LIFE IS A SPECTRUM

(This is part 3 in a seemingly endless recounting of our trip to Disney World over New Year's. If you're interested, you can find PART 1 here and PART 2 here. I promise you: There's just one more day after this.)

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Hello, my little friends...

After our New Year's Eve at Hollywood Studios, I woke up in pain in every muscle and joint of my body. The fronts of my shins, the backs of my thighs, my neck – even my armpits hurt. I woke to the sound of gibberish and couldn't actually make out any words; that, coupled with the pain, made me think at first that I had had a stroke. But it turned out to be Willow babbling.

Though the Mouse House was our ultimate goal for this trip, many of our favorite memories took place outside the park, in the MickMansion, hanging out with our family. One of those memories was Christmas Number Two on Saturday morning.

The kids hadn't exchanged presents between cousins, so over breakfast, they tore into their new haul. Willow, master chef of the plastic food got a gourmet kitchen's worth of different fruits, vegetables and even fast food (what sadist would include individual plastic French Fries in the 300 pieces of toy food???), stainless steel kitchen ware and a chef's apron.

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I love them I love them I love them I love them

And Billy received a set of Charlie Brown figures. Never has a child loved a present more. He gathered them all into his arms – Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy and Woodstock – and carried them with him everywhere. (Quick flash forward: He fell asleep that night with Charlie Brown in one hand and Lucy gripped in the other.)

Watching the kids play with their loot bought us enough time to nurse our wounds and a cup of coffee before psyching ourselves up for Epcot Day.

Space is Bad

I've made some bad parenting decisions in my time. But few will probably haunt me as long and relentlessly as the decision to send Billy on the Mission: Space ride at Epcot. To this day, one of his first questions in the morning is, “We're not going to space? Space is bad.” This from a child who was so excited about “going to space” that he could talk of nothing else before we got to Epcot

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Baby Sloan says, "Viva Mexico!"

Things started out positively enough. The slow-moving Spaceship Earth was a huge success. He was none-to-keen on the animatronic people – and it is a bit startling to come around the corner and find yourself face-to-face with Galileo – but when the ceiling around us transformed into a giant planetarium, he was thrilled.

By the time we finished this ride, of course, it was time to eat. It had, after all, been about an hour and a half since we had breakfast.

One of the reasons Epcot is my favorite park is the food. Eleven different countries have their own little “worlds,” reflected in the food and merchandise sold there. Dave had his sights on Germany, sausages and beer, but when we arrived there, we found out that the lunch buffet cost $38 per person for adults and $18 per kid. Dave can drink a lot of beer, but even he would be challenged to eat and drink his money's worth there.

On the outskirts of Germany, though, was Billy's very favorite exhibit: The model railroad. An outdoor miniature train track with mountains and tunnels was criss-crossed with pathways, allowing kids (and adults) to run around and follow the electric trains on their journey. Billy would have stayed there all day long, and we had our first true meltdown of the trip when we informed him we had to move on.

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We talked about the irony of commanding our children, “NO! You cannot stay HERE and have fun, because we have to go to the next place and have fun THERE!” The drive to “move on” becomes a bit relentless and overwhelming at these super-sized parks.

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Billy: "He has a blanket."

Italy and Mexico both have (relatively speaking) reasonably priced food of pretty good quality. We settled on an Italian place where we could order pizzas and salads to split and where they had a very tolerant attitude about us breaking out food for the kids. (Your special needs pass earns you a lot of tolerance in this area in most restaurants.)

On this trip, Billy developed a fascination with Roman gods and goddesses in a storybook his Nan brought for him. Outside the restaurant was a fountain with a giant Neptune statue where he spent a good bit of quality gazing time. He refused to leave, even ending up in the family photos of many other people who stopped for a photo opp.

Cautionary Tale #3 in Traveling to Disney World with an Autistic Child

What could make more sense than stuffing your child full of mac-n-cheese and then sending him on a motion simulator space ride with realistic g-force blast-off experience?

Imagining it would be similar to the slow-moving Mission: Earth ride we took in the beginning, I sent Dave and Billy off to take a Mission to Mars.

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That's a stream of water from the pop fountain in the picture. She LOVED it!

WHAT. WAS. I. THINKING?????????

Well, I wasn't thinking. I didn't do nearly enough research.

Willow and Sloan weren't tall enough for Mars so we waited and played in the pop fountain – Willow's favorite part of Disney. Quick tip: pack at least one extra set of clothes because there are many opportunities to get wet – some intentional, some not-so-much – and you won't want to miss out.

EXT. EPCOT POP FOUNTAIN – DAY.

Billy and Dave stumble out of the Mars ride red-eyed and stunned.

BILLY: Space is BAD!!

ME: What happened?

DAVE: They couldn't believe he was big enough. I should have known something was up when they kept measuring him at every stop.

ME: Ya THINK??!

BILLY: Space is BAD!!

He leaps into my arms.

ME: WHAT. HAPPENED??!

DAVE: G-forces. Blast-off. He was screaming. So much screaming. (then) They made him the pilot.

BILLY: We CRASHED! Space is BAD!!

