Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Most Horrifying Place On Earth

This week we celebrated Rollie's birthday the way any pair of doting parents would: We whisked him off for thirty-six hours of pure, unadulterated, nightmare-inducing terror.

We took him to Disney World.

Because he's turning three and we're cheap, we wanted to squeeze his first trip to Magic Kingdom before he actually turned three and we'd have to fork over the sixty-four dollars to buy him a ticket.  So we piled him and Baby Elsa in to the car (along with about half of our household belongings, since going anywhere overnight with children is like getting ready to survive in a cave during a Nuclear Winter), and drove two hours to the All-Star Movie Resort in beautiful Orlando Florida.  We arrived in the afternoon and decided to have dinner at the coolest restaurant in Downtown Disney--Rainforest Cafe.

Rollie, you're gonna love it, Jeff and I told him as we approached the hostess station.  They've got animals that move and make noise, just like a real rain forest where Diego lives.

He seemed pretty into the idea of dining among anamotronic wildlife.  He gazed wide-eyed around the gift shop as we waited for our table, seeming only mildly concerned that a giant python dangling from a fake tree was writhing just above the head of an unsuspecting shopper.  Then the lights dimmed and loud claps of thunder rumbled across the room.

I want to go home, he said, and buried his face in Jeff's shoulder.

We were seated right in front of what I guess was the gorilla habitat.  And under normal circumstances Rollie likes monkeys.  But not when the monkeys come to life every seven minutes and begin a creepy, raucous mating call across an already loud, busy and over-stimulating restaurant.  Rollie and I sat with our backs to the randy gorillas, but whenever they started grunting, Rollie whipped around, his face painted several different shades of scared, and stuck his fingers in his ears.  I spent twenty minutes trying to explain to him that they were pretend, they were funny, they were cute, they were just talking to each other, and as soon as I thought maybe he was starting to get used to their scheduled jungle cries, another thunder storm rolled around.  Rollie leaped onto Jeff's lap and rolled up in a ball like a frightened armadillo, eyes squeezed shut and fingers jammed so far in his ear canals I was worried he'd need  surgery to remove them.

You'd think we would have learned our lesson at the Rainforest Cafe.  You'd think we would have stuck with the cutesy, kiddy rides once we got to Magic Kingdom.  And we did at first....we did Dumbo and the carousel and It's A Small World....Rollie's eyes lit up like the sunrise the first time he saw the castle.  It was like a classic kid's fairy tale came true.

And then we decided to take him on the Peter Pan ride.  I had honestly forgotten how dark it is in there.  And loud.  And kind of...trippy and disorienting, like dropping acid with people you don't know all that well.  After only a few seconds on the ride, Rollie started mumbling something I couldn't quite make out over the noise and story narration and Captian Hook swearing to take his revenge.

What, Honey? I asked, leaning in closer to him in the dark.

I want to get out, he said.

The ride's almost over, I told him.

He replied by sticking his fingers in his ears.

After that we decided to go on the Pirates of the Carribean.  Yeah, I know.  What were we thinking?  The kid's obviously terrified of anything anamatronic, loud, dark and unexpected.  Why not take him on a ride that offers all of that, plus lots and lots of skeletons?

The worse part of that ride was the battle scene, cannons firing, squibbs going off right next to our boat, pirates and scoundrals shouting threats at each other over our heads.  I'm pretty sure that was when Rollie started crying.

I want to go home, he pleaded.  I want to go home.

It's okay, Rollie.  The ride's almost over.

I want to get out.  He stood up.

Rollie, sit still.  You can't get out until the ride is over.  The pirates aren't real, they're silly.

Why are they silly?

Because they're just pretend.  They can't hurt you.  They're like big giant puppets.  They're like toys with batteries.  I'm giving him this speech as our little boat sails through a room depicting a city on fire.  And I wonder how many more childhood nightmares Disney can cram onto one ride.  Maybe they can have children navigate through quicksand as they wait in line.  Or create a ride that simulates kids wetting their pants in front of a classroom full of bullies.  Walt Disney's Scarred For Life.  Self-Esteem must be this low to ride this ride. 

In all fairness to Disney, Rollie obviously wasn't ready for the more intense attractions.  I think sometimes Jeff and I overestimate his threshold of intimidation.  We see him riding a bike with training wheels, hitting baseballs and shooting hoops and writing letters (okay, so just the letter O so far, but still....), and we forget that he's still just a little kid.  He still wears diapers at night.  He drinks from a sippy cup.  He sleeps with an elephant blankie. Maybe we should have just ridden It's A Small World twenty times like he wanted to and saved the Big Kid rides until next time.  Sure we would have been ready to jump in front of the monorail by the end of the day, but at least Rollie wouldn't have woken up six times that night with visions grinning skulls and hungry crocodiles fresh in his head.

For the record, his favorite ride was shuttle bus that took us from our hotel to the park itself.  So next time we'll save ourselves the $200 admission and take a family trip to the nearest Grayhound station.  Maybe for his fourth birthday.

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