“That’s the real trouble with the world. Too many people grow up.” -Walt Disney
I was fortunate to spend the last week celebrating my nephew’s third birthday in Disneyland. There’s something remarkably beautiful about playing with a small child and seeing the park through their eyes. I found photography, however, a bit challenging.
The sunlight was harsh, people were everywhere, and I kept finding myself unfocused (figuratively and literally). As I sat down to edit my photos, I noticed my eye tended to be drawn upward. Please let me know what you think of these images, and if you have a gallery of your own Disneyland photos I’d love to see them. Feel free to drop a link below.
If you’re unfamiliar with the 100 Day Project, the concept is simple. You choose any creative project you like and do it every day for 100 days, sharing your process on social media using the hashtag #The100DayProject. This year the dates are Feb. 13-May 24.
Elle leans on the black metal railing in front of the train station in a lopsided blue hat, matching blue shirt, and bright red bow tie. There are two round white buttons at her waist. She places her gloved hand on top of a small boy’s head to mess his hair and he giggles.
Click. Click. Click.
A girl in a twirling pink princess dress runs at top speed and almost knocks her over. Elle saves the moment, catching her and doing a sort of silly dance. They turn to face the camera together, a whirl of happy motion.
Click. Click. Click.
All pacifier and big eyes, a terrified toddler hides in his stroller clutching a stuffed mouse to his face. Elle gets down on one knee and plays peek-a-boo behind her gloved hands until he warms to her. He gives her a high-five and smiles for the camera.
Click. Click. Click.
A group of teenagers in the crowd yell out they love her and Elle makes a heart shape with her hands and presses it towards them. She waves and waves as children pass by her, the joy contagious and beautiful. Smiling, she hops on one foot and then the other, until she spots Greg off to her right with a clipboard in his hand. He’s writing and she feels herself deflating.
Everyone knows when Greg comes to watch your shift it means one of two things; promotion or firing. Elle tries to ignore him, but her eyes keep returning to his dark handlebar mustache, blue pinstripe suit, and bright white cummerbund. His pen stays in motion.
She can’t help but think about her now ex-roommate Britney. Greg visited her a few weeks ago during her final performance of the day and afterward released her. He said she “didn’t have the right energy” and “looked off-brand.” In an instant, her dream of being promoted to a face character ended. It broke her.
Elle found her sobbing on the locker room floor. They took a bus to a small diner far from the tourists and Britney cried into her cheeseburger for a long time, her snot congealing with ketchup to form a stream of gross gunk down her face.
“How dare he do this to me! I’ve worked so hard!” Britney sobbed. “Greg’s a monster!”
“It’s not rocket science, Elle! I don’t know why he makes it out to be so difficult. I didn’t do anything different today than I’d been doing for two years. It makes no sense. I deserve to be a princess! He was never going to give me a fair shot.”
Elle had worked beside Britney a few times, and although she’d never say it to her face, she understood Greg’s decision. Britney felt she deserved better, begged for it all the time, and didn’t put much heart or enthusiasm into her current role. Elle felt a mix of sadness and relief watching Britney stuff her blow-dryer into the top of her packed wheelie bag and walk out the apartment door.
Click. Click. Click.
A large family approaches and Elle lays on the ground in front of them, as she’s been taught. It’s the only way to make the large group photos work. She knows her poses are correct, but Greg writes and writes on his clipboard and she can’t imagine what he could be writing.
“Fails to be perfect.”
“Not good enough.”
Elle gets the signal and follows her handler to the cast-room. She waves and does a little dance until she’s fully out of view. Although she can’t see him, she knows Greg followed. As she removes her giant head and gets a drink of water, he walks in smiling.
“Wonderful job Elle,” he says.
“You know why I’m here, right?”
Elle doesn’t want to make any guesses, so she shrugs and smiles. He smiles back.
“I know you have been waiting for this, so I wanted to tell you in person. You have done it, Elle. Congratulations. You are now friends with Snow White.”
He hands her a red hair bow and she rubs the satin with her fingers.
“You will begin your training next week,” Greg says.
Elle finishes up her shift, 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off until the park closes. It isn’t until she walks back to her apartment, the full moon bright in the sky above her, that it hits her. For as long as she can remember, her mother has dreamed of her playing Snow White at the Happiest Place on Earth. She’d told Elle it was her destiny because of her pale white skin, dark black hair, and red lips. There wasn’t any other plan for her and now she’s done it.