It would be really helpful if some sort of “sensory guide” to Disney could accompany the special needs pass. A height requirement is not always enough to judge whether a ride is appropriate for every child.

It's also worth noting that after having the Bejeezus scared out of him, a sensitive child is likely to have little tolerance for what Disney calls “mild thrills.”

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Posed picture fail #1

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Posed picture fail #2

Our Mini Sensory Guide to the Rest of Epcot

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Yay for the calming effect of real, non-talking fish.

On the Nemo ride, Billy screamed bloody murder at the sight of that sharp-toothed fish that jumps out at you. However, he found the real aquarium outside the ride to be very calming.

On Universe of Energy, he climbed onto my head like a squirrel at the sight of the realistic, life-sized dinosaurs while screaming, “I don't like dinosaurs!” at the top of his lungs. Most of the ride involves sitting in the dark watching a film in which Ellen Degeneres learns about energy before the rows of seats start to move around the pavilion in the dark where the dinosaurs are lurking. At one point, you just sit in the dark and listen to a “radio announcer” discuss evolution. It's the only ride on which I've ever been simultaneously bored to tears and terrified.

Thumbs up to the Test Track, the race car ride that Billy rode with Daddy.

Billy's favorite moments of the day: The model train, staring at the giant fountain in the middle of Epcot and dancing to a Scottish band performing in the Canada exhibit.

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Wes (my brother-in-law) and I tried to convince everybody to go on The Land ride, where you get a tour of the hydroponic farms, but everyone blew raspberries at us and called us giant nerds, so we missed out on that one. We also missed Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which would have required Billy to wear 3-D glasses; after the day he'd had, we were afraid that had we managed to actually get the glasses on him (always iffy), the experience would give him seizures or something.

Even though it was New Year's Day, Epcot wasn't terribly crowded and we really did have a great time once we figured out that the quality of our time couldn't be judged by the quantity of rides we rode.

All in all, a successful day: After all, it was 2011 and we hadn't gotten into one public fight all year.

Coming up next time! In our FINAL episode (I promise): Magic Kingdom finally breaks us (the parents).

Reader Comments

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I find Epcot Center to be a bit more calming in a way and also very educational which depending on your child could be very fun!

We still hate space

@LS: I *do* owe you. And I have some GREAT pics of the girls playing in the pop fountain. I had to choose carefully for the blog, though, so that I didn't pick a picture that would inadvertently appeal to pervs. It's terrible that we even have to consider those things ...

@Ashley: He's still screaming about hating space. At least I don't have to worry that he'll actually become an astronaut.

@Lynn: If I had it to do over again, I would absolutely skip everything but Magic Kingdom. The snow was worth doing at Hollywood Studios, but by the time you go, there won't be any of that. We only managed to do a TINY portion of the Magic Kingdom by the time we got there (which I'll write about when I can summon the energy) and I wish we'd started there. Epcot is fun for older kids and adults, but there's not a lot for our kids.

We just made the decision with our travel companions that we are skipping Epcot and sticking just with the Magic Kingdom when we go. I'm sure that I'll have plenty of posed picture fails too!

Awww...Poor Billy! I have to agree with him. Space IS bad. Crashing is bad. G-forces are bad. But I love reading these posts and seeing all the parks through the eyes of the kids. Makes me want to go. =)

Viva Sloanie Bear!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can't wait to see the pop fountain pics!

(You DO sort of owe me since I lost ALL my photos and video trying to frantically get you the video you wanted! LOL!)

Total 5 comments

We took the kids to see Toy Story 3 today. Awesome. Really, it was one of the best films I've seen in a

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long time, and Dave and I both wept at the end. (Looking at me curiously, Billy said, "Mama has a hurchy eye.")

My problem is with the pre-show. We are a well-oiled machine, with a meticulously timed schedule. I don't waste one minute more than I have to on the pre-movie countdown, because I have only a certain amount of hidden snacks and juice in the diaper bag, and they have to keep the kids happy for the whole film.

Once the lights went down and the trailers started, I was pulling out raisins and graham crackers and goldfish and thermoses as quietly as I could when Billy announced loudly, "We're having a picnic!" Hey, it's not my fault my kid is a picky eater and would rather eat crayons than popcorn. When they start stocking graham crackers at the snack counter, I'll start paying the $7.50 to buy it from them ... maybe.

Anyway, half an hour later, we had been sitting through previews for some of the most abysmal looking child entertainment I could imagine when Billy turned to me and said, "I want to go home."

Yeah, I don't blame you.

There really should be tighter controls on how many commercials they can run at the beginning of kids' films. I used to look forward to trailers. Now I'm so exhausted by the end of them that I can rarely remember what movie we were going to see.

Luckily for us, Toy Story 3 started right about the time Billy's patience ran out, and he loved it so much that as soon as the lights came up at the end, he shouted, "More Buzz Lightning! Fast-forward please!" (what he tells us at home when commercials come on during our DVR-ed copies of TS 1 & 2).

Toys Story 3 was great. But here's a warning: If the previews of upcoming films are anything to go by, we parents are in for a rough few months this fall.

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