But Where Is the Real Mickey Mouse?

An important part of creating fun experiences for your children is lying to them. Some of them little – “We’ll only be in the store for a minute.” Some of them big – “Be good or Santa won’t bring you anything.” A major reason is because it benefits us, we do it to get our kids to do what we want them to do. Though I think an equally important reason we lie to our kids is to benefit them. To preserve the wonder and magic of childhood.

Santa is the big example here, which all my kids still firmly believe in, but a recent trip to Disney On Ice now has me wondering just how solid the ground that lie is sitting on really is. Mickey Mouse is quickly eroding it.

Interestingly enough it actually started at Christmas. We were watching Disney’s Magical Holiday Celebration and we were all enjoying it – singing, dancing, Christmas, Run DMC, what’s not to like? But when Mickey Mouse came out, it struck a cord of disappointment in my oldest daughter. The reason? It wasn’t the real Mickey Mouse.

When she pointed that out, I didn’t quite know what to say. For one thing, her younger sister and brother were sitting right there so revealing that it is a person in a suit and shattering the illusion for the little ones didn’t feel right. I also didn’t want to insist that it was and start an argument about it. My daughter would be happy to present a counter argument that the sky really isn’t blue, so she’d really dig her heels in on dancing Christmas Mickey.

“Well, he’s not a cartoon like you usually watch.” I replied. Sound logic, and neither a confirmation nor denial. We went back to the show and she didn’t bring it up again, but watching her I could tell she wasn’t believing in the illusion.

Flash forward a few months and Disney On Ice comes to town and we go. The girls are dressed up in costumes, they’ve never been to the arena before, there’s popcorn – it’s all very exciting. The lights go down, the music starts, Mickey skates out, and my daughter’s face drops. Once again, it is not the real Mickey Mouse. It’s the same costumed imposter from Christmas.

At this point, I’m not sure if she’s expecting a cartoon come to life or an actual giant mouse (which if you think about it would be absolutely terrifying), but she is not buying it. She’s 6 going on 16 and the magic and wonder of childhood is fading one truth at a time. And that sucks.

Several years ago before my wife and I had kids, we took a weekend trip to a little tourist town not too far from us (Frankenmuth – Michigan’s Little Bavaria!) and went to a fairly cheesy, very touristy restaurant for dinner. At the table next to us there was a family that looked like they were celebrating something for one of their kids, birthday or graduation or something. There was a cake, there were balloons, there were smiling faces. But what stood out to us was the family mopey teenage son. Sitting at the end of the table with a typical “I’m too cool for this so I’m going to pout about it” dopey look on his face – which I believe is standard issue when you turn fifteen. My wife and I couldn’t stop laughing at this walking talking Dashboard Confessional lyric as he sat there grumpily shoveling noodles into his melancholy teenage face. He’s become a reference point for us – the noodle kid – when we have one person being the turd in the punchbowl. I don’t know how, but I’ll do anything I can to stop any one of my children from being our family’s noodle kid.

I want my kids to believe that giant felt mouse is real. I want my kids to believe in Santa. Not just until they are 7 or 8, but forever. Well, not really forever, but would a few nights a year for the rest of their lives really be too much to ask? Can’t we continue to suspend reality just for the sake of holidays and themed entertainment? Sometime in the next year we plan on going to Disney World, and for those few days I’m going to believe that the Mickey Mouse I see in the parade is real. Just as real as the one I saw over by Space Mountain ten minutes ago. Never mind how he changed out of that space suit so quickly – he waved at me!

I fear that our photo op with Mickey will consist of four happy faces and one disillusioned frowning first-grader who refuses to believe that it is the real Mickey. Not only would that ruin the picture but it would really give me some buyer’s remorse on spending money on Disney World for the same level of awe and wonder I could give my daughter at Chuck E. Cheese.

I know my kids will all get wise and see through the little lies we tell them, but can’t they at least still believe the fun lies? What if I cut them a deal? I’ll admit that, no, grades really aren’t that important as long as you graduate if they agree to believe in Santa until they move out of the house. Seems reasonable.

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