Parenthood is about letting go. Letting go of power and of control. Control, in the early stages of childhood, can manifest as deceit at times. OK, lies. I’ve turned to Bush Jr. White House tactics. I was lying to my son for his own good:
“No, there were no Skittles in your Halloween candy. And while we’re at it, there weren’t any Reeses Pieces, Kit Kats, or M&Ms either. And Twix. And Mars bars. And orange Starburst.”
“Oh sorry, I wish I could but I’m out of cash.”
“The playground is closed today.”
“All children love broccoli.”
“Yo Gabba Gabba quit television.”
“Barney is on vacation.”
“Dora got lost in the spooky forest and was probably eaten alive by the grumpy old troll.”
OK, I never actually said the last one. But yes, I admit it, I lie for my own good. But hey, the whole Bush Jr White House analogy holds up even better that way.
Don’t get me wrong, parenthood is not all about deceit and lies. It is mostly about joining our children in their childhood while maintaining a protective and cautious conscience. Protective of the child and, yes, of our own needs. It’s a thin line to walk. It’s impossible not to waver at times. It’s even thinner when spending a day at Disneyland.
I never thought I’d find anything resembling joy inside the fenced-in ode to consumerism, fake excitement, and the manipulation of impressionable young minds. Especially while sober, without a buzz to take the edge off. I was sober during my first Disneyland experience as I was at my first Coachella, by the way. I didn’t know how I would handle either. Disneyland was more enjoyable to me. Go figure. The rules of deceit still apply, sober or not. Otherwise we’d go bankrupt and Sebastian would turn diabetic.
The first time we went was for his third birthday.
He was enchanted. And his enchantment helped me to settle in and enjoy the experience with him, through his eyes. The best part was that we were armed with a stroller and he was still napping at the time. It allowed us to ride Space Mountain. I made his mom stand in line for an hour while I was “watching” Sebastian. She received a re-entry pass for the other parent when she was done and I walked right into my seat on the ride. No wait at all.
That’s Bad Papa style.
Anyway, by the end of the day I believe I uttered the following words:
“This might really be the happiest place on earth.”
If you ignore the people, the plastic smiles, and all the magic talk.
This January we traveled to Florida to watch my shitty German soccer team play some exhibition games in Orlando. How could we not go to Disney World while there? Sebastian was five and he would have probably stabbed us in our sleep if we didn’t go.
We had a good time, let me tell you. We mad-dashed through the park from Pirates of the Caribbean to the Barnstormer, from the Astro Orbiter to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger. Three times.
Somehow we got a Fastpass for Space Mountain along the way for 9:30PM and for all of us. Sebastian had far exceeded the height minimum for Space Mountain. And his mom and I weren’t gonna miss Space Mountain. The problem was that when we told him all the cool stuff about the ride he got really scared. Really scared. He did not like what he heard.
Oh the dilemma.
Give in to the kid and do another fucking Dumbo ride or use deception? Lie? Self-interest won out, of course. We never even considered discussing the ethicality of it.
We told him that instead of Space Mountain we’d go on an exploration of the planets ride. We called the ride “Planets in Space” and he was quite excited about it since he was really into planets at the time. We still had a few hours to kill until 9:30PM. We spent some time at the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, suffered through Stitch’s Great Escape, inhaled the gas fumes of the Tomorrowland Speedway and all along kept asking Sebastian if he would be amenable to giving Space Mountain a shot. All we ever got out of him was a panicked “Noooo!” along with a finger wag. So we drugged him with sugar throughout the evening to lower his threshold of inhibition. And then it was time.
We were sanding in line for “Planets in Space,” firing him up about how exciting it would be. He was not gonna keep us from riding Space Mountain. We didn’t come this far for Dumbo.
Despite our Fastpass we still had to wait in line for a while and as we got closer to the cars I noticed a confused look on his face. Something was bothering him.
“Dad?” he said.
“Are you sure this ride is “Planets in Space?”
“I think so”
“Why does it say Space Mountain everywhere then?”
This is the moment when the record scratches, panic sets in, and sweat begins to gush out of every pore, the way hordes of rats escape a sinking ship.
His mom and I look at each other. When did this reading thing happen? I mean, I was aware that he knew his letters at the time and could recognize his name in writing and maybe Mom or Dad and Disney but Space Mountain? That’s a whole new world we’re entering. Control, deceit, lies, out the window.
“Oh don’t worry, you’re so brave!”
“It’ll be fun!”
“You love roller coasters.”
“You’re the man!”
We were caught in a lie and did what every good liar does. Distract.
We made it into the cars at last and Sebastian held on to his mom’s hand throughout the ride while I sat behind him, ready to catch him if he slips out or whatever I told myself to feel less like a jerk. And guess what? He loved it. He was proud of himself for being brave, I could tell by that faint pursed smile that he has when proud. And we were relieved. We didn’t traumatize him, we didn’t have to carry the shame for tricking our son into a traumatic experience with us forever, at least not in this case. We didn’t have to feel bad at the end of a wonderful day. Deceit does work at times. Unless you’re the Bush Jr White House, of course.
“I wanna go again!”
I high fived him for his bravery but we noticed that the wait was ninety minutes and we were exhausted and done and out of Fastpasses.
“They’re not letting anyone else on.” We lied. “It’s late. Let’s go on the People Mover.”
And so we did and then got the hell out of the park before we had to lie any more.
-Bad Papa West