“Should we do it?”
“I don’t know–they could really like it, but they also could really hate it.”
“Yeah, I know. But how often are we here?”
“Exactly. If we don’t go now, we might not get to at all.”
We were so close. The timing was almost perfect. Sure, it could end horribly, with double toddler tantrum a cappella until it was over, but that line of thinking would imply that any new experience with the Twins has such potential. Pessimistically speaking, the whole trip was a risk, but we’d gotten this far without a hitch, and now, in The Happiest Place on Earth, the optimism was running high. And there was just no way we were going to leave Disneyland without going on The Pirates of the Caribbean.
You see, to us, this wasn’t just a ride. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, a half-decade in the making.
One the earliest conversations my wife and I had when we first started dating in January 2007 involved divulging each of our Favorite Things Ever–you know, one of those late-night heart-to-heart sessions common to the super-duper thrill of a new relationship. I had learned early on about her incredible sense of smell–we’re talking vampire-caliber here (to this day she can literally detect a poop-filled diaper from the opposite side of the house). With that in mind, I eventually wound up asking her what her Absolute Favorite Smell was.
Without hesitation, she replied, “The smell in The Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.”
I was taken aback–I hadn’t expected something so specific. “Really? THAT’S your favorite smell?”
“Absolutely. It has this sweet, musty, kind of old side, but also this fresh, watery feel. And then there’s all the pirates and singing. It reminds me of simpler times, when I’d go to Disneyland with my family and being on Pirates was just the best thing ever. It just…The thought of it makes me happy.”
I then imagined myself riding it–the thrill of the pitch-black drop, the splashing cannons, the singing scalawags, the way the faux night sky looks so damn real…and that smell…
“Yeah, you know, now that I think about it, that is a pretty awesome smell.”
“I think I’ll take you there someday.”
. . .
I’d intended that day to be sooner, but here we finally were, five years later, standing in front of it with our kids, and my wife was suddenly reluctant to ride it.
“Babe, your favorite ride in the whole world is right here, just waiting for you.”
“I know. I just don’t want them to be scared.”
I examined her face as every few seconds it wavered between reluctance and enthusiasm. She had to be kidding. There was no way I was going to let her miss out on this because the Twins MIGHT not like it. Besides, we’d already been on Pinnochio, Dumbo, and Winnie the Pooh, and they’d ooh-ed and ah-ed their way through each despite the occasional “scary” parts Disney sadistically insists on including on rides for their tiniest patrons.
I looked down at our little troopers, still fast asleep in their strollers, so comatose that they hadn’t even shifted positions.
“You know, they might not even wake up.”
“You’re cute,” my wife chuckled. “There’s no way they’ll sleep through the drop. And the singing. And the splashing.”
“All right, so we wake them up. They’ve already been out for an hour and a half. They’ll wake up feeling like a million bucks and ready to go.”
She took a final look at the entrance and her eyes lit up. “Okay, let’s do this.”
My son woke up as my wife jostled him out of the stroller, but my daughter was still out cold, and stayed that way for the entire wait in line, her face buried in my chest.
“Should I wake her up?” I thought aloud as we boarded the boat.
My wife shrugged. Despite all the movement during the wait, she was still in a deep slumber. “If she hasn’t woken up yet, she might not.”
I weighed my options. I could wake her then, before she was ready, and face almost certain fussiness (a less-than-ideal demeanor for trying new things), but avoid the ride startling her awake. On the other hand, I could wait it out and see if she was tired enough to sleep through the whole thing, and if the “Yo-Ho’s” happened to wake her up, I’d play it by ear.
Then, I remembered that the initial portion of the ride–the skeletons, pirate growls, and whatnot–would be the most likely parts to ape-sh!t-ify our First and Second Mates. My daughter in particular is a wuss in unfamiliar environments, so in hopes of bypassing the scary parts and fast-forwarding her to the relatively pleasant seafaring choir, I gently sat her on my lap facing me and decided to let her wake up “naturally.”
I noticed my wife take a deep sniff and crack a smile as the vessel pushed off.
My son sat furrow-browed in her lap, as he had on nearly every ride that day. At first we weren’t sure if he was having any fun, but the moment we took him off each ride, he’d assert his utter discontent. I later learned from my mother that I did the exact same thing at his age–soaking up novel experiences like a sponge while simultaneously analyzing the hell out of them.
