Romance with Ears: A Preschooler "Date" at Disney

Trip Start Apr 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2012

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Flag of France  , Ile-de-France,
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Recently we were lucky enough to have some friends, Elizabeth and John, come from San Jose visit us here in Paris. Admittedly, we were not the initial reason for their visit.  In fact, as the trip was to celebrate Elizabeth's mothers' 70th birthday, it actually might have been planned before we even knew them.   Whatever the reason we were very happy about their visit, for several reasons besides the obvious "friends are actually visiting- whoo hoo" reason.    First, both Julien and I get along really well with both Elizabeth and John.  We may have very different styles about some things (Elizabeth never has a hair out of place and I have the exploding suitcase syndrome) , but the fact that everyone is respectful of that tends to strengthen bonds rather than weaken them.   Second, their daughter Grace was Lucas' very first girlfriend.  She was present at Lucas' first birthday party, and they have been friends ever since.  What more can I say?  So,  I have been reminding Lucas of her upcoming January visit since last summer
In the interim, Elizabeth and I had exchanged a few emails and had planned for Lucas and Grace to have a "sleep over" one night while they were here.    A few days before their family arrived, I got an email  listing an agenda for their trip.   After one look at it, my only thought was "this is a brave woman".  She had a really really really full agenda, but if there was one family that could pull that off it would be theirs.  Elizabeth is one of those mom's who makes the whole thing look easy.  And I like her anyway.

Once they arrived in Paris, I quickly realized that they might want to spend a bit more time in our apartment than they may have originally planned.   Our apartment is very "kid friendly".  In short, this means that we don't own many breakable things.  Our furniture is old.  I still have bookshelves that my Dad made from scrap wood.  In short, if something gets broken here, it is not that big a deal   The only exception being the computer.   The apartment that they were staying in was not kid friendly.   Of course, I am saying this from the "Mom" perspective.   Mother's with young children develop this ability to scan a room within seconds to determine all the potential threats, and annoyances, that could arise.   So, when Julien and I visited the apartment that our friends' family was renting,  what went through my mind was "breakable, breakable, choking hazard, breakable, untouchable,  strangling hazard,  what is that anyway?!?"   Mind you, the apartment was beautiful, but it was for adults and not for kids.   Any mother who has to constantly monitor her kids in such an environment will leave this situation either a) extraordinarily pissed off b) extraordinarily tense or c) severely medicated.     I must admit that I admired both Elizabeth and John for managing that situation fairly cheerfully, but I know it can't have been easy.   So, we encouraged them to spend time with us as often as possible while they were here.  Of course, this was not entirely altruistic, because the kids entertained each other and it gave the adults the opportunity to included.   And to be honest, I think this worked out quite well for Lucas and Grace.

Setting the Stage for the Perfect Preschool Date

We chose to have Grace stay over on a Tuesday night, because Lucas only had a half day of school the next day.  When Elizabeth dropped Grace off that evening, we decided that she would pick her up in the late afternoon the following day.  After much running, screaming and playing (on the part of the kids),  Lucas, Seb and Grace all headed off to bed in the boys room with shockingly few complaints.   When I went to check on them before going to bed I noticed that, while still in their respective beds, Lucas and Grace had managed to position themselves so that they were holding hands.   It was super cute, and I wish I had taken a picture... but I didn't want to wake them. Sometime in the middle of the night, Seb had a nightmare and it was Grace who called me.  I could hear her telling Seb, "don't worry, your mother is coming".   This gave me this momentary visceral remembrance that kids have their own world, which adults are only privy to for brief moments or in shadowy memory.  That surreal feeling of this remained as I soothed Seb back to sleep.  It felt a little like being in a snow globe. 

The next morning, I decided, a bit on a whim and perhaps influence by the night before, to take Lucas and Grace to Disneyland.   Seb had a bit of a cold, so I thought it best to leave him at home with his nanny.   Plus, I thought it would be great for Lucas and Grace to share a "date" at Disney. This did take a bit of subterfuge,  Mickey is second only to Mommy in Seb's world so he could NOT know we were going to Disney without him. So, during his nap,   I sent Elizabeth an email to make sure she was OK with this, and then off we went.  What I didn't realize, until Grace told me, that this was her first visit to Disneyland.  

The Makings of a Great Preschool Date

So, I have to say at the start that taking the two of them to Disneyland was SOOOO EASY!  I really didn't expect that, as I am not in the habit of putting children and easy together in the same sentence, let alone the same mental construct.  I think I quite reasonably expected someone to run off, or have a tantrum, or want to buy something they couldn't have or eat something they didn't like or get offended by the color of the know, typical kid stuff.  But no, there were no fits of any sort.  In fact, at some point both of them were chanting a rhyme that they learned at Bright Horizons "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit".  Maybe it was easier because they are older.  Or maybe it is because they were so happy to be together.  I don't know why, but they were both really great.  This made me feel like Super Mom.  Grace was pretty much perfectly behaved and Lucas....well, he was over the moon to be able to be able to play the "expert" for his friend.   To make the situation even more ideal, there were almost NO lines.  As I have said in other blogs,  when it comes to the Disneyland experience, memorize this phrase  "good weather, weekends / vacations, short lines...pick two".   On this day, the weather was not perfect, it was not tourist season, and it was not on a weekend.   As a result, there was no line longer than 15 minutes.    For those who know Disneyland Paris,  Crush's Coaster was only 10 minutes!!!  This ride usually has an hour long wait, minimum.    I discovered this little piece of information about the Crush's Coaster line from the Disneyland Paris app on my Iphone as we were entering the park.   So we quickly made out way to the Walt Disney Studio side of Disneyland.

