I knew I had to sell the idea to Mike. He hates crowds and lines and tourists. Good thing Disney has none of those, right? When I brought it up though, he went along with it right away. I think by now he has realized when it comes to me wanting to do things relating to Kenley, it's best to just let it happen. An emotional wife (especially mid-February) isn't something he wants to mess with. So - Disney it is!
As her birthday got closer, I found myself looking forward to it, which was a nice change from the horrible dread that had hung over me for most of the month. I started thinking about where I wanted to get K pictures and planning the rides Piper would also like. I was thinking about her birthday with a little bit of excitement in my heart - and that was amazing. Honestly, the only thing that got me through those last few days before her birthday was the knowledge that soon we would be going to Disney World. I clung to those plans for dear life. They were my bouy in an angry ocean.
Kenley's birthday dawned clear and cold. Piper let us sleep until almost 8. (Granted, she was sprawled out in our bed, forming the extra long middle of a capital H, but still....8 am!) I fed her a breakfast of an Eggo waffles and some raspberries and dressed her in a long sleeved tunic dotted with silver stars - in honor of her big sister. Just as we were about to walk out the door, Piper's belly decided the waffles and raspberries were no longer welcome, and she promptly threw up all over her outfit. As I changed her clothes, I worried that my rainbow was sick and we would have to change our plans - which filled me with such conflict I couldn't think straight. She was acting fine, so Mike and I decided that we'd get her in the car and see how the ride treated her. Worst case scenerio, we'd just come home. However, just as we drove into the stretch of highway that included no turnaournds until Disney World, she threw up again - all over her second outfit and her carseat. Twisting in my seatbelt, I cleaned her up as best I could, gave her some water, and she fell asleep. There was nothing we could do at this point. We would have to make a final decision in the parking lot. Obviously, I wasn't going to sacrifice the health of my living child for the memory of my other, but my heart was torn because I had pinned my hopes on this day being such a great day. I didn't know how I would handlle having to go home.
When we pulled into the parking lot, I woke up Piper from her nap - and she was great. She woke up smiling and happy and refreshed. Whatever the issue was had gone. Maybe it was just a bad berry. Maybe it was Disney Magic. We changed her once again, crossed our fingers because that was our last set of extra clothes, and headed towards the ticket counter. Even though it was close to ten o'clock, we still parked within the first ten rows, which meant the park wasn't nearly as crowded as I had expected it to be. We bought our tickets, used the Disney World App to secure our fastpasses, and headed to the monorail. Piper called it a train and we told her it was a monorail, so for the 10 minutes we waited to board, we got to hear "I ride mon-rail! Mon-rail right there!" I could hear a peppiness in her voice that meant she wasn't feeling sick at all - and I was getting so excited to have a family day with The Mouse. This day was going to be great.
I took my first K picture at the gates of the Magic Kingdom. I tried getting as many pictures as I could, but with an excited toddler, a crowd-hating husband, and a K going in an out of a backpack, I didn't always have the ability to get a good shot. Also, most of my pictures this day aren't the best quality. You try taking iPhone photos of a K with an almost -two year old tugging at you in a crowd of ten thousand people! You're going to get some blur! No matter the quality, it felt good to take my Ninja to the Happiest Place on Earth.
We walked through the gates and onto Main Street, where a parade was circling through the square. Even though I have been to Disney dozens of times, I can still see magic on those streets. Now that I can see it through the eyes of my rainbow, it is even more amazing. Piper's eyes lit up at the sight of the characters dancing to the parade music and the floats gliding through the street. The parade was just ending as we neared, so we followed it up Main Street to the castle.
From the castle, we hooked a left and headed over to Adventureland.
For whatever strange reason, my husband had never ridden Pirates of the Caribbean, and that issue needed to be rectified. The standby line was only 30 minutes, and it went by pretty fast. The line winds through cave-like rooms full of cannons, barrels of gunpowder, and various other pirate paraphernalia. I am sure the people surrounding us during the wait were just delighted with the constant repetition of Piper's excited "What's that?"
As we approached the boat loading zone, we were asked how many in our party and directed to row 3. My mom brain quickly connected that to how it was Kenley's third birthday and the very first ride we go on, we are in the third row. I said something to Mike, and he laughed and shook it off. Actually, this wasn't the last of Row 3. For the rest of the day, any time we waited in line, we were directed to Row 3 to load. Every ride. I only got pictures of two of them because I either had already put the K away - or I had a kid in my hands - or there wasn't time - but trust me. I know it's just a mathematical coincedence and it has more to do with numbers and crowd control than it does with my little girl - but it made me smile every time it happened.
Piper was a little nervous at the beginning and didn't really care for the slight drop into darkness, but once we rounded the corner into the Caribbean, she was happy as a clam, and "What's that?" came back with a vengance. This time the phrase was accompanied with cannon fire and "Oooh, noise!"