But this time, as we crept into the concrete caverns with pirate threats reverberating around us, he shifted uneasily despite my wife’s efforts to calm him. Meanwhile, our little girl was still dead to the world, which, according to the voices around us, meant she would not be able to tell any tales.
My son’s agitation crescendoed as we approached a smokescreen with projected images of the Davy Jones and Blackbeard from the film franchise. Had we been camping, he would not have been a happy camper. His usual uber-analysis had given way to “I don’t care what that is or how it works–I don’t freaking like it.”
As we approached the pirate-headed mist, I noticed the boat ahead of us plunging downward, its passengers squealing excitedly. Here came the drop.
I’ll admit that for a second, I thought I could somehow pull off keeping my daughter asleep. I planted my feet in the bottom of the boat, pressing my back against the seat, and took firm hold of her to dampen any turbulence.
Despite my son’s obvious disapproval and the fact that my daughter was probably moments from a meltdown, I still felt that familiar old tinge of anticipation as our vessel meandered into blackness. Had anyone in the boat been wearing night-vision goggles, they would have seen a grown man with a big, stupid grin on his face, awkwardly bracing himself while cradling a sleeping toddler.
I don’t know whether it was the sudden dive, the cool water drenching her shirt, the collective “woo” of our crew or some combination, but in the middle of the drop, my daughter jolted awake.
There was no crying–there was just looking, in a toddler sort of WTF fashion. Is this a dream? Where are we? Why am I wet? What’s with the singing?
“It’s okay, baby girl,” I reassured her.
Okay, Daddy’s here. Is Mommy here? Okay, sweet. Mommy’s here, too. What about Piglet (her go-to stuffed animal)? Check. And my thumb? All right! Fantastic. Let’s get that in my mouth…and…we’re good.
She was handling this surprisingly well, and even popping her hand out of her mouth occasionally to point at the colorfully-lit caves. “Hey, babe, I think she likes–”
“Our son is shivering. I think the smoke and the drop freaked him out.”
Surveying our surroundings, it occurred to me that there were skeletons everywhere, and looking at it through the Twins’ eyes, I suddenly felt uneasy myself. For a kid who’s never seen anything like this before, this could easily inspire not only heebies, but also jeebies.
Maybe this was a bad idea.
I pointed at the animatronic crabs and parrots peppering the corpses, attempting to refocus the four tiny bewildered eyes. “Do you see the bird, Baby Girl? Where’s the bird?”
My son’s shivering continued, and about halfway through seeing the actual Pirates of the Caribbean, my daughter decided that Daddy, Piglet, and the thumb just wouldn’t cut it, so she crawled her way into Mommy’s lap next to her brother, where they both stayed for the remainder of the ride.
. . .
In the end, I was proud of the Twins for sticking it out without completely freaking. While I was a little offended that I was not the go-to parent in the face of fear, it really gave my wife a jolt knowing that although I’m the one with them more often than anyone, there’s just no substitute for Mommy, and I’m completely okay with that. And it definitely gave her an incredibly memorable experience–a mish-mash of her youthful, carefree memories and the life she now has as a mother (and I guess also sharing her favorite ride/smell with yours truly).
Some may argue that bringing 19-month-olds on the Pirates of the Caribbean is a little much, and you’re entitled to your opinion, but at the same time, I don’t know that completely sheltering kids from anything remotely scary is the best approach either. How will they learn to cope with being afraid if it never happens?
Which makes me wonder if Disney might not be so sadistic after all. What was scary on the surface drove our kids to Mommy and made for a uniquely touching moment. Maybe that’s why the Wicked Queen in Snow White is so ridiculously wicked, and why the Queen of Hearts so intently screams “Off with their heads!” and why the Heffalumps and Woozles are so confuzles, and…
Then again, these are also the same people who killed off Bambi’s mother, devastating generation after generation of audiences who just want to see cute animals ice-skate.
Never mind. I was right the first time.
This is the second installment of Twinfamyland: A California Adventure, a thrilling saga of Twincidents committed in Southern California.
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If not, I’m not a dead man yet, and have plenty of other tales.