When I was a kid, my parents took us to Disneyland.
On our first day in the parks, my brother and I acted like crazy people, dashing to be first in line for every ride, even the lame ones. We ogled the Western displays in Frontierland and wandered through Tomorrowland, gazing at the futuristic spires and towers with our eyes falling out of our heads. It was so much. It was more than we had ever thought it would be, and we wanted to soak up the experience and drown in it.
After a few hours of running around like idiots, we started noticing other kids with autograph books. They were taking these books up to the characters who wandered around the park in their sweaty costumes and the characters would cheerfully sign them, with a wink and a floppy-wristed wave.
We had to have these autograph books.
That evening, when we got back to the smoky Best Western we were staying in, my parents took a trip to a nearby Safeway and picked out a couple little Disney themed notebooks from the limited School Supply section. Ben and I were happy as dogs at the beach, and the next day we proudly took our notebooks and went on a search for every character we could find.
It became a game in of itself. We hunted characters throughout the parks, spotting them as they passed between two perfectly manicured trees and stalking them until they strayed into the quiet alley next to the Dumbo ride or the Haunted Mansion. Finally, we’d pounce, leaping out at them and politely asking if they could please sign our books for us, and thanking them when they were done.
This became almost more fun than the rides (almost) and Ben and I were enjoying ourselves thoroughly when we saw a pair of dwarves crossing the bridge by the Cinderella castle. The dwarves (Dopey and Grumpy, I believe) had eluded us earlier in the day. We had thought we had them, but when we sprang around the corner by the spinning teacups, they were gone. We saw our chance and we ran towards them, calling their names.
Breathlessly we held out our autograph books and they turned towards us, reaching for them with their static smiles.
And then, out of nowhere, we got TOURISTBLOCKED.
A posse of grownups swarmed out of nowhere, and Ben and I were shoved out of the way. I couldn’t find my autograph book until I saw somebody stepping on it. Our voices were drowned out by laughing and jabbering and cheering, and the dwarves giggled and capered, shaking the hands of any paunchy businessman or Japanese tourist that fought their way close to them.
Ben and I did what any child does when an adult steps in front of them in line. We stood back, quietly clutching our autograph books, and waited for our turn.
After a few minutes, it became apparent that our turn wasn’t coming. The dwarves were turning to go on their way and the crowd was following them, hooting and snapping photos. Ben tugged on my sleeve.
“C’mon,” he said. “Maybe we can find Chip N’ Dale, like on Rescue Rangers.”
Suddenly, a sharp, loud voice cut over the din.
The crowd fell silent, and my mother stalked forward, her hands clenched into fists and thunderclouds trailing in her wake. She stood there and glared into the face of every tourist in turn.
“What’s the matter with you?” she bellowed. “Don’t you see there are KIDS here? KIDS! At DISNEYLAND! Didn’t you see it was their turn?”
A few shoes scuffed the ground uncomfortably. A couple heads hung. My mother continued, her eyes blazing.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves, acting like this. What’s the point? What does it matter to you that you get your photo with Sneezy? How is that going to impact the rest of your day? And how is it going to impact their’s?” She gestured to Ben and I with an angry jerk of her thumb. Neither of us were sure of how we should feel about the situation. Our mother was endlessly patient and mild. We had never heard her yell like that before, or seen her knuckles turn that white. We were partially amazed, and partially terrified. Someone in the crowd coughed and attempted to speak up.
“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t see them there.”
“You sure saw them when you pushed them,” my mother spat. “Now, all of you, GET OUT OF THE WAY, and WAIT YOUR TURN.”
The crowd parted automatically, like the Red Sea Of Assholes. Our mother nudged us forward and Ben and I shuffled up to the dwarves and held out our books.
“Can we have your autographs please?” we asked in unison. The dwarves signed. I could have sworn that Dopey’s hand was quivering. “Thank you,” we said in unison again. Our mother nodded. The tourists were watching her as though any minute she might call down lightning to strike them where they stood. She didn’t.
Instead, she took our hands, threw one last burning stare over her shoulder, and went to go buy us each a churro.
Now, that was the way I remembered it happening, but time and perspective have a way of obscuring these things. It may have only been a pair of teenagers, not a seething throng of tourists. Instead of a speech, my mother might have just yelled at them to move so that we could get through. Instead of looking properly ashamed and mortified, they might have just sniggered at her and left.
That doesn’t matter though. Those are details. What is important is that I was scared and overlooked, and my mother defended me. That’s what I took away from it, and as we sat together on a spotless park bench, munching on churros, I felt prouder than I had ever felt in my brief little life.
My mother, I suddenly understood, was a badass.
Today is her birthday. Happy birthday, Mom. Thanks for the churros.