Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

My family lived in Wyoming between my 6th grade year and junior year of high school. Those five years were a learning experience for me in many areas of my life, but one of the surprising areas was in a new perspective on race in America. I was a Midwestern girl who had spent eight of her earliest formative years in Detroit, a city where I was surrounded by race issues related to black/white. One of my best friends was an African American girl who lived next door and my Lutheran elementary school had a healthy racial mix. When we moved to Wyoming I was suddenly surrounded by a sea of white. There are exceptions, which was true in our town, but for the most part the Wyoming population is very white. That is until one visits the reservation, or the "rez." While exposure to other races had never been lacking in my upbringing, exposure to real, live Indians was a new experience for me. And as I get older and learn more, the minimal exposure to Native Americans that I experienced during that five year period begins to make more sense. It also makes me more passionate about what I believe is the most disenfranchised racial group in the United States, a passion I even carry into my teaching of American Literature.

Sherman Alexie's young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was a delightful addition to my summer reading. It is a book that has faced censorship nationwide, but the English teacher in me cannot resist a little controversy in my summer reading selections. The book is funny, heartbreaking, and eye opening, and while I can definitely see why some parents might object to the content in the book, I believe that it is a story worth reading. It is honest. And it is important.

The novel follows Junior (Arnold) as he makes the controversial decision to leave the "rez" and attend a small, all-white school in the neighboring town. Near the beginning of his freshman year, Junior's teacher convinces him that he needs to get off the reservation to save himself. Junior knows his teacher is right but it is a scary move. To leave the reservation and attend a "white" school is to renounce his tribe. He knows that if he leaves he will be seen as a traitor. He also knows that he will be an outsider at his new school, surrounded by racists and individuals with preconceived notions about Native Americans. But he knows that the only way to escape a future of poverty and alcoholism is for him to attend school off of the reservation. In the process he loses his best friend and he and his family are persecuted by their family, friends, and neighbors. However, he discovers new opportunities that he would have never had if he had stayed on the reservation.

It is the story of a teenage boy caught between two worlds. Many teenagers are caught between two worlds and it is for that reason that this novel speaks to teenagers. Much of what Junior experiences in the novel mirrors their own high school experiences. But it also the story of a Native American teenager caught between two very different worlds. Alexie, a Spokane Indian himself, captures the uniqueness that is 21st century Native American adolescence. He humorously critiques both the white world and the Native American Indian world, both of which appear to perpetuate a broken system that keeps Native Americans poor and outside of the American Dream. He shines a light on the problems that plague modern Native Americans, primarily alcoholism, substance abuse, and poor education, which turn the revolving door of poverty. He shatters many of the assumptions that people outside of the reservations have concerning Native Americans.

Near the end of the novel Junior realizes that in order for him to be ok, he needs to leave. "I wept and wept and wept because I knew that I was never going to drink and because I was never going to kill myself and because I was going to have a better life out in the white world. I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream. I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms...It was a huge realization. And that's when I knew that I was going to be okay. But it also reminded me of the people who were not going to be ok." Alexie's character does what he also did; he leaves. That is the only thing that will save Junior. The reservation killed his parents' dreams. It will kill his best friend's dreams. But he will not let it kill his dreams.

There is so much discussion in this country about people of various races and their difficulties, past and present. We debate immigration, we discuss inequity in the legal system, we argue about welfare reform and who it will hurt most, we criticize the education system and the apparent racism in the SAT. But we forget about the first Americans. We preach about the horrors of slavery (and yes, it was horrible) but we ignore the 19th century genocide  of tribe after tribe of Native Americans (and according to the definition of "genocide" from 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, it was genocide). Native Americans are an important part of United States history. In a recent interview, Sherman Alexie said "I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian." I believe that is what struck me most about the novel. That is also what was so heartbreaking about the novel. We don't concern ourselves with learning about Native American history, believing that they are all the same and putting them into a singular group. We don't concern ourselves with their history and significant tribal differences. We allow most of what we know about them as a people to come from the media. We say "Let them have their casinos and as long as they don't come off the reservation, we don't have to own up to the fact that we forget they even exist." I am not immune to this attitude and belief. I was entering adolescence before I saw my first "real, live Indian," but I don't want it to be that way for my children. I don't want them to see Native Americans as a relic of the past but as a vibrant part of our current American culture.

