Disney World photographers take between 100,000 and 200,000 photos of guests at their theme parks every day. Everyone in these photos is all smiles. (The sticker shock of buying the photos must not have sunk in yet). But Disney ain’t always “The Happiest Place on Earth.” The photo you won’t see from the parks is one of a tiny, angry human trying to launch herself out of a jumbo-sized moving seashell. This would be my toddler.
We had decided to go to the Magic Kingdom to celebrate all 3 of our birthdays. We had a pretty good time: it rained shortly in the afternoon but was dry most of the day, and very few meltdowns occurred. The teacups and Philharmagic 4D show were a hit. But then we tried Epcot, and this was a completely different experience.
Turns out, the birthday girl had a major previously undiagnosed Epcot allergy. The same allergy she has to the Hanna Anderrson outlet store (and only that particular outlet store. Does it smell weird? Does she hate the Scandinavian aesthetic of the clothes? Is she sick of stripes? I may never know). Epcot was not as enjoyable as a result. An epic downpour of rain didn’t help much either. So, was it a loss?
I don’t think so. If we don’t try to do new or different things, we end up sitting at home, watching Netflix for the 453rd time and wondering where the week (month? Year?) went. It will all go by in a blur because nothing truly noteworthy stands out. When friends ask what we’ve been up to, all we can say is, “not much, really…”
When we choose experiences over things, the outcome isn’t as predictable: it may rain, our children may have a meltdown, we may get stuck in a long line or in traffic. But as cliche as it sounds, creating memories is worth it. There is still value to be found in experiences, even when they don’t go as you imagined. Perhaps, as Erin Loechner put it, “The easy things are never good and the good things are never easy.”
We all have finite resources. When thinking about what to put them towards when it comes to our kids, think about what they will remember when they’re older. They’ll remember the activities they did with their families and how they felt as a result. Going to look at holiday lights on Christmas Eve, game nights, trips, playing in soccer games, picnics, pitching tents in the back yard, dance parties in the kitchen, beach days, learning to bake– those are the things they’ll tell their own children about some day, and try to recreate with them. When asked what their favorite childhood memory is, no child is going to say, “man, let me tell you about my really impressive Barbie collection.”
I can remember maybe my 6-7 favorite toys I had as a kid, but the rest is a blur. What I do remember is the night we stayed up late assembling sundaes with our friends, the little dishes of colorful sprinkles and Oreos. I remember how tired I felt shaking a mason jar and thinking “this is never going to work,” but being so delighted at the homemade butter that formed inside. I remember being in awe of the tiny sandwiches and cookies at a tea party, and the brightly colored whirl of activity at a 4th of July parade.
I wondered if other people’s favorite memories centered around experiences rather than things. So I asked a few friends, “what were some of your favorite childhood memories”? “The first thing that comes to mind,” one said, “is that we used to go to the beach a lot every summer. We would go to Detroit in the summer to visit our cousins and it was always so fun. These were two of my favorite things as a kid. We’d eat at the White Castle there since they didn’t have it where we lived. Their hamburgers were 25 cents back then, so my dad would buy 50 of them for us and our cousins.”
Another friend said when she was 13, she loved wrapping up a box and putting her younger brother inside (leaving it partially open) and pretending that he was a Christmas present as she opened the box. Her favorite birthday memory was going to a “Spice Girl themed sleepover party at a family friend’s house. There were 6 of us girls. We danced, sang, did our make up, and had a super fun fashion show,” she said.
A third friend mentioned baking with her mother and grandmother, and playing with her cousins in the snow as two of her favorite memories. The final person I asked was my husband. He said going to Space Camp was one of his favorite memories. “What was cool about that?” I asked. “What wasn’t?” He replied. “They had a space shuttle where we could run shuttle simulations. They had a ‘zero gravity wall’ and a chair that would spin you in all different directions. I liked camp because I was really interested in space and being there for a week was the longest time I’d been away; I enjoyed being independent.”
So if you’re panicking trying to find the perfect gift for your child’s birthday, perhaps think of a place you could enjoy together vs. something that they open. Or, if you feel guilty that you can’t give your child “enough” things, remember that their favorite “things” are probably the activities that you do with them, not the items that they have sitting on their bookshelves. When you choose experiences over stuff, you create lasting memories that your children will talk about long after the experience is over.
If you enjoyed this post, please “like” and share it below: