So there we were at Disneyland. Early in the day I became transfixed by the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride. There it sat, in all its glory, in the middle of Fantasyland, among other, far less trance-inducing attractions such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I used all of my charm and persuasive skills to convince my parents to let me ride Dumbo, or one of his eight to twelve variously coloured incarnations. I’m sure it went something like:
MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY: Can we go on Dumbo? Can we go on Dumbo? Can we go on Dumbo? Can we go on Dumbo? Can we go on Dumbo?
Disneyland’s current promotional description of that very ride lends gravitas to the tragedy of my lengthy wait:
“Soar high in the sky on a fanciful flight above Fantasyland aboard Dumbo the Flying Elephant. . . It’s an exhilarating thrill that is sure to lift your spirit and remind you that, if you believe in yourself, anything is possible!”
(taken from: ) https://disneyland.disney.go.com/attractions/disneyland/dumbo-the-flying-elephant/
But for some reason I had to wait. So, as the non-Golden Child, I toddled along that day to every single other attraction that anyone else in my family had the remotest interest in seeing. And finally, after five or six bouts of tears, my mom and I finally rode Dumbo the flying elephant. It was the purple one. It was the highlight of my young life. My dad and brother didn’t bother to ride it. They thought it was too lame. This was another lesson that I learned early in life: other people have the right to make you feel like what you want either doesn’t matter, or at the very least is stupid, girly, and not worthy of their time.
I would like to be able to say that I saw all of this for what it was, and valiantly rose above the limitations of my dysfunctional family. But alas, I did not. I spent many years over-achieving and considering anything less than perfection to be a failure, and believing that all of my accolades made me the Golden Child worthy of praise and unconditional love. But after decades of watching my brother get preferential treatment on everything from deciding what restaurant to go to, to financial support, my brainwashed mind finally saw that (gasp) the world is not a meritocracy. And my family certainly wasn’t either.
I would also like to be able to say that I took this realization with great grace and aplomb, and carried on with head held high and self-esteem intact. But that isn’t how these things tend to work. Instead, I spent a number of years in crisis, taking responsibility for everyone else’s shortcomings, trying to fix everything around me, and wondering why I felt so empty even though I was clearly so very capable and successful. But self-esteem is often one of the first casualties of the dysfunctional family. To the girl who is taught that she only has value if she is beautiful and brilliant and accomplished (even though she is still after all, just a girl), every failure is a near-fatal blow to the self-esteem.
Maybe I will even get a tattoo someday: a purple flying elephant to remind me that, when the wait is over and I finally board that whimsical purple pachyderm, in the immortal words of the Disney promotional team:
“It’s an exhilarating thrill that is sure to lift your spirit and remind you that, if you believe in yourself, anything is possible!”