Before we left the hospital nearly a year ago, we were warned that Maggie might not respond the way we expected to the news of Elena’s death. Sure enough, her initial response was very concrete. A little later while she and I waited in the car for Kim, Maggie said “now we’ll never go to Disney World.”
We had put off Disney until Elena was tall enough to ride the rides. We had thought about going a few weeks earlier but hadn’t. Elena had never gotten to Disney. She loved the characters and totally bought into the magic.
I love the parks. I had contacted them a couple of times trying to get them to hire me as a contractor to do podcasts about the various parks at WDW like a friend of mine does for Disneyland. At one point they posted my dream job – working with podcasting and blogs about the parks at WDW. I’ve never actually gotten a response to my inquiries or applications – not even an acknowledgment – but a boy can dream can’t he.
Elena was all about the magic. She loved the princesses. Maggie never did. Elena would be in her room having a make believe party with one or more of them. She would become one of them for a day or two. For a while she was in the habit of talking to an invisible friend named Stephen who was the handsome prince in one of the stories.
For her bedtime story she would often bring out a Disney collection of chapters on the different princesses.
“Are your teeth brushed?” I’d ask.
“Yep,” she’d open her mouth wide and bare her teeth to prove it. She’d move in and blow towards my mouth.
“What are you doing?” I’d ask.
“Smell my breath. It’s minty.” She’d put her hands on her hips and hold out the book. “C’mon big boy, read me a story.”
“Which one should we read?” I’d ask.
“What’s your favorite, daddy?” she’d ask back.
“I don’t know,” I’d say, “they are all so good.”
“That was sarcasm, wasn’t it daddy?” she’d ask.
“Yep, it was.”
And then she’d pick a story. We’d read it together sitting in my and Kim’s bed and then I’d carry her into her room while she held her book. She’d thumb through the other stories telling herself shorter versions based on the pictures.
Disney was made for Elena. Going without her would be difficult but how do we not take Maggie. A couple of weeks later the issue was resolved. There in the Dells with Maggie’s Shen sisters we decided that for the tenth year reunion of the girls we would meet in Orlando instead of in Wisconsin.
We still had park tickets from 2001 when we were supposed to go down there with my parents. Elena was a couple of months shy of her second birthday and Maggie was four. It would have been a very different trip. We asked my parents if they wanted to go to Disney with us for a few days before the Shen sisters arrived. We ended up flying down with them on Monday and staying with them through late Thursday night.
Maggie had a ball. We stayed in the least expensive Disney hotel we could find and took buses back and forth to the parks. We got a late start on Monday but still managed to explore some of the Magic Kingdom before taking the monorail over to Epcot.
Tuesday we started at the Animal Kingdom. Any time a Disney character got close, Maggie would take my arm and lead me the other way. She loved the animals and steered us away from most of the rides. We went on a water ride that left her soaked so we decided there was no harm in riding it again and again. Drenched to the bone we headed over to the Lion King show.
The Circle of Life show, like all of the Disney shows, is presented in a theatre dedicated to that show. We sat in the second row in a theatre in the round. The stage craft was amazing. The show began with a parade of color. People dressed in costumes of different animals. The stage rolled in on four trucks. The stagehands quickly assembled the center stage for a trapeze and trampoline act. The show was a fun combination of music and acrobatics with the actors coming right up to our seats. At one point they asked Maggie if she wanted to join them on stage for a scene in which the animals paraded with children from the audience. She said no. She’s just not big on characters.
Kim and I teared up throughout the show. There was no way to watch music from Elena’s favorite musical without feeling her presence. And then they began to sing “The Circle of Life”. I moved away from Maggie a bit so she wouldn’t feel me sobbing. Kim was right there with me. She moved away from my mom so as not to disturb her. The two of us sat close to each other thinking of our little girl as a woman sang the line that we’d just chosen for the side of her headstone: more to do than can ever be done.
We had another couple of numbers to bring ourselves back in control. I guess we had brought Elena to Disney with us. And then the lights came up on the audience and we all headed back out into the rainy day.
If Elena were physically with us we would have gone to see the characters standing along the way. We would have ridden more rides. We would have seen more shows. Instead, we spent some more time with animals on our way to the front of the park. We took a bus to the transportation center and then a boat back to the Magic Kingdom so that we could catch a nighttime parade where the floats were lit up.
At the end of the night we took a bus back to the hotel and Maggie and I went swimming while Kim and my mom went to get us all hot chocolate. We were in a building with a giant replica of a can of Play Doh in the middle and a giant yo-yo at each end. I’m sure Maggie had a great time and don’t know if she noticed anything missing.
I know we can’t live our lives saying “Elena would have …”, and yet, Elena would have loved this week. It would have been a very different week for Maggie – but she and Elena would have been able to have told each other these stories for the rest of their lives.