Native Americans are suddenly in the media spotlight because of a sports controversy. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole current Redskins controversy, but I personally do not believe that this is the most important issue facing Native Americans in 21st century America. I personally feel that the entire Native American community would be much better served if the rest of this country tried to figure out how to enfranchise them into mainstream American society without forcing them to give up their culture and identity. That is something we haven't figured out how to do in 400 years. One of the critiques of the novel is that it is anti-Christian. As a Christian woman, the "slams" against Christianity made me squirm. But as a historian I completely understand where those slams came from. I am much more uncomfortable with the history of "conversion" of Native American Indians than I am with Alexie's novelized critique of Christianity and organized religion. The 19th and early 20th century approach of "Kill the Indian to save the soul" has done much more harm than good with lasting damage reaching into the 21st century. There is no easy answer to how to help the original Americans, but I believe it is time that the rest of us stop ignoring that it is a problem. A book like True Diary is important reading for young adults and adults. It gives a glimpse into a world that most of us will never personally encounter while being entertaining at the same time. Books can open worlds and minds, so why not start with this one?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brave New World of Memories

Picture of me in Florence, Italy - September 1999 - I was a pretty cute 20 year old.
I spent the fall semester of 1999 studying in London. That semester included a trip to the continent (France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany), a long weekend trip to Scotland, a week long trip to Ireland, and trips all over London. I took many rolls of film with me, tried to heed the warnings about what x-ray machines would do to my film when going through customs, and when I finally returned to the States I eagerly waited with bated breath for the store to finish developing over 300 (that's right, THREE HUNDRED) pictures.

By contrast I took nearly 400 pictures on digital devices during a single week long family vacation to Florida.

I love taking pictures. I love looking at pictures. Photographs are a time capsule; they capture a moment, an emotion, a memory. And they help us share those moments, emotions, and memories with those who cannot be there in person.

I was so excited when I got my first camera. It was a new kind of independence. Suddenly I was in charge of my own memories. I wasn't dependent on my mom and dad to take all of my pictures. With my little 110 mm camera I was able to take pictures of anything I wanted: vacations, youth group trips, randomness. While I would still occasionally try to get doubles of pictures my parents developed (remember getting doubles???) most of the time I would use my saved allowance so that I could pay for photo developing of my very own pictures. It was exciting to open up that envelope of freshly developed pictures to see how my photography had turned out.

I took this picture at Niagara Falls shortly after I got the camera.

Then I moved to the 35 mm camera and a whole new world was opened to me: better pictures and now I had a choice between 3.5 inch prints or 4.5 inch prints. I was traveling more, spending more time away from family, and I had a better camera with which to capture those moments. In the months leading up to the above mentioned semester in London I lamented the fact that I had a poor camera with which to take pictures of exciting new places. My parents bought themselves a new camera with a significant zoom lens and they let me take it to Europe. Problem solved. I came home with mostly fantastic shots of my adventure. Then my fiance (now husband) bought me a new camera to take with us to Colorado to visit his sister. More great pictures taken with a new and even better camera than I had before.

A couple years later, as we packed for our trip out to Yellowstone, my husband's parents loaned us their 3 megapixel camera. I was anti-digital. Why would I want to give up my film camera for a digital camera? How would I print pictures? Where would I store the pictures? Would they even be as good as the pictures that I took with my fairly decent film camera? During that trip we took pictures with both cameras. Both sets of pictures turned out great and I did, in fact, print out the digital photos. We have all those photos stored in a photo album somewhere on a shelf.

Nearly ten years later we live in a digital world with multiple digital devices that we use to document nearly every moment of our family's life. Like many American families we each have phones with cameras built in and we have a separate digital camera. We actually have two digital cameras, but I don't know when we last used the other one. We take pictures and videos all the time. If the kids are doing something funny and my husband isn't around, I take pictures and send them to him. Sometimes I just post them straight to Facebook. And I am no longer printing out those photos and putting them into photo albums. In fact, the last couple of years I have felt like a terrible parent as I have seen the other family displays that other kids have at daycare (each of the rooms have a collage of pictures for the kids to look at during the day so they can see their families) and felt like a terrible mother. Since I never print out the hundreds upon hundreds of pictures that we take all year round, my kids have not had the best family collages. Maybe that is another summer project I need to add to the list.

