Thirty years ago, my family went to Disney World for the first time. I was five and my brother turned three while we were away on our trip. We stayed in Daytona Beach, visited Cape Canaveral, watched the Space Shuttle Columbia launch from our balcony, hung out at the beach, and made the aforementioned trip to Disney and the newly-opened Epcot Center.
I have very clear and vivid memories of this whole trip. I remember arriving late into the night and insisting to “see” the ocean and ending up riding the elevator up to our room soaking wet. I remember that my brother refused to go into the ocean after a piece of seaweed brushed his leg. I remember seeing the Space Shuttle streaking the sky and then running back into the room to see the same thing on TV. I remember that neither my brother or I would eat scallops at the restaurant built over the water with a glass floor so you could see the fish swimming under your feet.
And I remember Disney. I begged my Dad to go on Space Mountain. So we went, and I don’t think I had my eyes open the entire time. My brother and my mom went on some rotating, “flying” rockets ride that was right next to Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, and she was green the rest of the day. I was possibly more excited about visiting Epcot Center, filled with dinosaurs, science exhibits, and other geeky delights. I met Mickey, my brother got to meet Goofy (sort of; he wouldn’t let go of my mother’s leg). I got Mickey Mouse ears. I made my family ride “It’s a Small World” repeatedly. My mom refused to ever ride the Teacups again.
In total, I went to Disney three times, and once to Disneyland when I was older and living in Southern California. Those are some of my best memories of my childhood. And, now that my own kids are three and five, I want to share it with them, too.
It’s expensive, it’s commercial, it reinforces the worst gender and body norms for young girls, it has a checkered history of how it treats its workers, and yet I still want to go and take my kids. It has Star Tours, and Muppets, and Pixar, and… My kids have been raised on a steady diet of Disney and Pixar movies, as well as Star Wars, Muppets, and other properties owned by the Disney entertainment conglomerate. I’ve been seduced by the Magic Kingdom, and I’ve clearly worked to place my children under the same spell.
Part of the reason is that there are few places from my childhood that I will be able to share with my kids. The cottage where my mom spent her summers when she was a kid and where we spent many weekends growing up doesn’t belong to us anymore. The Prairie landscapes and farms that were my Dad’s childhood and where we would often visit for family reunions are gone from the family, too. Same with my husband’s cherished childhood places, like the piece of land his grandparents owned that they would go camping on. The one place that still exists, in many ways exactly the same way it did thirty years ago, is Disney.
And that is the power of what Disney built on a swamp in Florida; certainly it has grown and adapted, but you can still ride It’s a Small World, still sing with the birds in the Tiki Room, ride on Splash Mountain. I only have happy memories of Disney, and I know that the place is still there, waiting for me to bring my kids to create their own happy memories. The academic in me knows how problematic all of this is, but my heart…My heart wants to see the smile on my kids’ faces the first time they high-five Mickey or get to hug Merida.
I know there is a problematic man behind the curtain, but I still can’t help be swept away by the magic he produces.
Morehead, Kentucky in the US.
Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an edupreneur. You can visit her blog at College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.