07 June 2012

The Anti-Disneyland

Some people are shocked when they learn that our kids have never been to Disneyland. I don’t know, maybe you are shocked, too? It’s not that I don’t like Disneyland or that I have some issue with it, but it’s just not a priority for our family. Our kids haven’t been to Sea World or to an amusement park of any size either. To be honest, I’m always a little stunned at how other people react when they learn this news. You’d think we were neglecting our kids, shuttering them inside a tiny room with little light, feeding them only bread and water. But that’s not the case at all.

We all have a limited amount of time here, and of that time an even more limited amount of it can be spent outdoors. We’d just rather spend as much of time as possible outdoors. I realize that Disneyland is mostly outdoors. But it’s a contrived setting – perhaps a magical one, yes – but contrived nonetheless.

We do love to travel and explore new places. And I do think that someday we will undertake a trip to Disneyland, we’re just not that interested in doing it right now. How many things do we, as a society, do because we think we’ve somehow been made to believe that we’re supposed to do them? How many things do we do, simply because we feel a cultural peer pressure? Maybe it’s time for us to decline a few of those implicit invitations that we really don’t feel personally compelled to accept.

There’s not a lot of interest on the part of our kids either, in the whole Disneyland trip. Sure, they’ve mentioned it, but briefly, in passing, usually after one of their classmates has been. And I always wait to see if they’ll bring it up again. But they don’t. It’s a flight of fancy, easily bested by other interests and locations.

This summer we are heading to California, but not Disneyland. We’ll make it to Monterey after a grueling day of driving, all of us crammed into our Prius. And then we’ll head north on Highway 1, camping among redwoods and seeing the sights of San Francisco and beyond. My own goals for this trip are simply to revel in the varying coastline north of the city and explore the fairy-world of the redwoods. My daughters are excited about visiting the aquarium in Monterey and the Golden Gate Bridge. Dan’s interests overlap everyone else’s. And part of this trip includes the grand experiment of figuring out how to keep our family of four content while in such close quarters with so little gear. The minimalist approach to this trip is pretty appealing, though, really. Hopefully it will permit some creativity and ingenuity into our mindset. Maybe we can each learn what we can live without and what we really need. I mean, if we can thrive for a week in the Canyon, carrying everything we need on our backs, why shouldn’t we be able to travel by (small) car with only nominal comforts?

I’ll confess that there’s a part of me that actually does feel somewhat awful about this seemingly huge no-Disneyland gap in my own children’s childhood. I mean, even my own father, who only begrudgingly will venture into a metropolis like Los Angeles, once took me and my siblings to Disneyland and Sea World and let us bury him up to his neck on a southern California beach. I think that we will take our kids there, someday, eventually, probably. But then I remember hiking up the Grandview Trail in the Canyon from Horseshoe Mesa last month. We were leapfrogging on the trail for a while with a group of three college students, making conversation as hikers do. When one of them heard that Arden and Dan had been out for seven days, hiking the Tonto with Arden’s grandparents, he said with a twinge of wistfulness in his voice, “I wish my parents had done stuff like that with me when I was a kid.”

Hopefully I’ll never hear my kids say that about going to Disneyland. But Disneyland will always be there. The opportunity for three generations to hike in the Canyon won’t last forever. The chance to camp with my parents and count the stars coming out at night, shivering in a meadow surrounded by Ponderosa and Gambel oak is a memory my parents, my girls, and I will always have. And hopefully, someday far in the future, they’ll find themselves counting stars or hiking with another generation of their own making, stitching new memories into the patchwork quilt of their lives.

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