For the Labor Day holiday and his sixth birthday, I took my son to Disney World. Not my daughters, not my husband. Just me and my little dude and The Mouse.
The idea started forming a few years ago when I took my oldest daughter on a Disney trip with my college roommate and her daughter. We had such a great time letting the girls call the shots, not to mention the freedom of only being responsible for one older child each (no naps, no bottom wiping, no strollers and no diaper bags to lug around). That trip was my first time to Disney as an adult and I totally drank the Bibbidi Bobbidi Kool-Aid. But the more my husband and I talked about planning a trip for our family of six, the more we both realized how tricky the timing and the finances would be. I wanted each kid to have the experience my daughter did. She was old enough to understand waiting and walking, and old enough to enjoy parades and shows, but young enough to really find it magical and be totally starstruck by a college girl in a princess dress.
I didn’t want to miss that window, and I also didn’t particularly like the idea of taking a baby even if she would be free (more power to you if you do though!). With four kids of varying ages with vastly different interests and personalities, working out the “ideal” logistics seemed nigh impossible. Add to that the fact that my husband is not Disney-crazy, so he was not as motivated as I was to cough up the big bucks and make all of the complicated plans to take everyone.
At some point I think I said “I wish I could just take them all when they were six.” And then I realized…maybe I could!
Since my husband is not fully on board the Mouse train, he was not at all resistant to the idea of my going back to Disney solo, and we both loved the idea of letting each kid have their own special experience for their first Disney World visit. With four kids, we try to seek out opportunities for them to really feel important and singular, and what better way to do that than a few days of one-on-one time in the most magical place on Earth!
I started planning about six months ago and I knew from the start that I wanted it to be a surprise for as long as possible.
In part I did that because of how amazing the experience would be for him, and in part because I didn’t want to answer “how many more days?” for months and months, or torture his sisters with the fact that they didn’t get to go this time around. A slight sidebar here: I had many people ask me how my daughters felt about not getting to go to Disney, saying they could never do that to their kids without repercussions, wondering how “mad” they were at me. But I hope my girls understand that this has nothing to do with favoritism; in fact quite the opposite. I want all of my children to feel wildly, singularly loved. I want them to receive gifts and attention with grace and a grateful heart, and to feel joy rather than resentment when other people are the ones doing the receiving. Of course they would have loved to go this time, but they know that their time will come around, and that it will be as special for them as it was for their brother.
It was a hard secret to keep, especially as I chose restaurants and Fast Passes and costumes for the Not So Scary Halloween Party (yes, I’m aware it’s September, back up off me). Last week I grew increasingly paranoid that an excited and well-meaning family member or friend would spill the beans, especially at his birthday party, but thankfully we made it all the way until departure day with the surprise intact.
His dad and I arrived at his school shortly after lunch time, my car packed and ready to be Florida-bound.
My son’s car bag was the “reveal,” containing his birthday mouse ears, a Disney shirt, First Time Visit and birthday Disney pins, and toys and snacks for the road. He figured it out pretty quickly, but was surprisingly mellow (and much more captivated by the new golden power ranger figure I had included in the bag). He grew more excited as we drove and I filled him in on our itinerary for the following days, cracking me up by commenting that I had been “quite the planner.”
We had three full days at Disney, visiting all four parks and attending the Halloween party at Magic Kingdom. We ate all the Mickey shaped things, rode amazing rides, and took hundreds of pictures. I felt great about the decision to bring him solo, especially as we breezed through the parks with one backpack, giving sympathetic side-eye to the melting down toddlers and sleeping babies in double strollers and their sweating, stressed out parents.
Our trip was magical.
I expected the magic from Disney; it’s what they are known for, after all. But the real magic came from the amazing little boy I was with. He was a delight, and he charmed everyone we met (even scoring us a bonus Fast Pass from his silly sweetness at breakfast one morning).
I lost count of the number of times he thanked me for taking him, or told me it was the best trip of his life. I got emotional trying to memorize his face as he saw or tried things for the first time, or spun as fast as he could on the teacup ride, or got kissed on the cheek by a princess. It was so special being able to focus on only him in those moments.
I loved being able to say “yes” to almost everything, and to let him change the plans when he wanted, or try something I would normally have passed by. We waited in long lines, got rained on a number of times, and even had to fly by the seat of our pants on departure day when our car wouldn’t start (Disney has on-site car service btw…who knew??), but he was a trooper through all of it, and his positivity was infectious and inspiring. I feel like I know him better and like our relationship grew and changed for the better after sharing this special experience together.