We closed on our Florida home on August 11, 2017 – just 3 days before the kids were set to start at their new schools. The flurry of madness that preceded that day has, as these things do, settled into a barely remembered blur. And while I do still usually use my navigation system to get around, while I do still have the odd unpacked box in our house, and while there are still very much (and probably always will be) 2 places that I casually refer to as “home” – it didn't escape my notice that this past weekend marked the six month anniversary of our becoming Disney locals. And that there was a first dose of perspective that came with this little milestone.
None of these things have come as surprises, honestly. But there's a certain depth of understanding that comes with really living it. And I know so, so many of us daydream about taking these very steps. So, without further ado, the handful and a half of things that I can offer after half a year of life just behind the castle.
1. This is still real life.
Again, worth noting, this wasn't a surprise. But living it drives it home that much more. As the crow flies, our home is about 1.2 miles from Cinderella Castle. There are fireworks at my bedroom window every night. I wake up to the sound of the train whistle and TTC ferry horn and lie in bed with the lower notes of the Electrical Water Pageant streaming in through my usually open windows. Our local park isn't a playground anymore – it's Magic Kingdom. And it's not rare that I take my kids to Epcot for an hour after school for nothing more than to watch the trains in Germany.
But it's still real life. My kids still get sick. I still have to walk my dog. Most of my time is spent working and cleaning and folding laundry. Arguments and little tantrums still happen and groceries are purchased and budgets are made and life (and death) just otherwise continue as before. I am finishing this very post while simultaneously making dinner and helping my kids to mass produce valentines for school tomorrow. We are not on vacation. We are living our own reality – but we are living it in the place that is “home” for us as it always has been. The once dreamed of “lunch in Epcot” is a real thing. The train whistle still stirs my heart every morning and I am fully immersed in the world that I have always loved. My heart doesn't have to ache for this place anymore. It is mine and we live our very real, mostly very normal, life with the honor of having it as our backdrop. I am not “living a dream”. I am living real life in the place that is right for us.
2. Parks and Fireworks.
Further to my above thoughts…I don't go to the parks every day. Usually it's once or twice a week – sometimes more, sometimes less, and often only for an hour or two. My days are more often spent working or running errands. But the parks are there. Even as I write this at my kitchen table, I'm aware of the train whistle blowing outside and grateful for its closeness. Even if today's schedule doesn't permit a ride on the Peoplemover – and it probably won't – it could…and so could tomorrow's. The “see ya real soon” note overhead as you exit Magic Kingdom used to make my heart ache on that last day of a trip. Now I simply know it's true.
Similarly, I don't run to the window every time the fireworks start. I watch them often. I take the 3 minute walk to the lake by the house when friends are visiting to watch them and their reflections on the water. When time permits, I pull my car over for a minute to take them in when they're overhead as I'm driving home. But more nights than not their soft booms are just a comfort. A sort of clock chiming the known hour. A background din that's become like the white noise of traffic when I lived in New York, or of frogs and crickets when we lived in Maryland. Fireworks and ferry horns and water pageants are the background noise of my day. I don't necessarily run to them anymore. But they are there and I am happier for it.
3. It's hot out but whatever.
As I type this we're midway through February and high temps each day have been firmly in the upper 80s. Evenings have been breezy and beautiful. Days like this in February are the up side to half a year of extreme heat and humidity – not just the summer months but pigtailing into late spring and early autumn. I love heat and hate hate hate to be cold, so this works for me. Even my dog, a massive black Great Dane, has been known to lounge blissfully on our lanai in the August heat. We are a summer-loving family. But, while the season of heat and humidity are much longer here, the hottest days here are no worse or more humid than the ones in the DC area that we left. When you vacation here in August, you are running around outside all day in the sauna that is central Florida. When you live here, you're more likely to be out for an hour or two on occasion and otherwise enjoying your AC like you would be anywhere else. So in short, for us this factor works and isn't that big of a deal. We are happily trading ice and snow for February days by the pool. But if you hate the sun or something…you know….perhaps consider other locales.
