We were tired. It was a long day.
We decided to take our daughters for a surprise afternoon trip down to Disneyland. They love that place more than anything any of us have ever loved in our lives. Our visits to Disneyland are usually magical. We vowed to never take preschoolers, and yet, somehow, we have been there four times in the last year.
This trip was different. The drive was an unusually brutal two-hour journey that got us there in the late afternoon. Also, it was our first trip to Disneyland using a wheelchair for my oldest daughter. She was born with a condition called Arthrogryposis, which requires that she wear braces in order to walk. She enjoys walking, but she's been recovering from major surgery and wasn't allowed to walk much over the last three months.
This was also our first trip to Disneyland for our youngest daughter's prosthetic leg. She was born with a condition called Amniotic Banding Syndrome, which left her without a usable right foot. Thanks to surgery in December, she was now running around with her new "Robot Leg," as it's called in our household.
Our arrival at Disneyland began by trying the monorail for the first time. Let's just say that our oldest daughter let the whole monorail know that there was no part of the journey that she enjoyed. She used to like rides, but, with each trip, we learn a new ride that she never, ever, never, ever wants to go on again. She is currently non-verbal, so it's not always easy to surmise why she doesn't like something. We just know that she doesn't. Luckily, we know she loves live shows and parades, of which there are plenty between Disneyland and California Adventure.
After one challenging monorail ride, we arrived just in time for Mickey's parade. Both our daughters LOVE the parades with an unbridled passion. They had fun. Here's some footage of my youngest at one of her first parades.
I got pushed over and over by an older woman with an obvious space issue. My wife kept pulling the partition rope out of my daughter's mouth. We separated after the parade so my wife and youngest could run to meet Tinkerbell (a new favorite). Sadly, Tink was done for the day. Later, as they dashed off the train, my daughter's robot leg fell off, surely scaring the bejeezus out of the lady who couldn't help but point at it, not knowing what to do. Meanwhile, my oldest and I weren't really feeling the Tiki Room.
We crossed over into California Adventure for dinner. Everyone was growing tired, and we really hadn't accomplished much. Neither of our daughters wanted to eat dinner. Our oldest just wanted to dance to the '50s music playing at Flo's Cafe. Our youngest scaled the booth and tried to make a break for it countless times. She has an amazing spirit, which can light up a room, but it can also drive a grown man insane when all you want her to do is eat a stinking' apple slice. Everyone was exhausted. Well, mostly mom and dad. There was no magic happening on this trip.
We ended the night in my oldest daughter's favorite area of the park. It's the lobby of the building that houses the Sorcerer's Workshop, Animation Academy and Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome. The lobby is beautiful and open and has giant monitors on every wall that play classic Disney music while showing film bits and concept art from their films. My daughter loves leaning against a wall, since standing in one place is difficult for her, and shaking her rear end to the music. This lobby is a must on every visit to California Adventure.
My wife and oldest daughter arrived before me. I was stuck in Cars Land trying to calm our youngest, who was having a tantrum about Lightning McQueen. When I arrived, my wife said that some of the employees in the lobby asked her if my oldest wanted to meet Anna and Elsa. My wife said no, as our oldest usually doesn't express interest in live characters. Of course, our youngest is IN LOVE with anything "Let it Go" oriented, as she calls anything having to do with that movie, but we hadn't arrived yet. Another employee asked if my oldest had a favorite character. When my wife pointed at her Sully shirt from "Monsters Inc.", he returned with a drawing of Mike and Sully for her. It was such a nice gesture. As time went on, we started noticing that the guests in the lobby were getting less and less and the employees were getting more and more. One friendly and quite energetic employee started pretending to be a monster and running around with my youngest.
Suddenly, it became clear that we were the only guests left in the lobby. A manager approached me and said "We didn't want your daughters to leave without having a magic moment. There's someone who'd like to meet them." The manager then brought out Anna and Elsa. My youngest MELTED as if she were a teenager at a Beatles/Backstreet Boys concert combined. She literally hid her head in my wife's lap because she didn't know what to do with herself. I've never seen her so happy. Anna convinced her to take her hand and come dance with her. At first, she was hestitent, but soon, she fell under Anna's spell and began giggling and dancing. And, a few minutes after that, she became her typical self once again and was bossing around Anna, telling her where to go and when to dance.
While the two of them danced, Elsa walked over to have a conversation with our oldest. We explained that she wouldn't reply back, but Elsa continued to speak to our daughter just like we do. She may not reply, but that doesn't mean she is not worthy of our words and attention. It can be a challenge just to get my oldest's attention. Especially when the giant monitors are playing the lantern scene from "Tangled" (one of her favorites). Soon, Anna came over to join them. Anna and Elsa were both amazing as they kept asking my oldest questions to see if they could get her to participate, but she just wanted to stay at the wall dancing to the music. The princesses made a breakthrough, though, when they decided to all dance together. Elsa twirled her beautiful skirt, and my oldest lit up in a way you rarely see. Magic was truly in the air. For 10 minutes, on that day, a day that was not the best day at Disneyland, my family had one of the best moments of our lives. Four months ago, both those little girls were in casts recovering from major surgeries. We had a lot of tough times so far in 2015. Those employees had no idea what we had recently been through (although, I'm sure the braces and prosthesis gave them a hint).
I watched my family in that moment and reflected on how far we've come. Eighteen months ago, my youngest was at a orphanage half-way across the globe sharing a crib, not knowing what a family truly was. After two big surgeries, she has the mobility that matches her unstoppable energy. My oldest has begun to find her own ways to communicate with the world and has gained so much mobility. One of the managers came up to me and told me again how much everyone wanted to do this for my daughters. I looked to my wife, who never stopped smiling in that lobby, and said "You know we'll never top this, right?" She said "I know. We don't have to."
Soon, Anna and Elsa had to go to feed Sven. We thanked everyone a million times and headed out of the park for the day. We couldn't stop laughing and smiling. We had just received a one-of-a-kind experience. What started out as day I kind of regretted ended up as a day we will never forget. We are so grateful to those employees for making my daughters feel so special and giving us such a magic moment.
I hope all of you get to experience such magic in your life.