Tween and Teen Parenting Lessons Learned at Disney World

Tween and Teen Parenting Lessons Learned at Disney World

"You picked a perfect time to ride," the cast member said as our MagicBands touched the Mickey scanners, which lit up the night with their green glow.

We were going to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, and the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular show had just started.

We worked our way through line, me worried the whole time that we would miss it, and were assigned to the very first row.

My thrill-seeking middle schooler was giddy with excitement. I confess that I felt more tired than anything. An hour earlier at dinner, as I'd been looking forward to putting my feet up for the night, the opportunity to return to the Magic Kingdom arose. When I balked, my daughter implored, "Please? We'll have fun!"

It was a Friday night. I'm painfully aware that the number of Friday nights that my daughter really wants to spend with me are limited.

"Yes, let's do it," I said.

I was second-guessing that choice as we waited for the next mine cart to arrive and whisk us away.

And a few moments later, when we whipped around a hairpin turn, music piped throughout the park swelled and the sky exploded with glittering lights.

We careened into a tunnel, where everything went dark but we could still hear the booms thundering outside. I worried that we were missing something, but then our mine cart emerged, only to be met with yet shimmering cascade. We climbed toward the sky and realized we had the perfect seats to soak in the simply dazzling display.

My daughter gripped my hand.

"This is amazing!" she yelled. "I've never seen anything like this!"

And neither had I.

I tried to figure out the last time that she grabbed my hand, only to have my attempt to reach into the memory bank thwarted by another quick turn. It didn't matter, she was holding it now.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the sky kept filling with bigger and brighter fireworks. My breath caught in my throat. I wished for a way to hit the pause button to make this moment last.

In a split second, we started a speedy descent and my daughter raised my hand in hers as she screamed with glee. It was clear that she did not wish for the ride to stop at all and would love it to go even faster.

I am far from the first parent to draw a parallel between riding a roller coaster and raising a child, but it was impossible not to see the similarities in that moment. And just as parenting a 13-year-old is new to me, riding a roller coaster amidst fireworks was also new.

The play of the darkness and the light heightened the fear and the excitement. I don't know that I'd ever worried about missing something on a roller coaster like I did on this ride with Wishes happening, and now parenting feels the same way now more than ever. I was here because I didn't want to miss out. There were moments where my stomach dropped and I had no idea what would happen next or if the best part was over, and then what I experienced next was even better than what I'd imagined.

It's like those few moments were scripted by a parent who has been in my shoes, one who knows the value of unexpected joy of both ginormous fireworks and a squeeze from a hand that is small, but not as small as I remember it.

And then it was over. My hair was blown, my pulse was rushing, and my heart was so very full.

"You were so right," I told the cast member as we left. "That was the perfect time."

I'm hoping to carry the tween and teen parenting lessons I learned that night into the teenage years. Scary doesn't always mean bad, and can be a precursor to fun, or beauty, or both.

I want to remember the value of saying "yes."

I hope I don't forget that sharp turns can take you in a fun new direction. Joy can happen you aren't expecting it. That it all goes so very fast and, while I can't hit pause, I can make the most of the moments I have and savor the memory of them far into the future.

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