Welcome to the Club

The Finer Things in Life

Cute sister Jaimie giving Izzy Ossetra caviar on a mother of pearl spoon. (caviar, baby puffs and milk in a bottle. aren't those the big three?)

A few weeks ago, I went with my sisters and my mom to this place in Disneyland called Club 33. It’s a members only thing with the crystal and shiny cutlery that usually accompanies anything that costs more than most people pay in rent. (That last sentence was written in my sarcastic voice. But some of my readers aren't hearing it. So I'm putting it in here as a note. Read description of crystal and cutlery as funny, not serious. Also....much more than I pay in rent, for sure. Now, go on with your regularly scheduled reading.) I grew up going there.. My dad used the membership for clients, but my family got to reap its exclusive benefits. When I was younger, you rang a bell to get into a small side door in Disney’s New Orleans Square. Once you announced yourself,

“Conley, Party of six.”

you were buzzed into a red velvet room with an iron worked elevator and a woman with a smile. My parents would take the stairs while us kids giggled up the halting elevator. Some of my favorite childhood memories took place at the top of that ascent. (Like the time Priscella Presley ate at the the table next to us. Which only ranked second to the time the waiter brought me seconds of the bacon that came with my lemon chicken.) I always felt like I was in such rarefied air. It was quiet and wood trimmed. The restaurant’s tables had white linen and shining silver and the waiters always brought out fancy shirley temple drinks with extra cherries. It was my first and most formative transformation of space. I spent every lunch hour there marveling that the I world I was in sat just atop another world that bustled and lined and sweated and thrilled. One wasn’t better than the other, it was simply instructive that they could be found on the same little street.

Into my teen years, the wonder didn’t really leave. I loved buzzing new friends into that side door. Talking like grown ups around a table set in a place that still held so much of the color of our childhood.

Nearly everything about Club 33 has changed and in adulthood things like Disneyland have lost much of their charm. But somehow this last time, surrounded by my sisters and our squealing kids, it all felt like it used to years ago. Zuzu was all wide eyes up the new blue staircase and Viola shouted BEYOOOIFUL at the blown glass flower lamps. There was still a white linen table covering and Zuzu held up the spoon to look at her reflection in its shine. Our waiter (a man named Robert that accurately predicted I would enjoy the pork belly wrapped pork loin) kept all the kids drinks well temple’d. My mom sat at the head of the table and while everyone talked and the kids yelled and the parents shushed and laughed, it almost felt like my dad was with us.

We chomped on caviar while the kids ate cheetos out of our purses. (We are nothing if not eclectic in our tastes.) At one point Izzy, my sister’s one year old daughter, reached for her little spoon full of fish eggs. We laughed and decided to see if she liked the taste. She did. All wide eyed and grunting for more, she smacked her hands against one another when she wasn’t give a spoonful of it in a timely mannery. Our waiter came to the table laughing.

“One of the waitresses said you are feeding that baby caviar. I want to see it. Do it again.”

And so my sister did and Izzy cooed and we all laughed at the ridiculousness of a baby that loves something that is $125 an ounce. The rest of the meal was lovely and chaotic and well met with Pirates of the Caribbean upon leaving.

While we walked around the park, I thought about that baby and the caviar. Why was it so ridiculous that she loved that spoonful of bright bursting tastes of the ocean? Should we be shocked when our children love the highly valued or shocked when they do not? And then the question that stopped me just long enough to get nearly run over by one of those moving trash bins...What am I feeding my daughters? (Listen, we’re entering the territory of metaphor here, I’m not talking about exorbitantly expensive foodstuffs. Heaven knows, that most of the time we are more of a beans and rice and “what else can eggs make?” kind of family.) I’m talking about the expectations and means they are served every day. What experiences am I teaching them to savor? Have I presented them with literature on a silver plate? Am I helping to expand their palate so that they can relish life, know that they deserve every rare and valued taste? Will I help them understand that sustenance means more than the processed messages and images and aspirations handed to them from society’s cacophonous table? Is it possible that they will leave my home able to discern between the well seasoned and the undone? Will they have been schooled enough in the process of living to be able to enter the kitchen (so to speak) and create the existence they want and deserve?

Suddenly, Izzy and her reaching mouth didn’t make me laugh anymore. It wasn’t so much funny as it was wondrous. A little thing, only been on Earth for 12 months, loving the taste of something that’s been enjoyed on record since the court of Genghis Khan’s grandson. Perhaps we are sent here ready to seek out the sweet and savor. Perhaps we need to start expecting our children to be ready for some of the things that we consider rare and elevated. We should spoonfeed them Dickinson and Swift and Dante and Shakespeare. We should sprinkle astronomy across their breakfast table and top their desserts with the questions of the ages. Those things all taste just right plated with the pantry staples of childhood like fairy tales and make believe. We should feast and break and join to feast again.

