At the start of a Disney movie, when the castle sprinkled with Tinkerbell’s pixie dust appears on the screen, my three-year-old daughter, big eyes glued to the image, announces yet again, “My daddy’s gonna take me there one day.”
So when her birthday approached this October, I should have been ready. It was two against one; their plan was brewing. “You know, we’re going to have to take her to Disneyland for her 4th birthday,” he warned me soon enough.
“Do we have to? Does she absolutely need it?” was my knowingly worthless plea to somehow get out of this one.
I am not the Disney type. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy Disney movies. I do—especially the wittier Pixar/Disney ones, like Tangled. I admit, although, that had I not had a young daughter or niece or whatever child to care for, I perhaps would never have watched, from free will alone, any Disney movie that has been released in my adult years.
Thus, going to Disneyland for me meant torture: days of standing in long lines, maneuvering groups of strollers and throngs of kids and countless sets of decked out Mickey Mouse ears, consuming bad food and/or sugar in every form known to child, and spending bucketloads on things that would be tossed within hours or broken by the time we returned home. A few days in Disneyland to me seemed like what a few days in prison must be—misery. I had only gone once as a child, thirty years ago. I barely remember the visit, never missed the Magic Kingdom, and definitely didn’t yearn to return.
Alas, the trip was set. We were going, so all I could do was brace myself. I tried to conjure up my carefree child, but that was no good as I remember my mother’s voice from that time often scolding me, “You worry too much.” I tried following my husband’s excited groove but that too proved difficult as he is naturally a childlike joker, a modern day pied-piper, and a professional clown. His frame of mind has always been extremely play oriented, and I can never reach that far into such a youthful state. I searched through my bookshelves for something to fill me with childhood but no cigar. Yet, a book on the top shelf caught my eye, one I had gifted my husband a while back and, because of his preference for practice over theory, has been collecting dust: Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up.
In the Introduction of Rejuvenile, author Christopher Noxon, the husband of Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, states the objective of his book as to “describe the new breed of adult and explains the rejuvenile’s role in shaping and reflecting our age.” The back cover copy begins with, “Play isn’t just for kids anymore.” I reasoned that by reading this book in preparation for what’s to come, I could attempt to pry my psyche open and let some of the playfulness spill out to endure this inevitable trip for the sake of my child’s happiness. My move, reading a logical study of the juvenile ways of a growing majority of adults, may seem adverse to my intention. But of course, I didn’t regard it as anything but a completely plausible plan of action toward understanding “the lure of the toy.”
As an in-depth social study of our society’s growing appeal to childhood-related actions, attitudes, destinations, and games, this book is in tune with the way my mind works.
Noxon dedicates an entire chapter, titled “uncle walt and the adult playground,” to the Disney culture, in order to “take a hard look at Walt Disney, the most influential rejuvenile of the twentieth century, the person most responsible for the blurring of adult and child sensitivities.”
In it, he writes, “In what is known as the Griffith Park Credo…Disney proclaimed that in his land, everything would be for everyone…From its inception, Disneyland meant sharing an experience with children. Fifty years later, children are only part of the story. Stand outside the turnstiles today and you’ll see plenty of kids…But you’ll also encounter a startlingly large share of grown-up Mouseketeers…Groups of twenty-somethings rush through the gates in jogging sneakers…Grandparents line up for tickets in oversize foam hats…Of the 2000,000 people who visit Walt Disney World each day, it’s estimated that fully half are adults traveling without young children.”
The author defends these rejuveniles in his rhetorical question, “What environment better reflects our true inner selves: a cubicle farm or a theme park?”
Noxon discusses childlike tendencies in direct relation to “the markers of adulthood,” which he noted as having shifted. He views our generation as those who no longer consider marriage or having children as rites of passage into adulthood but instead he defines adulthood as “a solo journey, an unguided personal quest, the ultimate prize of which is to ‘come into one’s own’—a standard whose meaning varies significantly from person to person.” He shows that this journey clearly allows for childhood activities and play, Noxon himself being a confessed rejuvenile, to a certain extent—at least when playing his beloved kickball.
Through examination of various types of youthful fancies from angles surrounding our current society’s trend toward fun and games, Rejuvenile reinforces a notion I logically believe in but can’t always easily incorporate into my life: play is a prevalent and essential part of adulthood. I was about to get a chance to experience theory in practice. With the end of the book, our Disneyland journey began.
For the large part of our first day spent on the California Adventure side of the Magic Kingdom, it rained. This undoubtedly stinks, but besides a canceled Pixar parade everything else we were interested in was a go. If you’re already there, you trudge on and make the most of it. The rain had been forecasted, so we had come prepared with light raincoats and umbrellas. As we tucked away from it under the entrance to Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, we took the chance to go on this ride more than once, which my daughter loved and I surprisingly didn’t mind. It’s the music that did me in, having loved the soundtrack for years before she was born (only because I have a niece eight years her senior). Revisiting the scenes from the movie brought to life in mechanical 3-D was somehow warming; like the emotional sensation I get when I enter my mother’s house, it was soothing, familiar, and felt like a light-hearted pick me up. Also, because of the rain the lines were not that long, except for a Fast Pass mess up at Radiator Springs Racers which was the only ride we wanted to do but didn’t get to.