I started thinking about this yesterday as I sat down to work on photo books for the kids and for us. Photo printing may be a rarity, but I do keep our photos printed in the form of digitally produced photo books. I am not a scrapbooker, but I do try to keep up with the photo books, if only to make sure that we have hard copies of them somewhere in the house. However, I am seriously behind. As of this writing I have the last year of photos to catch up on for the whole family and the last seven months of photos to catch up on for both kids. And that is after spending the last three days trying to get caught up and completing three photo books that now need to be ordered. As I slaved away on my computer selecting photos and "dragging" them to their newly assigned place in a yet to be printed book, I started thinking about the loss of photographs as a hard record of events. I love looking at old photos, not just my old photos but photographs of my parents and grandparents. The loss of photographs is like the loss of letter writing, another former tool of record keeping that has gone the way of email and social media. While I love my now thousands of digital photos, all proudly displayed on my Facebook page, there is something significant about the tangible. About being able to hold a picture or letter and know that it is not a virus or finger swipe away from deletion.

I think about my many teenage students. They have grown up in a digital world. All of their memories are stored on hard drives or in cyberspace. They lose their phone or camera or something gets hit with a virus and every photo, every captured memory, could be erased. Some print out the pictures, but just like when I was a high school and college student, printing costs money. And unlike my high school experience, they can still see their pictures and share them with each other without thinking about potential dangers to their digital world.

Don't get me wrong. Digital photography is a fantastic advancement. It has made capturing the moment so much easier. But in the last couple days I have been reminded of the importance of the tangible, of keeping a hard copy of those memories at hand. I don't know if I could ever go back and I have no desire to do so, but that doesn't mean I have to stop filling up photo albums to share with future generations. So I guess I have work to do this summer...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review - A Long Way Gone

Several years ago we saw Ishmael Beah give an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As frequently happens when we see Jon Stewart give an interview with the author of a newly released book, our interest was piqued. And again, as frequently happens when a book piques our interest, my husband read the book and I didn't. When I made my goals for 2014 I publicly promised myself I would read more for fun, or at least for personal gain, in an attempt to get away from my terrible habit of just reading for professional and academic purposes. And while A Long Way Gone is a title on my extensive AP reading list, it is also a book that I wanted to read. So when my reading for the 2013-2014 school year was complete, I finally picked it off of the shelf and began reading.

Beah's book recounts his experiences growing up during the war in Sierra Leone, including the couple of years that he served in the government army as a child soldier. His heartbreaking account of separation from his friends, family, and childhood opened my eyes to events that were happening on the other side of the world while I was navigating new hallways my freshman year of high school. He opens with a simple yet telling sentence: "My high school friends have begun to suspect that I haven't told them the fully story of my life." He goes on to show the disconnect between us Americans and those who have lived through and participated in their country's wars. His friends ask "You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?" When he responds "Yes, all the time," they respond with "Cool."

His experience was far from cool.

By the end of the first chapter, the war has changed Beah's life forever. He has been separated from his parents and is running from rebels with only the clothes on his back and tape cassettes of popular 90s rap artists. His love for Naughty by Nature, LL Cool J, and Run-DMC initially saves his life on a couple occasions, as he and his friends are able to prove to frightened villagers that they encounter that they are not a part of the rebel army. He travels up the western coast of Sierra Leone with his small group of friends, which for awhile includes his brother, and they manage to escape the rebel army for quite awhile. But then they are found by the government army. While their physical lives might be temporarily saved, their emotional and psychological lives are destroyed. Soldiers feed them a steady stream of cocaine, marijuana, and "brown brown," a mix of powdered cocaine and gunpowder. They show them violent movies (including a lot of Rambo) and convince them that every act of violence is justifiable revenge for what has happened to their families. Beah goes down a dark path from which he sees no escape. Even I, as a reader, was unsure of his escape, although I knew he had to escape because he survived to write a book about it.

When he is fifteen, UNICEF workers show up in the middle of the fighting to take a group of boy soldiers with them. Beah never reveals what made his commanders hand over the brainwashed boys, but he was one of those selected for rehabilitation. For the next several months, UNICEF workers, and those from related organizations, patiently work with boys from both the government and rebel armies as they slowly withdraw from the drugs and violence to which they have become accustomed. The boys are physically and emotionally abusive to workers who consistently respond to their behavior with "It's not your fault." I have worked with teenagers for my entire career. I love them and have no desire to give it up. But I do not know how these men and women continued to show physical and emotional support for boys who abused them back at every turn. Their love and determination was almost as inspirational as Beah's survival. But freedom from the fighting is nearly impossible, and by the end of the book I was shocked that he made it out of his country alive. Now an American immigrant, his story of survival is both heartbreaking, shocking, and full of hope for those children who are still stuck in war torn areas around the globe.

