It had always been my dream to be involved with Disney somehow. In the 1990s, I was living that dream and if I’m being perfectly honest, I often felt guilty for how happy I was. Does a birthmother really deserve to experience happiness again? I ask that question not with some sort of false humility. I ask it with total sincerity. Did the fact that I worked at the happiest place on earth mean that I no longer felt sad? Not *could* I or *should* I feel sad because surely I did; but rather, was I sending the message that I had somehow neatly compartmentalized all that had transpired and it was no longer a big deal? That I no longer grieved the loss? That I was somehow turning my back on this part of my life story and living in some fantasy world?
For years, I danced between two realities – the reality that I was indeed happy and thriving and proving to myself that I wasn’t bad, that I could, in fact, be good, as Alanis says. And the reality of knowing I was a birthmother and that any happiness I experienced or exuded might be construed as being dismissive or reductive of the magnitude of what I’d done. It was a tricky dance that I orchestrated day by day – don’t be too happy, people might wonder if you’re just heartless. Don’t go to parties and drink or have sex because that will just perpetuate the myth that you’re a slut. Don’t make waves, don’t push the boundaries of what’s allowed and don’t tarnish your reputation because you might be fired. Transferred. Sent away.
In short, working at Disney allowed me to reclaim myself without the pressure of answering to – or putting on a show for – anyone.
One of my absolute favorite jobs at Disney was as a Guest Relations hostess at the Disney-MGM Studios. I was working “the window,” a small building just outside the park where guests come to get Disney information. Every day at the window was different and sometimes the guest situations were difficult to resolve. There were plenty of scammers illegally selling and reselling tickets so we had to keep our guard up.
One spring morning, a family approached my window. They had long, yellow tickets which may have been the old five or seven-day park hopper tickets. As the mom told her story, I noticed there were six people in her family, but she only had five tickets.
She tried her best to piece it all together.
Ticket … lost … had them yesterday at the Magic Kingdom … searched the hotel … no receipt … bought tickets through a travel agent … cost $1000 for all the tickets … can’t afford to buy another …
The mother was frantic because she was the one that had lost the ticket. Back then, Disney required guests to sign their names on their individual ticket. Hers was the one that was missing.
Guest Relations employees were empowered to resolve most situations on our own. But when a large amount of money was in question (more than $50 or so), a supervisor was required.
I connected with that mom in that moment. Not sure what it was about her story or her family, but I believed her 1000%. I asked her to wait a moment and I went to the back office to tell my supervisor that I wanted to re-issue her ticket, at a “loss” of about $200 to our department. No receipt or proof of purchase. No theft report from the police. Nothing other than this woman’s word. But I pleaded to my supervisor on her behalf, and to my surprise, he said, “Well, if you believe her, then do it. You have my support.”
The next few moments were among my fondest as a Disney cast member.
I told the woman I’d be happy to re-issue her ticket. She was completely overwhelmed. Her family was ecstatic. I handed her the new ticket, which she promptly signed. And then she grabbed both my hands, looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day.”
In fact, it was indeed Mother’s Day. I moved through that day as I had many previous Mother’s Days, carrying the secret that I too was a mother. Not a parenting mother, but a mother just the same.
Clearly, this woman didn’t know if I was a mother, but she said I had the heart of a mother.
I signaled to her to hold on one moment, quickly closed my window and met her outside in the queue line. She hugged me tightly and we cried. But it was the good kind of cry.
She was the first person to ever say “Happy Mother’s Day” to me. And I will always remember it.