The Horrors of Disneyland

Disneyland

“The tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was on my mind as we made our way from one attraction to another at Disneyland. Your first assumption is that the Magic Kingdom is all sweetness and light. After all, it bills itself as The Happiest Place on Earth.

But that can be misleading. Walking through the cheery front gates onto a bustling Main Street inevitably leads you toward a darker subtext of the Disneyland story.

And that realization really hit me for the first time on our most recent visit. I’ve been to the park dozens of times as a visitor, and I worked there for a year during high school, but for some reason I never truly noticed all the death and fear that makes up the place.

The first thing that clued me in were the skulls. They’re everywhere! Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates Lair, Peter Pan’s Flight. Piles of them! The Disneyland Hotel even had a gigantic skull-shaped rock to slide through at their pool before they remodeled and ripped it out.

If it’s not skulls, it’s scares.

The Matterhorn features two appearances by a ferocious demon-eyed Abominable Snowman. Alice in Wonderland is like some sort of freaky LSD trip. Indiana Jones almost drops you off a bridge into a pit of fire. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride actually concludes by sending you to hell, complete with blasts of hot air and a face-to-face meeting with Satan himself.

And then there’s the dead come to life.

The classic Haunted Mansion features a killer bride who wants to rip your still-beating heart from your chest. There’s a graveyard of ghosts and ghouls popping up from underneath their headstones, eager to come home with you. And then there’s that poor sap who is about to be buried alive and pleads with you to help him escape from his coffin. When I was a young boy, I kept my eyes closed the whole way through the Mansion. Sometimes I’d even plug my ears. That place was the stuff of nightmares to me.

There’s only one truly innocent ride in Disneyland — It’s A Small World. But the case could be made that cruising through room after room of unblinking, perpetually smiling, singing dolls is actually kind of creepy. You can very well imagine the place to be populated with the offspring of Chucky and Annabelle.

Okay, okay, don’t get me wrong. I love Disneyland.

In fact, I love the place so much I would make it an annual vacation destination if allowed by family and finances. I love every ride at Disneyland, and so do my kids. We’ve been to the park five times over the past ten years, and always for multiple days because you just don’t rush through it.

And those scary rides? They’re the best. Every time we visit, those are the rides we rack up the frequent rider miles on. Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder, Indiana Jones, Snow White. We get off and get right back on. The spookier it is, the more we want to ride it. During our last trip, my son and I set a personal record for Pirates of the Caribbean. 10 times in a 10-hour day.

We always have a blast being scared and bedazzled by the skulls and snakes and man-eating whales. Part of the magic of Disney is knowing that the things that frighten are just for fun. I’ve never seen bigger smiles on my kids’ faces than when they’re jumping out of their seats after something has shocked them silly.

Of course, as you get older you start to think that the best ride is in the little circle at the end of Main Street, next to the statue of Walt and Mickey. There you can find a lovely green bench, from which you can comfortably sit and watch the crowds go by. The way tourists act and dress might just be scarier than anything else you see in the park.

An undead pirate on the Pirates Lair

An undead pirate at the Pirates Lair

A denizen of the Matterhorn

A denizen of the Matterhorn

Skulls everywhere!

Skulls everywhere!

All photos by Idaho Dad

Our Culture of Fear

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we’ve been so credulous.” – Carl Sagan

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m feeling a little bamboozled lately after reading various reports about the realities of crime and child abduction in this country.

After all, I have long recognized that America’s mass media thrives upon the Culture of Fear that it helped to create. But still, when it comes to the safety of children, I’ve been first in line to sound the alarm and spread the word about caution and awareness.

So now I learn that out of the roughly 800,000 kids that go missing in this country each year, the FBI estimates that only 100 to 200 of them are victims of the most serious type of non-family abductions, news of which fills parents with dread and distrust toward any stranger who looks twice at their children.

Better yet, violent crime in our country is at an all-time low and has been on a steady decline for the past thirty years. But you won’t see that in the headlines. TV and newspapers seem to be only interested in scaring us, rather than informing us of the real level of risk. And why would they want to do that?

Maintaining a certain level of fear and anxiety is good for corporate profits. Because behind every good newspaper, magazine, and TV station is a corporation that has something it wants to sell that will make us feel better about stepping out our front door into that great big scary world.

And the media is only giving the people what they want. Viewers are fascinated with stories of missing, murdered or abused children. It could be that busy parents, who shuttle their kids from one organized activity to another, may actually turn to these horrible news reports to comfort and allay their feelings of guilt over losing control of their own children.

Whatever the explanation, it certainly seems to be a vicious circle of corporate marketers, mass media, and viewers/readers. I don’t believe those first two entities are willing to accurately analyze and report the reality of our world, so it’s up to the audience, especially parents, to refuse to be bamboozled.

The first step is to stop watching TV news, the worst offenders of exaggerating the incidence of child abductions. After that, find news organizations that deal in facts and figures. Become more optimistic and seek out the truth about the world around you. It’s not such a bad place.

10 Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after four visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Yellowstone Fishing Cone

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn lobby as seen from Bat's Alley; Jim Peaco; October 2003

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.
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Whose Life Is It To Share?