She should call her mom. She should celebrate. She should be happy. All the shoulds feel wrong.
She takes a hot shower, slips into soft pink pajamas, and runs her hand along her bookshelf until she finds the well-worn book of pastel drawings, the soft cloth binding frayed slightly on the edges. She flips to her favorite page marked with a red silk ribbon, a beautiful painting of a garden filled with bluebells and snowdrops. Written in her neatest handwriting along the bottom are the words, “Snow White’s Garden/My Garden.”
She remembers writing those words when she was 10-years-old, the year her mother gave her the book and told her she would become Snow White. Elle loved the idea. It made her feel special and loved. She practiced singing and talking until she could mimic Snow White as well as anyone. Her mother would beam with pride watching her.
When she was 18, they drove across five states to California for the auditions. On the drive, her mother opened up a bit about her own life, something she rarely did. She told Elle she’d been a model her entire childhood and teenage years, and how she’d been on the cover of hundreds of magazines and traveled all over the world.
“But my mother didn’t protect me, Elle,” she’d said. “And people hurt me. Lots of people hurt me. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Her mother stayed for several months after Elle got hired, and pressed hard for her to be Snow White. Elle understood she had to put in time as other characters, and she didn’t mind at all. She enjoys slipping on the costumes and transforming into the beloved characters of the park. The ritual of it, the tears of joy, and the infectious laughter make Elle feel whole.
The day her mother finally left for home, she’d squeezed Elle painfully tight to her and sobbed into her shoulder. They’d never spent time apart and Elle was a bit terrified of being on her own, but also excited. She felt it was time for her to make her own decisions and friends—something she’d not done her entire life.
“Promise me you’ll be okay,” her mother said, black mascara running down her cheeks.
“I’m okay mom,” Elle said. “I’ll be okay.”
She wasn’t sure she would be, and the first night alone with Britney in the apartment she’d spent a long time crying in the shower. She wondered how she’d manage to feed herself, work until late at night, and do her own laundry. It felt overwhelming, but Elle surprised herself. She found a rhythm, made friends, and discovered she was more than capable of caring for herself.
Now, with Britney gone, Elle realizes how much she loves being alone with her own thoughts. She’s taken up reading, painting, and baking. On her days off she meets friends at the park, goes for a run, or has friends over to play games. Her life has become full and her own.
Her mother calls her at 5 a.m. every morning, and Elle waits up for her call. It’s always the same questions, rapid-fire and breathy from her anxious mom.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you Snow White yet?”
“Who can I talk to?”
Elle brews herself a cup of mint tea and snuggles under a blanket. She looks around the room at her place and feels a swelling of pride. It’s been two years since her mother left, and Elle loves her life. She thinks about how wonderful it feels to see children light up at the sight of her and how often their joy brings her to tears. Snow White may have been her original dream, her mother’s dream for her, but it doesn’t fit her. It’s not what she wants.
Elle takes a sip of tea and picks up her cellphone. It’s her life, she thinks, and smiles.
“Sorry to call so early, Greg, but I’ve been thinking about the offer and I’d like to decline. I love my current role and I wonder if I might keep it.”
“Are you sure, Elle? You’d make a fantastic Snow White.”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
“Okay, then. See you tomorrow.”
She sips her tea, watches the sunrise through her front window, and happily waits for her mother’s call.
Author’s note: As you may have guessed, I spent the week in Disneyland celebrating my nephew’s 3rd birthday. It was a wonderful whirlwind of a trip! There was very little time for writing and thinking, but I did manage this short story written late at night with sore feet and a full heart. I hope you enjoyed it.
First thing I heard this morning was my husband chuckling as he climbed back in bed.
“Go check out the kids,” he said. “They are snuggling for Thanksgiving.”
I tiptoed down the hall and peeked into my daughter’s room. They were, indeed, snuggled up in her bed but it wasn’t all cuteness. I know when those two are plotting something and I smelled a rat…two mice actually.
“Hi guys,” I said entering the room. “What are you planning?”
An eruption of giggles told me that I was right.
A mass of messy hair pops up and screeches, “I don’t want to tell you” and then darts back under the covers in hysterics. The blankets wiggle all around as they whisper conference about what to do. Both heads pop out with wide grins.
