"Go to Disneyland!" I'd shout.
Everyone laughed, knowing that it would never happen. But it was always fun to dream. And we'd end up going to the pool, or a car event. But as the self-proclaimed "Happiest place on Earth", it was my dream (and the dream of every kid on the planet, I imagine) to go to Disneyland.
My younger cousins have been going on almost annual trips to America for years. Of course, this always includes Disneyland in California (or Disney World in Florida). I love them to pieces but words cannot adequately express my jealousy. It ached deep inside of me. It highlighted everything that sucked about growing up in a financially poor, single parent family.
My Dad worked hard and my brother and I never went without. In fact, we were discussing last weekend how Dad did everything he could for us, including paying for flying lessons for my brother to help him achieve his dream of joining the Air Force. He also saved up for me to have SCUBA diving lessons to achieve my (never realised) dream of becoming a marine biologist, even though the plan never eventuated when I instead failed the dive medical and ended up enduring months of hospital visits. All this when, in all actuality, anything beyond food on the table, a roof above our heads, clothes on our backs and fuel in the car, were pretty much luxuries.
But there was still a part of me that felt a sharp sting of jealousy whenever I saw photos of my cousins' trips to Disneyland. I think as a child, and then a teenager, it was only natural. There were so many framed photos on their walls and their faces, so happy, yet unaffected by the sheer fortune of their situation, smiled at me. The Disney characters all kids can name hugged them tightly. I asked them questions about Disneyland and they told me stories of breakfasts with Disney stars, wild rides with crazy special effects and breath-taking shows. They showed me their signature books and I read off the names of Disney royalty whose pens had scrawled so beautifully across the pages. They showed me their pin collections and I learned about Disney pin trading. To think people did this as a hobby was astounding. They brought me back my own souvenirs and I marvelled that they were from Disneyland - really from Disneyland! Funnily enough, they never got me my own pair of Mickey ears. As I got older, the sparkle and fantasy started to wear off. A new jealousy struck me. I would never... never... experience Disneyland through the eyes of a child like they had - like so many other children had. But as is my way, a childlike spark in me never gave up on the pure wonderment and magic that is Disneyland and I continued to view it as the "Happiest place on Earth" - not just for children, but for me too!
For me, Disneyland was a pair of personalised Mickey Mouse ears perched on your head. It was a half an hour wait to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. It was posing with Alice and asking her to sign your autograph book. It was eating cupcakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse. It was finding the hidden Mickey on every ride. It was staring up at Cinderella's Castle and imagining being a real princess. It was laughing at the ridiculous face you pulled when you looked at the photo taken somewhere in the darkness on Space Mountain. It was staring in wide-eyed amazement at thrilling stage shows, breath-taking light and water spectaculars and seemingly impromptu entertainment on every street corner. It was waving at every Disney princess as she passed by in the Disney parade. It was hugging Mickey Mouse. It was wondering through aisles of merchandise and picking the few items you simply could not live without. It was hugging the people near you because they were there, you were happy and one day, they might not be there. It was taking silly photos, candid photos, posed photos. It was days spent smiling - where nobody argued or bickered. It was... magical.
Sometimes it scares me how charmed my life is. There are moments that the cataclysmic scale of coincidence, luck and fortune collide to alter my world in such a way that it takes my breath away and has even, at times, reduced me to tears. I am blessed and I know it. The day in November last year when my Dad said "Can you get time off in early December?" was one of them. I asked why, as I was in London and had only recently started a new job. I was confused as I knew Dad would be in America with my uncle, aunty and cousins and couldn't understand what I could need time off for. His response floored me.
"I thought you might like to come meet us in California and come to Disneyland with us..?"
To be continued...
Miss SAMawdsley xx