You can walk into any of the parks at Walt Disney World and despise the masquerade of it all. Easily. If you happen to suspend your disbelief and allow the magic to sweep you away, though, something better can happen. Fairytales can come true.
In my life, the fairytale I now dream about is called Normal. What would Catherine be like if she were “normal?” What sorts of things would our family do differently? Imagining that for mere glimpses of time is my fairytale. And most of the time, I just suppress it in the reality that she’s not “normal” and our family isn’t “normal” either, and I just go about my day. At Disney, I got two glimpses of Normal, though, and those glimpses of Normal gave me hope at a time when, frankly, my hope has been diminishing.
Let’s be real. Catherine’s wheelchair gets in the way – a lot. It makes hugs feel mechanical and she can’t participate when Sarah sees Brian and me hugging and comes running screaming, “Family hug!” We pick Sarah up and three of us hug while a part of me feels a ginormous hole – always on the side where Catherine should go. I’m not suggesting Disney gave us a family hug. They did give us all the opportunity to be on the same ride at the same time without a wheelchair when we road Soarin’ at EPCOT, and that was actually a little better for that moment.
I didn’t really know what to expect when we entered the ride. And we took a leap of faith when the cast member told us we’d take Catherine out of her chair and put her in a “theatre seat” on her own. I was a little scared of what would happen on the ride. The last thing I remember before we “took off” was Brian quickly asking a cast member, “How does the ride move?” We learned it only swayed and sighed a sigh of relief.
Then, the lights went down and the screens appeared and we rose such that three levels of seats hung as if we were hang-gliding. While the video played, wind raced across our faces creating the illusion of flying – soarin’ if you will. I looked over at Catherine and saw her smile. She loves the wind. I saw Brian and Sarah too, and I smiled. We were all on a ride doing the same thing and NO WHEELCHAIR!!! Simply miraculous if you ask me.
And then, I smelled evergreen as we “flew” over a California redwood forest. Wow! We all flew through scents and wind and motion that equalized our senses and I felt a little bit Normal. Thanks Disney. Bet you don’t talk about that kind of magic in your ride development meetings.
The second exposure to Normal literally made me cry. We attended a musical performance of The Lion King at Animal Kingdom. Some cast members had told us it was quite honestly the single best show in all of WDW. That’s a pretty impressive accolade, so we decided to give it a try.
I had expected we’d sit in the back because that’s normally where wheelchairs have to go. Instead, they led us to one of the very front rows and we settled into our seats just moments before the show began. The cast member was right – it’s a production spectacle with extraordinary music and costumes. I was immediately glad we had come. I knew Catherine couldn’t see it. She would feel it and hear it though, and I reasoned that was enough.
Then, after acrobatics and music and costumes that dazzled and lived up to the cast member’s high expectations, I saw a guy in costume talking to Brian and leaning over Catherine. I could quickly decipher, despite the high decibels of music, that the guy wanted to take Catherine somewhere. He’d already recruited Sarah, and Brian was hesitating just long enough. Fortunately, Disney dude won and before we knew it both Catherine and Sarah had joined the music parade that processed around the stage in the middle of the auditorium. I wept. What kid doesn’t dream of being picked when Disney asks for volunteers? What Mom doesn’t sit back in joy watching her kids on a major stage. And my kids – despite the wheelchair and blindness and seizures and allergies and inability to walk or barely even move – BOTH of my kids got to go!
Take a look at the video for it speaks way more than my writing ever can. You’ll also see Sarah in a blue shirt and white floral skirt take off right behind Catherine. And in case you can’t see the video (apologies in advance for the poor quality!), I’ll include a photo as well. Not nearly as good though!
I still fill up with tears of happiness and joy when I watch it. Maybe you can understand one teeny tiny glimpse into Normal for us and how magical this truly was. It was in this moment that I learned what it means to suspend disbelief, embrace the masquerade and allow myself to be swept away. And my fairytale came true. Many many many thanks, Disney.