So, this summer, Marty and I got brave. Or stupid. Or maybe a little of both. Anyway, we decided to take the kids to Disney World, which is, after all, only two hours away in Orlando. Now, I grew up in southern California in what used to be a little town but is now a miniature Beverly Hills (but with actual hills with real trees and a decent number of women without fake boobs) called Agoura Hills. It’s not far from Malibu but far enough from Santa Barbara that I could go to UCSB without my parents insisting I live at home and commute. So, I’m a southern California girl, and no amount of living in Florida is going to change that. And that means, to me, it’s Disneyland, not Disney World. I mean, come on. It’s not a whole WORLD. It’s a place. A LAND. It’s Disneyland. Calling half of Orlando a “world,” is a gross overstatement, and I know I’m going to screw up in this post and call that money trap Disneyland, so fair warning: If you don’t like it, stop reading here.
Ok, thanks. So we decided to go to that famous mousehouse, and that in and of itself was quite a big deal. Traveling with a hyper four-year-old and a six-year-old with autism is not for the weak. Or, at least, it’s not for the weak who don’t have Xanax, but Disneyla—Disney World doesn’t provide free packets of Xanax with their three-day passes, which, if you ask me, is a huge oversight, but maybe there’s some kind of HIPAA law I don’t know about here.
Anyway, we started planning. Or, I should say, I started obsessively reading every possible review I could find about taking a kid with autism to the most ludicrously over-stimulating half-a-city in Florida. After much research, and some conversations with an awesome friend from high school who now works for Disney Animation Studios and thus had the inside scoop for me, I found out that the Disney parks are some of the most special-needs-friendly places on the planet. And to me, that really does make them the Happiest Place on Earth.
So I packed. You know, that’s not normally a noteworthy part of a trip, but in my house, it’s a big production. Not only do I have to pack all the usual clothes, jammies, toiletries, shoes, blankies, dollies, toys, and sundries for all four of us, I also have to pack all of Will’s 8 billion vitamins, supplements, and medications, many of which have to be refrigerated. Plus, I have to pack Will’s food. I don’t mean, oh, I have to pack a cooler so we have what to eat in the car or have some snacks in the hotel. I mean, “I better pack enough food for Will for the whole trip and then some because normal grocery stores don’t sell half the stuff he eats.”
In particular, this meant packing no fewer than seven boxes worth of Glutino brand gluten-free, pizza-flavored breadsticks. These “sticks” are more than Will’s favorite snacks. They’re also a significant portion of his diet, especially considering he’s narrowed himself down to about 6 foods despite my efforts to get him to try new things. Oh, yes, I’ve heard the adage for dealing with picky eaters by withholding favorites and offering only what you want them to eat: If they get hungry enough, they’ll eat. Come visit us and give that a try. Let me know how it works out for you.
Anyway, when you’re on a gluten-, casein-, and soy-free diet AND you’re a picky eater with autism, your mom better be a planner. Lucky for Will, I am. So off we went to Orlando, my CR-V packed to the gills with gluten-free sticks, sunblock, a full contingent of iPods, and few dozen strands of green yarn with masking tape on their knotted ends. What can I say? The kid likes yarn with tape on it. I make yarn with tape on it. It’s a hell of a lot better than his shredded paper phases.
The first thing we did at that Happy Place was head over to Guest Services, where they hooked us up big time with all sorts of helpful info and special passes. I thought for a second they were going to give us our own personal valet with the way they were going, but, sadly, no valet. I’m not really sure what a valet does, but I’ve never had one and the idea that I might be getting one for a day was pretty damn exciting. Big letdown.
Anyway, then they called over to Pixar Place (home of “Toy Story,” “Cars,” and a bunch of our other faves), talked to the people where Buzz and Woody hang out, and got us a private meeting with Will’s two favorite characters of all time. Seriously. We went straight there, gave our names, and were privately escorted into a little quiet space designed to look like Andy’s room from “Toy Story.” Will’s face when he looked up and saw Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody standing there, 6-feet tall and waving, was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Maybe the valet would have handed me tissues, but he wasn’t there, so I had to dig through the diaper bag myself.
Will hopped out of the stroller and walked right up to Woody with the biggest smile of his life. After a moment with Woody, he turned his attention to Buzz. Now, we have precisely 137 Buzz Lightyear toys in our house, and every single one of them over 5 inches tall makes certain noises and says specific phrases when Will presses the buttons on their space-suit chests, just like in the movies. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Will walked up to this towering, human-ish version of Buzz and started pressing the buttons on his chest waiting to hear, “To infinity! And Beyond!!” but I was. Every time I look at the pictures of him pushing Buzz’s buttons, I laugh all over again. Sometimes, I just love how linear his thinking is: This is Buzz. Buzz talks when I push his buttons. No exceptions for giant freak-size Buzzes that wave, never blink, and give you high-fives. So, honestly, I was kind of surprised when Buzz’s buttons didn’t work. I wouldn’t have thought to press them myself, but I think Will had a pretty good point in trying ‘em out. So, side note to the Disney folks: Get on that, would ya?
