Wednesday, April 28

Coming Out to Play

I'm going to my happy place in a few days to celebrate my 40th birthday with my mom and my sister. Yippee! Well, I have lots of happy places, actually. In Henry's arms. Where two rivers meet in Vermont. A certain chair in my livingroom when a fire is burning in the fireplace. Sunday mornings in bed. The library. The front seat of any car at the beginning of a road trip. Martha's Vineyard any time of year. That's just the beginning of a long list.

On the other hand, I am a worrier. A thinker. Angst is in my genes. I don't know if it's the Irish or the Scottish in me. We work our worries over and over until they're barely recognizable. What did they even start out as in the first place? Give me a person, a place....I'll find something to be concerned about. Give me a topic. I'll give you an angle to look into. I'm a digger. Surfaces have never satisfied me. If I don't know someone's story, I'll fill in the blanks...usually assuming the worst. I'll imagine the saddest, sorriest stories....whether it's a dog loping along the side of the road looking over its shoulder back at me or a young girl alone on a park bench. Before I know it, I'm involved.

But I can't imagine another way of life. And I don't want to. This is the stuff of  life. Right? This is how lives are made. What would life be if we minded our own business all the time? To connect is all! Who said that? E. M. Forster? Whoever it was...they were right. What else is life about...besides connecting with other human beings, other living creatures, with our living, breathing world? That's all there is. What else could we possibly be here for?

The flip side...ah, yes, there's always a flip side.....of connection is the need to disconnect. The need to disconnect in order to recharge. This is most definitely a part of my life as well. I retreat from the world it with books and movies, mostly. I love to read. Always have. And I can while away most of a day watching old movies. I'll watch them all...everything except the Westerns...John Wayne gives me fits, Clint Eastwood gives me hives. I love going out to the movies too. I'm a little more discerning about those though. But I really like going by myself, sitting in the dark with my popcorn and Milk Duds when the previews begin. But there are times when even these diversions are too much about the real world. There are times I need something even more divorced from reality in order to disconnect.

For those times, I always have my soaps. Yes, I can go from reading Dostoyevsky or watching The Visitor to zoning out in front of the Young and the Restless without a problem. And no, I don't suffer from any cranial whiplash. Sometimes, I just need to be in la-la land where people's problems are completely fake and men wake up in full makeup and women slip off their earrings to answer the phone. (Love that!) I come from a long and proud line of women with both high and low brow tastes.  My mother will just weep listening to Jessye Norman sing one night and then pee her pants watching Reno 911 the next. She'll attend a lecture on Palestine one afternoon and rock out in the front row of a Tire Biter concert that same night. I wish I was as cool as my mom. She teaches an ESOL class on Thursday mornings for Literacy Volunteers and then sometimes gets so depressed after giving a student in particularly dire straits a ride home that she goes directly shopping, does not pass Go because life is so damn sad and nothing cheers her up like some mindless retail therapy.

Well, I have a place that I go which is my own version of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing, "Lalalalalalalalalala!" at the top of my lungs. Are you ready? You have to promise to keep reading after I tell you what that place is. Okay. Deep breath.

The place I love to go, where I can just check my mind at the Disney World.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking! I can hear you...What a sap. What a sucker. And you're right, probably. Well, I don't care if I am the world's biggest. Just listen to my story.

I went there as a typical, cynical thirty-something with Henry and the kids oh, maybe four years ago. My mother sent us there for a vacation. (I know! So incredibly generous!) We were excited to go but thought the trip would mainly be about the kids. I was ready to be very judgemental about the outrageous materialism and the capitalist-machine that is Disney. Right? I walked in there with my analytical skills sharpened and at the ready.
By the second day, I was wearing the mouse ears.   

I lost my ever-loving mind. Completely. Gone. Gonzo. I loved it beyond words. More than the kids even. I started planning my retirement operating the Peter Pan ride. I'm serious. I am still kind of considering it.

And after I got home and framed the picture of all of us with Jiminy Cricket and hung it up on the wall and decided I didn't care who saw it... And after I looked at pictures of us about a million times on all the rides and with the Fairy Godmother and with the Princesses (who were actually kind of kick-ass, by the way...the princes are really an after-thought).... And after I'd decided I actually did not want to wear my Tinkerbell t-shirt out in public after all and folded it and pushed it into the back of my bureau drawer....I realized why I had gone completely berserk in Mouse-land. It was simple, really. It was just because I had gotten the chance to be a kid there. Really, totally, completely a kid. And I loved it!

You have to understand, I wasn't much of a kid as a kid. I was pretty serious from about the age of four years old on. You know, the kind of kid who stayed inside and read while the other kids were outside running around yelling like maniacs? I was that kid. I was more comfortable hanging around the edges of the grown-ups' conversations than I was talking to my peers. I used to climb through a hole in the stockade fence behind our apartment building when I was very small and walk a route I'd set for myself in the woods. I'd take notes inside a notebook I carried around with me. I don't know what the hell I wrote; I couldn't read or write at the time but I took it very was my job. I  also decided I didn't believe in god when my grandmother died when I was 9 years old. Fascinated with old cemeteries by then, I wrote long odes to them. I think I would have been Goth in 5th grade if that had been a thing then. Exceedingly shy in elementary school, I was more comfortable in the made-up country that my across-the-street-neighbor and I invented than I was in my actual neighborhood. We had a language, a national color (purple) and we were the queens. It was a two-person land.

