Taking time to give thanks
Most of us fortunate enough to travel to Walt Disney World multiple times have seen the meltdowns. Short tempers, screaming fits, and even those awful words: "I paid a fortune for this trip and you are going to behave!" Like this scene, I have witnessed far more bad behavior from adults than by children during my vacations in Walt Disney World, in part because the bar should be higher for the over-18 set.
I'm talking about the adults who step under a rope to jump the bus line, rudely treat a service worker, or leave a dining table in such a mess that it takes two bus boys 15 minutes to clean up. All of this poor behavior is witnessed by children, who are learning every move by example.
With three wonderfully imperfect pre-teens of my own, I usually do not have issues with seeing a bit of boundary-stretching or rowdiness from other children. When my kids venture on their own, I always hope there will be a kind adult to give them a bit of "the look" if they step out of line. That's usually all it takes, and pushing the limits are part of growing up.
During this Thanksgiving week, let's rededicate ourselves to modeling that spirit of gratitude for our children. It starts at home, and there are many ways to teach gratitude without guilt before a big vacation, whether to Walt Disney World or elsewhere. Once in Orlando, most of the time showing gratitude boils down to paying attention and saying those two words that show the simplest, and usually best, form of respect: Thank you.
Gratitude starts at home
We have a change jar that we use as a travel fund, and keep a Walt Disney World savings can decorated with princess and Buzz Lightyear paper and stickers to gather money and gift cards for our next trip. We have had this can for about eight years, started when the kids were toddlers and I wanted them to start learning the value of saving.
If we receive a refund or any unexpected checks, I put the money into the trip savings when possible. When taking $100 from the ATM, I usually put $20 of it in this savings can. I talk to the kids regularly about this savings so they can donate some of their own allowance if they want, or at least develop a better appreciation of how money grows if you save a little at a time. Over a year's time we usually save hundreds, if not over $1000 towards a trip. By the time we head off on our vacation, the children have developed an appreciation for how long it took to save for the trip, and we avoid any issues with "the gimmes" when we are on vacation.
We also take money out of the Disney can occasionally to donate to a favorite cause, or when we take our change jar to the bank, set some of that money aside to donate, with the rest going to the trip fund. I don't present this as a must or even a should, but instead present it as, "Gosh, aren't we lucky to be going back to Walt Disney World? Let's share some of our good fortune."
Setting a positive example
I'm not anti-technology, but I'm convinced smartphones and other handheld devices are the scourge of good manners. If anyone—restaurant server, concierge, or store employee—is serving you, give that person your complete attention and say thank you, rather than burying your head in your smartphone, too busy checking your friends' Facebook status updates or Twitter messages to be bothered to be civil with the person standing in front of you. Make sure you child looks at the person he is talking to, something I need to remind my kids of regularly. Everyone wants to matter, and saying thank you with a smile is an easy, but often overlooked, way to show respect and appreciation.
Talk to your kids about figuring out a tip and why we tip. Tip generously when able and warranted, including leaving a tip in your resort room when you check out. Spend a few seconds cleaning up after eating by bussing your table at counter-service restaurants, or tidying up at the sit-down restaurants by picking up crayons and napkins, and stacking a few items. Some of you cringe with the thought of doing what you may consider someone else's work; I consider it lending a helping hand to someone who has probably been on their feet all day and who may not be able to afford their own vacation. I hope I am teaching my kids that little things can make a difference and to be grateful to the people who clean up after them.
Gratitude at the parks
I like to sit down every so often when touring the parks and people-watch, and as the kids have moved into tween-hood, I've made them sit for a spell, too. My motivation is in part to get off our feet, but also to remind ourselves to pay attention to what is going on around us and that we do not live in a vacuum.
One of my favorite ways to show gratitude on a trip to Walt Disney World is to attend the Colors Ceremony at Magic Kingdom, held each evening in Town Square. During the ceremony, a military veteran chosen earlier in the day has the honor of lowering the flag while the Magic Kingdom Marching Band plays Colors. Although a gentle reminder is sometimes needed, I've taught my kids to stand up straight, put their right hand over their heart, and be respectfully silent. Particularly as a veteran, the ceremony never fails to choke me up a bit; I am so appreciative to live in this great country and be able to travel to Walt Disney World with my children. So many veterans never had that chance.
This Thanksgiving, take time to count your blessings and consider all of the ways, large and small, we can demonstrate the spirit of gratitude wherever we are, especially the Happiest Place on Earth.