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November 12, 2011

The Kingdom of the Mouse offers lessons and true magic

Some opportunities simply fall into your lap.

To make a long story short, my husband had to go to a conference in Orlando the week before Halloween. Which meant that I had two choices: spend that week bouncing around town with two easily bored children or spend a few days (and a considerable amount of money) bouncing around Orlando with two overly tired children.

The decision was an easy one.

For most of my 20s and into my 30s, my mother lived in Orlando, near Universal Studios. It's a city that seems to have no soul and is, instead, merely a series of theme parks and T-shirt shops separated by pawn shops. I'd go to her house on college breaks and the occasional obligatory visit during the two months when the weather wasn't hurricane-y or humid.

When she retired to a farm in North Florida, where there are actual deciduous trees and a few small hills, I swore I'd never go back to Orlando.

Then I had kids.

I'd been toying with the idea of taking the kids to the Kingdom of the Mouse for a couple of months. After I realized that the Boy could be trusted to not create an air-marshal-worthy situation on a flight, the world was suddenly our playground. Plus Disney World is one of those places every kid should experience at least once, before they know too much about how the magic happens.

So we went. And, indeed, it was all one could hope. Both kids had eyes as wide as saucers throughout our trips to the Not-so-scary Halloween at the Magic Kingdom and a day at Animal Kingdom. It was all that the slick ads would have you believe.

We had grand plans for the third day of the trip but were overcome by exhaustion and a deep desire to hang out in a warm pool. Given that we knew it was snowing back home and that swimming outdoors under palm trees would be well-nigh impossible for the next, um, ever, this was a great plan.

I did learn a few other lessons, too.

First, it seems to be impossible to go to the Albany airport without running into someone from Oneonta. When you ponder the ratios of people in Albany versus the those in Oneonta, this shouldn't be true. Yet, trust me, it is.

Related _ the Boy is now old enough to strongly object to being forced to go into the women's room and not every public place has family bathrooms. I'm still not sure how old is old enough to go into an airport/Disney/rest stop bathroom by yourself. I'm sure that the Boy can handle himself but how will I get him to hurry up when he gets distracted by the automatic paper towel dispenser?

Second, three hours on a plane as the only parent to two kids is doable but exhausting. After hour two, I just wanted the talking to stop. By the time we landed, I was ready to let them ride around on the baggage claim conveyor belt if it meant no one would ask for more snacks.

Third, my kids haven't cultivated enough ironic detachment yet to enjoy the Haunted Mansion ride. We had to bail when the Boy started shaking and the Diva burst into tears. In hindsight, I'm a bad mom for even thinking it was a good idea and have scarred them for life.

Fourth, the "It's a Small World" ride should be outlawed by the Geneva Conventions.

Fifth, the "Peoplemover" was the Boy's favorite ride. Go figure.

Sixth, firework displays can be amazing when you have buckets of money to throw at them and a giant castle as the centerpiece.

Seventh, there is no way to go to Disney World and not spend every dime you have, plus a little more. It is impossible. Plan accordingly.

Eighth, the program at the Animal Kingdom that give kids mini-lessons on habitats, animal tracking and conservation, then gives them a stamp on a piece of cardboard in exchange for their attention is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Which is one of the few exhibits Animal Kingdom doesn't have.

Ninth, I am too old to enjoy the ride with the spinning teacups. My only goal was to not puke on my oldest child.

And, finally, there really is nothing like both of your children being awe-struck by fleeting moments, like a picture with a favorite character or a chance to touch Buzz Lightyear. Every day they get a little bit older and little more distant. Such is the nature of life _ but you have to grab the moments where you can, even if they are in a place you don't especially care for.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest." Her columns can be found at

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