For a good six months or so, Tiff (my wife) had one wish for her birthday (December 16) — to take the kids to Disneyland for the first time. It’s been a difficult six days for us, as all three of our kids have been sick, Tiff broke her finger slamming it in a door and both of us have bronchitis now. But Disneyland is what we planned on, so Disneyland is what we did. And it was the best day we’ve had in a long time!
We knew Ben (8) and Ava (4) would have a blast, but we weren’t sure how Jack would handle it. If you’ve never been here before, Jack is our 6-year-old son who is severely autistic. I’m running 60 marathons (well, trying to) next year in his honor to try to raise money and awareness for a charity called Train 4 Autism (hence the name of the endeavor, “Operation Jack”). Anyways, we didn’t know how he’d do. Maybe he’d freak out, or maybe he’d be in sensory heaven.
We knew heading in that Disneyland is very accommodating to families with autistic children. The first thing we did was go to Guest Relations because we knew they’d give us a special line access pass. He had a little bit of a meltdown during those five minutes we waited for that pass, which clearly indicated to the staff there that it was something we needed. I’d much rather have three typical children and stand in line, but it did come in handy and help him quite a bit.
Our first ride (the moment of truth!) was Pinocchio in Fantasyland. It was the perfect way to start the day — he loves watching that movie, plus Pinocchio symbolizes Jack to us. Right now, he’s the marionette. He’s still not truly talking. But someday, he will. He’s going to become Pinocchio the boy. I keep a little statuette of Pinocchio (the boy) on my desk and look at it all day, every day, and it makes me think of him.
Anyways, he had a BLAST! We were so excited that he enjoyed the rides. Benjamin and Ava enjoyed themselves, too. We knew we were in store for a great day. It’s been a tough year, two years, three years, whatever. The Felsenfeld Five, as I like to call us, was long overdue for a great day. We went on all the kid rides in Fantasyland. Jack loved them all.
He loved the dips on Pirates of the Caribbean, he enjoyed Tarzan’s Treehouse, and even had a good time in the Haunted Mansion. He LOVED Star Tours. In fact, he went on it twice and was laughing hysterically the second time. We probably went on about 12-15 rides yesterday and he was happy the entire time. And of course, Benjamin and Ava had a blast.
I took Ben on Thunder Mountain, which was the best roller coaster he’d ever been on. He loved it. But later, when I took in on the Matterhorn, that moved to the top of his list. We didn’t get a chance to hit Indiana Jones before we left, and I was kind of bummed. The kids have school today and we needed to get back at a reasonable hour. Ben was bummed, and I told him I was, too. But he still said it was his best day ever. And I could tell it was the same for Ava and for Jack.
I’ve never been a big fan of Disney. I think they’re overpriced and they over-market everything. But yesterday, it really was the happiest place on Earth for us. Our life is very challenging and it was a great escape that we needed. Tiff’s birthday wasn’t the greatest last year, but I know without even asking her that this was one of the best birthdays she’s ever had.
It’s back to reality today, which means grinding it out, finishing some projects at work, working on another project after work and hoping my body keeps fighting off this bronchitis as the start of Operation Jack is just 15 days away.
But yesterday … yesterday is a day I’ll always remember and always look back on with a smile, because I know Tiff and the kids will, too!