The magic started before we reached the Magic Kingdom


Recently, I crossed a threshold that many Florida parents face. My daughter turned 7 and wanted to spend her birthday at Disney World. Such a trip can be daunting with two parents shouldering the stress. However, this was my first trip to the land of long lines, marathon walking and expensive chocolate-coated pretzels as a single parent.

I agreed to the trip months prior. At the very moment that I succumbed to my daughter’s manipulative powers, I knew that I had just agreed to take on a task that would be way more than I could handle. However, under the spell of my daughter’s wishful look and the dulcet tone of, “It would be the most‘awesomes’ thing in the world, Papi!” what father could resist?

As the day drew closer, my anxiety grew exponentially. I worried about the drive (to and from), my tight budget (both time and money) and, most important, the bathroom accommodations. I frantically called my sister, a mother of two, for some sage advice. She completely downplayed my potential crisis points and instead focused on making sure I had “plenty of sunblock and water on hand.”

Puzzled and a little put off by my sister’s nonchalant attitude toward my impending horror, I turned to a friend who is a single mother of two — she would surely give the straight scoop. Once again, I encountered a blasé, “been there done that” attitude. “The trick is to go with the flow. Don’t make the experience more stressful than it has to be. If you’re both hungry, eat. If you want to go to a particular ride before another, then do so,” she explained.

When the fateful Friday came and I picked up my daughter from school to take off on our magic journey, my mind was somewhat more at peace given the wisdom I had received from two people whom I consider outstanding moms. The reservations were triple-checked and confirmed, the gas tank was full, I put together a long playlist of Celia Cruz, the Beatles and Prince and, of course, I packed plenty of sunblock.

The minute I saw the gleam of joy in my little girl’s eyes I knew all the sacrifice, worry and expense was worth it. Ironically, when she settled in to the car, she rattled off a checklist of her own. I learned, then and there, that my 7-year-old is quite a planner.

She brought her tablet on the trip, just in case she got bored on the drive, she said. Amazingly enough, as we headed north on the seemingly endless turnpike, my daughter and I had one of the most insightful, enjoyable and memorable conversations we have ever had.

We chatted about life and its peculiarities. We discussed what the term “magic moment” really meant to her — spending quality time with the people she loved. She asked about my childhood. She questioned why the Beatles were so revered and why it is so important to me that she learn Spanish. It was five, uninterrupted hours of bonding. She didn’t pick up the tablet once.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were both pretty beat. We each downed a glass of chocolate milk and called it a night in our princess-themed room.

Our day at the theme park was loads of fun. We hit a few predictable snags: a long line here, a closed ride there and at one point I couldn’t find a family bathroom so I nervously waited outside a ladies’ room for her. But overall, it was a wonderful experience.

As I drove home that night, I basked in parent bliss. The park and the journey there provided me the opportunity to establish deeper connection with my daughter, and that is priceless.