This past week my wife and I took the boys to Disney on a family trip and met up with some of her family there as well. We've taken a Disney trip this time of year a number of times over the years, and it is fun to re-live some of the Disney experiences with the kids as they have continued to get older. This year was especially unique because of the number of 'rite of passage' type moments the boys experienced.
We can all remember being a kid and being 'too short' for a particular ride. It becomes an elusive ride that becomes the focus of what we one day want to become and be able to do (and captured well in the movie "Big" with Tom Hanks). However, being tall enough introduces another challenge to overcome - fear. On this particular trip I spent a lot of time with my 9 year old Max who is now tall enough to do every ride. His personality is very similar to mine and is very eager to do all of the big rides and do them as quickly and efficiently as possible. The big elusive ride for him was Everest - a big roller coaster ride at Animal Kingdom involving a yeti, going backwards in the dark at high velocity, and big drops and turns. However, the first day we were at Magic Kingdom so it added to the suspense and fear knowing that the next day was going to be the big day. Every line we waited in that first day involved some type of question about Everest - how long was it, how fast did it go, is it scary, is it safe, etc. The big day came, and it was raining heavy. Not only that, but the ride was closed until further notice. It added to the element of the unknown for him, and I'm sure it made him more anxious. However, the ride opened up, and we made our way to the front of the line. He wanted to hold my hand on an 'as needed' basis, and he persevered and pushed through his fear and was absolutely elated at the end. We went on the ride again later in the afternoon as well. The following day we went back to Magic Kingdom, and he conquered the next elusive ride - Space Mountain. This particular ride is a bit more intense because you sit in a single file line on the ride so no one is next to you. In addition to being fast with lots of turns, it is also completely in the dark! He pushed through and conquered another one of his fears. During each Disney trip we will let the kids pick out a couple items to commemorate the trip, and the only two items he picked out was a hat saying he conquered Everest and a t-shirt saying he conquered Space Mountain. I was very proud that not only he overcame his fear, but also that I was right there with him for both of those moments.
My oldest son Stone is 14, and he enjoyed a different rite of passage type of moment. He and his Uncle Ed had a day on their own at Hollywood Studios enjoying the freedom of doing whatever he wanted to do. When my 5 year old Charles realized that his oldest brother wouldn't be with us that day, he said "Stone is going to a park without a parent? Well, that's not so bad because he won't get bossed around all day!" Ha, I asked Charles what he would do all day if we weren't telling him where to go, and he said he would ride Splash Mountain over and over. Stone had a great day getting to do what he wanted and enjoying the feeling of independence. They even made the rookie mistake of not bringing a charger or pocket juice, and their phones ran out of battery power halfway through the day (for best results at Disney, they have an app showing all of the wait times so you can know where to go next; however, based on app usage and the amount of people using their phone, you battery gets drained pretty quickly). Nonetheless, having those successes and failures on his own can be it's own rite of passage moment for him to build upon.
Lastly, Charles (the 5 year old) had a different rite of passage moment. As parents, there are always those moments where we unintentionally traumatize our children. In the efforts of trying to have the entire family do rides together, we would do the classics like 'It's a small world' and various other timeless rides. However, there are always those one or two rides that end up being a bit scarier or more intense than we remembered. That ride this year was 'Dinosaur' in Animal Kingdom. It had been about 9 years since we had been on this ride, but it's a intense roller coaster ride in the dark with various scary animatronic dinosaurs along the way. Charles kept his head buried in my wife's lap for most of the ride, and we felt guilty afterwards feeling like we emotionally harmed our child. We had forgotten that is was the same ride years ago that scared my oldest son (Stone) around the same age, but I felt better when I asked Stone about it and, luckily, he had barely recalled it. Charles was brave for Splash Mountain but would get a bit timid before the 50 foot drop at the end of the ride. He was a trooper. I think because of his experience of being a bit scared on some rides this year, that when he goes on these rides on future trips they will feel more like a breakthrough of overcoming a previous fear.
My kids' experiences at Disney this year are very similar to what we experience throughout our life. We have these challenges, tasks, relationships, or various things in life that we look at through this lens of 'I will do it one day', 'I will wait until I hit a particular benchmark in life', or 'I'm not ready for that'. We put them on this elusive pedestal and the longer we delay facing them head on, the longer we build up anxiety and fear. But if we surround ourselves with people that have done it, we ask good questions to help put us at ease, and we face it head on, then we have these breakthrough moments that can be a rite of passage where we come out a stronger person mentally and emotionally. As I experienced again this trip, what becomes an even more rewarding experience than having a breakthrough moment ourselves is when we can help others have those moments and be there by their side to see them through it.
What's a breakthrough you are looking for? Is there someone in your life you can help usher through their breakthrough moment?
Me, Stone, and Uncle Ed being dramatic in our Splash Mountain photo - and yes, we rocked the family t-shirts the first day, ha (top left)
The whole crew (top middle)
Jen and Charles on Dumbo with Max and I in the elephant behind (top right)
Max, Charles, and Stone breakfast before a big day (bottom left)
Max and I before his first Everest ride (bottom middle)
Max, Stone, and Charles with their cousins (bottom right)