Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo

I got a chance to visit Disney World with my sisters, brothers-in-law, nephew and nieces a few months ago and I had a blast. The last time I had visited had been more than ten years earlier and I was still a teenager. When I came back I had already taught 11 batches of teenagers. How’s that for perspective?

In many ways, Disney World was as fabulous as I remembered it. Although my memories were a little bit hazy, there were moments when, walking along the theme parks, an inescapable feeling of familiarity would overwhelm me. But there were things too that I appreciated as an adult that totally escaped me as a teenager-like the efficient transport system, the intricacy of the costumes of even the regular performers, the general niceness of everyone including the tourists (how can you not be nice in Disney World?), not to mention the blatant display of consumerism.

But along with the wonder and the awe came a sense of frustration. Why couldn’t the United Nations leaders just get along and sing “It’s a small world after all” like the puppets did in the ride? Why couldn’t Mickey Mouse run for mayor of my city and make the roads clear and the transportation efficient? Why couldn’t the villains be clearly villainous and the heroes be clearly heroic in my world? And, more importantly, why wasn’t I born a princess? When you get into a world that claims to be “the happiest place on earth,” you tend to lose touch with reality.

And yet… and yet… and yet… for all excitement at having a royal dinner with the Disney princesses, for all my fanaticism over meeting Mary Poppins, my awe over the fireworks and my enjoyment of the shows, my favorite moments in Disney World had little to do with Disney and much to do with the world. If you were to ask me about my happiest memories in “the happiest place on earth,” it would have to be the moment when my two darling nieces whom I hadn’t seen in a long time ran to me and gave me a hug, or the moments that I spent talking nonsense with my sisters, or the moments when I saw my nephew and my niece marvel at the sights they saw, or the moments when my brother-in-law filled me in on some interesting piece of Disney trivia or when I found a piece of Disney merchandise that I just had to show to my sister or when I called my parents up at the end of the day just to tell them how much fun I was having.

Architecture, music and costumes can certainly set the mood for happiness and make for great photographs but it’s really only people who can make us happy. I have been and will probably always be a Disney fan. But if I never get to visit Disney World again, I’ll be just fine. As long as I’m with my family, I’ll be just fine. Because wherever the people I love are, that’s the happiest place on earth.

About Nancy Unchuan Toledo

When Nancy started teaching high school at age 21, she didn’t really think she’d make a career out of it. She was right. Ten years later and she realized teaching isn’t her career, it’s her passion. Writing is her passion, too, and she writes a bi-monthly column for the Freeman. Mostly she writes about her family, her friends, her students, her experiences in teaching, her love of books and her faith. Because those are the things that she cares about the most–although not necessarily in that order.

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