Yep you read that right. Five Ears. Not five Years.
Y oh Y, you might ask, did I drop the Y?
Because I’m talking mouse ears silly, that’s why; Mickey Mouse ears to be exact.
As I hit “publish” on this beautiful orange juicy sunny Florida morning, I am sitting poolside at our very favoritest hotel in the world, the Pop Century Resort in Disney World. Enjoying a big cuppa of Mickey Joe and a tummy full of Mickey waffles, I am both overshadowed and comforted by the familiarity that is a four stories tall Mowgli and Baloo next to our hotel room. I have achieved Disney nirvana here next to the Hippy Dippy Pool; yes indeedy, I have all the bare necessities for this bear to rest at ease.
This trip marks the fifth pilgrimage to the House of Mouse for us since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
As it is for everyone, cancer treatment was hell for my little family. Looooong months of the drip drip drip of chemo, surgery, weeks of radiation but the worst for a mom was the pain of lots of the fun things that kids like to do like sleepovers and other potentially germ ridden activities being put on hold. My kiddos were so little when cancer came to our house, and I promised their little faces that when the treatment was over, we were going to go to Disney.
Disneyworld became our carrot, or more correctly our cheese.
Now I had a lot of naysayers about the wisdom of me taking that first trip when I had just finished radiation and still had the drip of Herceptin going, the loudest of which was the voice of reason in my own bald noggin. I realized that I was in no physical shape to trutz two little kids through the massive undertaking of flying, touring four parks in four days, and lasting through 12 hour days in the heat. Beyond broke, I was digging into rapidly dwindling emergency savings to take the trip, but as with most things in life that I really want, when my Pop or other logical adults like my alter-ego voice in my head reminded me of the sensible thing to do, I didn’t listen.
For some reason, going to Disney represented so much more to me than a vacation. It was about being normal again and bonding with my kids in that familiar way that we had about us before cancer came. It was about giving them the tradition of joy my mom and I had there together. It was about saying that cancer was behind us and promising them that good times were just a day away.
It was mostly about too, I suspect honestly, the fear that it was the last chance to get them to Disneyworld. It was hard for me to believe in the future.
As I think back on the evolvement of our trips over these last five years, it seems that the tempo of each one has mirrored much of where my life and healing was at that point. That first year out I led my life at a frantic pace, wanting to squeeze all of life in because I was scared I’d miss something, scared there would be no tomorrow. And too, that first trip to Orlando was Disney Overdrive, a busy bee buzzing through the parks. Sometimes now, as I look back on it I feel sad when I remember the intensity of the trip, how much I crammed into it so that they would see every last thing, and do every last, and remember last thing, afraid we’d miss something; afraid it would be, well, our last thing. We got up early, and stayed up late to see every fireworks show, every parade. Exhausted, hot, tired and cranky kids racing through the parks in a way I doubt they remember much more than a blur.
Truth is, much of my life at that time is still a blur.
Cancer had made me lose trust in body, and this fear showed up on that trip. I sent my son on rides alone because as much as I LOVE rides, I worried about the trustworthiness of my Herceptin saturated heart, and did not want to poke the skunk on Expedition Everest with two little ones in tow. Cancer, despite being told to stay home, wound up coming with us anyway; refusing to be left behind and bringing with it the heavy luggage I carried through each park every day, that contained my ID, insurance card, my oncologist info, my cardiologist, the kid’s dad’s emergency contact info, and list of all current poisons being infused…just in case.
How we did that trip said a lot about how tenuous my life felt at the time. Even though I went to there to feel normal, I couldn’t find normal, or even the illusion of normal, not even in Fantasyland. There were no big adventures had in Adventureland and Tomorrowland well, it just made me uncomfortable, because it made me think too much about how there may not be a tomorrow.
As the years went by and I got a foothold on life, the tempo of our visits to Disney also fell in step with the cadence of my healing psyche. There was no longer this mad rush to see and do everything, to cram it all in. Adventures were found, fantasies came true, and cancer was not allowed admittance into the Magic Kingdom ever again.
And eventually, I began to trust that there would be a Tomorrowland for we three Mouseketeers.
My kids grew right along with my confidence in living. They got to where they packed and carried their own luggage and we rode all the thrill rides. Back when my pace to see and do it all was frantic, I remembering wondering why, if you came all the way to Disney you would waste a day at the water park or the hotel pool, instead of at one of the parks. And what do ya know, last year Amelia and I went to Typhoon Lagoon for the first time ever, and had THE BEST time; I have discovered the glory of sliding down Summit Plummet, unceremoniously plucking my swim suit out of my butt as I stood up, and then polishing off a giant turkey leg in its wake. I found that a lot of good conversation happens on a lazy river and during quiet afternoons at the hippy dippy pool.
