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How Disneyland Gave My Son the Golden Gift of Patience

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“Mom, pleeeeeease can we play? Can we do something fun? This is so boooring. Monday is soooooo boring,” my 6-year-old whined to me as I sat at my desk.

Nine times out of ten, I would have called in the circus and pulled out my “let me entertain you” hat. Instead of letting him be bored and then sitting with my own guilt about having to work, steam broccoli, fold laundry, and basically not be the world’s most fun mommy EVER, I’d typically offer him a slew of suggestions of things we could do. I’d create an itinerary of all the amazing things to do in our home. First, we could bake. Then we’d play Legos, and then we’d do a science experiment. We could make LAVA. If we had time, we’d watch a movie — a super-long “NOT BABY” one. Then, we’d read, hunt for bugs, and eat candy … IN MY BED.

And the mother of the year award goes to … the crowd goes wild!

As a single mom, there were many weekends when our days were just that, and I didn’t stop until he was satiated. But as he gets older, I see that if I don’t set up an afternoon of “WOW,” he won’t “just go build a fort” or go outside and play kick the can (please tell me you’re familiar with this hilarious scene in This is 40?). This was a problem, and it needed to stop.

Well believe it or not, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago at Disneyland, the mecca of all things jazz hands, that I realized he didn’t actually need to be entertained.

Disneyland during Halloween is a special place: not only is it covered in fall decorations and glorious Mickey-shaped pumpkins, but the spooky holiday is even incorporated into the rides. Space Mountain has ghoulish creatures projected into outer space and the Haunted Mansion is all things Nightmare Before Christmas.

What we didn’t know about Disneyland during Halloween time — on a Saturday — is how crowded it can be, or that you can only get one fast pass at a time. This was okay though! It actually turned out to be the best opportunity to teach Jonah the importance of patience. You want to glide through the Swiss Alps on a bobsled past the Abominable Snowman? You’re going to have to wait. You want to drive a car at the age of six while your parents get whiplash? You’ll have to wait it out. Talk to me. Stare into space. There’s no technology, no devices, no toys or circus acts to keep my 6-year-old child entertained. Just me, my fiancé, and the promise of the second row (if we’re lucky) on a boat dodging flying canons and drunken pirates.

In almost every line, there was an opportunity to talk about everything from faraway lands to the way things worked. As the day went on and we zigzagged through the park a dozen times without really thinking it through, I was amazed with how little Jonah complained and how much he understood that he’d have to wait. Even when we were all in need of an afternoon pick-me-up (also known as a churro), staring into space and taking it all in was just fine — he didn’t need us to make it better.

The most amazing moment came when we were waiting 45 minutes for the Indiana Jones ride — talk about opportunity to learn, 6-year-olds have a lot of questions about skulls. Forty-five minutes and 2 seconds into the wait as we were nearing the front of the line, an announcement came on over the loud speaker stating that they were temporarily closing down the ride. All the waiting, all the don’t-step-on-the-crack games, all the opportunity to get on a bumpy jeep and dodge a boulder … gone. That’s it.

My fiancé and I held our breath in anticipation of a major meltdown. I was prepared to offer any/every souvenir and to stay as late as we needed to get on the ride, but we didn’t have to say anything. Jonah simply wanted to know why the ride broke and was more interested about the mechanics of Disneyland, exclaiming: “Oh my gosh, mom! It’s so amazing how EV-ER-Y-THING looks so real! How do they do it?!”

I think in some way Jonah learned a lesson by realizing that there was discovery everywhere he turned, without having to see mommy juggle and jump through hoops. He didn’t need to have it handed to him; there was value in waiting for the reveal and figuring out how he got there.

So, after taking his hands off the desk and realizing that I wasn’t going to jump up from my desk to build the Millennium Falcon, he simply shrugged, turned, and walked into his room. A few minutes later I peeked in and he was lying on his bed, tossing up and down a stuffed animal dragon. While I would have felt like mom of the year if he had a book in his hand, I reminded myself that he didn’t have to be DOING something to be DOING something. There are a lot of stories that can come from a dragon flying into the air. Just go to Disneyland … you’ll see.

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