Tiffanni and I were married in January of 1999. The plan was to make sure that we did it over a break so that our college friends could come and we could go back to school for the spring semester. But I overloaded my schedule and finished early. 20+ hours at school, 25 hours a week at Red Lobster, For the Seafood Lover in You, and threw in some baseball so I wouldn’t have to sleep at all.
January is the worst time to get married. Not that it matters on the wedding day, but there are so many limited options for anniversary get-aways in the years that follow. A few years ago we decided to spend a few nights in Chattanooga, only to return after one because they shut down the city for a blizzard (the Southern kind- ice and wind chill.) But January it was. It made sense eleven months earlier when we started planning the festivities. A lot happens in eleven months.
I like surprises, so I told Tiffanni to pack warm for the honeymoon and that’s all of the hints that she got. We went on a cruise to the Bahamas and back to Orlando for a couple of nights. We stayed in the Wilderness Lodge at Disney and then went to the Animal Kingdom. Tiff and I had been to every park in the area except Disney’s Theme Park Zoo, so we gave it a shot. And true to Disney, it was brilliant.
Over the next 17+ years, we made a life of hitting theme parks. Vacations and excursions were planned around roller coasters- The Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Universal Studios, Six Flags, Alabama Adventures, Busch Gardens, Sea World Orlando, Sea World San Diego, Disney Quest, Point Mallard, White Water Atlanta- we like theme parks.
Last week we went on our Summer Vacation with Tiff’s side of the family to Orlando. There’s eleven of us. I know, because there are no 11-person configurations of dinner tables that works well. Someone gets stuck on the end and I knee-joust with them all night.
Last year, Jay and I took the kids to Aquatica, a water park, while my in-laws took Tiffanni and Stacey shopping. It just seemed like Tiffanni couldn’t do theme parks anymore. She moves so much that the heat is unbearable and I knew that she couldn’t walk around a park anymore. So for the last several months, Tiffanni begged to go to Disney. She told me, “We’re going.”
There aren’t many things in life worse than telling your partner, “No.” I never bought into the subordination theory of marriage- we were partners and made decisions together. Some things I was good at and needed to make the call on, some things she was, but mostly we made decisions together. That whole your husband is the head thing, that actually stems from the curse of sin (Genesis 3:16), and I’d prefer to not subject myself to curses if I can. So, we partnered. But lately, I have to say, “No,” a lot. It doesn’t feel right and I hate it.
So I avoided talking about it with Tiffanni all week in Orlando. I thought that if I pretended that it wasn’t an option, that it would just go away. And she pestered. “I want to go. Can we please go?”
On the next to last night, my mother-in-law and I talked and agreed it was just too hard. It wouldn’t work and Tiffanni just couldn’t make it. I went to bed sad. So many parts of this disease take from you without warning. You don’t realize that it’s the last time to do something until it’s over. But to my surprise, I woke to a text from my mother-in-law that just said, “Let’s do it. We’ll make it work. Let’s do Animal Kingdom, it’s the most shady and the easiest to maneuver.” With mixed feelings, I responded, “Ok.”
Tiffanni came into the room to wake me on the last day and to ask one last time, “Can we please go? I want to go so bad.” I don’t think it was about a park, or a ride- it was about independence. It was about memories. It was about being normal.
So we went. The Animal Kingdom. The place where it all started. And this time I got to feel the significance of the moment all day. Each ride, each snack, each smile from Tiffanni and our kids. We fought the heat and the extra work of a wheelchair. I noticed the beauty of the moment all day. And we smiled, and we laughed, and we played, and we were normal for one last ride.