The memories our family has are more than even Dumbo could carry:
Embarrassing my kids each year with the extensive diorama I create in our hotel room window, hot days where we hit the wall and formed a mini flash mob-ish hat search in the Emporium for the goofiest goofy hats we can find to wear for the rest of the day. Surprising my little ones with giant icees with Mickey feet while they were sitting and waiting for a parade to start, garnering a collective kid eye roll by standing up and clapping when Barack Obama stood up for the first time in the Hall of Presidents. Popcorn for dinner, Princess breakfasts where I asked Colton who that Aladdin looking guy was and he said, “Uh that would be Aladdin mom,” and the look on Amelia’s face when Belle hugged her told her she was pretty. Going into the animation studio to draw 5 times in a row, and sharing Pixar joy with Colton while watching Luxo pop out and perform while waiting for the Toy Story ride. Light up ice cubes at the Sci Fi restaurant, Soarin’ in the smell of orange groves in Soarin’ and devouring French pastries in Epcot.
We girls still giggle about following a drip drip drip of chocolate ice cream along the pavement back to our hotel room one day, finding a smear of chocolate ice cream on the door frame, and then opening the door to find quite happy Colton on the bed with his chocolate ice cream cone…everywhere (finally a good kind of drip.)
How each day I gave them a souvenir allowance and watched how carefully they picked their parts for Mr. Potato head to fill the box, and how they danced when I surprised them one evening with a bonus allowance for an extra little somethin’ somethin’. Watching my princess become even more of a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, seeing them laugh face to face at as they spun in the teacups together, and a tiny Amelia clapping with giant Mickey hands at Fantasmic. Finding every Hidden Mickey the park with Colton, and riding in a giant honey pot 42 times in a row with my own little Lilo and Stitch at the Halloween party. The “Paging Mr. Morrow, Mr. Tom Morrow,” announcement on the People Mover, giant clear balloons with a blue Mickey heads inside and the glee we felt when we traded for the pin we had searched high and Lilo for. Watching my kids pretend to be completely appalled at how boring they think the Carousel of Progress ride is each year when I make them ride with me, and how I make the ride even worse by singing, loudly, along with the song, “It’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”
We did indeed find new frontiers in Frontierland after all and normal found us in the soft white gloved hands of Mickey.
But what I most remember most aren’t the rides, or the things we saw, but the times. The times. And the very best of those times were always, always Mickey gloved hands down, the evenings back in the hotel when tired fits of giggles overtook us and we laughed until we cried. Oodles of giddy giggles launched from the deep comfort of being in this insular, happy place; a place where, as we slept in the shadow of Baloo we did indeed forget about our worries and our strife.
At home, a long narrow ledge surrounds our stairs. Lined up on that ledge, in a mini mouse like time line, you’ll see our Mickey ears from the all the years of Disney trips. Cute pink little girl pink ears, Kermit the Frog ears, Steamboat Willie ears, and Toy Story ears. Ears that look like a Pumpkin, and ears with a Sorcerer Mickey Wizard Hat perched between them. And lastly, classic Mickey and Minnie ears with “Colton” and “Amelia” and “Lauren”embroidered in gold thread on the back. And on the doorknobs to my home office hang lanyards loaded with Disney trading pins, each of strand telling a unique story; a tale of what we loved that year and what made us smile and laugh, of what calmed us and what made us find us again.
These things represent so much to me, they hold so much meaning….healing, longevity, a visual measure of a life coming to pass that I wasn’t so sure would do so, five years ago. Our own personal Disney vault of memories; the times…the times where we were overshadowed by Baloo and the simple bare necessities, instead of cancer, the times where we lived, no basked in a great big beautiful tomorrow. Cancer no doubt, takes a lot from us but sometimes, sometimes it gives us something, or just plain allows us to find something that was right in front of us all the time.
It’s hard to see, but sometimes, cancer allows us to live.
Sometimes, it takes soaring above it all on the Astro Orbiter or on an Aladdin Magic Carpet to see it, and sometimes we must climb to a perch in the Swiss Family Treehouse to spot it. Sometimes, it is found deep in the space of a mountain, but mostly, it is found right next to us in the excited breaths of those we love, and in the deep pull of our own breath as we Splash down a Mountain.
Without cancer, I don’t think this Disney thing would have ever gotten started in the first place. It would have been just another one of those things put off indefinitely, to when the kids were older, to when there was enough money to do it, till I was totally healthy…. till tomorrow.
Walt used to say, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”
Yes Walt; a mouse, a single cancer cell and a woman who didn’t lose the sight of one thing-living to see her kids in mouse ears, spinning with glee in teacups and flying high above it all in Dumbo.
One pair of ears at a time, I lived my way into Tomorrowland. And it is for sure, A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.
“Paging Mr. Morrow, Mr. Tom Morrow,” Lauren is looking for you.
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow’s just a dream away
Man has a dream and that’s the start
He follows his dream with mind and heart
And when it becomes a reality
It’s a dream come true for you and me
So there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away
~The Sherman Brothers