Took the ladies to the house of mouse to see their daddy at work today. I have been back only a small handful of times since I quit over two years ago, and it is always with mixed emotions that I return. Disney was synonymous with such a specific phase in my life- that post-college, pre-grown up time- and it is always strange to see it going on without you, the same players busy at the same game, never missing a beat, while your life seems so far away from what used to be your reality.
On the way home, I noticed a little dirt road intersecting with the main highway that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the road, I affectionately referred to it as simply “The Dirt” when I was still working at WDW, but I know every hairpin curve, every rut and every abandoned orange grove along its route. I drove that road home from work many times, not because it was faster or more efficient, it was quite the opposite really, but because it was a refreshing change from driving past the tourist trap strip malls and junky hotels with their “All Rooms Just $39/Night” signs that dotted my normal commute. Sometimes I would drive The Dirt by myself, cruising slowly, scanning the horizon for a coyote, searching the shoulder for a tortoise or armadillo. Sometimes I was flanked by my friend and fellow adventurer D, recklessly careening over ruts and around hairpin turns, my confidence bolstered by her 4x4, rope, and towing know-how just ahead of me. I took The Dirt in the orange glow of the sunrise, in the blackness of night without a streetlight in sight, even in the blinding rain, radio blaring, laughing out loud to myself, not much of a care in the world.
How things have changed, I think to myself, glancing in my minivan’s rearview at my two snoozing little ones. I wouldn’t dream of turning on to The Dirt now. Not a chance.
This change in me didn’t happen over night. I left Disney a couple of years ago, the first step towards my transformed life. Teaching Kindergarten was a totally different kind of responsibility from what I had shouldered as a tech. On the stage, if I made a mistake I put the lives of performers and fellow technicians at an immediate risk, and I was constantly and acutely aware of that fact. Teaching, if I made a mistake, the consequences might not be so immediate, but could be damaging in an entirely different way- a word spoken harshly, a skill not taught to mastery, missing a sign in a child that things were not well at home- these things put kids at risk too, and I took it every bit as seriously as I did my technician gig. Teaching changed my life outside of work too: suddenly I was a member of the community. People recognized me out and about. My days of wearing midriff shirts to the grocery store and cursing loudly at the Post Office were over. Now I glanced around surreptitiously before ordering a beer in a restaurant, concerned about undoing our “Too Good For Drugs” lesson about the evils of alcohol. My days of being a Responsible Citizen, of being a role model, had arrived.
Then, of course, there are the girls. I want them to be fearless adventurers, to not be afraid to face The Dirt in their lives, all the challenges and the beauty revealed in those experiences. It’s a fine line to expose them to this way of thinking, to encourage them to take chances, without ever putting them at risk. I want to lead by example, to show them life off the beaten path, the road less traveled as it were. But at the same time, I guess it’s ok that they know that my more carefree lifestyle, (A long time ago, yeah / Before you were born, dude…) was not better or worse than my more “traditional” suburban, mini van driving, stay-at-home mom life. It was just different. My life is still rich and rewarding. More so, even. Just in a totally different way. For now I will protect them. Because I can. But soon, they will be taking their first steps, toddling off down their own path, literally stumbling and falling from time to time. Soon those stumbles will be figurative. I will do my best to encourage them to take a different route, to explore a dusty trail, because you never know what you are missing by staying on the highway. I guess I just want them to know that no matter what, I won’t be far behind with 4 wheel drive and a rope. Just in case.