying at Disney World. Surely more of you are out there, and I love you for it. Let’s get snacks.
For all the joy exploding in my bones, part of me also wanted to climb up on top of Cinderella’s Castle, and scream at that fucking Mouse. “I’VE DONE EVERYTHING YOU ASKED, MICKEY. I’VE FOLLOWED MY DREAMS AND I’VE WISHED ON EVERY STAR. WHY AM I STILL SO SAD AND CONFUSED?”
And then “Go the Distance” started up, and I was crying harder than ever. If you follow this blog (hey, thanks!), you know by now that I am not moving away, but I think there are still some areas of my life from which I need to move on. It is time for me to cultivate new dreams, and make new wishes on new stars, and experiment with longer distances. I already know I can handle at least 13.1 miles, after all.
And so, our journey comes to an end. But yours continues on. Grab a hold of your dreams and make them come true. For you are the key to unlocking your own magic. Now go. Let your dreams guide you. Reach out and find your Happily Ever After.
There is no end. There is no finish line. To quote Walt, “We keep moving forward.” I am home, and my toes are black and blue, and my heart is full of pixie dust. I am ready to move forward, and listen to old songs while learning new lessons.
When I started training for the half, I thought that I was running away from my 20’s. That I was escaping all the shame I’ve felt about the person I was for so much of this decade. But I’m (still) running in pursuit of what’s next. When I lace up my shoes and stick in my ear buds, that’s my time to daydream and scheme and challenge myself.
Because at least three things are true about me, going into this new decade:
- I can still snarfle popcorn like a damn champion.
- I. Love. Disney.
- I can go the distance.