I spent one year working for the Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney World. It was hands down the most magical year of my life, filled with fun, learning, and a boatload of funny stories.
While I learned important lessons about teamwork and the power of positivity, I also learned a thing or two about parenting. By interacting with families of different backgrounds, sizes, and child-rearing styles, it became clear that all parents had alter egos on vacation. It was obvious when mom or dad were in full vacation parent mode, because they were savvy and quick on their feet when it came to handling children in a high stress (or high excitement) situation.
Here are some examples of how parents inspired me and had me taking notes on their impressive theme park parenting.
- Parents will stop at nothing to make sure that their kids are happy, even if that means sitting through It's A Small World for an entire afternoon. While visiting Magic Kingdom on a day off, I watched a father re-enter the line for It's A Small World four times because his daughter, "wanted to see the babies sing again." My heart went out to him, and I respected the fact that he loved his daughter so much, enough that he would voluntarily ride in the tiny boat with her over and over again.
- Stroller folding is an art form that is extremely underappreciated. This I learned firsthand. Being a stroller parker just comes with the job when you work a Disney attraction. Fellow cast members and I would bribe each other to take our stroller shifts, because it was a grueling task. Not every stroller folds the same way, and some have crazy hard child safety locks that require patience and an owner's manual to unlock. I respect the parents who lug these contraptions around with them all day long!
- Parents are experts when it comes to coping with wait times. I always commended those parents who stood on the two-hour meet-and-greet lines for characters with their kids. I felt sorry for these parents, until I looked closer. Their diaper bags were packed with snacks, coloring books, tablets loaded with movies, and anything else to entertain the little ones. It was like watching that scene from Mary Poppins where Mary opens up her duffel bag and pulls out a giant lamp and a potted plant, only with jumbo-sized bags of Cheerios and iPads instead.
- There is nothing quite like experiencing Disney through the eyes of a child. It is the reason why families keep coming back to Disney, and why I saw so many smiling parents crying happy tears when their kids saw Mickey for the first time or finally became big enough to ride the big-kid rides. In a child's eyes, every character and attraction is real and there isn't anything that magic can't do. It was awe-inspiring and completely enlightening, talking to kids every day about Walt Disney World and all of the things they saw. I cried at least once a day, listening to the kids tell me about how the Make-A-Wish Foundation sent them to Disney to fulfill their dream of meeting Mickey Mouse or how they couldn't wait to meet Cinderella and give her handwritten letters or colored pictures because she was their hero. It was an honor and it's a much missed privilege to spend my days making magic for kids from around the world.
Image: Lake Buena Vista, FL via Shutterstock
Insider Tips: Make the Most of Your Disney Vacation
Brooke Schuldt is an intern at Parents and the mother of a cactus named Timmy. She has a different hair bow for every day of the week. Follow her on Twitter.