Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 4: "Mac and Cheese and Legos"

Looking back, I am sure that our older daughter enjoyed her Disney World experience.  But we knew ahead of time that her enjoyment was going to take a different form than her younger sister’s.  Monkey 1 is a bit of a homebody.  The classic evidence of this is when Beth had run an errand with Monkey 1 in tow, and wanted to stop at Toys ‘r’ Us on the way home.  She asked, “Sweetie, do you want to stop at Toys ‘r’ Us?  There are a couple of things I need to check out for Christmas presents.”Monkey 1’s response?  “No.  I just want to go home.”  Beth tried some arm twisting—you know, to get our then-6-year-old to go to a toy store—but to no avail.

There are plenty of times when she is up for an adventure.  But we’ve learned that scheduling some time to decompress goes a long way towards helping her bounce back.  We knew that during our week in Disney World, these “decompression periods” would be A) harder to schedule, and B) more necessary.

So we proactively scheduled an “off day” for Wednesday.  No parks.  Dinner was the only reason we would need to leave the resort at all.  We also let ourselves plan for leisurely starts to our days.  Whatever magic we would miss out on in the first couple hours that the parks were open, we would replace with morale and sanity gained from our relaxed mornings.

These choices would pay dividends starting on Monday.  But you may recall that we checked into our resort on Sunday.  Thus, Sunday evening was a little bit of a danger zone in terms of how well Monkey 1 might deal with the stress of a new environment.

This is obvious to us now.  At the time, it seemed like a perfectly good idea to schedule our first sit-down, buffet-style meal for Sunday evening, and to schedule it at the restaurant in the Animal Kingdom resort.  This restaurant was African-themed.  It was large, crowded, and wide-open.  Picture a dark-ish cafeteria with a three-story ceiling, African decorations everywhere, and bongo music in the background.  Oh, and the food is “not weird—just different”.

Monkey 1 is hanging in there, but about to crash

Monkey 2 was loving this experience.  On the other side of the table, Monkey 1 started off with an adventurous spirit, but then focused more and more intently on her macaroni and cheese.  While the rest of us were devouring this new experience, Monkey 1 was gobbling up as much cheesy familiarity as her stomach could hold.  It turns out it could hold a lot.

Exactly how much, we’re not sure.  But after Beth and I finished our final trips through the buffet line, we asked the girls if they were ready for dessert.  Monkey 2 lit up.  Monkey 1 looked at us—bedraggled, zoning, and perhaps a little bit fearful—and declined.  This declining-of-dessert is just as strange as it sounds.  Even so, it still didn’t click for me exactly how difficult this evening was shaping up to be for our older daughter.  Fortunately, Beth clued in.  She walked over to her, shared a few words, then announced back to me that she and Monkey 1 would be waiting outside while the rest of us finished up.

So Beth and Monkey 1 got to spend some quality time together.  Later, I found out that Monkey 1 had eaten a lot.  Beth reported that her belly was rock-hard and protruding unnaturally from her tiny little torso.  Laying up against Beth on a bench in the cool Florida night, away from the chaos that is “Disney Africa”—turns out that was just what our little homebody needed.

And so it went: adventure, decompress, adventure, decompress.  I’m using “decompress” very broadly.  Ideally, Monkey 1’s decompression meant having time quietly reading in the comfort of our room.  But spur-of-the-moment decompression times happened any time she was able to hone in on something familiar and comforting.  Maybe my favorite example of this took place on Tuesday morning at the Hollywood Studios Park.  It was about 45 minutes until we were meeting Tim and Angie’s family for lunch, and it started raining.  We ducked inside the “Magic of Animation” attraction, not knowing much about it other than it would protect us from the rain.

Once we got inside, we realized it was basically an animation museum.  There were displays with pictures and videos documenting the process of animation.  All of this was fine and interesting enough.  Beth let Monkey 2 lead the way to what was most interesting to her, while I stood with Monkey 1 while she watched a looped-video of the progression of sketches of several different animated characters.  She loves to draw, and watching these figures take shape was engaging and calming.

As she was being hypnotized by this video, a door opened into the hallway a few feet from where we were standing.  A cast member announced that the animation class was starting in 5 minutes, and anyone interested should come in and find a seat.  It was a perfect and unexpected chance for her to further re-set, and we eagerly scurried into this dim, quiet classroom and found a pair of drawing desks.

For the next 20 minutes, the instructor walked us through the steps of drawing Goofy.  Monkey 1 was the perfect student, listening intently, carefully following each direction.  The fact that this 20 minute adventure seemed so special to her immediately elevated the specialness of the experience to me.  Here’s the evidence of our experience: 

No reason to post my drawing, but it's similar enough to Monkey 1's that it took me a second to tell them apart

A final “point of comforting familiarity” that Monkey 1 stumbled upon during our trip was one that I myself have used to unwind on more occasions than I can count: Legos.  Specifically, situated in the heart of Downtown Disney, is a Lego Store.

Monkey 2 outside the Lego Store in front of a Lego Snow White

Lego sea monster: real or hoax?

I have no idea where she gets her love of Legos.

I tried to photoshop myself a haircut, but to no avail

OK, let me rephrase that: Though I have encouraged her in her Lego pursuits, I have worked hard not to impose upon her the same Lego-values that I was raised with.  And I am proud to say that, even apart from my wants and desires, Monkey 1 likes Legos.

So, once we were in the Lego Store, it was a challenge to pry either of us away.  I treated myself to a plastic container of “pick a bricks,” cramming as many as possible useful-but-unusual bricks into a plastic container about the size of a Big Gulp.  (For the record, I make it a priority to only build with Legos during the times that one or both of my children are building with Legos.  It’s called “parallel play,” and it’s good for the children.)  Monkey 1 helped me with my brick-picking, but also browsed the inventory of city-themed Lego sets, searching for a souvenir of her own.  She decided on this one:

The banana (in the grip of the guy in green) is included apparently as a prop to set up an accident that would require an ambulance and/or helicoptor for the victim.  I mean no disrespect to those of you who have experienced banana-based trauma that necessitated you being airlifted to a hospital, but I'm thinking something like a trampoline or maybe a table saw would have been a more realistic prop to include.  That said, the banana was a significant influence for Monkey 1 picking this set; several times she mentioned how awesome it was that this set came with a banana.  So maybe the folks at Lego know what they're doing after all.

Yes, we went to Disney World, and Monkey 1 decided that her big souvenir of the trip would be a Lego set.  I don’t blame her: Legos are the mac and cheese of toys.

And, since even Monkey 1 sometimes gets full of mac and cheese, we bought her a "How to Draw Disney Characters" book.  On some days, I'm sure it will seem just as magical to her as Legos seem.

Next up: PART 6: Rides and Attractions, Volume 1


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