The Disney Version

I have a complicated relationship with Disneyland.

"The Disney Version" are words that generally make me shudder, but I have to admit to spending some very memorable days at Walt's first theme park.

Growing up in Southern California meant we got to visit more often than most people. The ride to Disneyland took an entire twenty agonizing minutes; I knew we were close when we passed Camping World on the right. Then the sparkling Disneyland sign like the pearled gates of kid heaven and the regimented parking operation with ushers to methodically fill every available space. Then the purchasing of the coupon books we were not allowed to hold with their A,B,C,D and fabulous E tickets. 

All too soon came the hated picnic lunch in the always hot and less-than-scenic area by the parking lot for the brown-baggers. A few more rides and then the rise of anger at being forced to return home for naps and dinner, stupid rituals my parents insisted upon while the happy out-of-town children stayed in the park or rode the Monorail back to the Hotel for a swim in the pool. I refused to wash my hands lest I wash away the magical hand stamp that was my return ticket.

As I got older there was Grad Nite, that ritual all-night party for California high school seniors. Disney had a lengthy dress code for this event and I recall necessarily ditching my jacket behind an entry pylon because it had a zipper and would not be allowed in. (Somewhat miraculously, I found it again on the way out.) I still have a picture of myself posing in a hideous bubble-skirted dress with Winnie the Pooh and the boy who would become my husband many years later.

The state college I went on to attend had the unofficial title of Cal State Disneyland. If you weren't a Disney employee, your boyfriend or your roommate was (your annoying tap-dancing roommate who practiced Disney parade routines in the living room and whom you once threatened to kill in the middle of the night if she so much as hummed that theme music one more time.) Disney became more about paying for gas and car insurance, the brainwashing training sessions new "cast members" were required to attend, and the reported miseries of wearing a Br'er Bear costume at high noon in the middle of summer.

Eventually I moved away and mostly forgot about Disney except to heartily enjoy an occasional vilifying tale like Carl Hiaasen's Team Rodent. When Child the Elder was three we passed a special display of giant fiberglass Mickey figurines on the street and I patted myself on the back when he said, "Look at that big doggy, Mommy!" Mickey Mouse, one of the most recognizable icons around the world for children everywhere, was a stranger to my son.

Here I am on the cusp of introducing Child the Elder, the premier product of my union with Winnie the Pooh Boy, to the wonders of The Happiest Place On Earth. In anticipation the two of us have been poring over The Disneyland Encyclopedia: the unofficial, unauthorized, and unprecedented history of every land, attraction, restaurant, shop, and event in the original Magic Kingdom.

It is fascinating to read about rides never built and lands never realized. The book has details of many beloved things about the park I will never see or ride again (Farewell, Swiss Family Treehouse!) and is filled with interesting behind-the-scenes details, facts, and figures. Because it is in encyclopedic form the reader is free to skip around, but if Disneyland is part of your psyche (for better or worse) you will be compelled to read it cover to cover.

My road trip south to the people and places of my youth, with two small children and covering a total 2,000 miles, is in two days. My head is spinning and I'm back twirling in the kitchen where it's hot and I'm seven years old with 1970's day-glo mouse ears on my head and a hard-won all-day sucker clutched in my sticky fist. Most of my preparatory concentration for this arduous journey thus far has been spent on deciding which books to take with me in the car.

And that, more than anything else, should betray both my eternally optimistic nature and my complete severance with reality-based living.

It's my own Disney Version.