By the time I hit junior high, I was seriously pre-occupied with nuclear war. We're talking nightmares. Lying awake in my purple room, night after night, I'd obsess about nuclear winter. (Remember The Day After? Never should've watched that. Ne-eh-eh-verrrrr.) I lost my innocence at a very young age. I hung around with some pretty serious friends too. We became deeply concerned about starving children in Guatemala after seeing a commercial on tv starring Sally Struthers. Remember those? (In case, you're wondering, guys, my parents took over sponsorship of Norma Yolanda after we flaked out...) Then, while other teens were hanging out drinking beer in high school, I was dating a guy in college and starting a high school peace group. When my classmates were at parties in the woods, my gay and moody (who could blame him?!) friend and I would go for long drives on the weekends, listening to angst-ridden protest and folk music, watching the small towns fly by in the dark and judging the people in them for what we perceived as their passivity. What was wrong with people?! God. Why weren't they out in the, everything?! My favorite hangout as a teenager was the feminist bookstore in our state capital. There'd be me and about a dozen 40 year olds in the joint...more than a few of them, I now realize, clinically depressed. I had an interesting adolescence.

And, while a lucky marriage and three sprites of my own have helped take me out of my own head more than a bit....(who has the energy to worry about nuclear winter every single night? I've been dealing with three pregnancies in four years, colic, breastfeeding, post-partum depression, jaundice, attachment parenting, sibling rivalry, career choices, speech difficulties, lack of sleep, cooperative preschools, boys who think farting is the funniest thing ever invented, moving our family three times in three states, lactose intolerance, equitable distribution of housework, homework, bullies, adolescence, how the HELL did the kids figure out how to unlock our bedroom door on Sunday mornings?!! teacher conferences, 5 human beings' diets, 4 dogs and 1 cat)......I'm still essentially me. My nature is to mull. To analyze. To parse.

But when I go to Disney World, I don't read the New York Times front page to back. I don't read any newspaper. I don't listen to NPR. I don't listen to anything besides soundtracks to movies that all have happy endings. I don't drive a car....I don't have to be that high-functioning. I adjust my conversation level to that of, possibly, a 10 year old. And my thoughts seem to follow. It's extreme, I know. That's what I have to do to disconnect completely.

Yeah, I know it's an illusion. I'm not stupid. I know all those people can't really be that happy to work there. I know there must be labor issues in Disney World just like most everywhere else.  (I read Walt Disney's biography. I know he wasn't pro-labor. Do you think Michael Eisner was?) I don't even want to begin to think about the environmental impact of a place that large. Lalalalalalalalalalalalalala! (And if you know anything about any of the above, I DON'T want to know about it.)

It's my happy place. Dammit. And when I get there, it all falls away. I'm not a mom anymore. I'm not a worrier. I'm not the kid inside with a book. Look at me! I'm outside with all the other kids! I stop looking for who's hurt, who's in trouble. I stop looking for the seams, the cracks. I'm just a kid who believes in magic. And I truly do. That's the flip side of me. It comes from seeing the sad and the rough stuff in life. That's forced me into becoming a person who believes just as fiercely in possibility, hope and, yes, even in magic.

So, when the fireworks burst over that castle, which I know no one really lives in and which only appears that large due to forced perspective.....and when the Fairy Godmother sings in her wobbly voice, "No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true..." I believe her. I cry a little bit and then I'm ready to go home. I'm ready to face the real world again and try to do my tiny little part to make it better.

So that's it. That's my happy place. Yes, Tinkerbell and all. And my mom and my sister are taking me there for my 4oth birthday. How lucky am I?

What's your happy place?


  1. I loved reading this. I remember being kids and you got me interested in more than just my own little world. Yes, my parents tried but who wants to listen to them? I also remember having so much fun when you would stay with me when the parents were out of town and I thought I was too old for a "babysitter" and you came and just hung out with me and didn't make me feel like a baby. You also told me it was okay to like a boy even if I couldn't understand WHY I like him! LOL.

  2. Jen, everyone needs to feed their inner child. I often have to re-charge and there are many different ways and places I do it. I believe you and I, if we lived closer, would be re-charging our inner child weekly in a myriad of different ways.
    Enjoy Disney, say hi to Mickey and Pluto for me and soak up a little magic to bring home.

  3. Oh, my gosh. I could have written that. It's good to know that I am not the only nerdy worried sort that needs to come out and play once in a while. I'll be in my happy place in just a few weeks, and yes, I bring my kids too just to save face.


Welcome! So glad you stopped to leave a comment or share your own story...