To the dismay of my then four young adult children, every birthday I answered their question with the same motherly line. “All I want as a gift are happy children.”
“God, Mom! There has to be something you want,” Jenni, grumbled, “We want to buy you a gift. Why do you make this so difficult?”
Thinking back to their annual plea, I had to agree. Sure, a nice purse or a pretty piece of jewelry would have been lovely. But the truth was, and still is, all I ever desired, from the moment they were born, was for them to be happy. Then, it hit me – the perfect gift.
“OK, I know what I want next year,” I shared happily on my fifty-fifth birthday in 2007, as one-by-one each called to wish me a lovely day. “I want us all to go to Disneyland one more time.”
First, there was silence on the other end of the phone. Then, a moan. Finally, the question, “Disneyland? Why there?”
Afraid to tell them the real reason behind my desire, I stated, “Well, I happen to love that place, and you’ve been asking what I want — so this is it.”
For the next several months, I nagged, pleaded, pestered, and cajoled until they finally agreed on a date in October that wouldn’t conflict with any college football game, class reunion, wedding, or another item of fun on their busy social calendar (people in their early 20s are very busy).
“Mom, I still don’t get why this is so important to you. That place is stupid, plus it’s a zoo on the weekends.” Lauren sighed, clearly annoyed. “Can’t we do something else?”
“I know, honey, but I want to go — and you guys promised.”
Finally, the day arrived. They’d made a commitment to their mother that had to be fulfilled. So, in true “good kid” fashion, they all sucked it up, stopped whining, and played along with my enthusiasm.
Driving to the park in our Tahoe SUV, Disney tunes blaring, I giddily announced, “First thing we need to do when we get there is buy a hat.”
“What?” Michelle said, horrified. Being there was torture enough in her 24-year-old mind, but the thought of walking around with Mickey Mouse’s ears on her head was more than she could handle. “We said we’d come. We didn’t say we’d agree to look like dorks!”
“Yep! You’re each going to pick out something fun. Then we’re riding everything in the park, especially Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”
For the next five hours, we looked ridiculous as we stood in lines long enough to aggravate even the most patient visitors. We ate popcorn, greasy hamburgers, french fries, churros, cookies, ice cream, indulged in some wine, and nearly threw it all up on Space Mountain. I was thrilled.
Later that afternoon, as we sat on a park bench, too exhausted to move, Tim put his arm around me and asked, “Mom, you know we’d have gone anywhere with you; why was it so important to come here?”
I studied the face of my 19-year-old baby, who was now a man wearing a ridiculous Pirates of the Caribbean hat and immersed myself in the memory of the day. “I just wanted to go back to the beginning with you kids, even if only for a few hours.”
When the Haugh children were little, Disneyland was their favorite destination. Remembering the rush of excitement as we entered the park, all four went running in different directions to find their favorite ride; I couldn’t help but smile. There were pictures to be taken with Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Donald Duck and a belief that fairy tales did come true as we walked through the castle to Fantasyland. The Happiest Place on Earth had true meaning for all of us.
Long ago, when our lives together began, we were strangers starting on a journey to become a family. Although biologically connected, there was much to learn about each other. Today, my children are adults with lives of their own. Going back in time, back to the beginning when I was the center of their universe, helped to link me to the person I used to be for them. It allowed me to relive and remember where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and how much I have grown — how much we’ve all grown.
Reliving old memories is one of my favorites past times. Of course, I can’t go back, nor would I even want to — what’s happening in the present is so exciting. But it helps to remind me that at every stage in my life, it was all good, even the difficult times. They were the chapters in my life’s book that led me to my great becoming — who God intended me to be.
After that day, I decided I didn’t need to relive any special moments physically. I have boxes of photographs and videos that help me do that but, now, my children and I appreciate a whole new meaning for gift giving.
Instead of spending money on things that only find their way to the back of a drawer, we make a point of spending precious time together and put that money towards a family event or trip together. The time to create new memories to be reviewed repeatedly in the future is the most valuable gift in the world. Memories that will forever help us go back to the beginning.