“There is something that exists within the human soul that awakens when suffering is great…It is like a mechanism that comes awake and helps us fight…There is something inside all of us that hangs on to life, that refuses to let it go.” –Henri Landwirth, Founder of Give Kids the World Village, Gift of Life
I don’t remember the third morning of Mercy’s Wish Trip well. I know Dan left the Villa early for dairy-free shakes from the Ice Cream Palace and to-go breakfast from the Gingerbread House, so Mercy could sleep and try to avoid bad morning seizures. I’m sure I was busy getting medicine and clothes ready, tweaking our itinerary, and packing bags for us to take to Hollywood Studios. The fact that I have little memory of it means that Mercy’s seizures were easily managed and Pierson continued to get better; answers to prayer.
It’s funny to say that the mornings we can’t remember are the best, but they are. Forgettable mornings are the ones that feel most normal, most like our life before epilepsy. Some days it’s crystal clear we’re in a fight for Mercy’s life. Days when seizures stop her breathing and her lips turn blue. Days when she clusters, ends up in status, and we lose her for hours, hoping it won’t digress further. Days in the hospital where doctors try endless medication cocktails trying to find the magic key to stop her brain from fighting unknown assassins. Those are days when “hanging on to life” looks like grasping onto hope with a white knuckled grip, through tears, detached numbness, and unrelenting prayers. But then there are days where “hanging on to life” for a Wish Child means living it. Those are the days where we ignore epilepsy, to the best of our ability, and fight to experience life by dancing, laughing, trying new things, praising God, hanging with friends, and accepting the gifts that are still ours. On this third day of Mercy’s Wish Vacation, we refused to let go…by living.
Hollywood Studios is a park that has attractions built around popular movies and TV shows. Mercy had recently been introduced to the inter-galactic world that is Star Wars, so that ride was our first objective. As is common for Jedi Younglings, Mercy’s trepidation grew as we neared the pod and finally strapped ourselves into our Starspeeder 1000 spacecraft. Mercy blasted the Disney cast member with a stream of nervous questioning about where to stow her lanyard and how to secure her seat belt. She was a wreck because, hey, who really wants to encounter Darth Vader when you left your light saber at home?! Soon, C-3PO appeared and began his anxious description of the 3-D battle our vessel was entering. Lasers shot, and our seats keened left, right, up, and down, dodging fire from enemies of the Rebellion! Our spacecraft was drawn inside an enemy ship and Darth Vader appeared accusing: The reason for this battle was that Mercy (whose face popped up on the screen ahead of us) was a Rebel Spy! It was fantastic. Later, Mercy and Dan met Chewbacca and Kylo Ren. “Kylo Ren asked me to join the Dark Side, Mom! I just stared him down. There was no way I was giving him a hug!”, Mercy relayed to me later.
In my prior trips to Disney, I’d never bothered to meet many characters. To me, it seemed like kind of a waste of time when there were rides, shows, and restaurants to visit. But, children change everything. Before we’d left home, our kids had made their own autograph books. “Just pick your top two or three characters you’d like to meet”, I advised them. “We won’t be able to meet everyone.” That was before I knew about the magic of the Genie Pass. By the time we were flying home, the kids would have more than 22 character signatures and photo memories! Meeting the characters was one of the funnest parts of our Disney experience, which just goes to show you that moms don’t always know everything. (But don’t tell my kids I said that. And, definitely don’t tell your own mother.)
Mercy and Pierson met Olaf, Jake the Pirate, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Buzz Lightyear and Woody at Hollywood Studios that day. Meeting Mickey and Minnie began comically when a newbie cast member, realizing we were a Wish Family and trying to grant us quick access to Disney’s famous mice, decided to take us through the TOP SECRET cast member path to get there! Pulled through a secret gate, our confused family started trekking past cast members with their feet up on patio tables, kicking back with their smokes and bagged lunches, on break! One of the lunching cast members asked why the newbie cast member was bringing park guests through their lunch area. Newbie explained that she was taking a Wish Family to meet Mickey and Minnie. The more experienced cast member jumped up, quickly corralled us, and led us back through the secret gate and around the building to a more accessible fast pass entrance area. “You don’t bring them in HERE!”, he whisper-hissed to newbie. Hahaha! What I appreciate most about this little tale is that even the newest staff member at Disney knows that the Genie Pass is magic, and they bend over backwards to help grant the Wish Kids an unforgettable time…even if they don’t yet have proper entrance protocol memorized. That type of invested customer service is why Disney rules the entertainment industry and works so flawlessly with the mission of Make-A-Wish.
By the time we met Goofy, Mercy was fading. We’d skipped the wheelchair rental at the entrance because Mercy wanted to just walk, like normal kids. But, by lunch time it was clear that could not continue. She was becoming irritable and starting to absence seize regularly. We found an outside patio table and I settled the kids to feed them lunch, while Dan ran back for a wheelchair (As an aside: The role of errand boy is one Dan often takes upon himself to help our family, and I am so very grateful. He never complains about this role, even when he’s tired, sweaty, and hungry himself. He just does what his family needs him to do. He serves us first, and himself second, which is just one way in which he tries to model his Savior.) While Dan was away, Mercy’s attitude digressed further. She was seething about the wheelchair, confused, seizing, and weary. By the time Dan returned, we were considering leaving the park altogether. Instead, we decided we’d try a show where she could sit and rehydrate, before quitting.
Quickly, Dan and I sprinted through crowds with one child in a wheelchair and another in a stroller, towards the Indiana Jones Epic Stunts Spectacular stage show. Nearing the entrance, we saw cast members observing our trotting approach, who immediately began walkie talkie chatter amongst themselves. We never slowed as they held out arms like traffic cops, pointing us toward the entrance ramps they wanted us to take into the domed open-air theatre, while they radioed ahead to the next cast member that a Wish Family was entering late. Parking in the indicated wheelchair area, a cast member greeted us in whispers and walked our family down the steps into reserved seating, four benches from stage. We oohed and ahhed at the stunts, and laughed at the audience members selected to learn stunt fighting, including a ridiculously overly dramatic death scene by one father. Kudos to dads who lay personal pride on the alter of comedic enterprise. Laughs, rest, and hydration did us all a world of good. Mercy had calmed, her seizing had slowed, and she realized she needed the wheelchair.
Our next stop was the Toy Story Mania ride. Holy smokes was that ride fun, people! And, half the fun is waiting in line. For Reals. We used the Fast Pass entrance, but this ride is hugely popular and, even there, wait times were about 40 minutes: no problem with the kids cocooned into the wheelchair, enjoying snacks. If I were a better photographer, you’d now be looking at incredible pictures of the decor in the wait line: towering dressers, jacks larger than your kids, bedposts that look as tall as Mt. Everest, and door knobs that hang like forbidden fruit, just out of your tippy-toed reach. But, I’m not a fantastic photographer, so you’re left with clicking this link and toggling through pictures here. The entire design inside this building is intended to make you feel as small as a toy in a child’s bedroom: Andy’s bedroom, from the movie Toy Story, to be exact. When it was our turn to ride, we donned our 4D glasses and shot lasers at midway games as we rolled through the track. The best part was that Pierson was big enough for us to all participate together. He LOVED it.
There were more rides, and more fun. Mercy’s favorite was the Great Movie Ride. Pierson enjoyed the Muppet Theatre. But, not one of us will ever forget that night at the Hollywood Studios, because Mickey had special emissaries there who went out of their way to put the “A” in A-mazing for our Wish Child and her brother, making every one of us cry.
How about you? Have you been to Hollywood Studios? What’s your favorite part? Comment and share your memories with me, below!