Even for people living from paycheck to paycheck, even for someone whose budget is so tight it occasionally not even an atom can slip through sometimes, there comes a time to indulge. For some people the indulgence is very modest and simple: a night at the movies, dinner at a real restaurant, a new article of clothing you've had your eye on for a while. For me, the biggest indulgence I made this year, when my life was thrown upside down and twisted inside out and I found myself emptying what little I had in my savings account just to buy groceries (I'm not counting the bed I bought because I don't believe anyone deserves to sleep on the floor), were the two Florida Resident annual passes I bought for myself and my daughter. Before you judge me, which you have no right nor not enough data to do so, I used my tax return to make the purchase. I had just enough, coupled with the credit card that I carefully worked hard to pay down, to pay for a short 4-day vacation for my daughter and I during her spring break this year. I upgraded our 3-day passes to the annual pass and I've never been happier.
After signing the divorce papers, essentially gaining my freedom for little-to-nothing in return, but still being chained to a man who never really loved me because he suddenly decided that he might want to get to know his now 12-year-old daughter through forced joint parental sharing (Florida does not use the term "custody" for some reason), I thought I might be on my way because I received a job offer in Orlando. Unfortunately, that turned out to be false advertising with a capital F; I was adamantly told the job was "training" and "marketing" when it turned out to be commission-based sales. Call a spade a spade. Painting it and splashing perfume on it is not going to change the fact that it's used to dig up the soil. So, after moving (and all the cost and personal investment that it entails), the company let me go in my second week. I'm not nearly as upset as people would expect. Let's just say that I tried to drink the Koolaid but found myself immune. But, that still leaves me in a city with no family or friends nearby and no income at the moment.
So, where does the Disney annual pass come into play? It has actually helped me keep my sanity and kept me from slipping too much further into depression. Because it is already paid for, I don't have to worry or feel guilty about driving down (roughly 30 minutes away from my apartment) to one of the parks to spend the day with my daughter. Parking is free, after all, with an annual pass and there is a discount for most non-food purchases.
Okay, I could probably pinch even more pennies by saving gas and staying home, or even driving to the local library since it is closer. That won't help as much, though. Taking my daughter to Disney once a week gives us time to really spend with each other. We don't have as many distractions and we're not as likely to do our own thing. Yes, I take some time out for myself while she rides one or two rides by herself, but this (for me) is more about giving her some independence than about me "getting a break" from my child. Honestly, I always feel insulted when someone implies that I need a break from my daughter. I love her like no one else. She is my reason for living. I don't like extended time away from her. I'm barely holding it together right now while she's visiting her father, which I feel forced into accepting as part of the divorce. So, yes, until I get a job we do spend time "together" doing other things throughout the week like watching TV or finding local events at bookstores. But those always feel like something meant for only one of us.
I now truly understand Walt's vision in creating Disneyland. There's just something about going to a Disney theme park that makes me want to actually spend time doing things together with the people who joined me that day. This is also the only time that I don't think about complaining about being outdoors, even though I pay for it the next day. See, if someone were to suggest going to a park for a walk or playing a sport outdoors, I might agree to go, but deep down I would moan about my allergies kicking in, making me miserable. I completely forget about that when I'm walking around a Disney park. I easily walk more than 4 miles on any given Disney trip, but I don't even think about it unless I keep track of it. Well, I feel it the next day when it's harder to get out of bed because I'm a little stiff and/or sunburned. That's where the workout part of the title comes in, by the way.
When my daughter and I go to a park, we go for a full day. Sometimes that means right at park opening, sometimes a couple hours into it. We usually don't leave until after dinner time. If it's not a Saturday, then we might even stay until park close (Sunday is Mass and I don't like either of us falling asleep during the service). We walk around so much as we meander from attraction to show to ride to shop. We take our time to enjoy the sites. The cell phones, iPods, or Nooks don't come out unless we're sitting down and we're finished eating or the line for the ride is longer than 30 minutes. I almost never Tweet or post to Facebook from the parks any more, at least not when I'm with my daughter, because I want to form memories, not memorials. I carry a backpack full of extra shirts and lots of drinks, so that's weight-lifting and I put on and take off the back to access the items within. There may be stair climbing or hill walking along the way. I don't notice all the exercise my body is getting because I'm enjoying myself so much. With this particular body, the less it knows it's getting a workout, the more it actually works to keep the weight manageable.
And the best part is probably the pricing plan. I know, I'm crazy. Disney must cost way more than a gym membership! Actually, I priced it out. My Florida Resident annual pass is under $520 a year, or under $45 a month. A local gym membership averages $50 per month at the minimum, plus the down payment of about 2 months-worth that's due when you join. Some gyms cost much more than that. And, if I were to go to a gym even weekly, then I would have to deal with my social anxiety. I know "fat" people are the ones who are supposed to go to the gym, but I can't get away from the stereotype that it's only well-toned people who actually use them. You can try to rationalize with me all you want. I'm still not going to feel comfortable in my current skin size to go to a gym even if it would help. At Disney, however, I'm working out without anyone having a reason to gawk at the walking land whale as she waddles along because they're all enjoying their own memories. I'm much less self-conscious in the anonymity of a theme park crowd than I am in a workout situation. I pack the extra shirt and supplies to freshen up halfway through my day, too, to reduce possible embarrassment and to feel better--I really don't want to be the one who's body odor ruins the wait for the next attraction. Plus, I'm sure my daughter would quickly get bored with a gym, assuming I could find one that would sign up a minor. I don't think she will tire of walking around Disney all day.
For me, the indulgence in the Walt Disney World annual pass is well worth the money. I not only get a weekly workout--five miles is a lot for an asthmatic with a bad hip--but I also get real mother-daughter time with the person who matters the most to me. Even though times are tough being an unemployed single mother, even though I continue to send out dozens (if not scores) of job applications each week hoping that I finally get a bite, even though my savings account is quickly drying up, I will do my darnedest to scrape up the money to renew our annual passes in the spring if I can. Who knows, I might end up losing weight in the process, too. Now that would be an added bonus.