And yes, we should all cut ourselves a little more slack when they sneak the proverbial cheetos out of our purses. Not every moment can be a caviar moment, after all.

That’s nearly as important a lesson as all the rest.

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The blue stairs behind the blue door that lead up to Club 33.

What Disneyland Taught Me About Childhood

Because of happy circumstance, California grandparents and our inability to save money when IT COULD BE SPENT SOMEWHERE ON SOMETHING, Riley, the girls and I have been to Disneyland six or eight times over the past year. (Oh man. Just writing that feels so excessive. I mean, there are hungry children in the world and we have become honorary members of the Disney do or die club? Where are our priorities, you ask. I can tell you. They are drunk on Dole Whip and Disney Dollars.)

The first time we went to Disneyland, I was woefully unprepared. The snack situation was egregious, just a few Ritz crackers and fruit snacks. Of course, we brought the Sit and Stand stroller. Everyone knows that you should only show up to a day like that with the Sleeper Stroller 3000 fully equipped with Wi-Fi and hot and ready Mcdonald’s french fries. Finally, to add insult to injury, we started the girls out on the Snow White ride, which is basically a three minute fright fest through the dusty mind of one of Disney’s more terrifying villians. Look, Honey! There is rotting skeleton! Isn’t Disneyland magical?

Thankfully, Riley’s mom is a magician. When the snacks ran out, she made it rain m&ms. When the kids got tired, she lifted their spirits on a cloud of grandmother love. And the spot she saved two hours before the parade began more than made up for the magic destroying Snow White ride. Thank goodness for grandparents.

The next time we went to Disneyland I was prepared. Enough water and snacks for days, my most comfortable shoes and nerves that seemed to stand up outside of my skin. Riley noticed my, ahem, finely tuned state of mind and asked me what was wrong.

“Nothing. I am just gearing up for the day. You know, this kind of thing is like a marathon. You are tired and aching throughout but by the time it is over, you are so glad you did it.”

He looked dumbfounded.

“If Disneyland is a marathon, what does that mean for the rest of our lives? Gosh. Relax, have fun.”

The kids didn’t go hungry that day and you better believe we hit every ride in the right order. But in my intensity, I missed many of their smiles. (I also sprained my ankle trying to sprint the stroller to the best place for the parade. But that is neither here nor there.)

On the long drive home from California, I thought about Disneyland. That place of firework and confection that lures and conquers. Sure, it is commercial and paint that peels. But it is also one of the best metaphors for childhood I have found in my brief moment as a mother.

Disneyland is a candy coated concept that is so much more complex than the marketing and memories that surround it. There are crowds and tantrums and the occasional line hugger (you know, the guy that stands just a little too close to you while you wait to get on Splash Mountain. And you are like, is any water based log ride worth this kind of invasion of personal space? And then the answer is yes and you wonder what that says about you). The place is filled with one dimensional fairy tales brought to life, commercialism as sentiment and long lines for empty spaces filled with paper and plastic as form. It would be very easy to be cynical about Disneyland. A playground for the simple minded and unaware.

But then, but then there is something more. The magic of seeing a child watch fireworks for the first time. There is the wonder and great equalizer of shared experience, sitting in one of those silly rides and feeling the same thing my four year old feels. There are so few opportunities to share open mouthed joy together like that. And finally, and perhaps most importantly to someone like me, there is the feeling of a moment frozen and sealed away. As if the bad guys will always be vanquished in a trail of song  and dance. As if it never gets harder than deciding between one scoop of ice cream or two.  As if our lives will always be on a twinkle light filled Main Street.

I’ve approached my children’s childhood in the two ways I first tried to approach the happiest place on earth. (Side note: Everyone knows the happiest place on earth is really a cheese cave in Paris. Right? RIGHT?) I’ve come to their lives unprepared and unconcerned. With the real life equivalent of a few crackers and fruit snacks. I am aware of the opportunities I’ve missed when I haven’t taken the potential of childhood seriously. But I’ve also been the mom with set eyes and determined chin. The one that swore she wouldn’t miss a damn thing and then missed every smile in my agitated need to provide them.

I hope over the last year I have come closer to the mother my girls need me to be. The one that knows it is okay to sprint towards dreams of princesses in comfortable shoes. The one that allows for magic while also empowering through practicalities. The kind of mom that remembers to twirl and smile and sprinkle glitter on things that need a bit more shine.

At the end of day, childhood is filled to the brim with long lines, tantrums and the empty filled with silliness as form. But there is also the theater of dreams, hope as sweet as a rainbow lollipop and a kind of graceful belief in good that is more potent than any fairytale. It is such a beautiful, star shined thing. And then, most likely just as we’ve learned to enjoy it and long before you or I will ever be ready, it will be closing time. And the gates will shut and the lights will go dark.

And all we’ll have left to remember it are a few pictures and the taste of ice cream that take us back to a time we once called home.