I’ve come to realise that positive posts are far harder that miserable/snarky ones. It’s far easier to write about anxieties and mishaps than it is about laughter and happiness, because writing about good things that have happened makes me sound overly-mawkish or like a bragging dick.
Which is why it’s taken more than a week to sit down and write about our trip to Disneyland Paris. To write about five days of such loveliness that on the last day I sat in Fantasyland unable to stop crying because I didn’t want it to end.
(I’m surprised there isn’t a cast member appointed to chaperone weeping visitors into an inconspicuous location, the same as they have vomit-sweepers to deal with roller coaster-related fallout. Surely it’s unacceptable to have middle-aged women crying in The Happiest Place on Earth?)
The reason for the tears: Disney thinks of everything (management of weeping mums aside). I’d been dreading the holiday – noise, people, music, changes to routine and different food options all being triggers of SP’s meltdowns. We’re a family of Disneyphiles, but taking SP suddenly seemed like a massive mistake. But for five days we felt like a normal family, thanks to Disney’s acceptance of those with mental and cognitive disabilities.
Me: You know the thing that SP has that means he can be really awkward and selfish and really hard work?
Me: Well, it also means we’ll get to jump the queues at Disney.
Amy [eyes opening wider than I’ve ever seen them]: Really?…[running up to SP and giving him the biggest hug ever] Thank you!!!
Unfortunately, I’d done a better job of reading than I had of organising and with SP’s formal diagnosis only being a couple of weeks prior to our trip and amongst SP being ill, having an exam at work on top of normal work, the car failing its MOT and the GP surgery being a drive away and the Easter holidays meaning everything was shut, I didn’t get around to organising the certificate.
So instead I winged it. I’d received one report from SP’s assessment feedback meeting. Typically, it was the one report that didn’t explicitly say SP had autism. But it had an NHS letterhead and posts on various message boards had said that they don’t tend to really look at the paperwork.
I stood at the City Hall desk, as the cast member flicked back and forwards through the report. ‘It’s quite long. Do you have anything else?’ Luckily I did – I whipped out SP’s last nursery school IEP. Highlighted yellow and in bold letters it stated that SP had cognitive functioning difficulties and behavioural issues. The card was issued! The trip suddenly became a lot easier!
Day one though and we felt very British about our privilege. ‘We’ll only use it on rides where he wouldn’t cope with the queue.’ So we waited normally for the Mad Hatter’s Teacups and Le Pays de Contes des Fées ride. Although SP was happy on the rides we worked out that 15 minutes waiting was about his limit. It was a lesson we could have done without learning in what turned out to be an hour long wait for the Disneyland Railroad. The card got used a lot more after that. On the last day we blitzed through our favourite rides in The Studios in an hour, including a go on Ratatouille whose normal queue stood at more than 2 hours by 10.15am.
And using it came with no judgement. A look at the card by the cast member, a special hello for SP and we were on the ride as soon as possible. With two adults this meant within minutes, when it was just SP and I (because unless you’re autistic It’s A Small World can drive you a little crazy, but with autism you can’t ride it enough!) then we’d have to wait for a slot. But it gave an insight into how effortlessly they dealt with a whole remit of disabilities – why can’t it be as easy in real life?
The card also came in unexpectedly handy for Disney Dreams. SP was only allowed one companion for parades and the fireworks, so we initially decided we wouldn’t use the card and we got a good spot anyway. As long as he was being carried he was fine with the crowd and focused his interest in some other kids playing with their iPad. But then I became acutely aware that there was a child behind us who couldn’t see. So I took SP out to the disabled section and the other child got a decent view.
Initially happy but tense, SP increasingly relaxed over the five days we were there. As he got to discover his favourite rides he made requests, which we peppered with Amy’s requests with ‘first’ this ‘then’ that. ‘Okay,’ became his standard, happy reply. He smiled more and I realised that the deep joy of SP’s smiles are that they reflect that he is genuinely enjoying the moment. SP doesn’t do fake smiles.
When he became overwhelmed at any time and needed a break we headed back to the hotel. That we could blitz around our favourite rides without the wait times meant that we didn’t feel that we were missing out.
For a child normally keen to remain glued to the sofa, permanently attached to technology, existing on a diet of crisps and chocolate buttons, we discovered a little boy happy to be outside, who barely requested his iPad (although he still existed on crisps and chocolate buttons, which I’d bought over in bulk to ration throughout our days away). We got noticed but not in the way I feared. ‘I saw you the other day,’ said a man operating It’s a Small World, ‘on the Teacups and then in the maze.’ Of the thousands of visitors to the park and he’d remembered us…and not because there was a ruckus!
And it wasn’t the only time.
‘I know you, you’ve ridden already today,’ said Elsa, again on It’s a Small World.
‘Yep. It’s our twelfth go,’ I replied.
‘Twelve?! Doesn’t that make you go a little crazy?’
‘Yep. But it’s his favourite.’
‘Well, in that case…’ and we were swiftly chaperoned to the front of the next boat for the best view.
Five days and only two meltdowns (once because I wanted to get a photo of Amy when SP wasn’t keen on me putting him down and once on the last day because we couldn’t go back to the hotel). Well, two meltdowns and my own emotional breakdown at the loveliness of it all.
Reality has felt more grey than ever by comparison. SP has fallen back into his usual preferences. But if you do want to elicite giggles you just have to is offer a whizz around ‘like the spinny cars at Disney.’
It’s Disneyland’s policy to ensure that their guests enjoy every magical moment of their stay. They definitely achieved this for us and helped us make some family memories that will be forever precious. I wish I’d noted down each and every cast member who helped us achieve this, but there were so many. Maybe next time I’ll collect photos to be able to thank them all properly. Because there has to be a next time when the House of Mouse does its thing so well.