After Pirates, we headed over to use our first Fastpass of the day at Peter Pan's Flight. I tried getting a picture of Piper holding the K, but she wasn't too excited about it. She did enjoy screaming out "Moon!" at the top of her lungs as we flew over London though.
By now, it was close to lunchtime, so we headed over to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland. Mike got in line and Piper and I headed down to Cosmic Ray's lounge where an animatronic alien, Sonny Eclipse, played 40's and 50's era style music. While we waited, I tried again to get a picture of my girls together. I could either get the K facing forward or Piper facing forward, but not both at the same time. Oh well....I guess that's how it is with siblings anyway, right?
As we were cleaning up from lunch Sonny Eclipse started singing a song called "Oh Bright Little Star", which definitely caught my ear. I looked up the lyrics online and part of them go like this:
Oh Bright Little Star,
though I'm light years away from her now
I can't help but to feel that somewhow
we're both wishing on you
I imagine your light in her eyes as she gazes up into the sky
At this moment does she realize
you are in my eyes too
Someday, somewhere I will find her
In a universe up above
Tell her, little star, I'll surround her
With all my love.
Now, obviously, these lyrics are a cheesy love song between make-believe aliens, but since it was My Little Star's birthday, I chose to apply them to her. Finding connections in the smallest things can bring the biggest comfort, and I felt like letting that song comfort me.
Full of burgers and chicken nuggets, we headed over to The Journey of the Little Mermaid for our next Fastpass. Disney has changed a lot since the hay-day of my college days, and while I do miss some of the things that used to be, I do not miss the old Fastpass ticket machines. I would always get stuck behind someone who couldn't figure out how to put their card into the slot or who had seventeen of their closest friends' cards with them to scan at once. The new system has you link your tickets on an app and select your fastpasses all at once. Then, you just scan your own card or bracelett at the Fastpass line. With a toddler in a Tula, it made our day so much easier!
Piper loved the Little Mermaid. She loves blowing bubbles, so the entire ride had her amazed with under the sea bubbles and dancing fish.
By this time in our day, our spunky little rainbow was beginning to fade. I strapped her back into the Tula for a nap and true to form, she fell quickly asleep. Mike and I decided to take this opportunity to ride The Haunted Mansion.
While in line, he noticed the couple in front of us speaking German, a language dear to his heart since spending a year there in his twenties. He struck up a conversation with them, none of which I understood. The lady carried this purse.
Waiting in line while Mike chatted gave me the perfect opportunity to get another picture of my girls.
From the mansion, we headed back through Fantasyland to hit up our final Fastpass for the day, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I am not a fan of the Hundred Acre Wood, but my youngest sure is. A few months ago, we met some friends for a character breakfast at The Grand Floridian, and Piper could not get enough of Tigger. Pooh bear was just alright - but Tigger was where it was at! So, I knew she would love this ride, which she absolutely did. Each time Tigger popped up, she pointed and said "Tigger! Tigger right there!" Oh yeah...and guess where we loaded onto the ride?
By now, it was around three o'clock and we figured we had at least two good hours left before we'd have to head home, so we ventured back into Tomorrowland for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.
Again, the Standby line was only 30 minutes, which is excellent for this ride and time of day. I popped Piper onto my lap, held her with my right hand and aimed my lazer with my left. I am absolutely terrible at this ride and barely cracked 50,000 points. My husband, however, had over 100,000 within the first five seconds and ended the game with over 600,000 as a Cosmic Commando. I had full intention of getting the photo they take of you on the ride, but when we checked it out, Piper's face was totally covered by the ray-gun, kind of like how Mike Wazowski's face is always covered in the Monster's INC commercials. It was actually pretty hilarious.
Right next to Buzz is an old classic - the Carousel of Progress.
Mike loves this ride. Look how excited he is.
Piper enjoyed the Carousel. She was a little confused by the rotating room at first, but she liked the show. This was our last ride. We grabbed some dinner in Frontierland and headed back to the car. Piper fell asleep before we got out of the parking lot. We drove home exhausted and emotional.
I had spent all month under a cloud of grief, all month dreading her birthday, all month wanting to crawl into a hole. A day like this one was just what I needed. Even though it's clearly not in the manner I'd like, I got to take both of my girls to the Happiest Place on Earth. I got to spend a day with my Night Shift husband, which is also a rare treat. The darkness that smothered me like a blanket all month felt brighter and lighter.
Kenley's birthday, which could have been another dark day in a month of grief, turned out to be a day of smiles and laughter. A day where I felt connected to my star while parenting my rainbow. I felt peaceful and happy. Those days are rare, but they do exist.
No matter how horrible grief is, I have to remember that in between the moments of pain and sadness, there are moments of joy. I have to remember that I may have terrible days - I may have an impossibly long chain of terrible days - but life itself isn't terrible. There will be a break in the darkness. Sometimes, I will have to search for it. Sometimes, it might take me a while to find it, but it will be there. Waiting for me. A bright spot where happiness hides.
Like the Carousel says,
"There's a great big beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There's a great big beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away."
Happy Birthday, Kenley. We love you.