Monday, April 5, 2010

Happiness fantasies for my child vs. happiness realities

I've been thinking a lot about our Disney trip, both because we had such a fantastic time but also because it's clear I keep sabotaging my emotions by building up too-high expectations about Max and how he'll enjoy himself. I wanted him to have that complete Disney experience since that's what I thought would make him happy. And I want to make this child deliriously happy, because deep down I feel he deserves it for all the challenges he's been handed in life. I also think it's his right to delight in Disney the way other, typical kids do.

These are the feelings I packed with me for our trip to Disney World.

I've written before about learning to appreciate the small stuff in life, inspired in no small part by Gretchen Rubin's blog and book of the same name, The Happiness Project. Generally, I do appreciate the small stuff. But when it comes to big events and big trips—let alone Disney World, the mother of all kiddie trips—my hopes and expectations soar, despite myself.

On Sunday, I was looking through vacation photos yet again. And I discovered something I hadn't seen before: all the little things that made Max (and Sabrina!) happy.

Like staring out at the sea

Coloring in the cabin

Getting a wagon ride from Dave

Dumping sand out of a bucket

Eating an ice-cream cone

Riding the monorail

Stroller silliness

A new purple bowl. A staffer at the hotel had been putting out bowls for an activity; Max grabbed this one and wouldn't let go, so she gave it to him. Max carried that purple bowl all over the place; he even got Goofy to pretend-eat out of one.

Enjoying the airport train

I realize, in the end, these seemingly minor moments of joy were just as blissful for Max as the major thrills I'd hoped he'd experience from the rides. It was a magical experience for him. Max's own kind of magic. A low-key, purple kind of magic.

Excuse me while I go adjust my reality meter once again.


  1. I'm reading that book right now! How cool.

    Yes to this post. I've had to let go of my expectations in a lot of ways while being Charlie's mom.

  2. My son LOVES his Thomas the Train books, so we thought it'd be a great idea to take him on a train ride. Well, he stared at the ceiling fans in the train car for the full 1.5 hour ride! At first I may have been a little disappointed, but I quickly realized that he *really* loved the ride (normally he breaks down fast due to his sensory integration issues/seizures)! So, we got him a ceiling fan for his own room--one of the best "toys" ever. :)

  3. You really know what's going on , Ellen. I can tell.

    Beautiful post.

  4. Lovely -- the realization and your graceful acceptance of it.

  5. Barbara from BostonApril 5, 2010 at 1:06 AM

    It appears that, once again the right kids were paired with the right parents. You are a great mom Ellen. You are letting your kids just be themselves, a noble accom- plishment

  6. I peek in on The Happiness Project every once in a while and wish those little things would make me happy - Reading your blog makes me happy -Ellen, you are incredible at capturing the moments and writing them down with emotion and thought and grace - It's a difficult time with Nathan right now so I read your blog and tear up (the good tears) Hope to see you soon

  7. I've two kids with special needs, and when I used to organise lots of outings and activities for them, I wanted so badly for them to enjoy it that I would get very down if it didn't work - especially as there was probably a lot of extra effort involved! Now I've accepted that they get as much pleasure from a parcel of new games from Amazon (my son with AS) or a trip to the supermarket (my daughter with CP). As you say, it's often the little things that work best.

  8. It's hard for us not to get over excited about the big things and sometimes the big trips/outings are just too big and overwhelm the children, but that didn't happen with your Disney trip which is great:) I like the phrase 'purple happiness', I think that is going to stick in my head:) Jen.

  9. I love it; I always try to remind myself that it's the *little* things that matter, but that doesn't always mean I don't end up disappointed when the big things don't work out.

    Great pics, such cute kids!

  10. What a great reminder! I think we have to constantly be reminded to adjust our expectations for a variety of issues with our babes. I always wanted to be able to take Faith to the beach and spend the entire day. But reality is she is good after about an hour, in the evening when the sun is going down. But she savors that hour and has so much fun....

  11. Beautiful post, Ellen.

    We do the same thing around holidays in this house. Every year I remember how excited and happy I was on the days leading up to Christmas and on that wonderful Christmas morning, and I wish that Connor would have the same feelings. But Connor is scared of Santa Claus and mostly enjoys Christmas because the wrapping paper makes crinkly sounds and he gets to stare at the Christmas tree.

    You know what, though? My child also squeals with laughter whenever he sees laundry folding, light fixtures, our cats, or his teacher at school-- all of which are way, way more common than that once a year build up. I'm glad he gets to experience joy so often, even (or perhaps especially) if it's in things that don't commonly cause that emotion. He certainly makes me look at things in a whole new way.

    By the way, that picture of Max and Sabrina in the wagon is absolutely adorable! Sort of off topic, but I just had to say it. What a pair of cuties!


  12. what beautiful moments in life shared here,
    Happy Monday!

  13. What a wonderful thing to be able to go back to those photos and really realize the wonderful time they had. And how wonderful that you were able to provide him with the ultimate kids dream vacation to Disney! My daughter STILL talks about Disneyland and she was only 3when we took her, we never thought she'd remember.

  14. Yep, the goal should be "fun." If you can meet that goal, it's a good time!

  15. I can't tell you how many times I've stopped in amazement and watched our girls go giddy over the most seemingly common of things, a robin on the lawn, flowers blooming, popsicles after dinner, favorite PJs warm from the dryer, a colored napkin in a lunchbox. I am so with you. Great post and welcome home!

  16. I know what you mean - I buy (or am tempted to buy) toys that I think will make my child happy - most of which she doesn't play with. What does make her happy? Holding onto a balloon - ALL DAY & NIGHT - the bubble machine - playing 'catch' - sand - water - the beach - flying a kite - (AND her dvd's). Often outings end in tears, as she just wants to be HOME! God bless your family.

  17. I think that perhaps we can learn valuable lessons from our children. They have an uncanny ability to just notice things we don't anymore. We have gotten so fast paced and my typical children are on the move as much as me and don't take a moment to notice the ceiling fans, the robin in the yard, the way sand feels in our hand, etc.

    I am blessed with the chance to observe little people for a living and have them teach me how to appreciate the finer things in life.

  18. This is possibly why I have delayed our disney 'family' experience. there are too many what ifs that can happen. I am afraid of the crowds for my son.

    It is wonderful that you were able to step back and enjoy the trip from his perspective.
    Nice post.


Thanks for sharing!