4. Internet Friends and Friends in Real Life and the Madness that is Disney Social Media.
If you're at all engaged in Disney-related social media, you know that the network is massive and at times almost overwhelming. Whether you interact on Facebook or Instagram or via blog or vlog or podcast, etc. etc., the Disney community is massive and oftentimes wonderful. Seeing how hundreds of online acquaintances have panned out in real life has been interesting. For the most part I've been incredibly impressed with the power of the community down here – even if it does need to be approached with as much common sense as anything else. If nothing else I've had to learn to draw boundaries for my own personal wellbeing, as I'm pretty introverted and just need time to myself to recharge for my own mental health. Not necessarily a point that will apply to everyone – but living in a place that is this social, where events are this constant, where the weather has you out and about constantly, and where friends and family that aren't local are visiting frequently, it's been an interesting thing to learn to handle day-to-day for an introvert like me in a way that doesn't drain me empty.
5. Creating your own happiness each day isn't easy.
Bear with me here because this gets a little deep. And it's certainly not Disney or Florida life-specific. In fact it's something that's been with me since very soon after I walked away from corporate law well over a year ago.
Being tangibly responsible for your own happiness can be overwhelming – or at least something very new to get used to. It's something that's true for each of us no matter what our situation is – but having been effectively stuck in Big Law for well over a decade, unfulfilled by it but feeling that I didn't have another viable choice that would be responsible to the people I loved, what was lacking in each day, and overall, was to some extent out of my hands. I did everything that I could to make the best of it and have talked about that ad nauseam, but all in all I justified it by knowing that I was providing for the people that depended on me.
When you decide to rewrite your life from scratch, those excuses go away. Your happiness and fulfillment – your feeling about the day when your head hits the pillow each night – are on you in a way that cannot be ignored. If I am not proactive in moving forward into something better, I am aware of it in a way that I can no longer deny. That is incredibly empowering. But it is also a bit intimidating. When your happiness and fulfillment depend on nothing but you, the excuses fall away.
And that brings me to my last sort of realization for the moment….
6. Life doesn't have to be harder than it has to be.
Again – this isn't Disney or Florida specific. And it definitely isn't going to apply to everyone. But one of the big things that I've slowly learned to accept over the last year and change is that life doesn't have to be a constant, self-imposed challenge to the extent that that challenge isn't fulfilling you or moving you forward into the life that you want. This might all sound a little hokey – but as an extremely Type A person who lived most of her life up until fairly recently equating the “next step” with whatever was the next thing in line to conquer, it's been an education to learn to be more deliberate and self aware in my choices. Growing up I chose the hardest classes and past times, chose an Ivy League college in New York, studied Japanese, went to Harvard Law, got a job at arguably the best corporate firm on Wall Street, did the biggest deals, tackled the hardest eating regimens. And on and on. I assure you that this isn't a list of brags. It's a list of the path that I wanted to conquer – and “conquering” has never been what's hard for me.
Don’t get me wrong. There was plenty in there that I truly did love. At 18 years old, New York's energy meshed beautifully with who I was. I adore Japanese culture. Harvard was an extraordinary experience. But so much of my larger choices were based more on what was objectively challenging than what was right for me. They say if you can't make it in New York you can't make it anywhere. And so I wanted to be in New York in my 20s – and make it. They say something very different about Florida. But I love it here. And I've been learning, slowly, that that's alright. I've spent enough time proving myself to everyone else. I don't need to be the most impressive person in your Facebook feed. Like I said above, my happiness (or, more appropriately, my fulfillment) is on me, and that's where my focus is these days. Sometimes (and more) that's much harder than meeting society's predefined version of success.
So there it is in a nutshell. My perspective after the last 6 months as a Florida and Disney local. This is a little deeper and less about the fun of living here than might be expected – but it's the honesty of what came to mind as I started to look back. And I wouldn't be surprised if it's similar for many others, because making a move like this usually comes with a list of reasons that aren't as simple as loving Mickey Mouse.
But honestly. I really love Mickey Mouse too….. <3