I hate flying. I get severe anxiety whenever I fly and it has compounded the older I have gotten. It has reached a point where if I know I am flying somewhere, I will get anxiety every day until the trip, and then it culminates once on the plane itself. The last time I flew, a trip to Thailand, I took three ambien and it didn’t knock me out. I watched GI Joe about four times and don’t remember anything about it, but it didn’t knock me out. Because of this, I decided it best if we drove from California to Florida for our vacation. Myself, my wife, and our 1 1/2 year old daughter would pack into a large Chevy Traverse, equipped with her entire bedroom, and make the 2800 mile trek to Disney World.
When driving with a toddler, one must be prepared. When driving on Interstate 10 through the southwest, Texas, deep South, and Florida, one must be exceptionally prepared. When driving through those areas on the I-10 with T-Mobile, one must be ridiculously prepared and have all sorts of backup plans in order. This brings us back to our favorite plan: the PACE plan. Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency. Don’t leave home without this. In today’s world, technology is your friend. We had Liv’s phone, which has no data plan on it and only connects to the internet via WiFi. This is of little use on a car ride, unless you have apps available which do not require internet connection to utilize. Then of course we had our phones, which do have service, except most of I-10 does not receive T-Mobile service so those phones were only of use part of the time. Then we had an old I-Pad that I had the foresight to download videos on the Amazon Prime Video app prior to leaving. So we had a full contingent of Bubble Guppies, Umizoomi, Daniel Tiger, and Tiny Toons waiting to be watched whenever our phones failed. And in case of emergency, we had coloring books. Coloring books might be old school, but dammit, they still work just great. And now they have markers that only draw on the books they come with, so kids can’t just draw all over themselves with them or all over the car. The shit they come up with today. Guess those engineers who use to work at NASA have had to come up with other things these days.
I don’t know how our generation ever made it on road trips when all we had were Mad Libs. However, with all the things available today, I do know that Mad Libs are not long for this world, if they are even still around. Punch-buggy games are useless, because I am pretty sure I did not see one Volkswagen Beetle on the entire trip. Plus I am not teaching my daughter how to punch people at such a young age. That’s what elementary school is for. So the more technology I could bring along, the better. Not everyone prescribes to this theory. I am sure a lot of us new parents get a lot of the “We didn’t need phones and tablets to keep you kids occupied”. Yea, but if they did have them available, I guarantee our parents would have duct-taped them to our hands on long roadies.
One thing I learned on our trip across country is that my daughter has absolutely zero patience but can endure just about anything. Being strapped in a car seat for sometimes 12 hours during the day, that girl has an incredible amount of intestinal fortitude. Had it been me in that position, I probably would have given up by the time we got to Fresno and just walked back home. “There’s hot chow and a warm crib back at the house.” Boom, I woulda caved right there. However, my daughter is a lot stronger than I am. She made it through with an incredibly low amount of crying and fussing. Sure she hit her limits, but we all do and they were usually at the end of the day. However, you give that girl a phone with her favorite Nick Jr. app and that load screen pops up, God help us. No patience whatsoever. Waiting for a video to load? Scream! Hit a momentary dead zone where coverage is dropped? Watch out, that phone is flying somewhere through the car. Thirty second commercial comes on? She’s ripping the hair out of mommy’s head. Perhaps she gets it from me. I do not like to wait. I dunno, guess you gotta take the bad with the good.
Getting to Florida really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Despite some bumps along the way, we got there in a timely fashion and were ready to begin our days at Disney. It helps when you can take three weeks for vacation and can take your time driving however and wherever you want. Now, every parent has certain expectations for their kids when they go on vacation. Those expectations are amplified when going to Disney. For one, Disney is not cheap so the reactions better be Earth shattering. And 2. what parent doesn’t want to see the utter excitement on their child’s face upon seeing Mickey, and Minnie, and all their other favorite characters from the Disney Channel? These expectations can be realistic when taking a 3 or 4 year old to Disney. But taking a 1 1/2 year old is a whole different story. Their reaction upon entering the Happiest Place on Earth during Spring Break? “Don’t you dare remove me from the safety of my stroller/ Don’t you dare take another selfie, you have enough/ Don’t you dare stop moving in a forward direction or I will blow up faster than that bus in that Keanu Reeves movie/ Ohh a duck/ I know my facial reactions don’t tell it but I really am having a good time/ These people dressed up as Mickey and Minnie are fun to look at from far away but don’t you dare put me next to them/ I am not happy until I have ALL the stuffed animals in this park.” And that was the extent of our two days patrolling Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.