For our dog-loving little girl, meeting Pluto was the highlight of the day, rain or shine, and everything else was icing on the cake. We painstakingly stayed in the park for the Pixar World of Color water and light show over the main fountain, which was to begin at 8:10 p.m. We were wet, cold, and tired by then, but even I insisted we had to see it. This was an early sign into our two-day visit that I had already been taken by Disneymania. Not even three minutes into this 28-minute show, my disillusioned daughter pronounced from her cozy stroller, “This is not that interesting. I have to go pee.” And the extra 1.5-hour wait became for naught. We, of course, had to go with her flow and promptly left.
This made me consider the definition of fun. If it had been solely up to her, we would have ridden Ariel’s Undersea Adventure a couple dozen times and hung out with Pluto all day. Her idea of play was very much her own, embedded in the moment, not some list of must-hits, and didn’t abide by any expectations or standards. My daughter’s attitude toward Disneyland was the true childlike way of approaching anything in life: the moment is all that matters so if I don’t like what I’m doing now, I’ll do something else. If I have been doing the same thing over and over again or one thing for a long time, let me be. This is how I flow.
The next day at the Disneyland side of the park was a slightly different story. It was sunny and packed. Unlike when I was a kid, there’s now a Fall Break in schools that I had never before heard of as my child is only in part-time preschool. From the looks of a packed Main Street at 9 a.m., Disneyland is the place to go for Fall Break. Lucky me, I thought, my worst Disney dreams are about to come true.
We weaved through the lines for the giant Jack-o-Lantern, Minnie Mouse, and Starbucks (yes, there are a few in the park) and made a continuously distracted dash for the Royal Hall where the line to meet three Disney Princess had already grown to over an hour wait. Finally through the doors, the wait’s powers to diminish happiness evaporated with my daughter’s awe, her I’m-so-excited-I-just-can’t-hide-it-double-chin grin transforming the previous bardo in line into a successful expedition. If her out-of-control silly smiles are the measure by which to judge our trip to Disneyland, then I did the right thing by sucking it up and going along for the ride.
By the end of our visit, I had become tipsy with Disney fantasy, which means I screamed like a thrilled three-year-old on the high-flying Silly Symphony Swings (and so did my mother, I might add) and got giddy at the site of Mary Poppins enough to debate whether or not the line was worth a photo with her. Knowing full well it’s not Julie Andrews—my childhood hero—for a moment I felt as joyful as I did as a child watching her fly with her umbrella down to 17 Cherry Tree Lane.
Disneyland was a throwback. I was reminded of the wonders I experienced years ago in It’s a Small World and was surprised to find it just as special while reliving it as an adult. It was there and in various points throughout the day, like on the Mad Tea Party ride, that I realized Disneyland has very little to do with need and much to do with want—that element being vital to the spirit of play.
And so it was that I came to want more and stayed on until close, rushing to as many attractions as our ticking time allowed, even taking the 45-minute line at Peter Pan in stride. Coasting out the window and into the night air was a perfect ending to a rejuveniling trip. This was our last ride and fittingly so, for as Noxon writes, “For rejuveniles today, all roads lead back to Peter Pan,…[When, during the turn of the twentieth century,} the natural capacities of children…were…discovered as a primary source of inspiration and profit.” Since 1955, the “happiest place on earth” has been harnessing both.
After two non-stop days of hither and thither, my daughter released into a melt down the size of the Disney castle she had come to see. The moment, for her, had suddenly become no more fun. She was played out.
Though I’ll always remember hurrying into a jog pushing the BOB containing my hysterical toddler at 9 p.m. out of Disneyland, hoping the rolling motion would calm her as I raced toward our hotel, weaving through the crowds WHILE attempting to keep the attached balloon of Mickey Mouse’s head intact and keep it from bopping the people we were passing, I HAD FUN. I played along without a single fake. Mission Rejuvenile was complete, at least for this trip.
To my fellow Disneyland naysayers, I dare you—rejuvenile yourself! I doubt you’ll regret it, even if you won’t want to repeat the experience thereafter.
* Disneyland, Anaheim, California, any day and any time of the year, but I’d try to avoid Fall Break, Spring Break, and any other random school holiday.
* Candy Cane Inn, if you can’t or won’t stay at one of the resort hotels. It’s a fraction of the cost, clean, and comfortable. Guests receive courtesy Disneyland shuttle service (which comes in handy after 12 hours of lines and walking, especially if grandma is traveling with, as was our case) and buffet breakfast. We found the staff accommodating and friendly.