Dear Me on August 20, 1993:
Congratulations on your new job at as a Disneyland Tour Guide! I couldn’t be more proud of you; you set the goal of getting the job back when you were a freshman in high school and now, just two months after graduation you have passed your spiel test and you are wearing plaid. Before you know it, you’ll have your big sister tour and earn your coveted, shiny gold D-pin. While I don’t want to give away too much about your years as a tour guide, there are a few things I want to fill you in on.
First, let’s get one thing straight: you are going to look back on these years and cherish them…forever. Those gals and guys you work with will be your friends for life. While you may lose touch with some of them or talk with them infrequently in the future, when it comes down to it, you are part of a family now and it’s safe to say you would drop everything to help them out… even years from now.
In about a year, you are going to get trained as a VIP guide and you are going to meet some really incredible people. I would love for you to keep a journal of who you tour with and whenever possible, get your guests’ business cards. These are people who can really help you in the future. Also, when you take the White House social secretary on tour and she invites you to the White House, for goodness sake, GO! Don’t pass up on the opportunity because “no one will go with you.” Girl, you will never have an opportunity for an experience like that EVER again. You could have met Bill Clinton! Ugh. I’ll never forgive you for that.
The real point of this letter stems from something that you will feel awful about for many, many years to come. In the near future, you are going to be trained to work in Disneyland’s City Hall. You are going to experience all kinds of guests there–happy ones, angry ones and perhaps the most trying guests–those who try to take advantage of the system. A pass called a special assistance pass is going to be introduced and it will help some guests access attractions in an expedited manner due to special needs.
One day in the not-so-far-off future, a mom is going to come in to City Hall and ask for a pass for her son. She is going to try to be discrete in requesting the pass and explain that her son has something called “autism” and that he cannot be in crowds and struggles to wait in line. You are going to look at her with a jaded eye and think, “You’re kid can’t wait in line, why are you here?”.
You will then do something incredibly regrettable and ignorant. You begin to grill her and ask her where her son is. When she explains that her son is outside with her husband and other children so that he doesn’t have a sensory reaction in the crowded City Hall lobby, you are going to do the unthinkable: you ask her to bring him in the lobby so you can seem him for yourself. Sweetie, I’m here to tell you, almost 20 years in the future, that no mom lies about her child having autism. Today, you advocate for these families and literally cry when you think about the time you made this mother–a woman trying to make the best of her family’s day at Disneyland with a child with autism–bring her child into the crowded, noisy City Hall lobby as proof that he she has a son that is indeed “special.” News flash: autism does not have physical markers unless the child has a secondary condition and bringing that child into City Hall is going to set this family’s day off with a not-so-magical start. The mother will take your ignorance in stride–maybe because she’s used to people like you or maybe because she just doesn’t want to let her temper get the best of her at the Happiest Place on Earth… or maybe a little bit of both.
In the early ’90s there isn’t a lot of autism talk and being you are just out of high school, I cannot blame you for not understanding autism or what it is like to be a mom. What I do hope is that the mom you are going to put through this may read this letter, even though her son with autism is now likely in his mid to late 20s. I hope she can accept my apology and know that I have dedicated my life to writing about children’s health and parenting and advocating for children and families whose voices are not always heard or are misunderstood. I want her to know that my interaction with her is something that drives me today and that I am profoundly sorry.
In closing, I have two more tidbits to share with you. First, Disneyland will be part of your life for a very long time. You will take a few years away from the resort and then you’ll be back and it will be a huge part of who you are–bigger than you could ever imagine. You are going to have experiences in the future that will blow your mind. And second, enjoy that tiny waist of yours because three kids later (yes, I said THREE), it won’t be quite so small.