Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Really Awesome Mostly Decent Parents Guide to the Happiest Place on Earth

Well, the Walkers are going to Disney World!

According to the custom-made Disney trivia paper chain that hangs in our kitchen, we are just a few short chain links away from the happiest place on earth!

We’re all very excited. We’ve been preparing for a while, and getting all of us ready for a trip to the Family Capital of the Entire Free World—Orlando—is no easy task.

The way I see it, there are two main categories in planning a successful Disney visit:

Basic magic

Ultra magic
Basic Magic
Basic magic, commonly known as “you’re laughable as a parent” is for simpletons who barely care anything at all for their offspring. Basic magic may include a ticket to the parks (all four—only one park ticket kicks you down to “limited basic magic”) and a souvenir light-up Mickey lanyard (estimated cost: your dignity, which you left in Pluto Parking Lot when you realized all the other families arrived two hours ago for “extra magic hours.”) You will not be getting a Fast Pass for any ride. You certainly won’t get into the new Be Our Guest Restaurant for any reason, not even a counter service meal. Maybe, if you are extremely lucky, your kids won’t notice what a dolt you are and you can snag them a turkey leg over in Frontierland. If not, you may as well throw yourself off the top of Splash Mountain.

Ultra Magic
Ultra Magic is a tricky place to be. Often referred to as “Mickey’s fantastical, extraordinary, fantabulous, if-you-love-your-kids-you’ll-do-this magic,” Ultra Magic parents are savvy enough to stay on Disney Property and purchase the meal plan, which costs approximately what you spent on your wedding reception, if you had your reception at The Plaza, offered an open bar and invited Lindsay Lohan.

But do not be fooled: staying on site and having the meal plan is totally worth it. Nobody takes their kids to Disney only to make them eat Lunchables out of a cooler in the trunk of the minivan. Don’t be those parents; spring for the plan. A big perk is that, if you have food sensitivities, your chef will accommodate you, sometimes even coming to your table to visit and design your meal. That’s some Ultra Magic, right there.

One common mistake of Ultra Magic parents is assuming that they can get into a “character meal” less than a full millennium before the meal takes place. We made this very mistake when we tried to get five seats at Cinderella’s Royal Table three months before our trip. Our reservation specialist laughed out loud and we could actually HEAR her giant eye roll through the phone.

A similar experience happened when I tried to schedule an appointment for my daughter and two nieces at the—wait for it—Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I know, I know. But listen: this boutique is inside Cinderella’s castle, staffed by several “fairy godmothers.” I mean, if a gal is going to get gussied up for a special day, the castle is the place to do it!

But no can do, apparently, unless you actually ARE Cinderella. The guy on the phone gasped loudly, as though I’m the kind of parent who drives a school bus, drunk, to deliver drugs to children while running over puppies. He said, “Nooooooo ma’am. We are booked through the end of the year. I MAY, however, have an opening at the Downtown Disney location.” That was his magical way of saying, “There is an opening in steerage, riff raff. Too bad you didn’t call me while your little princess was still in utero. Parenting fail.”

Still, there are ways to score some Ultra Magic specials, which—let’s be honest—all of us would go to great lengths to do for our kids. Here is how to get a seat at a character meal:

They book 180 days early and that's no joke. Calibrate your cell phone to the U.S. Naval Observatory Master clock and begin calling exactly six months before your visit to Disney, even if you don’t know you’re going yet. Trust me. Do this. Also be prepared to offer your first born, a pocket-full of doubloons and a single hair from a virgin mermaid. Pray nightly under the glow of the second star to the right; pray on until morning.

Once your big table meal is squared away, you will have the opportunity to separate yourself from the rest of us crappy parents who neglected to get a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table while the jelly from our “it’s a girl” ultrasound was still cold.

You can rise above your meager Ultra (although still marginally basic) Magic status by almost killing yourself with ten thousand magic details. My favorite is Tinkerbell gifts (think mini-Christmas gifts left in your room while your kids sleep happily.) It’s a fun way to distribute sunglasses, headbands and t-shirts that the regular parents just pack, without a trace of magic. Charlatans!  Oh, and for God’s sake do NOT forget to see that Tinkerbell sprinkles magic pixie dust, which can be purchased at any corner Pixie Dust Shoppe in Neverland, in a trail from her treasures to the door or window. It’s enchanting for the kiddos, and the Disney staff just get a hoot out of how magical that stuff is to vacuum up!

