Lessons From Disneyland

And so it was that Mr. Waite and I spent a day at Disneyland.

Tweet from Disneyland. Text reads: "Shuttle to Disneyland. A parent behind me: 'That's called a scab.' To the Magic Kingdom!"

As you can see, the day started off perfectly. A child learned something new! We had our sunblock and various layers, but not so many things that it was burdensome to walk for long periods. We also had two tickets for both Disneyland and California Adventure, courtesy of two very generous friends. It was determined that in return for their generosity, we would find them some sort of awesome souvenir.

But until then, grand adventure beckoned!

And then we learned that both Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean—our two top priorities for the day—were both closed.

But there was ... the Matterhorn.

Tweet from Disneyland. Text reads: In line for the Matterhorn to face my childhood demons. #Disneyland #badwithrollercoasters When I was about eight or thereabouts, my family came to Disneyland. It was when they were still building Splash Mountain, if that helps. So the Matterhorn was basically the scariest roller coaster at Disneyland.

Either I had to go along on the ride because my parents refused to separate the family in a place so crowded—it's true I had a notable tendency to get myself lost—or I had some fit of mistaken pride that I could rise to the roller coaster's challenge. Either way, I was horribly, horribly wrong. By the time the cars rolled to a stop, I was in tears and hysterics.

So of course, after two decades, I had to have another try.

Disneyland Tweet. Text reads: No wonder I was terrified of the Matterhorn as a kid: that was terrifying! #Disneyland #stillbadwithrollercoasters The first thing you do on the Matterhorn is ratchet up a steep tunnel in the dark. Pitch-black. Creaking, clanking, ticking sounds that are far from reassuring. You could go left, or right, or plunge into the depths at any moment. I felt the adrenaline kick after three seconds and had to tell myself to breathe normally.

Finally, after an eternity, we found the light. Two glowing Yeti eyes, with a roar, as we began to wind along steep mountainous curves.

I loved those monster eyes—anything was better than the darkness.

And then my seatbelt decided to loosen. So every time we went around a curve, I came up off the seat a little bit. Only my own grip on the bars inside the vehicle was keeping me attached. This was still not as frightening as that initial blind climb.

Soon enough, we were done, and I climbed off the ride with shaking joints and a noticeable lack of breath.

At some point in the course of life, we learn that our childhood memories don't always match up with reality. Yards and playgrounds were not as big as we remember, monsters were not as realistic as memory paints them, facts we put together ourselves from hearsay and conjecture are revealed as glaring mistakes (like how I thought soufflé was pronounced SOFF-ull for an embarrassingly long time).

At some later point, apparently, we have to face the fact that our younger self was right about something.

Childhood Olivia was right: I am not good at roller coasters.

Something else I was right about: Cruella de Ville is awesome.

Picture of a golden-haired, pale-skinned moppet with a dalmation puppy toy. The girl is unwisely offering the puppy to a white-fur-coat-clad, red-gloved, black-and-white-haired woman with pale skin, who more often goes by the name of Cruella de Ville.

We saw a lot of characters on our walk through two parks. Male characters tended to be encased in costumes: Mickey, Pooh (adorable!), Pluto, Goofy, Buzz Lightyear. But most of the female characters are princesses, who are very human and very interactive. And it was only at the end of the day, just before we left to see what California Adventure could offer (turns out, booze), that we spotted Cruella de Ville at the gateward end of Main Street.

I had no idea they had a whole set of villains. Most of them are found only seasonally and in specific locations—but we lucked out, and here was Cruella, trying to get the little girl to give up her dalmatian puppy toy.

It must be challenging to be a Disney character—staying sweet and cheery underneath all that makeup and in that costume and with all those screaming children. More challenging still to be a villain, to walk the fine line between giving children a bit of a chill down the back of their necks and making their experience (and by extension, their parents') a torture and a blot upon the memory.

We watched Cruella for a few minutes, and she was fantastic: pleasant and approachable, but with a sinister air they never let the princesses play with. Look at the way she's holding her hands in the photo above—any woman who wears red gloves and uses her hands that gracefully is probably up to no good. Even kids can figure that part out.