Wishes really do come true.
Spend any amount of time at Disneyland, and you’re bound to encounter this refrain.
Sometimes it will come from a well-rehearsed and slightly bored-sounding Storybook Land canal boat operator. Other times, you’ll see it emblazoned on a pair of souvenir Mickey Mouse ears.
And, if you’re a cynic like I am, you might scoff, or roll your eyes.
But it’s true.
Last week, instead of slogging away for this fine newspaper, I was in California with my family. We were at Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, to be more specific.
It wasn’t simply a vacation. It was the realization of a wish our 5-year-old son, August — who loves few things in this world more than Anna and Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” — made nearly a year ago.
August has a rare neurological condition called Alexander Disease. I won’t dedicate an entire paragraph to explain what that means, medically speaking (you can Google it if you’d like) because the specifics aren’t really necessary.
It’s enough to know that earlier this year, August’s medical team at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital referred him to the Make-A-Wish program. Shortly thereafter, a dedicated pair of wish grantors visited our home.
They asked August all sorts of questions. Most importantly, they asked him what might make him happiest, if anything was possible.
Eight months later — last week — we boarded an Alaska Airlines flight bound for Santa Ana.
August had an important date with Anna and Elsa.
As I’ve already copped to, I can trend toward cynicism. It’s a personal defense mechanism, I suppose, in a world that so often disappoints. Over the years, I’ve leaned on it many times.
But this cynicism took a major hit last week. It’s hard to be jaded when faced — again and again — with the overwhelming goodness in people, and with the random acts of strangers who, knowing your son is facing a life-threatening disease, go out of their way to make him smile, if only for a few minutes.
It’s hard to be jaded when faced – again and again – with the overwhelming goodness in people, and with the random acts of strangers who, knowing your son is facing a life-threatening disease, go out of their way to make him smile, if only for a few minutes.
At the park, I often found myself looking into the eyes of some costumed adult, telling Pluto or Mickey or Goofy, “This is August. He’s here on his Make-A-Wish trip.” The not-so-subtle message being: “You better go all out here, because we’re making memories.”
And, of course, they always did — every single time. Because it’s Disneyland, and that’s what they do.
On the second day of our trip, however, August got sick. He started throwing up in the night, and ended up in the ER at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. When a doctor told us he’d need to be admitted to the hospital because his dehydration was so severe, the news was devastating. Tears flowed from our entire family.
Admittedly, the Make-A-Wish experience can feel like choreographed happiness. But, a funny thing happened along the way: I started to buy into it. Expectations get big, and to have August’s wish unexpectedly threatened brought out a flood of emotions I hadn’t yet realized were built up around the trip.
Thankfully, like all good Disney tales, this one has a happy ending. August recovered after a night in the hospital, and the Alaska and Washington chapter of Make-A-Wish — which granted some 300 wishes last year — came to the rescue, extending our stay by a day and ensuring that August would get to meet Anna and Elsa.
You should have seen his wry smile as the two princesses engulfed our son in their love, holding his hands and telling him jokes.
The whole experience left me wanting to find a way to express my gratitude, and the gratitude of our entire family. I’ll start, simply, with this column, and continue by finding a way to give back to Make-A-Wish in the years to come. The organization has won over this cynic, completely.
Originally, I wasn’t planning on writing about any of this. For one, I don’t want August to be known as the kid with a rare and debilitating disease. I just want him to be a kid.
Stuck with short end of the stick from life, he deserves at least that much.
Secondly, it’s hard. Actually, that’s selling it short: It’s really freaking hard. As cliché as it sounds, since August’s diagnosis three years ago the only way we’ve found to cope is to take one day at a time, be thankful for the small things and save worrying about the inevitable for a later date.
That later date, of course, is still on the horizon. There’s no escaping it, and no point in trying.
But, last week, in Disneyland, August’s wish really did come true.
Just like they promise.
And it was truly magical.