Other advanced Ultra Magic parenting tips include:
-trading Disney pins with other guests and Disney staff. I have no idea what that means, but I think it’s like magic Pok√©mon cards.
-making sure to have an autograph book for all your child’s favorite characters to sign. Have your Sharpie ready. You don’t want to see what kind of black magic unfolds when the Evil Queen from Snow White has to wait while you uncap a pen.
-interactive scavenger hunts in the parks. Fun stuff!
-matching family t-shirts. Just do it. At least get monogrammed mouse ears. If you don’t, you obviously are cruel and hate your own children.
-keep in mind you might want to injure someone upon your return home, like, say, the server at O’Charleys who refuses to accept your Magic Your Way card for payment and doesn’t tell you to "have a magical day." Prepare yourself for re-immersion. It’s not such a magical feeling. You should purchase the $300457902358304670394850293850945.99 Photo Fun Pack to keep reminding you of all the fun you had.

I think there is even a tier of secret magic that gets you to the upper echelon of all that charms any Disney fan. People in this stratum get reservations at tables usually reserved for those with the last names Winfrey, Christ or Jolie-Pitt. Here, parents make reservations promptly on time (20 years prior to visit) and spend endless hours of fun being together, making the most magical of memories.

Wait a minute! Endless hours of fun? Magical memories? Being together? That sounds exactly like a Walker Family Vacation! What a relief! I’m thrilled to be going to Disney World—I won’t even pretend I’m not over the moon—and am extra happy to be there with grandparents, in-laws and cousins.

But I find it simply magical that whenever I am together with my little nest—the Walker 5—THAT is the happiest place on earth.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hey, out there

Hey, out there,

As usual, I am approximately six weeks behind in getting another blog posted. It’s a chronic dilemma, and one for which I offer no excuses, except life is what it is and there you have it.

My salutation—hey, out there—has presented itself to me twice all ready today, and it is only 1:08 in the afternoon. I thought it was significant enough to mention. The first was a rather pithy Facebook repost of the common (though, frequently amusing and even helpful) grammar lessons people are fond of. The author of that piece cautioned writers against using the term “hey, out there,” noting that it is unprofessional and puts distance between writer and reader. Out where, the author wants to know? Bring readers in, she cautions, don’t keep them “out there.”

But the next time I came across “hey, out there” as a salutation was while I happily read over the website of Pat Conroy, who, if you don’t know by now, is my favorite author. I do that from time to time to find inspiration, or to avoid my own writing.  I was comforted to find that Pat, like me, has not been altogether prompt about new blog posts of his own. Of course, he has been working on his 10th book, so that gives him a bit of an excuse. But the point I make here is that if “hey, out there” is good enough for Pat Conroy, it is certainly good enough for me.

I recently read an article in Psychology Today about writer’s block. Not surprisingly, it’s a form of perfectionism that cripples us with the threat of getting words down on paper that will never measure up to the way they are arranged in our heads. It’s a sad case of “A means Adequate, B means failure.”

I liken it to letting someone hold my newborn child. It’s a short list. Not just anyone gets to hold my baby. If you have a weird vibe, you look shifty, you are not a board certified pediatrician, or you don’t remind me in the slightest of Mother Teresa, you don’t get to hold my newborn.

So it is with my writing—especially my novel. For a while, only two people other than me were privy to the inner workings of my novel, and one of them had to listen to me read it aloud, lest I decide suddenly that I had changed my mind. This is an excellent way to practice perfectionism, but a terrible way to finish a novel. When that happens, the idea remains in my head, never risking the mess of words tumbling out onto blank pages, filling margins with tales and tragedies and salvation for characters I’ve come to know and love.

But slowly, gradually, I’ve widened the circle to include a few other trusted readers whose appearance on my short list is by invitation only. Some of the select few were randomly chosen; others were there from the first paragraph, which everyone knows is the hardest one to get on paper.

I’m trying to take the centuries-old advice from Phillip Sydney, whose Elizabethan sonnets are considered, after Shakespeare’s, to be the best sonnets of his age. In Astrophel and Stella, Sydney says,

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
"Fool!" said my muse to me, "look in thy heart, and write.” 

I’m guessing he spent a minute or two hesitating to share them, wondering if the damn Bard would cool his ink well long enough for someone else to get a sonnet or two out there.

“Hey, out there,” I’ll bet he said to his waiting public, “have a read.” But before he did that, he had to do the one thing that writers absolutely have to do to call ourselves writers.

He had to write.