We just returned from a long-anticipated family road trip that included jaunts to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disneyland and Newport Beach. We also somehow fit two different soccer tournaments for two different kids within the span of our 10 day trip. We’re a family on the move through much of life, in case you hadn’t picked up on that detail already. This pace and determination to cram fullness into limited space and time is often a point of contention for many who find themselves in relationship with me. I’m notorious for underestimating the amount of time a project might take or just how much work a task will require. I always find a way to get it all done, at times at the expense of my own body and at the mercy of those who choose to love me anyway.
Deciding to tackle Disneyland in a single day was evidence that this pattern of mine is alive and well. We have actually done Disneyland on two previous occasions – also in single day excursions. On these previous occasions the kids were all pretty young (as were Brian and I) and we weren’t overly concerned about conquering the park. We knew then that even a taste of the experience would feel like magic for our girls. BUT expectations and desires shift when children morph into teenagers. If I’ve learned anything in this season of parenting two teens, a tween and a threenager, it’s that these years are about continual growth and change. “Duh!” you might be thinking (yes, I still use ridiculous sayings from the 90s). I am not, however, strictly referring to the surge of pubescent hormones responsible for the fairly rapid metamorphosis of their glorious bodies. I’m talking about the space between all of us as well – that relational matrix found within every family system. As our “big” girls are each transitioning from childhood to adulthood we are perpetually being asked to make more space for one another’s differences and separateness. We are expanding as each daughter discovers how she is different and continues to lean into her process of individuation.
So how do you do Disneyland in a single day with a family as large as ours? Because these days I’m feeling how large we really are – not just in numbers, but in spaciousness with six different humans who all have their own expectations, desires and needs. I should add that it was also 95+ degrees and a gazillion times more populated than it had been when we last braved those crowds a decade before. We were a hot sweaty mess of a family that day, spending a larger portion of our vacation budget than originally planned and spending most of our time in lines feeling like it wasn’t quite what any of us had hoped it would be. But we did it. We bumbled and bumped our way through sorting out who wanted to do what and with who and how and where to meet up and reconvene. It was a day of some bickering and then compromise and deconstructing and leveling expectations, and ultimately making peace with reality and making space for each of our exhausted hearts in the end.
As the sun began to set and we found the relief we all needed from the blazing heat, we entered into the best part of the day together. Our tired feet and empty bellies led us all to the same desire – to eat and rest together before we would stake out our spot for the evening parade and fireworks show. It’s this rhythm of family I’m learning to embrace -the wrestling and sorting and pushing out and beyond that must take place so that there is enough room and space for everyone to gather within.
Later that night there was a moment of magic. I’m a sucker for fireworks put to music and it turns out each of my girls are as well. Just before the finale, Disney did what it does best – it made magic. Let It Go was blaring through the speakers and I couldn’t help but notice each of my girls singing along to a song we’ve listened to way too many times (it’s the threenager’s favorite movie). The three big girls were standing in front of me and Briella was perfectly situated on my hip and then it happened. The entire audience gasped as we all began to notice snow trickling down from above. I first caught Briella’s wonderstruck face and then each of my girls raised their hands into the air utterly delighting in the collective spectacle. I felt my eyes well up instantly with tears of such deep gratitude because this is the point of it all. Life is mostly about the struggle, the sorting out, the navigation of sometimes competing desires or needs, the individuating, the sweating and bickering and compromising. It’s the mundane and the messy. But then there are moments of magic. And it’s not that the moments of bliss make the rest of it bearable. It’s that the moments of reality make the magic that much more magical.
*All photos taken by Bailey Gauthier