disney2To the dismay of my 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, would grumble, “We want to buy you a something. Why do you have to make this so difficult?”

Later, thinking back to their annual plea, I had to agree that, perhaps, I was being difficult. 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. Then, a groan by all. 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. I’ll even pay for it.”

For the next several months, I nagged, pleaded, pestered, and cajoled until they finally agreed on a date the following 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 as we drove to the park in our Tahoe SUV, Disney tunes blaring. And just as we arrived, 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?”

As I studied the face of my 19-year-old baby, who was now a man wearing a ridiculous Pirates of the Caribbean hat, I 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 ride of choice; I couldn’t help but smile. There were pictures to be taken with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Cinderella, and Donald Duck and the 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, as each child came into this world, I realized we were strangers starting on a journey to become a family. Although biologically connected, there was much to learn about each other: what would their personalities be like, would they become athletes or dancers (maybe even both). But more importantly, would I be able to instill a moral compass in them so they’d make the right decisions, as well as learn to be kind and loving to all.

Today, my children are in their thirties and forties  with lives and children of their own. And, I’m thrilled to know that they, too, only want as a gift each year happy children. But going back in time (if only for a day), 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 also 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.

Today, I don’t need to relive any special moments physically. I have boxes of photographs and videos that help me do that. But the takeaway that day led us to a new art of gift giving. Now, 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 that will be treasured in the future, as well as an opportunity for a moment in time to take us back to our beginning. What could be better?

What special place do you and your loved ones want to revisit?

                            Author’s children waiting on the bench for their big Disneyland adventure
                                                          Same bench all those years later