The Disney vacation — it's the grail of childhood vacations, the happy place that draws families back year after year. (We totally get it; we're Disney families here, too!) But what happens to mom and dad when the kids grow and age out of "family vacation" range? MomSpeaker Lisa Weinstein ponders the thought here.
Three months prior to the two-hour flight that would transport my family from the dreary cold of a New Jersey winter to the sunny skies of Florida, my husband Bob spent an entire morning on hold — his cell phone in one ear and our home phone in the other — waiting patiently for someone to pick up at least one of the two calls he had placed.
His goal? To make a reservation for "Breakfast with the Princesses," the planned highlight of my 4-year-old daughter Melissa's first trip to the Walt "Happiest Place on Earth" Disney World.
His efforts were worth the wait. The much anticipated breakfast inside Cinderella's Castle lived up to its reputation. My starstruck daughter gazed in awe as Belle, Mary Poppins, Cinderella and Ariel treated her like a princess in her own right, showering her with hugs and kisses.
We have been back to Disney countless times since that first trip in February 2002. The heartwarming memories of each visit meticulously preserved thanks to pages and pages of dusty old photo albums.
Last week, while looking for a nonstrenuous activity to pass the time during recovery from major surgery, something drew me to those memories. I gazed at the photo albums as if visiting an old friend, each picture taking me to a place where princesses came to life and a little girl's imagination kept reality at bay.
With every photo, my daughter grew a wee bit taller, her features giving way from the baby-faced cherub who marveled at meeting princesses to a beautiful young lady who, despite the chance of ruining her teen reputation, still chose to pose with Mary Poppins.
Today, at 16, even though the allure of the "celebrity" princesses is no longer a draw for Melissa, she still loves all things Disney. Sure, we've traveled to other vacation destinations. Canada's Niagara Falls, Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains and the beloved beaches of our own Jersey shore, a mere hour's drive, door to door. Yet no other location pulls us back like the promise of "The Happiest Place on Earth." For it is in this place that I have watched my daughter, in spite of her evolution from toddler to teen, shed her inhibitions and embrace the magic.
It is here that she'll choose to hold her daddy's hand in favor of the iPhone texts that connect her to the world beyond our vacation. It is here, miles from her peers, that I become her "default" best friend. It is here that I relish our time together as a family, putting aside thoughts of years to come, when Melissa might no longer choose to do Disney with mom and dad.
But I still had time, didn't I? Days and months and years of time, before that day would arrive.
Or did I?
She has been saving for her next trip to "The Happiest Place on Earth." But this time it will be her classmates, not mom and dad, who will share the magic as they take Disney by storm during their senior class trip in two years' time.
Will there be the chance for one last visit as a family, one last opportunity to capture the magic with mom and dad before my daughter relinquishes the comfort of her poster-filled bedroom in favor of a college dorm?
Before she begins her journey toward independence?
Before she leaves her childhood behind?
Before I am forced to say good-bye?
Lisa Weinstein is a South Jersey mom who blogs about parenting a teen, coping with middle age and celebrating nearly two decades of marriage. This post was adapted from her blog, The Mixed Up Brains of Lisa Weinstein.