We spent two long days at the parks. Like the drive, Liv did pretty well for those long days. She was content to be in her stroller as that was the safest spot to be with the large crowds. Again, like me, she is not a fan of ginormous crowds. Of course, I don’t know what 1-2 year old kid really is. She is a people person, but not when all the people are around her. We have very few photos of her smiling at the parks, yet she seemed to really be enjoying herself from her view down near the ground. She only needed quick glances of the attractions and she was ready to move on to the next thing. She went on some of the rides that were her size and she enjoyed them. Yet she was methodical in her enjoyment. She was like a man going into a shopping mall: knows exactly where to go to get what he wants and is in and out in minutes. I am convinced she could have experienced the entirety of the park in about 19 minutes and been completely satisfied by it. But we didn’t pay for 19 minutes, so she had to endure. And she did.
Now I may be dumb at times, but I am not stupid. I am completely realistic in understanding that she will have no recollection of her trip to Disney. The photos are the proof of it. She could care less about having been there by now and so some may wonder if it was actually worth spending all that money on those two days in Disney. And to that I say, depends on what your hoping to get out of it. There are plenty of experiences in my life that I have had as an adult that I completely forget about. Doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. So taking my daughter to Disney was not about her remembering the trip, but about us experiencing it together as a family. There are those moments of excitement and wonder that are bestowed upon her that we as parents got to witness, and those are what matter. Her being enchanted by a family of ducks walking around a bench in the middle of Magic Kingdom are things that we will remember because of how adorable it was, no matter how free it could have been at a local pond. Sometimes it is the irony of a situation that makes for the best memories. Her spending an hour inside Animal Kingdom going down slides and up stairs that she could have done at the park down the street, brings with it a bit of a magical quality to it, because it’s like “Hey, there are so many wonderful things around her but she is completely stoked by slides.” People spend their whole lives trying to go experience Disney, and here she is and all she wants to do is go down a slide. That kind of indifference to your surroundings and pure excitement to the small things is something you can only find within a child like that.
The rest of our trip was spent with family, allowing her to meet family members she had not had a chance to see yet. The beach is a cheap alternative to expensive theme parks that provide just as much, if not more, thrills for a young toddler like Liv. I could sit and watch her amazement at the ocean all day long. We spent many nights in hotel rooms, of which she always found fascinating and she turned into her own little playground. It was a good vacation, as we got to see places we hadn’t seen in a long time, or ever at all. You never know when you get chances to take your kids places, and when given that opportunity, one must make the most of it. At least she can say she saw the Alamo and the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the interstate in Mississippi. So while flying might have been a faster solution, this was a more rewarding alternative.
The trip was three weeks long and there was really so much more that we did that I just am not going to write here in a blog. The bottom line is the following: Little kids are resilient and have much more stamina and mental toughness than one might think. Like I said, our daughter was able to endure everything we threw at her and then some, and really seemed to enjoy, for the most part, what we were doing. I would never discourage someone from going on road trips or Disney adventures solely because they have a young toddler. The experience is unique yet fulfilling. Only a parent truly knows their own kid so a paintbrush stroke of “no kids like to do that” just simply doesn’t apply. As a parent you have to be strong, you have to be patient, you have to be tolerant, but you also have to be fearless to take on a challenge like this, because it truly is a challenge. Of course, I am sure I will get the obligatory “But you only did it with one kid. Will you do it with two kids?” To which I will respond, “Hell no. What do you think I am, a masochist?”