It is strange to read books written by someone your own age as they recount events that happened to them in a completely different area of the world. I was a typical American teenager, more concerned with boys and school than I was in the suffering of fellow teenagers around the globe. Sierra Leone was far off my radar and probably still would have been had I not read Beah's book. The book made me angry. Angry at rebels who felt that the best way to achieve their goals was to kill anyone and everyone who might stand in their way. Angry at a government army that felt that the best way to achieve its goals was to kill anyone and everyone who might stand in its way. Angry at a government that allowed the murder of everyone and anyone who might stand in its way. And angry at a world that just stood by and let it happen. But that I know that isn't fair. Sin has caused wars for thousands of years. I don't understand what could possess people to act as they did in Sierra Leone and as they are currently acting in every war torn country around the world at this very moment. To read this book as fighting continues to break out across the Middle East opened my adult eyes to the world that my children are growing up in, but it also brought home the fact that these "new" conflicts are not new. In our sinful world there will always be fighting, and while I have no idea how to protect children around the world from facing the same fate as Ishmael Beah, my hope and prayer is that stories like his will not just raise awareness but change that will at the very least prevent more children from facing the same fate.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Most Magical Place On Earth

My first trip to a Disney park was before I was even born. My parents lived in southern California at the time, and while they only lived there a short time, they took advantage of the experience. They took me, in utero, to Disneyland. When I was six months old my parents took me back to Disneyland with my paternal grandparents and my two youngest aunts. I've been told I rode "it's a small world" with my grandparents over and over again to great delight. I do not remember the experience, but it's nice to know that I had the experience as an infant.

When I was nine, I traveled back to California with my parents and two younger sisters. We stayed with friends of  my parents and got to experience a lot of southern California, including Disneyland. I loved Disneyland. We did everything we could at the park. I wasn't brave enough to try "Space Mountain" and I freaked out when my mom tried to take us on the Snow White ride (even at nine I was still reeling from the psychological damage inflicted by being taken to see Snow White when I wasn't quite three) but I remember loving the "Mad Tea Party," being awed by the Michael Jackson 3-D spectacular "Captain EO," tolerating "it's a small world," getting jealous of my little sister who got to be a part of the parade and came home with her very own pair of Minnie Mouse ears, and somewhere in a box I still have the diary that I bought as a souvenir. But I also remember it as a great trip with my family.

When I was a sophomore in college our choir went on tour through the southeast, ending in Florida. The tour included one day off during which we got to pick a single Disney park. Having already been to Disneyland ten years before, I chose to go to MGM (now Hollywood Studios) and loved it. It was a great time with friends and I really didn't think that I missed out on much. After all, I got to participate in movie magic. I didn't need fantasy magic, did I?

Six years ago, when we were in the midst of infertility heartbreak, we vacationed in Orlando with my in-laws and I got to go to Magic Kingdom for the first time ever. It was during that trip that I became convinced that Walt Disney really did create the most magical place on Earth. I loved Magic Kingdom and looked forward to a day when I could take my children there, that is, if God ever blessed us with children. But I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom as an adult does. We rode the rides intended for adults (and some for children) and didn't pay much attention to the parades, shows, and character hot spots. It made for a simple one day trip and I had yet to understand the complex undertaking that it is to take children through Disney World.

Three years ago I was seven months pregnant, uncomfortable, a full-time grad student, a teaching assistant, and we were flat broke. When my husband came home to tell me that he had to attend a conference in Orlando, the place we had been intending on going for vacation seven months before when we didn't know I would be pregnant, I was somewhat crushed. I knew that we couldn't afford to fly me down and I had both classes to attend and classes to teach that week. But our almost two-year-old daughter could go with him and stay with my vacationing in-laws, and she could do it for free. It was a great opportunity for her, but it meant me missing her first trip to Disney. Daddy got to make her toddler dreams come true. I didn't. She doesn't remember the trip, but it doesn't change the fact that I missed it.

