One year ago, on a Thursday night much like today, Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World closed forever and marked the end of an era not only for the theme park but also for my family. From the spring of 2002 through the spring of 2012 we had spent countless hours on and around that ride, and had watched Ben slowly evolve from "fevered obsession" to "comfortable safety blanket", and then it all went away forever. On the upside, that final night of operation on May 31st, 2012 was a remarkable night that will live in our memories forever. On the downside, Ben lost his favorite thing in the world with no way to really understand why. And so, the most common question I get is, "How is Ben doing now? Is he over it?"
The short answer is, "Yeah, mostly." As usual, the long answer is a little more complex and nuanced.
As I have already written about, the first few months after the ride closed were pretty difficult. That very first time that Ben visited the Magic Kingdom last June and came face-to-face with the blue construction wall was heartbreaking in the truest sense. He paced the entire wall looking for a way to get inside, and then walked away in the drizzling rain holding on to his mother's hand as his shoulders sagged and his head hung low in sadness. It was a Charlie Brown moment if ever there was one.
Over time he seemed to get over it, and by winter he stopped even going by the old location of SWSA. By all appearances he had fully comprehended and accepted that his ride was gone forever. Throughout summer and fall we watched the New Fantasyland expansion blossom into reality, and Ben checked out each new attraction and themed area as they opened up. He was not particularly impressed with the new Dumbo spinners, but he did like the newly-themed train station. The one time he went into the new Belle meet and greet he seemed to really enjoy it, and when the new Little Mermaid ride finally opened he adored it.
Over time, though, I began to notice some other interesting changes. Ben has become a much more patient man than he was even twelve months ago. Where waiting in lines used to drive him absolutely crazy, now he is perfectly content to wait his turn. Over the past few months we have completely weaned him away from the Guest Assistance Pass, and when he wants to go on a ride he is perfectly content to stand in line like everyone else. Beyond the park, his patience is apparent in other contexts as well. It used to be that I avoided taking him to any restaurant nicer than a McDonald's because he would never sit still long enough for a meal. Now, though, he will placidly sit and listen to music or look at pictures for however long he is asked to. Long drives in the car are not an issue, and we have reached the point where I believe he is ready for air travel. We have begun planning for a trip to Disneyland, where not only will he get to visit Snow White's Scary Adventures, but also see the Alice in Wonderland ride as well as the real Pirates of the Carribbean (let's face it, the version here in Florida is just a pale imitation). I dream of eventually taking him to visit every Disney park in the world in order to ride every remaining operating version of Snow White, but we need to see how he does on a simple cross-country flight before we attempt an international trip. Well, that, plus there is the trivial matter of cost...
While I thought that Ben was finally completely over the loss of his ride, in the past few months he has been asking about it again. He looks at the pictures, he watches videos of it on YouTube, and on a recent visit to the Magic Kingdom he even gave me a hopeful look and asked, "Go see... Snow White...?" My heart broke all over again at that request. Because of that, we are not specifically doing anything with him tomorrow to commemorate the one year anniversary of the ride's passing. As a matter of fact, tomorrow will be spent on a field trip to Sea World with his class. I hear the new Antarctic exhibit is open, so hopefully he will enjoy seeing the penguins. I guess it is a fitting sign of moving on, while still feeling the loss. I don't think it is exaggerating too much to say that it is like mourning the death of a loved one -- the pain is no longer acute, but there is still a hole left behind that will never really be filled no matter how much time passes.
In happier news, Ben went to Prom last Friday with his girl Madeline. I don't know that they actually have any romantic feelings towards each other, but they do both enjoy spending time together and they make a dang cute couple. Ben got dressed up in a brand new outfit that is mother helped him pick out, and Madeline wore a lovely black dress that matched perfectly. It was a bit like herding cats in order to get a photo of them together before going in to the dance, but here it is. My little man is not so little anymore.