Disney. Is there a word more divisive in all of parenthood?
When you are raising your children five hours north of Walt Disney World, you quickly learn that you cannot be an isolationist.
“Have you been yet?”
“Are you all planning a trip?”
And, my personal favorite: “You’ll love Disney!”
But, let’s be honest, it isn’t just about the annual pilgrimage to Neverland – we’re talking the entire culture that Walt Disney may or may not have known he was building. If you are not yet a parent, it’s that feeling you get when you walk into Walmart only to be entirely consumed by a Frozen display…only there is a little one at your side who cannot take their eyes off of the glitter.
It is all too easy to hand over the reigns to the conglomeration – to buy the products; to sing the songs; to encourage children to dance to the beat of their favorite characters.
Except, of course, if you belong to the 1% who remain in the shadows. And, here, this is where you will find our family.
Long before my husband and I had children, we did our research. Screen time, the evidence suggested, would not benefit a developing mind and could actually pose harm.
How does this relate to the Disney debate? It further supported our decision to abstain from the highly commercialized princess and superhero narratives. Additionally, it afforded us the freedom to let our children be little: they get to pursue their own interests.
You can imagine my raw emotions when, earlier this week, I walked into our gym’s childcare area to find a small chair – mere feet from a flat screen – holding my son. In the span of 60 minutes, three concerted, movie-free years were undone.
I tried to tell myself to get over it. I tried to look away from the screen. But, worst of all, the Disney choice had been Mulan. And the images that had so enraptured my son? A battle.
I wish the hours that followed had delivered on Disney’s promise of eternal magic.
There was attitude. There was violence towards Little Sister. And I saw a cloak of darkness come over my son. Was it the screen time, the movie, or a combination of both?
Two days later, the experiment was repeated. This time: Finding Nemo. Same gym. Same length of time. After yoga ended, my crestfallen heart spotted a single chair with my favorite blonde boy. Think positive thoughts.
Ten minutes later, my two-ager reprised his role as the ultimate mommy nemesis and was promptly sent to his room.
In our glimpse into the other side of Disney movies this week, I can tell you that distracting your child is a guarantee…as is the work that follows. A heart-to-heart after Nemo with my son aided us in moving forward: But, Momma, I wanted to keep watching. You took me away from it.
Disney is tricky. I would compare it to taking your entire paycheck to Whole Foods and trusting a cashier to work toward meeting your long-term health goals with the items they choose. They’re not technically paid to do that, and, if you aren’t careful, your family can become a pawn in a much greater game with very little accountability.
For now, we will try to request small changes in the towering culture in which we live while encouraging our children to embrace the beautiful stories only their growing minds can create. And, yes, we will allow for an occasional episode of Curious George.
When the road does one day lead us to Disney, our greatest hope is that our children will see that magic – the kind of which dreams are made – can never be sold or purchased. That it waits for us in dull and often boring shadows where not even the glow of Walmart can reach.