Next up, the Toy Story Midway ride, which Julia didn’t stop talking about for days. I cannot overstate this: Will went on a RIDE, people. A freaking ride. I thought I was going to faint, I was so shocked. But I didn’t, because there was no valet there to catch me, and so instead I just kvelled and platzed some, which was sufficient. Then we headed over to Pizza Planet for lunch, and Marty spilled a Mountain Dew all over some lady’s shoes while trying to balance a tray and push a stroller, so maybe it wasn’t the Happiest Place on Earth for her, but you know, I was practically high from seeing Will enjoy a ride so I honestly just didn’t care.
We sat down to lunch and Will dug into a bag of his sticks and some gluten-free cookies, checking out the little alien dudes hanging off the ceiling and watching, no lie, “Toy Story” on his iPod. Meanwhile, Julia bit the ears off a Mickey-shaped rice krispie treat I paid about a hundred dollars for and fell off her chair trying to hug Will. Best. Day. Ever.
We spent three days doing the whole Disney thing, and our magic “Will passes” got us into all sorts of things without having to wait in 3-hour lines. This is freaking genius on the part of the Disney people. If we had to wait in lines, Will would be a mess in about 5 minutes. Everyone around us would be miserable, we’d leave, and we wouldn’t spend money on all sorts of Disney-dise we don’t need but feel that odd Disney-fied impulse to buy. As it is, not only did we stay, but we also had a great time without subjecting other guests to huge bouts of screaming, and yes, we bought a whole bunch of crap that seemed really important at the time but was actually the same crap you can get at Target for about 1/18th the price.
We even got to skip the line to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. Anyone who had to wait an extra minute and a half because of this: thank you. Will would never have been able to wait an hour and a half in a confined space for … well, for anything. So, this was freaking amazing. Only, I think I might have gotten Donald fired, but it wasn’t my fault. Seriously.
We were standing there with Donald, and he picked Will’s bag of sticks up off the stroller tray. He hugged them a la, “These are mine. Yum!” and then stood there a second, holding them up. I got the feeling “Donald” wanted to know what they were, as we get that question a lot. So I looked at Julia – Will was done with Donald and had taken off across the room – and said, “Oh, look! Donald’s going to eat our gluten-free, pizza-flavored breadsticks!!” What? It was true. So Donald promptly turned away and bent over as best he could and started laughing out loud while trying not to. You know, the princesses and “people” characters talk, but the “suit” characters NEVER speak, and doing so is probably second only to “don’t take off your head” in the Character Code of Conduct. So I cracked up because it felt like I made one of those Buckingham Palace guards laugh, but that just drew more attention. See? This is where the valet could have helped, like with a diversion or something. Anyway, I hope I didn’t get Donald demoted to Pinocchio or anything, but it was pretty damn funny.
Unfortunately, the next time we go to Disneyla- damnit! – Disney World, we’re going to have to make the trip without Will’s sticks because I found out last week that Glutino is discontinuing them and I immediately started having heart palpitations. I told Marty about it like I was breaking the news that someone had died. When your kid only eats six foods and his favorite gets discontinued, it’s a seriously big deal.
I emailed the Glutino people and pled my case and basically begged them to sell me whatever stock they have so I could buy us some time to transition Will to something else. Nothing unreasonable, just maybe like … oh, a year’s worth would do it. What did they do? They sent me some coupons. Great and all, thanks for that, but I need the damn sticks, people. So I wrote them back and asked if I could have the recipe, seeing as they’re not going to be making the sticks anymore and I don’t want to create a competing product, I just want to feed my kid. They responded, saying they would “send you some coupons in the mail to try the bagel chips or crackers.” My friend Nicole says this is tantamount to telling a crack addict not to worry because you have some delicious apples he can have instead, but I think that’s crap because apples are actually awesome, especially honeycrisps, and bagel chips are lame.
There is absolutely nothing about bagel chips that will make Donald Duck laugh, and that’s just sad right there, even if laughing about the sticks did possibly get him fired. I’m thinking of starting an email campaign to get as many people as possible to email Glutino and ask for coupons they’ll ultimately send me, but I’m too busy blogging and reading gluten-free cookbooks. See? If I had a valet, he’d get right on it. I think.