When we got there, there was almost no line.  But I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about Grace going on this coaster.  She was just barely tall enough, and it is an intense coaster.   But it is Lucas very favorite, and when I asked Grace if she was OK with going she said...and I quote..."the Hirai girls aren't afraid of anything".  OK, then.   Lucas and Grace rode together on one side of the "shell" and I was on the other.  They held hands.  They screamed.  They laughed.  And when we got off, they immediately ran to get back in the line.  Grace was jumping up and down and literally screaming "best roller coaster EVER!!".   "Ah" I thought "An adrenaline junkie like my Lucas."   So, we went again.   My role in this was really that of guardian and observer.  Most of the interplay was simply between them.  I must say that it was a joy to listen to them talk about the best part of the ride, and what was scary, and to speculate over what was "real" and "not real".  Then they discussed what it means to be "real".  Fairly advanced for 5 year olds.   I managed to dissuade them from going on it a third time only with the promise of seeing Mickey.  This was the one thing that Grace did become a bit focused on...wanting to see Mickey.   So, I made a quick call from the app on the Iphone (I swear I am not selling Iphones or anything but this is a great app), and we got a reservation at the "Lucky Nugget Saloon".  So we headed over to the "Magic Kingdom" side of the park. 

I feel I should give you at least a bit of history on the Lucky Nugget.  I wrote a fairly detailed account of everything that was wrong with this restaurant shortly after the first time we visited.  You can read that account in my blog.  Suffice it to say that Mickey snubbed Seb and Mom was NOT HAPPY.  This time, when we went in, they had made some really positive changes....and a few negative ones.  Unfortunately, the first negative one was right as I was entering.  Someone, who is obviously SEVERELY organizationally challenged, had decided to institute a policy where you pay with a credit card BEFORE you can go into the restaurant.  To make things worse, you are not informed of this until you are already in the restaurant with your kids.   OK, so far, this is not so bad.  But wait, to pay, you have to go BACK OUTSIDE, to some little side window and pay a very bored and slow man sitting there.  In our circumstance, Lucas and Grace had already started walking down the stairs of the restaurant which was natural as Mickey was there and in line of sight.  The hostesses gave me this,  "just leave them with us" look when I balked about having to go back outside to pay.  You've got to be kidding me.  Do I have to rail about security issues AGAIN!!!!  Let me say this one last time in simple terms.  DO.NOT. SEPARATE. PARENT. FROM. CHILD.  Full stop.  Shouldn't this be a part of Security 101?!?!  Any of my ex colleagues in security, please feel free to chime in and rant.    But I should cut this short as it might give you the wrong impression.   Except for this beginning part, the Lucky Nugget was a surprisingly great experience, largely as a result of the recent changes.

First, they have completely changed the layout.  You no longer have to sit on bar stools with your kids, like you are about to order them a "cold one". (Once again see previous blog rant).  Now you sit at actual tables directly in front of the stage.  The buffet is now set up in the row above the "bar seats".   ( I like to think this might have something to do with my blog post, but that is probably just wishful thinking.)  This arrangement makes it much easier for the characters to interact with the kids.  And interact they did.  I don't know if it was because there were so few people and the characters were bored, but they were AMAZING.  Whoever was Pluto that day should win some sort of "Person in Animal Costume" Award.   He wrestled on the ground with Lucas.  He pulled Grace around the dining circle in her chair.   When Lucas put his hand up giving the international  "me, me"  sign, Pluto did the same for him.  Mickey dropped by to shake hands and give hugs.  Captain Hook tried to flirt with Grace, unsuccessfully I might add.   Tigger made a big show of trying to control Pluto.  It was "high" kid theater, and both Lucas and Grace loved it.   Then a jazz-ish, Dixie land-ish band came out and played a variety of standards from the 20's.  When we left the Lucky Nugget, both kids had actually had their fill of characters and food.  As we walked over toward "Big Thunder Mountain", the two of them walked in front, hand in hand.  I could hear them re-hashing all the things the characters had done.   Mind you, this wasn't a hand in hand stroll sort of thing.  It was a preschool hand in hand walk, run, walk, run thing.  We made it on to Big Thunder Mountain in less than 10 minutes. By this time  it was almost nightfall and the sky was cloudless.   Once again, Lucas and Grace rode together.  There was more screaming and laughter.  On the way out, we decided to go to Phantom Manor.  This one actually scared Grace, and she spent most of the time squeezing Lucas' hand (he told me later).   When we got off, all she said was that this was not her "cup of tea".    And with this, we started the long process of "leaving" Disneyland.  I say long because you should never expect to be able to get out of the park in less than 45 minutes.  Main Street U.S.A alone is one gigantic retail distraction. 