But this time I wasn't missing it. This year's spring break vacation to Orlando meant that I got to go with both of our kiddos to the Magic Kingdom, and since our daughter didn't remember her first trip, we treated it like it was the first time for both of them, starting at the ticket booth when we got their 1st Visit pins. In preparation for our visit to Disney, we went out the night before to Walmart to get both kids their own autograph books for any autographs that they might get while at the Magic Kingdom. That trip itself was an adventure with a very tired little boy throwing a tantrum in the store because we wouldn't get him the popsicles that he wanted. For the record, our son is usually sweet and relatively well behaved, but his tantrums are epic, eardrum shattering, events. We were more than happy to bring him back to the condo and put him in bed so that he could be well rested for our very full Disney day. He was asleep in minutes, but the fact that he was so tired before crashing into bed the night before a full day at the Magic Kingdom made me more than a little nervous.

We didn't quite get on the road at 8:30 like I had originally intended. My husband, still recovering from two days nearly completely out of commission (and we now know that he probably had strep), was not going that quickly and even though they were very excited, our children were also moving slowly out of the door. Thankfully, my in-laws came with us so they helped me by getting sunscreen on the kids (another potential battle), we packed up snacks, filled the Camel Paks, double checked to make sure we had everything we could possibly need, and packed up four adults and two kids into the car and towards Disney World. We were still early in the day, got into the closer lots, and took the tram from the ticket booths to the front gate. Just as we did at Legoland, we rented a double-stroller (OUCH$$$) and headed towards Main Street. Our first stop was just as we entered Main Street. A musical number was starting and the kids were mesmerized.

As we were leaving the performance L immediately asked for her autograph book. She wanted to record what she had seen and she especially mesmerized by the girl in the purple dress (her favorite color). She started drawing this:

Next we headed towards Adventureland but were stopped when we realized that "Dream Along With Mickey" was starting right in front of the castle. We stopped everything and got the kids close enough so they could both see. With the appearance of Minnie and the princesses Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora, L was all set to get back to her drawing as she recorded everything she was seeing. She did inform my husband, however, that she had no interest in drawing Maleficent, the primary villain who showed up in the show. Below are pictures of both the show and her drawings:

Next was Adventureland. We rode on Grandpa's favorite ride, "Jungle Cruise," quickly got through the line for "The Magic Carpets of Aladdin" (E was a little upset that we got a purple magic carpet instead of a blue one, but he quickly got over it), and then headed towards "Pirates of the Caribbean." During a pre-ride pit stop, E caught sight of the pirate swords in the store and suddenly I didn't think we would get out of the store without buying one. I finally convinced him that we had to do the ride first and we were headed towards another fast moving line. I was beginning to feel invincible. We had waits, but they weren't that long and Disney lines are constantly moving, so even if it takes awhile I at least felt like we were getting somewhere. The kids were fascinated by everything that they saw along the way, but then we got to the ride. Having only gone on the ride once before, I forgot about the potential scary parts. You know, like the fact that it gets pitch dark and then drops a little before getting to the actual ride portion where you see the story of the pirates? Yeah, the kiddos got a little scared.

But our son was still mesmerized and spent forever at the gift shop searching for the perfect sword. He finally found it and it spent most of the day in his hands, usually out of the scabbard, and it was frequently used as either a comfort object for him or a tool of leverage for Mom and Dad.

From there we hit the "Swiss Family Treehouse" (so I guess now the kids have to see the movie) and then into Frontierland where we hit "Country Bear Jamboree" while deciding what to do for food. The kids LOVED the show (what kid doesn't love watching animatronic bears singing country songs) and by the time we headed out of the adjoining restaurant the "Festival of Fantasy" parade was about to begin. This time L got to see all of her favorite characters, including Anna and Elsa. This was important! We were not going to pay to go to Epcot just so that she could meet them in person (because like every little girl in the country she is obsessed with Frozen) so she at least got to see them. She waved to everyone, got to actually shake hands with Tiana, and when the parade was over and she could get out of the hot, blinding sun, she sat down to draw this:

With the exception of not meeting Aladdin and Jasmine, who were not in the parade, her day was now complete, and it wasn't even 3:30 yet. Since we were in close proximity, we headed to the "Haunted Mansion" next, which we think is hilarious but apparently our kids did not agree. Well, E really liked it until he discovered that his sister did NOT enjoy it and then he changed his mind. To get them excited again we headed straight for "it's a small world" and the parents survived the experience, especially since it brought back the smiles.

