“I see life differently from someone who has not seen life’s dark side. Moments are precious, every moment, and because of what I have experienced, I know and appreciate this.” – Henri Landwirth, Founder of GKTW Village
On our way out of the Village that first morning, we stopped by the Gingerbread House to borrow children’s videos for the kids to watch in the van. (They’ve truly through of e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. in the Village). Then, we stopped by a coffee house for me, as we hadn’t even gone anywhere and already I felt completely drained. Finally, caffeine in hand, and content children in headphones, we were on our way to a Disney Park! As a special needs family, we lived in moments, not days. The morning’s moments had been awful (read about our first morning at GKTW here). This moment was great.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation had arranged for one of Mercy’s dreams to come true on this first day. At 2:00 p.m., she was getting a makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo Boutique in Disney Springs! But before that happened, we’d hoped to explore a bit of Epcot.
Since PJ had awakened us all so early, even with the cluster episode and late breakfast, we arrived only a couple hours after the park’s opening and I hoped we could get in quickly. But, it turned out 2 hours after opening is a popular arrival time, especially during the weekend of the Food and Wine Festival, when combined with a marathon! Ha! After waiting in two long lines, and having had our many bags checked (special needs families do not travel lightly: we had a medicine bag, safe snack bag, change of clothes bag, diaper bag, purse and a stroller) a security guard approached me and stated I’d been selected for an extra screening. Thinking this was a poorly timed joke, I showed the guard our MAW & Disney Genie passes, but he insisted I follow him. I handed off PJ to Dan, and followed the security guard. I could see Dan trying to calm Mercy, already confused and keyed-up on rescue meds, as she watched me go through the extra machinery. Obviously, with as busy and chaotic as our morning had been, I’d forgotten to carry my 9 mm and to stuff the illegal fireworks behind the diapers (though I HAD asked Dan to run a selfie stick back to the van before we boarded the trolley to the park entrance so, I’d narrowly escaped getting caught with that contraband). The guard cleared me for entrance and instructed me to have a magical day. Oh boy.
The rest of the morning progressed similarly, and I will spare you tedious details about bathroom lines, diaper changes, an excessive amount of time at the visitor center, and a mix up with our photo pass not linking into our Disney account. I will just say that: Dan and I’ve had the pleasure of being to Disney a couple times. However, this was the first time we’d come with our children, and our first time as Make-A-Wish guests. Being there with your Wish Child feels different because, more than in times past, you feel you have limited time. Being a MAW guest means, automatically, that there is a life-threatening reason why you’re being given this special opportunity, and although there is wrapped up inside of this beautiful gift the hope that the encouragement and happiness it brings your child will boost their will to fight and prevail over their illness, there is also the knowledge attached that you’re given this gift now, because there may not be a tomorrow. As much as you try not to dwell on that possibility as a parent, and as often as the MAW literature repeats that you cannot possibly do it all, there is still a feeling of urgency to make sure your child can experience the fun of this gift to their fullest. As a result, all of these delays in “getting to the fun”, this first day, felt like being robbed of treasure.
The important thing is that after this rocky start and approximately 4 hours after cluster seizing, Mercy got into a convertible that hit speeds in excess of 60 mph as it skidded and screeched it’s way around corners, through stormy weather, and onto a race track to ride the first attraction she’d put on her to-do list: Test Track!! This had not happened without a tremendous amount of anxiety and a lot of assurances from Disney cast members, her parents, and several people in line. In fact, she was so worried she barely enjoyed designing her own test automobile, and I was sure there was a high probability she was just going to walk right through the car to the exit, without riding, when it was her turn to board. But, she rode. To some, no big deal perhaps. But for my child, this single moment of courage was victory: a moment when she chose to face a fear, after her morning had been hijacked by fears not of her own choosing.
She sat down, fastened that seatbelt latch, checked and re-checked it was secure, and SCREAMED HER LUNGS OUT THE WHOLE WAY! As I helped Mercy exit the ride, a gentleman who had been sitting next to us in our vehicle laughingly advised me: “You’d better not ever buy that girl a convertible!” As I looked toward Mercy to see how she was faring, she beamed from ear to ear and exclaimed, “That was awesome! I want to do it again!” Her Daddy was more than happy to oblige, and with his design skills, their test automobile rated highest in all but one test. Victory lap accomplished!
Our next stop was the Finding Nemo ride for Pierson, who – too young and too short – had waited dutifully outside the Test Track, eating chocolate granola bars and delighting passerbys with his chubby cheeks, blue eyes, beaming gooey smile, and beacon-like copper hair. Even with the automatic Genie/MAW fast pass entrance, it ended up being quite a long wait for him, so he still had no idea what all the fuss about an amusement park was anyways. I wish I had a video now of how big his eyes rounded, as we entered the Nemo ride with animated seagulls calling out, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” while waves splashed over their rock, just like they do in the movie. As we boarded our upturned clam shell, he couldn’t have been more riveted by the CG underwater sea life, Dory, Nemo, music and ambiance. He soaked in every creative moment under the sea with his Pixar pals.
And then, it was already time to go. Fairy Godmothers in training are very busy fairies, and one must not keep them waiting, even if one is a Make-A-Wish child.