Surprise! We’re going to Disney!

As a single mom, family vacations always felt so out of reach. In fact, it was not even part of the conversation. There was always some bill or some “thing” that had to be paid and living paycheck-to-paycheck was par for the course. We had just survived another New York winter and the birds were beginning to chirp again, signaling that Spring was just around the corner.

My co-workers were all scheduling time off for vacation when my manager, Sylvia, approached me to ask which days I wanted off. She caught me off guard since my vacation days were never used for actual vacation. A sick day with the kids here and there, doctors’ appointments or spending the day at the DMV renewing my car registration accounted for the majority of my off days. My manager at the time was a frequent traveler. Originally from the Czech Republic, Sylvia worked hard all year round and used her earned time off to travel the world. Dubai, Israel, and Italy were just a few of the places her feet had traveled and she always returned enlightened, refreshed and still marveling at all of the wonderful sights she had seen. The thought of ever visiting any of those places personally seemed so far-fetched and unimaginable at the time, especially since I hadn’t traveled anywhere other than Walt Disney World as a small child. My attention drifted back to those long Amtrak train rides from the New York City to Orlando with my mom and sister. We didn’t have much money then either but my mother purposed to take us on vacation in the summer. Perhaps it was time to pick up where I left off, my last memorable escape from the regular four walls that surrounded me. Perhaps it was time to visit Disney again.

Nearly 30 years had passed since that last childhood visit and of course I had no idea about the pricing or even where to begin as far as customizing a family vacation on a tiny, single-parent budget so I reached out to a travel agency I found online (the same agency I work for today!). I entered my name and email address and commented that I wanted to explore the possibility of surprising my sons with a trip to Walt Disney World. I received an email and phone call almost immediately and spoke at length with an agent named Robin. I explained my circumstances and how I was just “toying” with the idea of a real vacation that I could probably never afford. She assured me that I “could” and I “would” afford a vacation and before long I received a formal quote with a number that was not as unattainable as I imagined. Tears of joy streamed down my face as she shared different ideas on how I could surprise my boys and add some extra magic in the process. We worked out an affordable payment plan and our family vacation, a real vacation, was just ahead!

Sylvia seemed almost as excited as I was. She was supportive and eager to mark my name on the vacation calendar. We didn’t always agree. In fact, we would often butt heads on work related matters, but this was different. She respected me as a hardworking single mother and if she could play some small role in helping, she would consider it her “good deed” and honorable in the eyes of God. She approved my time off without hesitation even though it overlapped with someone else’s. As I reflect on this pivotal moment in my life, Sylvia was instrumental in me finally taking action towards living a fuller life, valuing myself and my dreams.

Over the next six months, I worked together with my travel planner to develop a manageable itinerary including dining and special activities. I learned about Disney’s “pin trading” and decided it would be an awesome addition to our trip. I ordered each of the boys lanyards and one individual pin that reminded me the most of them. Anything I ordered was shipped to my office in order to safeguard my big “surprise”. After each load of laundry for weeks to come, I packed our suitcases in small increments after the boys retired to their bedrooms for the day. The boys were constantly bickering and I wondered how we would all fare while we were away and began to second-guess my decision. My eldest son was starting to pull away, his interests were changing and he was separating himself from the family. My heart was in anguish and we needed this family time to regroup.

My co-workers checked in with me from time to time to see if I told the boys about our trip. They were genuinely interested and excited for our big day. I’ll never forget Amira, who handed me a 16-gig memory card for my camera and told me to take lots of pictures! And Frances, who prepared a gift bag overflowing with airplane snacks, candy and a pair of snazzy neon goggles for Malachai. The love was overwhelming.

The big day finally arrived and our suitcases were tucked and covered in the back of my SUV. My friend Maggie was charged with the task of getting us to the airport. The boys still had no idea. All they knew was that 1) we were going “somewhere”, 2) they had to get up early and 3) Maggie was driving us. I could hear them arguing amongst themselves in the backseat about where they thought we were headed. Not once did they glance into the back cargo area. As we started to make our way towards the airport exit I tried dropping a few hints. The boys have always been huge sports fans so when I asked what is the popular phrase football players say after winning the Super Bowl, I was sure they would get it — they didn’t. Maggie chimed in and tossed out a few hints of her own but they were still clueless! So far my “big surprise” was turning out to be an epic fail. As we pulled up curbside at the airport Malachai blurted out “Wait. We’re getting on an airplane?!” It would be his first flight. At that point I told them we were going to Disney World and paused for the hooping and hollering that never came. It was more of a shock than a surprise as Jovan started asking about his clothes. I directed their attention to the suitcases in the back as they were all still wrapping their brains around the idea. It didn’t take long before Malachai was smiling from ear to ear. Still in a daze, Jovan simply stated, “I was wondering where all of my underwear went.” We all shared a hearty laugh. As the shock began to wear off, the boys grew more excited about our trip and the magic took over. Our room was impeccable, the service was second to none, our itinerary was spot on and our first family vacation was amazing! We had the best time and traveling and taking vacations together has become a regular part of our lives from that time forward. As a family, we are closer than ever!

So my big “surprise” did not actually get the immediate reaction I expected but it was one of the biggest surprises I ever pulled off and would do it all again in a heartbeat! The word “action” can be found in “vacation” and I have concluded that there’s no vacation without action. Take the first step, you won’t regret it!

I’ve learned quite a bit since then.

Let’s plan something magical for you and your family together!

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