Elizabeth was six the year Lucia turned sixteen, and Florida was a furnace in August. Lucia asked only for the Magic Kingdom and given the year she'd had, we sucked it up. She chose the book bonking best friend as her wing person and we watched them gallop off into the park. Lucia's a hardcore Disney freak, but I didn't take her for a mouse mauler. Mickey was minding his own business, dropping two pounds a minute in sweat while distributing random hugs. Some of the smaller children were a bit put off by the huffing, which left her a straight shot down the center line and never mind passing to the quarterback, she took him down at full throttle.
We averted our eyes, gathered the three littles, and headed for Uncle Toad's Wild Ride.
In three days we visited three parks, the best of which was Typhoon Lagoon because it was so hot and we were so tired. When you are six and surrounded by oceans of magic where anything is possible, memories like bright shining crystals embed themselves in your DNA. I'm not sure Elizabeth has ever been that happy. It was unadulterated joy and absolute bliss captured in a bubble, tucked away for future reference. Nine years later she pulled out that bubble and held it up to the light.
Mom. Can we go to Disney for my birthday? Just you and me and Bri? Can we?
Oh, good God, not again.
I really want to. I don't want anything else.
That's a shit ton of money, Elizabeth.
I'll work on it, OK?
Turns out going to Orlando in December is a lot easier than August. There is a good reason for this, Florida in December is NOT warm. It is, at best, warm-ish. 60F is not warm. It's also not cold, unless you live in Florida in which case you risk the possibility of hypothermia every time you leave the house.
Flights were plentiful and deeply discounted. A Marriott condo with two bedrooms, two baths, a well-appointed kitchen, and spacious living room could be had for less than a single room anywhere in the Northeast. Park tickets were still full price. I am afraid park tickets are always full price. We cut one day and one park from the agenda to pull the cost in a bit. The only reason we spent a day at the Magic Kingdom was because Typhoon Lagoon is not open in the winter; a fact Elizabeth refused to accept until arrival. However, two days and three nights with her oldest, and dearest friend soothed that wound pretty quick.
In many ways, 2016 was a very hard year for Elizabeth. I don't think anyone comes through adolescence unscathed. Changes, self-inflicted or otherwise shape our future selves in ways most of us can't possibly imagine. Young people with big decisions, grown up decisions to make in the middle of an already natural chaos find themselves breathless, maybe even frozen. By the time we got to Disney, she'd already made three of those choices, and 2017 was working up a full head of steam. We couldn't see it yet, but we were driving right into that storm.
December 9, 10, 11, and 12 were the sweetest reprieve between the year of monumental choices and heartbreak, and the upcoming year that would rattle us both to the bone. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't alter a single second. While Elizabeth and Bri floated through the last bubble of childhood, I got back four days of being a decent parent. Taking the girls to Disney wasn't the decent part; it really could have been anything. Understanding the need, the weight of desire, making a thing happen and then stepping back was the brass ring. We can give a child something, but so often the price we pay runs right into their hands in one form or another.
The bubble was effortless, and subjectively speaking it cost very little. If I'd held onto the weight of the cash, it would have cost everything. You cannot purchase a pocketful of joy, but you can open the door that makes it possible. A pocketful of joy can get you through the worst of storms, and even reach back to sooth old scars.
I think she might have a bit of that left. If she could find the pocket again, she could reach right in, pull it out, and hold it up to her face. She could do that, but I cannot do it for her. The bubble of bliss, the pocketful of joy, and the endless beads of hope and light belong to each of us, and only us.
Put your hand in your pocket. Don't think, just do it. Is it salt air that you smell? A hayfield, a dance floor, the breath of a horse...
Put your hand in your pocket...