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Dumbo or Die: A Parable of Middle Age

Friday, December 30, 2011

I don't think I have to tell you that parenthood can be stressful. And so can working (though it's probably less stressful than unemployment, actually). And graduate school can really take a lot out of a person. So when I tell you that my life includes all these things, I think you'll understand when I say that when I go on vacation, I really truly need to unwind. And unwinding has never been my strong suit.

Somehow I've never been one of those people who unwind by sitting still. Yes, I've had to learn to do so anyway . . . meditation is an important practice to me, and I guess I'll need to practice a while longer, because I haven't yet gotten it right. But for true bliss, I'm at my best in motion, whether it's flying through the parks at Walt Disney World, rambling aimlessly about the streets of Munich, or even running on my treadmill.

A few weeks before my most recent trip to Walt Disney World, for WDW Today Reunion 2011, I surprised myself by telling my best friend Lisa that I almost never rode Dumbo because I felt guilty about taking up a spot in line when there would be so many small kids and stressed parents waiting their turn behind me. I felt badly about making some family wait a little while longer than they would if I'd just headed to another attraction. Sometimes I feel that way about the character meet-and-greets too, especially when I travel alone, and feel silly as a middle-aged lady waiting for her turn with Mickey amongst all the small children. Somehow even when I'm with other middle-aged folks, it doesn't seem as silly as when I'm on my own.

Honestly, I don't think I even knew I felt that way until the words spilled out of me. Lisa was incredulous, as well she should have been. And then I realized this same trend showed up in a number of other ways, too. I was surprised to realize that I felt bad about taking a "good seat" for the parades, even if I'd arrived super-early to stake out my favorite location before the crowds arrived.

Dumbo, Stella, and Me

I'm glad to tell you that during Reunion 2011, I cruised over Fantasyland with Dumbo three times: Alone during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, once with my teammates in the Test a Touring Plan Meet, and once with my friend Stella. And I didn't feel a bit of guilt. For one thing, the ride itself is so short that nobody really has to wait that much longer just because I'm on it. But more importantly: I deserve that spin on Dumbo as much now as I did when I first visited Disneyland as a small child. And today, strange as this may seem, I just might need it even more.

This isn't really about Dumbo, of course. It's cliche but true: If I don't take care of myself, in the long run I'm no longer able to take care of anyone else. For many people, this is especially keen in our middle-aged years, when the generations before and after us may need extra help. Somehow we have to find it in ourselves to put on our own oxygen masks before helping those around us.

As we move into the new year, I vow to ride Dumbo whenever I want, to get my picture taken with Mickey, to take a front seat at the parade. I hope my friends will be there too. But even when it's just me, that needs to be enough.