This time, on our way out, there happened to be a "show" occurring on center stage, and as a part of this we got to see "Princess Tiana" close up.  Grace was mesmerized.   Her eyes were wide as saucers.    When we walked off, she looked like she had just seen, well, a Princess.    She was asking Lucas what he knew about all the Princesses, and he once again had a chance to show off his detailed knowledge of all things Disney.   

I had told them that they could each by 1 thing provided that a) it was under 20 Euros and b) it was small enough to fit in my backpack so Seb wouldn't have to know we had gone to Disney without him.  So we decided to go into Sleeping Beauty's castle as that allowed us to kill two birds with one stone.  We did the obligatory visit to castle and we started the lengthy choose a parting gift process.  It was here that I thought my son might finally succumb to the expected meltdown, when I told him that "no" he could not buy the 200 euro glass slipper for Grace.   However, I was saved by the sound of roars coming from the basement.  Grace and Lucas raced down the stairs to investigate. Once more, I was a bit apprehensive.  The "dragon" that sleeps beneath the castle is very life like and scary.  But Lucas had seen it before and Grace was not going to be outdone.   So they watched for a good 3 minutes before Grace wanted to go.  Grace seemed to have more questions as I heard Lucas explaining that the Dragon was actually Maleficent, and that Prince Phillip had put her in "prison" down there.   Interesting how I hadn't made that connection but my 5 year old did. 

By way of parting gift, Grace choose a Minnie blanket and Lucas got a Mickey umbrella.  I  also got Grace a Minnie pencil and Lucas a Mickey pen.   After all this, we left the park quite easily.  I was a bit surprised at this, as the parade was starting just as we were leaving.  But I think they had had so many experiences that day that they didn't need any more.  Also, Grace was afraid that Elizabeth would put me in a "time out" for being late. :)   When we made it back, I discovered from a misty eyed Elizabeth that this actually was Grace's first Disney trip.  On one hand I felt a bit of guilt about that, but on the other, I felt very honored.  I got the experience of taking a little girl to Disney for the first time.    I also felt proud, after all my son took his first girlfriend on one hell of a preschool standards.

In fact, it was pretty much the perfect preschool date.  They had adrenaline highs.  They got to play with characters who are, let's face it, "rock stars" to preschoolers.  They faced fear together in Phantom Manor.  They even saw a dragon.    And Lucas, being the perfect date, did NOT slay the dragon for Grace.  He simply held her hand until she was comfortable enough to slay it herself, at least in her mind.   I felt it was a rare privilege to be able to see my son on one of his first official dates.  When the date was truly over, and Grace left that night, they exchanged "I love you's".  Before going to bed that night, Lucas told me that his feelings were "complicated".  He said "I was happy Grace came, but I am also sad that she is leaving.  So I feel happy and sad.  It's confusing."  Big thoughts for a 5 year old.   

When the Hirai family left Paris, Lucas and Grace had spent enough memorable moments together that I am fairly sure that they will remember it.  A date at Disney is magic for a 5 year old...and magic stands the test of time. 

P.S.  A Disney date can be magic for adults as well, and I promise that I will later write down the recipe for a perfect Disney date night for adults....but that will have to wait for summer.  Explanation forthcoming. 
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Elizabeth, Mother of Grace on

Lexy, What a beautiful post! I have smiled, laughed and gotten misty eyed again remembering and learning new details about that day. I love that we continually create some of the best memories over the past 4 years, even with distance.
There are so many parts that I love in this post, but the one I appreciate your mentioning is that this was Grace's 1st visit to Disneyland. I will also say that you were the best person to take her for her 1st time. With 2 boys this was my gift to you to take a little girl. You and Grace have always had a very special bond that I have loved watching over the years. Grace had a magical time in Paris with you and Luca. Thank You!!

selenapan9 on

Thanks Elizabeth. I did consider it a gift, and it was a glorious day for all. Who knows, maybe next time it will the Great Wall or the Pyramids or Madagascar ;)

Meredith on

I loved reading this about Luca and Grace!!!! Those two are so darn special, I remember them well from day care. Lexy, you write so beautifully, I felt I was there along side of you all on your day to Disney. Thanks for making it all so memorable.
Maybe the Great Wall in the near future?
Meredith aka Gaga to Grace

selenapan9 on

Thanks Meredith. It was really a wonderful day for me. And thanks for the encouragement on the writing. I love doing it, so feel free to forward the link liberally :)

I will, of course, let you guys know where the next post is as soon as we you can start planning that next trip with Grace and Mom.



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