“We are mice,” my boy says. “We have underwear under the bed that we were about to put on our heads.”
“Socks for our hands too,” added his sister. “We were planning on sneaking cheese from the fridge.”
“I guess you aren’t interested in trying my homemade cinnamon rolls,” I say and walk away as they quickly converse and decide that sounds a bit better than sneaking cheese.
This is my family. We are silly, quirky and sometimes ridiculous. I love my family more than anything in the world, but this is the first Thanksgiving that I have not hated.
Thanksgiving has always felt like a big, fat lie. It has always left me feeling disappointed and sad.
Growing up I didn’t understand why we couldn’t have the Thanksgiving of the movies. You know the one, right? It starts with a long drive as the family happily sings “over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we go.” Or maybe it’s a long plane ride to some beautiful city that is blanketed in snow. Once there, you are greeted by smiling family that remark on how much you’ve grown and how much they miss you.
The dining room is set with a large rectangular table with an elegant tablecloth, matching napkins with real silverware, platinum turkey place card holders with names written in calligraphy, gorgeous dishes in an assortment of fall colors and the centerpiece is a real cornucopia spilling out the most splendid fall produce. It would all make a Pottery Barn catalog jealous.
A large assortment of friends and family would arrive bringing homemade goodies for all. Everyone would look beautiful and would be so excited to see each other. The head of the family would carve the turkey and make a speech about being thankful and everyone would be filled with the Thanksgiving spirit. Then the family would all do the dishes together and head outdoors for a family game of football.
This is the Thanksgiving I’ve always been promised. This is what I’ve always imagined. But, for me, it’s a big lie.
Growing up it went like this: drive 20 minutes to my grandparents’ house, hear how we never visit and how much they are disappointed in us, enjoy a slightly awkward meal and then watch TV.
I thought that it would be like “Father of the Bride” and I’d marry into this amazing family that would host an elaborate Thanksgiving. It would be great.
Nope. Didn’t happen. No big family Thanksgiving.
After our wedding my parents divorced and my grandparents both died. Any hope I had of at least having a multi-generational Thanksgiving died with them.
The last 14 years I have spent silently hating Thanksgiving. I fake it pretty good. I always smile, cook, do all the dishes and even try to focus on being grateful. It’s been interesting:
*Our first Thanksgiving in our tiny studio apartment included a turkey that only halfway cooked because the oven only halfway worked. Served bloody turkey and stuffing. Yum.
*We were married Nov. 20, so we spent our first married Thanksgiving on honeymoon at Disneyland. We ended up getting room service because the crowds were terrible. Food was actually pretty good but cost like a million dollars.
*When our boy was four-years-old, we spent the entire day fussing over him as he ran an increasingly higher fever. Debated about going to the E.R. Did not go, but then found out days later he had strep. Poor kid.
Thanksgiving has never been horrible. Not even close. We have our little family and our health. I should be grateful. I should not be comparing and feeling sorry for myself. But I have spent so much time dreaming of that “perfect Thanksgiving” that real gratitude has eluded me.
It’s the EXPECTATION that has been killing the day for me.
After spending time last weekend at dance class dealing with letting go of expectations, I decided to put that into practice and let it ALL GO. I decided that I was going to embrace the day in whatever form it came. I didn’t even know when we would eat. Just figured when it was done we would eat.
Guess what? Today was great. Really, really great.
*The homemade cinnamon rolls and cranberry sauce (both firsts for me) turned out fabulous.
*Ended up riding bikes with both kids in the street followed by a surprise visit from my mom. There is nothing like your mommas hug to brighten your day.
*Watched the parade on my bed with some yummy cheese and salami. I was beaming with pride that my kids love the Broadway dances as much as I do.
*Took another, longer bike ride with my boy to see the neighbors on “Christmas Street” putting up their decorations. We rode and yelled, “would you look at that” to each other.
*Watched the national dog show and laughed my head off at how many times my kids said “he is soooo cute!”
*A family hike that was highlighted by holding my husbands hand and seeing three frolicking deer.
I had so many moments today that I just felt happy. I felt lightened of the burden that I’ve carried for so long. Today we had Thanksgiving our way and it was perfect.
Here’s to letting more expectations go and just living my life.