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Travels with Monki

Through the Eyes of My Child

By Jaq Greenspon

There are two types of people in the world – those who can enjoy Disneyland in any of the multiple ways it presents itself… and people who just can’t get out of their own way to have fun. Personally, I’m one of the former. I remember going to Disneyland when I was a kid, when the planning of the trip involved rummaging through the junk drawer in the kitchen (you know the one, with all the take out menus, rubber bands, and extra ketchup and hot sauce packets) for unused A or B ride tickets (there were never unused E-tickets… ever!).

Disneyland, and by extension other theme and adventure parks, has been a part of my life forever. A place for celebrating good times and easing the sting of bad ones. So it was no surprise that when my wife and I first started dating, the first trip we went on together was to Disneyland Paris (the former EuroDisney, which was only EuroDisney for a couple of years). And now… well, now we’re on an even bigger adventure. We have an almost 15-month-old baby girl, nicknamed Monki, so it only stands to reason that her first big trip, and ours as a family, should include not only Disney but as many theme parks as we could handle.

The situation was this: We live in Eastern Europe, and the grandparents on my side are in Las Vegas, so a trip overseas was in the works from the time we announced Monki’s impending arrival. Summer of 2017, right around her first birthday, seemed the most appropriate time and a family-centric holiday week in San Diego was our first destination. Now, since daddy is a journalist, he thinks nothing of trading on personal and private events for the sake of a story, and since, after 6 years working for this magazine he finally had fancy new business cards in hand, he arranged to take advantage of the family-fun destinations San Diego had to offer in an effort to introduce his daughter to the joys of theme and adventure parks. And Disneyland… we can never forget the Mouse.

Our first stop was the San Diego Zoo.

As people, my wife and I are opposites in a lot of ways – the biggest being that I am extroverted and outgoing, I can make friends with anyone, at any time in any place. My wife, on the other hand, is rather shy and reserved. She doesn’t like crowds and doesn’t react well when faced with large groups, especially when she’s expected to be “on.” We have our own dynamic, and it works well for us. But the Monki… she’s a brand new creature, and we honestly have no idea how she’s going to react to any of this.

Here’s the thing: I’m coming at this whole parenting thing a bit later in life than most. I also get that there are certain tropes and consistencies that we as parents will all experience when it comes to our own kids. But since this is my first time on this particular ride, I like to imagine I’m blazing a trail here. So while I understand “all kids” do that, this kid is mine, and she’s doing stuff never before seen in the history of the world! And so am I as a dad.

Walking into the Zoo, the first thing we encountered, before animals or popcorn or anything else, were two underpaid employees in full-body walk-around costumes. Now, I know that rides and waiting in lines might be a little much for a one-year-old, but costumed characters are a (literally) whole ‘nother animal. This is the province of classic memories and family holiday cards for years to come – if she doesn’t freak out and run screaming to hide behind mommy’s legs in fear. We waited in line to see the six-foot panda until it was our turn and the moment of truth was upon us. This was the point that would determine the next few years of our theme park experiences with her, let alone the next few weeks where we had already planned visits.

After a moment’s hesitation, Monki reached out and tweaked the Panda’s nose! We were safe! She wasn’t afraid of the big critters, and one of my own fears had been allayed. It was weird how that one moment brought everything into sharp focus for me as I fully realized that it wasn’t about me anymore. While waiting in line, I wanted her to enjoy meeting the characters because I enjoyed meeting the characters. When she was excited, I was excited, too. I just wanted her to be happy.

Over the course of the next few weeks, though, I would learn that same lesson several times. The rest of our day at the Zoo was filled with us parents trying to interest Monki in the various animals – she was more interested in picking up leaves off the ground. In the petting zoo, she tried stroking the hair of the other children and left the kids alone. Sea World was a bit better… Monki barked at sea lions and enjoyed strolling through the large animal aquariums. She even liked seeing the killer whales.

These two parks, though, even if there were some bigger activities, were really more passive experiences, especially for little ones. The big test was when we hit the D’land itself. We had scheduled to go to Disneyland Paris on our way back home, but were surprised by a friend who works for the SoCal park and invited us there for an afternoon. Now is when things were going to get real. We knew Monki could handle the characters, but now there were rides in the mix and rides is what it was all about.

The first, and only, ride we went on at Disneyland was a ride I despise – It’s a Small World (Ironically, one of the original “E-Tickets”). Here, I was sacrificing for the sake of my child. I was willing to endure a ride I hated because I knew this was a ride specifically for kids. It wasn’t one of the dark rides I enjoyed so much in Fantasyland, which had the chance to scare her, so I figured this was a nice, safe bet.

We got on the boat and floated into the building where thousands of figures of little children sang, repeatedly, that it was a small world after all. I twitched like a headless chicken but I looked over, and Monki was enjoying it.

Until she wasn’t.

It’s a long ride, and about halfway through, she’d had enough. She started crying and making a fuss. Is it wrong to say I was secretly thrilled she didn’t like a ride I didn’t like? At least for now? She did like the parades though, and the spectacle.

And by the time we got to Disneyland Paris, she was an old pro. She spent her first birthday riding around on carousel horses and flying elephants, meeting Disney characters and, taking a page from my book, making friends with the other people in line. It was a fascinating experience, sharing this with her. It was amazing to see her face light up when she saw the castle or when she was able to touch Baloo (she loves dancing around to “The Bare Necessities”). I know she won’t really remember any of it… but we will. And we’ll tell her the stories and show her the pictures and when she is old enough to remember, to consciously say “Mom, Dad, I want to go to Disneyland for my birthday,” we’ll be able to look at her and say “You’ve already been there. No need to go again.”

Then we’ll pack her up and go, and instead of her one-year-old eyes, we’ll get to see it all over again, anew, at whatever age she happens to be. And we’ll revel in that just the same.

(If you’re wondering about the origin of the name Monki – you can check out the full story here: https://goo.gl/naHx4W)

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