Last winter we did the same thing we always do to get relief from Chicago's murderous winter: we chipped our car out of its ice block, skidded into O'Hare, and flew to Disney.
How can you find the people from Chicago at Disney in January? They're in the pool. How do you find the Floridians? They're dressed like extras in "Ice Age 5." Go ahead, search for `idiots from Chicago' on Instagram and you'll find a picture of me in my shirtless glory, belly-flopping into a pool ringed with flabbergasted Floridians. Just fix that picture in your mind, please, because it was the last-THE VERY LAST-moment of joy I ever will have in the Magic Kingdom. In that moment of idiotic happiness, I let my guard down.
I told my kids about hidden Mickeys and ruined Disney forever.
A hidden Mickey is a visual surprise left by the original engineers and designers of Disney; it's the three iconic circles arranged to form Disney's logo, placed in some inconspicuous place, perfectly visible, but undetected unless you already know they're there.
We used to prance around the parks like we were in a cheesy musical. I loved it. It was the only time my family actually looked like a family: bear hugged and stupid, our smiles so genuinely overflowing with spontaneous delight we bruised our cheeks.
As soon as our rental is off the lot, my kids morph into pint-sized Sherlocks, combing through everything they see, looking for a rodent sign.
"PULL OVER! PULL OVER!"
My daughter leaps out of the car and points her camera at some trees. She confers with the boy. They glumly return.
"ALARM FOR WHAT!? I THINK I BLEW A TIRE!"
"We thought we saw a hidden Mickey."
Then, as we approach the gates-
"STOP THE CAR!"
My kids pile into the front seat, phones flung forward.
"THERE IT IS! WE SAW ONE! WE SAW ONE!"
"That's a stop sign."
I have to give them credit for ceaseless effort. They didn't eat until they'd thoroughly examined their Mac & Cheese for hidden Mickeys. They were looking for them at Gatorland. Finally, I couldn't take it and asked a vendor if he'd show me a hidden Mickey. He whipped out his handy Hidden Mickey Guidebook and found one right in front of us.
As Disney's convenient background soundtrack swelled, from a tangle of rebar and concrete, the Disney logo appeared, in all its splendor.
"™Seriously, Dad? That's a lamp."
And then I realized the great thing about hidden Mickeys is not finding them, it's looking for them. So I gave the vendor five bucks and talked him into betraying their trust for the sake of my sanity. The vendor pointed. "There's one right there. In the bush. See it?"
"I can SEE it! LOOOOK!," my daughter squealed and whipped out her camera to take a photo.
And just like that, they forgot all about it. Their quarry was captured. Their mission accomplished. They shoved their miniature cameras back into their backpacks and lost themselves to the stupid joy of roller coasters and cotton candy.
In our vacation pictures, to this day, is a picture of a sad little bush labeled "Mickey Mouse."
Christopher lives in Chicago with his wife and kids and can also be found at deathbychildren.com.
See more of Christopher's stories here.