disney 3With the bright lights of Disneyland illuminating the world behind us, my family made our way to the bus that would give us a lift back to our hotel. Our weary legs, which had walked miles around The Happiest Place on Earth for four days, staggered down the long path. When we reached the bus stop, we slumped over in exhaustion. My wife carried our 2 year old son as my 7 year old daughter zonked out in the stroller. My 9 year old leaned his head, bearing Mickey Mouse ears, upon my shoulder. It was at this time that I suddenly became very sad.

As we waited for the bus to arrive, I glanced over at the teenagers standing with their parents. The parents looked off in one direction while the teens’ fingers moved quickly over their phones. You could have placed walls between each person and they would not have noticed. My eyes went from the teens to my own children and the crashing realization that my kids soon would be at that age fell heavily upon my chest.

Those moments happen to me every once in a while, and when they do I force myself to think about all of the exciting things that my kids and I will do or discuss when they are older. But at that moment, with the ears from my son’s Mickey Mouse hat poking me in the cheek, I wanted to freeze time.

Throughout the week, I was completely wrapped up in my kids’ excitement of being at Disneyland. My 7 year old daughter laughed hysterically as the rides whipped her around and was awestruck by waving princesses. My two year old screamed “Ickey” with delight every time he saw Mickey Mouse, and my 9 year old son held my hand (which he is doing less and less) as we walked around the park and gave me an excited high five whenever our roller coaster came to a stop. The realization of my children’s fleeting innocence and disregard for appearances grieved me as we sat in the shadows of the texting teenagers.

Who knows when my family will return to Disneyland? There aren’t any Disneyland or Disneyworld trips on the horizon. (Though we are going on a Disney cruise in the fall.) I’m guessing several years will pass before we climb the stairs to Space Mountain again. Which means the next time we go, my kids are going to be even older. In fact, they will probably be the same age as those teens.

The bus arrived and we carried our bags and stroller up the steps and plopped down on a seat. I wrapped my arm around my oldest son’s shoulder and asked what his favorite part was. He ran through a list of rides and experiences and then he asked me the same question. I answered, simply watching him and his siblings.

Then he asked what my favorite ride was. After thinking for a moment, I told him Star Tours, the Star Wars ride that takes you on a 3D adventure. When I was a kid, my world revolved around Star Wars. I had all of the figures and ships and my days were spent playing with the toys and watching the movies. When I sat next to my kids inside the Star Tours ride, I wasn’t just their father, but someone reliving their childhood. Nobody had a bigger smile on their face than I did during those few minutes of watching George Lucas’s world flash on the screen.

Age is something that I think about a lot. Probably too often. I have also written about it a lot. Probably too often. Time is precious. You can’t save it or horde it. It can’t be stopped. Time can, however, be relived. The time at Disneyland reminded me of that. Every day, choices can be made to make that day a memorable one. A trip to Disneyland isn’t required to give my son an exuberant high five, provide my daughter a reason to be awestruck, or make my toddler squeal with delight. If I can give my children those moments to cherish, then someday, a memory might pop up and for a moment, time will stop.

And smiles will spread across my children’s faces … again and again.

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