Well, it’s that time of year again (December 14, 2001 at the time I’m writing this). My shopping is done early, my tree is ready to be trimmed tonight when my daughter comes over. Her name is Stacey, and she is 5. I can’t express my love for her without emphatic gestures and proclamations of her destiny to rule the world through intellect and cuteness.
We just got back from a trip to Florida earlier in December. It was my grandmother’s 80th birthday, and my uncle organized a trip to DisneyWorld, and used a couple timeshare weeks for some nice condos so that we didn’t have to bankrupt ourselves paying hotel costs.
DisneyWorld was more fun than I remembered from when I went as a kid. With my daughter there anxious to ride everything, she, my mother, and I were soon separated from everyone else and alternated between the Dumbo-Tea Party-Space Mountain shuffle and going autograph hunting. The new fad at DisneyWorld appears to be having the cartoon characters sign autograph books and pose for pictures with the children. Of course, that may not be a new fad, I just didn’t notice that going on the last time I was there.
The trip was cool, my kid had fun, my grandmother had a good birthday, and I went away with new insight into the psychology of children. DisneyWorld is an exciting place, and it quickly overstimulates small children. I witnessed many children (including my own) get upset over trifles and then break down crying. The parents, like they always are, were horrible. Some ignored their kids, some were angry with them, most tried a false affect of logic and reason geared towards making the child get over his problem quickly for the benefit of the parents.
I spent a few times on a bench with my kid holding her when she was upset, and eventually I felt myself becoming short with her. After that, we took a break from the excitement in a restaurant (Pinnochio’s tavern – giant brats and $5 hamburgers) and afterwords sat through a play of the Lion King (thumbs up), and the rest of the day was uneventful as far as fit-throwing was invovled. On the second day, Stacey was more acclamated to the energy level of the park, and it went much better. I felt lousy for having become impatient earlier, but Stacey was none the worse for wear and was enthusiastic enough to ride some coasters and help me get all the evil green paper out of my wallet and into all the nice cash registers around.
The drive back to North Carolina was nice. I got to talk to my mom and grandmother a lot more than I do normally, and we found, by pure chance, the best down-home, family owned restaurant I’ve ever eaten in – Holton’s Seafood Restaurant off of I-95 near Savannah. Homemade vegetable beef soup (heavy on the okra), a heavenly waitress with grace and charms only found in the deep south, and momma Holton pleasantly doing the work of three. What’s not to love?
After crashing for a night in North Carolina, then driving an additional 8 hours to Ohio, I decided that lengthy travel by car was no longer my bag. I was a mess with stomach pains from all the pop I needed to stay alert, cramped from spending the better part of a week behind a wheel, and had a mix of cabin fever and lethargy for a couple days after. It seems like this sort of thing was easier on me when I was 20.
I’m facing my eventual old-age with mixed feelings. On one side, I’ll no longer be able to hit those volleyball serves as cleanly, confidentally handle a three man attack as sweeper in pick-up soccer games, or defeat Shaolin masters with my superior Kung-Fu. On the other side, I’ll know all about Escrow and where all my appliance warranties are, or more seriously, I’ll be able to debug my code twice as fast and apply what I’ve learned from a lifetime of being a geek in corporate America to making some truly innovative programs and retire a millionairre. I hope.
Presently, though, I was able to pull myself back together, and go tree shopping with my kid. We set it up together before either my roommate or mother got home from their respective outings that evening, and it was a great surprise to both of them. While setting it up, Stacey at one point saw the tree starting to slowly tip over while I was screwing the holder into place. She ran and put on my giant Wisconsin gloves so she wouldn’t get needled by the branches, and grabbed it just before it would have toppled with a mighty yawp of “I got it!” Timely reactions and an unselfish desire to help people escape impending harm – and I haven’t even started her training in my superior Kung-Fu yet. Did I mention she’s 5?
Last Christmas, I took my then four year old daughter down to great-grandma’s house. That was the first year Stacey was truly thrilled about Christmas. She helped decorate cakes, trim the tree, and wrap last-minute presents. I read The Night Before Christmas to her for the first time, and I learned what it means when a kid’s face lights up.
When Stacey woke up, she put on her little slippers and went to see what Santa had brought her. Under the tree, in addition to the presents that were already there, laid Barbie and Ken in their new car, a Barbie wardrobe, “princess” clothes for Stacey, and various odds and ends. She had a stunned expression for a moment and spoke in tones of hushed amazement “Look at all these toys,” and then broke into a giant grin and excitedly played with everything that was laid out before vigorously tearing the wrapping paper off of her remaining present.
I learned then what was best in life. Not a swift steed and the wind in your hair, not crush your enemy and see them driven before you; what’s best in life is to see your children happy and to know that you are part of the reason why.