August 6, 2009

Adventures in Disneyland…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Women at 6:10 am by dinaheng

The minute Mark saw Ariel at the bottom of the stairs, his four-year-old eyes got huge. When the famous mermaid beckoned him closer for a picture with his sister Emily, 7, Mark ran over and hugged the undersea princess, totally certain he’d get a hug in return.

Magical moments filled a recent family visit to Disneyland and its neighboring California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif. When my mom, sister Linda, sister Boo and two of her children decided to visit me in Los Angeles recently, the highlight of the trip was our stay at the Disneyland Resort.

I’ve never been one for walking around in crowds, but I have to say that “The Happiest Place on Earth” really lives up to its name. When you’re used to working non-stop under stress, your body tenses up in ways you don’t realize.dinah-eng-21

As we walked into Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, where we stayed two nights, everyday stresses disappeared. The sound of soothing piano music, a warm fireplace and smiling people just invite you to relax and rediscover the magic in life. A snack of cookies and milk takes you back to childhood, and I suddenly wish I had allotted time to laze around the pool or take in the spa as well.

In our family, get-togethers are few and far between. Being one of seven sisters, most of whom live in different cities, it’s rare when even two or three of us get together. Having three generations together was particularly special.

For the kids, the magic of Disneyland is in meeting beloved characters come to life, dancing with the Disneyland Band, or zooming down Splash Mountain. For the adults, the magic is in watching the kids play, and remembering what’s really important in life.

The first night, we arrived in time for dinner at Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure Park, where “Disney Princesses” walked through the restaurant as we ate, signing autographs and posing for pictures with the children. The kids were so excited, they almost forgot to eat in anticipation of meeting Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, and Mulan.

After dinner, Emily and her mom tried a simulated hang gliding ride called Soarin’ Over California, then we watched Disney’s Electrical Parade, a sparkling procession of floats and marching musicians that closes California Adventure Park each night. As we walked back to the hotel, the magic of a shared fantasy lingered as fireworks exploded overhead.

Why is it that “reality” gets more respect than “fantasy”? So often, we look at life through eyes that see problems first and solutions last. But if we envision solutions first, the problems would never appear. And it’s in the most fantastic places that reality becomes what we usually only dream of.

The next morning, I sat with my mother on Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. as my sisters and the kids ran after Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Pluto for autographs. Sitting on the bench next to us were three Iranians, speaking in Farsi. Strolling by were an African-American couple, an Hispanic family, a Caucasian family.

There were people of all ages, cultures, shapes and sizes around us, and they were all doing the same thing — smiling. It was a reality I wish we saw more often.

After the kids drove the course at Autopia, we all took a cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat in Frontierland, then basked in the air conditioned Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Warning for parents — this is not for the little ones who get scared easily. We didn’t realize how frightening it would be for Mark, who cried throughout the ride.

After a late lunch, I took Mark and my mother back to the hotel for a couple hours rest. My mom had tried driving a rented Electric Convenience Vehicle (a motorized wheelchair), but got too nervous navigating the crowds, so we decided just to walk slowly and end the day early. My sisters and Emily took in Splash Mountain and the Haunted House rides before  meeting us for dinner at the hotel’s Storyteller Cafe, which has a great buffet and casual dining atmosphere.

Throughout the day — whether it was Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Chip ‘N’ Dale, or Cinderella — I wonder if the real people underneath those costumes realized how much joy they give to others through their work. No doubt there’s plenty of grousing among cast members behind the scenes, as there is in any workplace, but how wonderful it must be to bring smiles to people’s faces every day.

We grabbed our last half hour of magic at California Adventure Park by taking in the Grizzly River Run before the park closed. As my sisters and Emily emerged from the ride, laughing and soaking wet, my mind snapped the picture as another memory to treasure.

When I asked what they enjoyed the most, Emily said, “Next time, I want to ride Splash Mountain again, and again, and again.” For Mark, it was simply, “Princesses.” Ah, how quickly they grow up.

Life is indeed filled with magic. All we have to do is take the time to enjoy it.

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