We share so much of ourselves these days.

Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, blogs, email, and texts, it’s easy to have almost every aspect of our lives spread all over the Internet for the enjoyment of family and friends.

And strangers.

Because so much of what you’re sharing is wide open to anyone anywhere with a computer or smart phone.

But that’s okay, right? It’s your choice to share yourself with the world. If your Facebook posts and Instagram photos are set to “public” or your Pinterest page features personal photos, that’s your business.

And if you write a mom or dad blog, with your personal thoughts about parenting, you have it set to publish to the world, to gain as big an audience as possible. I know I do.

This is where my question comes in. Whose life is it to share? I’m not talking about yours. That’s an easy answer. It’s your life to share.

But what about your kids? Did you ask them if it was okay to share their life with the world?

I started my dad blog nearly eleven years ago, when my kids were 5 and 2. It never occurred to me to ask for their permission. I certainly took some precautions to shield them from fame by not revealing their names, and to not feature close-up photos of their faces.

My kids have always known about my blog. They’ve just never been terribly interested in it. I blather on enough in real life, they don’t need to read even more of my daddy musings. They’ve lived through it already.

Several days ago, however, my daughter decided to read my blog. The first post she saw was about her having a very public meltdown over a spider when she was a 3-year-old.

“Well, that was embarrassing,” she told me. “I hope none of my friends see that.”

I was perplexed. I mean, she was a toddler. It was a decade ago. I asked her why it was embarrassing.

In her infinite teenage wisdom, she replied, “It just is! It’s my life!”

She makes a very strong point.

Now, I’m not going to go back through thousands of posts to edit or delete anything that might elicit a response from my daughter of, “Oh my god, Dad, why did you say that about me, I’m going to die!”

Because I’m confident there aren’t that many of those. Also, I don’t have the time.

But it sure has me thinking about what right a parent has to share so much of their child with the world.

Simply look to Hollywood and the world of former child stars who have struggled with being in the public eye at such a young age. Many of them either had no choice, or didn’t understand the ramifications of sharing so much of themselves with the world.

Will we be seeing a new generation of children angry with their parents for placing them front and center on a parent blog, or a YouTube channel, or anywhere a devoted following of fans can grow on the Internet?

As a parent blog reader, I’ve intruded onto some very intimate moments in some children’s lives. From bed-wetting to kindergarten crushes to pre-teen depression, there are any number of subjects that you wouldn’t normally discuss outside of your family or circle of friends. And yet, some bloggers do just that, whether to seek advice or commiseration or even fame.

As my daughter said, it’s her life. I’ve been careful over the years to maintain her privacy, but maybe not careful enough. For as much enjoyment I receive from keeping this blog, it’s not worth it if one of my kids feels that I’ve broken that unwritten confidentiality agreement that all members of a family should have with each other.

I wouldn’t be very happy if my daughter started a blog and wrote humorous out-of-context anecdotes about my piggish ice cream eating habits, or the unholy mess on my office desk, or the not-so-funny comment I made about the neighbor down the street.

It’s my life, and it’s up to me if I want to share it with the world.

Now go back and re-read that sentence in the voice of your child. If you want your kids to respect your privacy, it’s only fair for you to respect theirs. Next time you post a picture or story to the general public, think about whose life it really is to share.

The Great War For Kids

There’s one thing about history that my daughter quickly learned in her early elementary school days. Humans seem to always be fighting each other.

It’s an unpleasant subject on the surface, but if you’re going to instill a love of history in your children, you can’t avoid the fact that they will, inevitably, be reading about war.

And they will find it utterly fascinating. Continue reading

Walking the Wall, Again

Walking the Wall, Again

It was a little over a year ago that I spent a week walking the width of England, following the National Trail that runs along Hadrian’s Wall.

It was a memorable adventure that raised a lot of money for charity. But as I hiked those scenic crags, it always felt like something was missing. I soon realized that I wanted my family to be there with me to experience the ancient Roman wall and the breathtaking English countryside.

Almost a year later, I was able to share the walk with my wife and kids. Well, maybe not the entire 91 miles. In fact, we just walked the best bits of the wall. 5 miles of it in total.

Oh, and this time I left home the stiff boots and overweight backpack.

We started out at Birdoswald Fort, touring the museum there while we waited out an early morning rain shower. After the sun appeared, we walked east to the village of Gilsland, where the kids rejoiced over an ice cream shop.

From there, a short bus ride deposited us at Housesteads Fort, a dazzling Roman site which includes one of the best preserved latrines from nearly 2000 years ago.

Roman latrines

You wouldn’t think we could get excited over an old army latrine, but it was kind of cool to see where the Centurions did their business.

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Beachcombing

Beachcombing along the Thames

Of all the things we experienced in England, my kids talk most about the couple of hours we spent shuffling slowly along the muddy beaches of the River Thames, our heads hung low, our eyes sharply focused on the ground.

We were beachcombing, or mudlarking as some call it, along the shores of the river that runs through central London. After thousands of years of stuff being tossed into the Thames, it’s no surprise that some of it washes back up along the banks.

