We were scheduled to conclude our trip to Southern California yesterday with a visit to Disney's California Adventure theme park. We typically plan Florida Disney trips based on the lowest crowds of the year, so you can imagine our response when we discovered that the crowd levels this week were projected to be 9.8/10 due to last week's debut of Cars Land.
The Scott family enjoys a good challenge, so we decided to make the most of it, getting up with the early birds to dress, eat & load our shuttle bus by 7am. We bought into the hype and literally went with the crowd. In an effort to be near the front, we arrived at the park 45 minutes before opening. My husband stood in line for 55 minutes just to acquire FastPass tickets while the kids & I positioned ourselves (along with hundreds of other eager patrons) to make a run for the new Luigi's Flying Tires ride at 8am. We knew very little about this ride, by the way, just that it was new, highly marketed and everyone around us wanted to do it.
I was shocked at the rampant cutting, pushing and story-telling that was happening around me in order to get a better position in line. Some parents seemed to revel in teaching their children how to 'beat the system.' It was a true exercise in self control as I bit my tongue to keep from 'equalizing' a few blatant line
cutters. I am a competitor at heart, so as the dramatic music began and the lines were lowered allowing entrance, I felt my adrenaline pumping. There was literally a Disney pace car in front of the mass of patrons to keep the bedlam to a minimum as we made our way back to the new ride.
Once we arrived at the attraction we had to wait another 30 minutes. (This at least allowed our Dad to clear the Fast Pass distribution line for the other new Cars ride, Radiator Springs Racers). Finally at 8:45 we boarded--and two minutes later it was over. After all we had been through to ride, even my 8 year olds wondered aloud if it had all been worth it. So much hype for something so simple.
Four hours later we were able to utilize the sacred fast pass for the Racers. As we entered we noticed the standby line time was 150 minutes. This ride was more entertaining, but I couldn't believe people were willing to stand in line that long for something as empty as a children's ride.
We journeyed next to an outdoor adventure play area where my trio ran, climbed, jumped and searched for half an hour in order to achieve 'Wilderness Explorer' status a la Russell from the movie Up. (It was their favorite part of the park.) In return for their efforts, the attraction promised a badge. There was a show/ceremony and the children lined up to receive their reward. K looked at me and expressed her feelings of being duped, "After all that, it's just a paper sticker, Mama." Truly, the prize had been the experience, not the payoff.
The final straw in our daily lesson was when we exited Soarin', an engaging film experience that simulates flight over the most scenic parts of California. As we unloaded I looked at my husband and said, "This state is so beautiful. What are we doing in a theme park?"
He agreed whole-heartedly and just after lunch we bailed. We scampered back to the hotel, packed a backpack with swimsuits, sunscreen and borrowed hotel towels and headed for scenic Highway 1. When we pulled into Laguna Beach we discovered a large public beach area.
Our children who had been trapped in queue lines, hotel rooms and shuttle buses in the name of 'fun' were finally able to run, yell and play like 8 year olds. Their laughter and joy was beyond anything we had experienced in the park. As the sun set on the day--and on our trip--we ordered takeout from a pizza joint a block away and had a dinner picnic (on our white hotel towels) looking at the ocean.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am really not anti-Disney. We had a great time, but for whatever reason I couldn't escape the metaphor all day...masses of people buying into hype over artificial adventure when they have access to the REAL THING...and unlike our Disney excursion, it was free.
My husband and I discussed the implications on our parenting on the ride back to our hotel in Anaheim. How do we teach our kids to be courageous enough to leave the pack in search of what is REAL even when all the signs and marketing point them to follow the crowd to the newest, latest, greatest thing? How can we help them learn that those things are often empty compared to the fulfillment that comes from authentic life in Christ?
I couldn't help but think of John 10:10:
I (Jesus) came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than
they ever dreamed of.
I think it starts with getting it right consistently in my own life and then modeling it for them. I was challenged to think about parts of my life where I have been buying into the hype of artificial love, meaning, identity, etc. I was led to pray for the wisdom and courage to leave the pack. Sometimes it requires a bit of a journey, but the real life that's waiting is totally worth it.