The Story of Me and Disneyland

If you know me well, you know there are about four things I am always excited about and eager to talk about: Jesus, Harry Potter, chocolate, and Disneyland.

I never went to Disneyland as a kid. My family went camping, to the beach, and on a few road trips. Those were our family vacations and I loved them. Part of me was curious about Disneyland, but the better part of me knew I was terrified of rides of any kind and would be scared the entire time.

I truly hated rides as a kid. Yes, I was one of those kids at the fair on the teacups yelling "STOP THE RIDE!!!" just ask my sister, who was more of a dare devil. My fear was so strong that when we stepped into the carnival area at the state fair, my heart would start pounding and I'd get a terrible feeling in my stomach. I was even nervous in the car on the way to the state fair. I remember once when I was in about 4th grade my whole family was going to go on the big Ferris wheel. We were in line and I started bawling saying I couldn't do it. The Ferris wheel. I think I watched from the ground.

Senior year of high school, the possibility of Disneyland glimmered in my future. Choir was headed to Anaheim to compete. We did fundraisers to go on this trip. My friends talked up Disneyland like nothing else. I felt excitement building, but a big part of me was secretly nervous- after all, beyond the parades and music and characters and fun, the highlight of Disneyland for my friends was the rides.

The choir, band, and orchestra students piled into charter buses at 9 pm. We were to drive through the night. That drive is a story in itself. My seat buddy and I took shifts of laying down on the seat and curling up in a ball under the seat. Our choir teacher blasted action movies all night long. We ate limitless amounts of cheez-its. It was hilarious and fun and awful all at the same time. I laughed and commiserated with my friends, all the while having a secret lump of fear in my stomach. When this marathon bus ride finally ended, we would be at Disneyland, and there would be rides. I remember a particular moment of terror when the sun was coming up and we could see Six Flags in the distance. We arrived at our hotel in the evening and did not go into the park till the next day. Although I was completely sleep deprived, I remember having a hard time falling asleep, knowing the terror of Disneyland was about to become very real.

The next morning we ate a continental breakfast and headed over to the park. As we walked towards the gates the bouncy, happy music came on. My friends pointed out the peaks of rides over the walls. We got our tickets and were admitted in, then entered Disneyland through the infamous gate.

I was transfixed. The old-time music. The beautiful buildings. Even the smells. Everything so purposeful and cheerful and lovely. It was MAGICAL. I was in heaven. And then my friends began chattering away about which ride we should go on first. Deep breaths, Kelsey, deep breaths. They decided on the Matterhorn.

In line my friends reassured me that this ride was not scary, it was fun. "Just listen to the people laughing and their fun screams. Look at that little kid getting on the ride." Yeah, my dad had tried that with me a long time ago. I had learned that five year-olds were much more adaptable to high speeds, sudden stops, and drops than myself. As we got buckled in to the Matterhorn, my heart was racing. As our bobsled started moving, I urged it to stop. I closed my eyes as it plunged forward into the mountain. I was fascinated with the snowflakes falling as we climbed. I held my breath, waiting for the drop that was sure to come.

Then the drop came. And it was FUN. I was laughing. I couldn't believe it. I was fun-screaming with my friends, not terror-screaming. I yelled and giggled with delight as we passed the yeti with his glowing red eyes and got showered with water as we catapulted downwards. When it was over, I was giddy. I had just enjoyed a ride. It felt like a brand new world had opened up in front of me.

One of my favorite memories from that first day was our trip to Splash Mountain. I spent the ride enchanted by the story, characters and music, but distracted anticipating the infamous fall. When we began to make the long climb my heart pounded. The way the seats are arranged on Splash Mountain at Disneyland you sit in a single-file row. Having no way else to hang on to someone for dear life, I awkwardly gripped the calves of my friend behind me and screamed. And the drop was fun. After that, as we floated through the Zip a Dee Doo Dah boat scene, I was no longer surprised, but confident. I could do this. I was strong, and I was capable. I was ready to take these new scary challenges, and to grow.

The rest of our trip was filled with fun and adventure and a new sense of self. I, Kelsey, enjoyed rides. I was brave. I had fun. I requested to go on rides a second time. In one shocking last feat, I even went on the California Screaming, a roller coaster that goes from 0-60 and has a loop-di-loop. My friend advised me to scream it out, scream out the terror that was sure to envelope me on this ride. (It's funny, much of this ride doesn't make it possible to 'scream it out' because the velocity of the roller coaster causes the scream to actually go back in your stomach, causing your mouth to make a strange gurgling, vomiting sound. That's my theory anyway. Physics). I will admit that throughout this ride, when I was not scream-gurgling, I was cussing, which I do not do often. But when we get off, I was incredibly wind-swept and incredibly proud. I had done the thing I was most afraid of. And while it was terrible, it was also a bit fun.

A whirlwind awaited me back at home. Graduation and a major change I didn't expect. Days were a challenge to get through, a mix of moments of hope and despair. Nights were even harder, as I slept restlessly and had almost feverish dreams. After a few nights I noticed that whenever I was trying to calm myself enough to sleep, my mind always went to the same place: Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain was a place I had been afraid of, a challenge I never thought I would overcome. Splash Mountain was also a place that I had discovered myself to be strong and full of potential. Where I discovered I could laugh in the midst of fear, take a deep breath and plunge into the unknown. This change was much like Splash Mountain. I was scared and didn't know what to expect. From the outside I saw only the infamous, terrorizing fall and had no idea what happened on the way there. But like with Splash Mountain, I knew I could come out of this with a greater sense of self. I would become strong. I would become brave. I would be resilient and grow and change and open up my heart. This challenge was presented in my life for a reason, and it was going to make me a new person.

I returned to Disneyland just one year later, with my dad and sister. I had raved about it all year long and finally made my dad curious enough to take us. It was a blast and a really special time with the two of them that I look back on with happy memories.

I returned again two years later, with my then boyfriend, now husband Daniel's family. They are huge Disney enthusiasts (I fit in well!) so I learned much more about the park and had another wonderful trip.

My most recent trip was about two years later, with my mom and her family. I treasured being there with my mom, taking time to enjoy the little things and sharing the magic together.

In my second, third, and fourth trip, I believe the story comes full circle. Doing these scary things makes me stronger and braver and a new person. Growing leads to new bonds, to resiliency, to taking a risk and loving someone not knowing what will happen, to reconciliation, to becoming more of who I am supposed to be.

Every time I leave Disneyland, the whole time we walk down Main Street USA I look over my shoulder at the glowing castle, wondering when I will be back. My heart is full. Full of sorrow to leave, full of joy to return, full of perspective of how Disneyland has impacted me. Full of the giddiness of a woman who turns back into a child to delight, to embrace openly, to adventure, and to grow.

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