When the tide is out, it’s easy to play archaeologist and search for little treasures. And odds are always good that you’ll find something.

We descended into the muck somewhere near the Tate Modern and immediately my son picked up a small piece of china. Then my daughter found an old clay pipe stem. Then I spotted a mineralized cow tooth.

We actually found dozens of old bones. I assumed our little stretch of beach had once been the outlet for a slaughter house.

My son theorized that it was a dumping ground for executed prisoners.

More clay pipe stems were found, along with polished glass, twisted bits of metal, bottles, and part of a deer antler.

After just a few hours of picking through the muddy rocks, we had several bags worth of goodies to take home. All little bits of history that sparked my kids’ imagination in a big way.

If you’re visiting London, don’t hesitate to step off the paved paths and get your hands dirty on the banks of the Thames. It’s one of the best ways to experience the history of this ancient place.

Best of all, aside from any valuable artifacts, you get to keep the treasures you find! Here are some that my son has proudly displayed on his shelves…

Thames Treasures

Photo Friday – Surrounded by History

“Isn’t it amazing?” I asked my daughter as we toured the Tower of London. “To be surrounded by so much history? Why, there’s the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1078. And there’s where Sir Thomas More was imprisoned. And, right in front of you, is the Queen’s House, built by Henry VIII for his new bride Anne Boleyn. Behind you is where she was beheaded, and…”

“Shhh, daddy, I’m trying to take a picture of the raven.”

Sharing Memories

I’ve been away for awhile, sharing memories with my wife and kids.

Last year I traveled to England for an 86-mile charity walk along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. It was quite successful, both for the charity and for me.

I made some awesome memories.

Then, I came home and agonized that my family did not share these memories. They could not know the thrill of following in the path of the Roman Centurions, of exploring ruined forts and castles, or of looking out over the windswept crags to imagine what life must have been like 2000 years ago.

Of course I told them about my week-long walk and the people and places I experienced, and they eagerly listened at first. But, after awhile, they were bored. They just couldn’t relate to my amazing adventure.

So, I decided to do something about that. Either I would keep my memories to myself, or I would find a way to share them for real.

You already know that I shared rather than shut up.

First chance we had, as school came to a close two weeks ago, we packed our bags and headed for England’s north country.

My family walked the wall!

No, not all 86 miles of it, but we covered nearly five. The best bits between Housesteads and Birdoswald Forts.

We also climbed to the top of St. Paul’s, wandered the streets of Carlisle, and visited the castle where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

In short, my memories are now their memories. That’s just the way I like it.

You can certainly expect a few blog posts about our family adventures in Great Britain. Like our brush with Charles and Camilla, or my daughter helping us escape from a locked Tower of London.

In the meantime, however, we have school to finish up. The kids will have no problem coming up with topics for their next history paper.

Why Must I Be SAD

Like most people, I have my emotional ups and downs.

I’ve just been very lucky, or blessed with good genetics, to have my mood swings rarely reach extremes.

All throughout my life, my lows have been mild and short-lived, while my highs have been generally free of giddy euphoria.

So imagine my surprise last October when this strange feeling of gloom settled over me and wouldn’t go away.

Like a cough I just couldn’t shake, I had a blue funk in my brain.

This had never happened to me before, so I didn’t recognize it as anything other than a symptom of poor sleep habits.

At one point, I thought it might be the longest case of jet lag ever.

It wasn’t until January that I considered my specific symptoms:

1. An overall tiredness and lack of energy
2. Difficulty waking up in the morning
3. Craving carbohydrates, especially pasta and bread
4. Difficulty completing tasks
5. Avoiding social situations
6. Trouble focusing

I remembered this fancy doo-hicky thing called the Internet and typed in some of my pronounced symptoms.

And there it was!

I discovered that I had a disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Pretty common this time of year, and so appropriately named.

Thankfully, my SAD wasn’t too SAD. I was just slightly SAD. But, still, an unusual thing for me to be feeling any of it. I’ve lived through 23 Idaho winters, and I don’t believe this one has been any grayer or colder than any of those others.

They say that sunlight works wonders for SAD sufferers, so the first sunny day we had in January, I made sure to be out there walking in it.

The combination of sun and exercise definitely lifted my spirits. And it made me think that the reason this winter was different for me was because I had embarked on an aggressive program of walking last spring, spending far more time outside in the sun than I ever have before.

Apparently, my body became addicted to long outdoor walks.

I think I’ve learned a lesson here. It’s not good to hibernate through the winter. It used to be fun to focus solely on indoor activities during these cold and snowy months, but now I realize how important it is to find some way to get out of the house and soak up the sun (if you can see it through the clouds).

And not just for me, but also for my kids. If they see me doing it, they’re more likely to join in. SAD for kids is especially dangerous, as it can negatively affect their self-esteem and lead to poor grades, isolation, and major depression.

So, pay attention to yourself. If you’re feeling out of sorts, do something about it. Don’t say, “Oh, it’ll pass when spring comes.” You’ll end up better prepared to observe your children and act accordingly when you suspect they might be suffering from this seasonal disorder.