Lesson #103: Disney Characters are Scary

On a recent trip to Florida I decided that I would take my son to Disney World for the day. For Riley, this idea comes with two clauses, that we would spend most of the time at Animal Kingdom and that we would do everything necessary to avoid all Disney characters. On any day other than Halloween, my son is afraid of people in costumes. “Why take him to DIsney World then?” you ask, well I suppose it’s because I would like to share with him the magic of Disney in hopes that it would help him overcome his sense of being stalked by what we like to refer to as “made up characters”.

You see it’s all about perspective. Henry David Thoreau summed it up beautifully by saying, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” When I go to Disney World, I see fantasy brought to life, faces full of wonder and awe (except for the occasional overstimulated, crying child and their frustrated/on the brink of losing it parents), I hear uplifting and happy music, and I take in the smell of candy and popcorn mixed with a myriad of other smells that are distinctly Disney, and I am at once happy. Then I look down at my 5 year old. His eyes are at the height of most peoples behinds so I would imagine he is not seeing what I see, he is grasping my hand and looking around for those fiendish characters so I am sure he is missing the melodies floating through the air, but I know he smells the popcorn so I offer some up as a distraction and because I feel guilty. What Riley looks at, from the perspective of a very literal 5 year old, is truly what he sees. I need to remind myself of that more often. He isn’t yet able to see through things to determine what is real and what isn’t, which is why kids at this age still believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny, or that a six foot Goofy is not just a person dressed up in a costume. I think that Disney World highlights the difference between a child’s and an adults point of view and it definitely reminded me that I need to put myself in my son’s shoes every once in a while.

So, instead of trying to reason with him regarding the characters, we avoided them. I picked him up every once in a while (he is quite big for a 5 year old) so that he could see over people enough to observe the beauty and wonder of Disney. And, because it was only one day, I let him eat whatever he wanted to help round out the experience. We left the parks that day with happy hearts. His was, of course, due to not seeing one Disney character and gaining a few souvenirs, and mine was because I let myself understand him and because of that we had a great day together. Perspective is a powerful thing.

Disney World 2010. The last photo we have of Riley with a character.

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