Monday, October 29, 2012

A Magical Meltdown

Sometimes, it's best to cut your losses early

 "Abort the touring plan!" my husband joked, as I tossed my raging daughter over my shoulder and made a mad dash for Epcot's front gates.  Our morning had been stressful, to say the least.  We'd been introduced to a different side of Sadie that we'd never seen before, one whose fundamental goal was apparently to shock and embarrass her parents.  The last few hours had been consumed with reprimands, time-outs, and even (I'm ashamed to admit) a few desperate bribes in an attempt to appease my beast-daughter.  Unfortunately, the demon presence that had temporarily inhabited my daughter's body did not respond to the same palliatives and consequences that "normal Sadie" would have.  Finally, after a hurried lunch that culminated in the loudest temper tantrum that Sadie had ever unleashed (in arguably the most crowded location in all of Epcot), we decided to spare the public from any further exposure to our hot mess, and we bolted for the gates.

Now difficult to believe, the day had truly begun with such promise.  That morning, the sunlight had warmed our backs as we dined on cinnamon rolls and waited for Epcot to open for the day.  Fueled with Disney adrenaline, my son had not stopped talking since he woke up two hours ago.  Jack had been looking forward to this day since he first saw images of Epcot on the Disney planning DVD.  A science and information nut, he was immediately drawn to Epcot's vibe.

Starting our morning early at Epcot
Tip Time: Many first-time visitors shy away from Epcot because they think that their children will be bored.  Not true!!  Even if you don't have a little scientist in your family, your children will find plenty to love at Epcot.  Epcot offers character meets, kids' activities, and family-friendly attractions, complete with those little magical touches that make Disney parks so unique.

As Jack chattered away in the background, I glanced down at my daughter.  The contrast in the demeanor of my two children could not have been more pronounced.  While Jack had spent the morning bouncing around like a wind-up toy, Sadie had barely summoned the energy to drag herself out of the stroller.  My intuition told me that she was on the brink of a major meltdown.  I could almost see the cloud of doom slowly building around her, threatening to destroy everything in its path.

Streamers, streamers everywhere!
I'd started to realize that the last few days had taken their toll on Sadie.  When designing our touring plans, I'd decided to make "rope drop" ("Disney Speak" for park opening) a priority.  I knew that we could accomplish more in the first few hours of each day than we could in the entire afternoon and evening combined.  Besides, our kids were early risers at home; if they slept until 7:00am, I was grateful.  What I'd failed to consider was that, even though my kids were used to early mornings, they were not accustomed to all of the walking they'd done and the stimulation they'd been exposed to over the last few days.  My daughter, especially, was starting to fatigue.

Tip Time: If you are staying at Disney World for more than four days, consider taking a mid-week break.  Plan a non-park day where you can sleep in (or at least be lazy in the morning), swim in the pool, visit Downtown Disney, or play a few rounds of miniature golf.  

Then suddenly..."look!!!!" Jack yelled at the top of his lungs.  The Epcot Welcome Show had ended, showering the crowd with streamers.  As if on cue, Sadie leaped out of the stroller, hands flailing, a smile spreading across her face.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized that, at least for now, the impending meltdown had been avoided, courtesy only of the colorful pieces of paper that were floating to the ground around her.  Realizing, however, that this reprieve could be short-lived, we decided to start the day with a little Disney magic, heading immediately to the Epcot Character Spot to meet the Fab Five.

Starting the morning at Epcot Character Spot
Tip Time: Currently under refurbishment, the Character Spot at Epcot is one of the best places to meet the five "biggies": Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy.

After feeding her character addiction, Sadie's mood was much improved (at least temporarily).  So, I pulled out our touring plan, and off we went again!  Epcot is divided into two distinct sections: Future World (containing pavilions that celebrate innovation and technology) and World Showcase (boasting detailed pavilions celebrating eleven different nations).  World Showcase typically opens at 11:00am, so our general plan was to spend the morning in Future World, return to the hotel to rest in the afternoon, and visit World Showcase in the evening.  Once again, the touring plan was a tremendous success, allowing us to walk right on to most of the headliner rides.  Furthermore, because we stayed ahead of the crowds, we were able to leisurely explore Future World's unique exhibits.  Jack was in heaven.

Loving Epcot's exhibits
By mid-morning, however, Sadie had started to deteriorate again.  If one of us looked at her the wrong way, she began to cry.  If she didn't get her way, an angry outburst ensued.  Once again, our family was faced with a conundrum.  Should we scrap the rest of the touring plan and return to the hotel early?  Or should we power through the morning as planned and leave the park after lunch?  Since this was our only day at Epcot and Jack was having such a great time, we decided to soldier on and try to deal with Sadie's behavior in a calm but firm manner.

Fast-forward three hours later, and we were seriously regretting that decision.  Although we'd completed our touring plan (and my son had really enjoyed himself), my husband and I were a frazzled mess by the time we boarded the monorail for the ride back to our hotel.  Frustrated and tired, I stared out of the window as the monorail began to move.  That morning, we'd employed all of the parenting strategies in our repertoire to no avail.  On a normal day, these strategies would have quickly curbed any poor behavior, but not today.  I was at a complete loss for what to do next.

"Hey," my husband whispered, gesturing toward the stroller.  "Look."  Fully prepared to be met with yet another scowl, I glanced down at my daughter.  What I saw instead was the sweet face of my exhausted little girl, head flung back, mouth wide open, totally passed out.  Suddenly, it hit me.  The reason that my normal parenting strategies had failed was because this day was nowhere near normal.  For the last three days, our kids had been bombarded with near-constant stimulation.  This can be exhausting for people of all ages; for some children (like Sadie), it can become completely overwhelming.  Even though we'd kept reasonable bedtime hours and provided our children with afternoon breaks, the stimulation had caught up with Sadie, and she was simply fried.         

Tip Time: If it becomes obvious that one of your children is inconsolable, consider sending that child back to the hotel with a parent and allowing other children to continue enjoying the parks with another adult.  Although this is not an ideal situation, it may be a better option than powering through the morning like we did.      

Realizing that my daughter desperately needed a break from the frenetic pace we'd been keeping, we decided to take an extra-long afternoon break.  When we returned to Epcot that evening, we tossed out my touring plan and completely avoided Future World, choosing instead to leisurely stroll through the relatively low-key World Showcase.  Jack had a blast participating in a few Kim Possible missions **, and Sadie loved the craft stations at each of the nation's pavilions.  By the end of the night, we had all recuperated enough to stay and enjoy IllumiNations, Epcot's nighttime fireworks show.  As my kids munched on popcorn, the light from the fireworks reflecting in their eyes, I once again breathed a sigh of relief.  Our relaxing evening had restored my daughter's sanity, and all was right with the world again.

Later that evening...

** Kim Possible Missions, recently reconceived as Agent P Missions (from Disney's Phineas and Ferb) provide children with an engaging opportunity to help save World Showcase from doom.  Kids are assigned a device (similar to a cell phone) that connects them to the game. 

The Magic Minus the Mayhem


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