Then it was time to meet Aladdin and Jasmine. This was no small thing. When L first went to the Magic Kingdom three years ago she was obsessed the Beauty and the Beast, and primarily with Beast. Shortly after her return she became obsessed with Aladdin. The characters became her imaginary friends, her best friends. And while she has moved on to new things (Frozen being primary among those things) she still has a special place in her heart for Aladdin. When we got to the line we discovered that we had missed that timed meeting so we had to wait for the next meeting. She was devastated, but we promised we wouldn't leave until she got to meet them. So we waited another 30 minutes, got into line, and then discovered that Jasmine was off finding Rajah. Thankfully L still loves Aladdin, so she was fine with just meeting him. Then it was off to meet Merida, who WAS one of her favorite princesses until the introduction of Anna and Elsa. It turned out to be the last of her signatures, but it was still a fantastic experience for both kids. Merida took time to talk to both of them, L got to show her the pictures she had colored while waiting, and then they both got to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. Merida was also gracious enough to listen to L talk about the awesomeness of Anna and Elsa. I'm sure the poor girl hears about them every day, but she was fantastic about it.

From there we wandered into Tomorrowland and enjoyed a short wait to get into the "Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor." It's fun for the kids and parents and is different every time. Then the "Tomorrowland Speedway," where we paired off to drive. My husband got to drive with L and I got to drive with E. It took one ride around the loop to convince me that I am not the one to teach our children how to drive. I got a glimpse into my future if I do: yelling, stomping on an imaginary break, steering wheel grabbing, and just general conflict from the time my kids start the ignition. My poor son was desperate to just drive while I couldn't relinquish control. L had a lot more fun with her more patient father. An ice cream stop and we left Tomorrowland heading back to Fantasyland.

As the sun started to set we stopped at "Dumbo the Flying Elephant," continuing the trend of no lines. At a busier time we might have been able to stop to enjoy the indoor play yard for kids who are waiting in line, but we didn't have lines so the kids and I rode on Dumbo together (my husband hates any kind of circular motion and was happy taking pictures from below). Then we quickly got through the line to "Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid," a fantastic ride that took us through the entire Disney story of The Little Mermaid. Normally it is a long wait. I think it took us longer to walk from the entrance to the ride than it did for us to do the ride, and we didn't have to wait once we got to the end of the line. From there we finally found a real line - "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." Not only was the ride itself fun, but the many activities as we waited in line were also a lot of fun for both kids. We almost didn't get them on the ride because they were so distracted by the fun they were having waiting in line. As we were leaving the ride L exclaimed, "I want to come here every day." Yeah, that's not happening, but it was good to know that she was thoroughly enjoying herself. Our ride adventures for the day ended as we rounded a corner and a collection of colorful teacups caught my daughter's eye.

"What are those?" She was instantly mesmerized by the oversized pieces of china.

"They're the teacups. Do you want to ride on them?"


So once again I rode a ride with circles by myself with both kids. I was honestly thrilled. "Mad Hatter Tea" was one of my favorite rides when I went to Disneyland as a nine-year-old. Here I was, 25 years later, enjoying the ride with my own kids with my husband sitting on the sidelines avoiding the centrifugal motion.

We gradually worked two very tired kiddos towards the park entrance, getting stopped by the "Main Street Electrical Parade" and then finding a place to stop and watch "Celebrate the Magic." It's an impressive show with clips from many Disney movies, past and present, telling the story of everything Disney. E didn't make it through the show, quickly falling asleep once we stopped in one place. L, however, was mesmerized, as was I. The most entertaining moment for me was the collective gasp from every little girl in the park when Elsa, from Frozen, was projected on Cinderella's Castle singing "Let It Go." By the time we finally worked our way through the crowds, dropped off the stroller, and met up with my in-laws, we were all exhausted. Exhausted but happy, and I was without regrets.

Say what you will about all things Disney, but it truly is a magical place for kids and adults, and seeing my kids experience it for the first time was awesome. We will go back and we will spend more time there the next time, but we were glad to have that first experience as a family. It was a highlight of our spring break trip and one our kids still talk about. Now we just have to start saving for a full Disney vacation.