How Winnie The Pooh Taught Me To Let Go

So, let me tell you a story. If you are a regular reader, bear with me for a bit, I’ve told this one before. I promise, there is a payoff for this.

As a child, I spent a lot of time in the children’s hospital for eye surgeries. This meant that one, or both eyes were covered up with bandages and eyeshields for weeks, even months at a time. Once the sight in my right eye went, which happened very early, it really only took a left eye surgery to have the same effect. On top of this, this happened before my reading comprehension was good enough for chapter books, though I find it hard to comprehend a time when I couldn’t read chapter books.

Now, my father was a very busy man. He is the sort of man who worked very, very long hours at a good job to provide his family with the things he didn’t have growing up. As a child, I don’t remember very many mornings when he was still at home when I woke up for school because he left so early, and often returned around six. On top of this, when I was in the hospital, he would often come to see me after work rather than going home. I also had an older man for an eye doctor who didn’t quite understand that little girls should actually get a lot of sleep, so thought that after ten in the evening was a perfectly acceptable time to come check my eye out, and Dad would often stay for these appointments.

Somehow, on top of all of this, Dad did something for me. He made me my very own audio book. He could have gone out and bought me one, and I did own several. But instead, he recorded himself reading The Wind In The Willows on a cassette tape, because these were the days of yore when dinosaurs roamed the earth and compact discs had not yet been invented, let alone mp3 players or smart phones with more memory than an entire room of enormous computers had back then.

I treasured that tape. To my young self, it was the greatest story ever told, especially the part about Mr. Toad. Who, for some reason, said “Poop poop” quite a lot in relation to his early model automobile and his reckless driving of said motorized conveyance. I laughed and laughed hearing my father’s voice reading that.

Then, in 1983, we went to Disney World. Lo and behold, they had a dark ride there called Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride based on the book, the Disney movie based on the book, and the imagineer’s nightmares. Seriously, you got hit by a train and wound up in hell on this thing. I did not find it frightening at six/seven years old (my birthday fell on this little adventure). I was delighted. I had to ride it with my daddy. I did. I am fairly sure “Poop poop” got repeated a lot.

We rode in these old-fashioned cars that ran along a track in the floor, though I don’t think I entirely understood what the track meant, and thought I was driving if I had the steering wheel, though simultaneously comprehended that I was in no danger. I was an odd child. I loved that thing. It was one of my favourite rides.

On every subsequent trip, I rode it. And always with my Dad. If I ever sat with my Mom or sister, I don’t remember it, and I’m pretty sure that never happened. I got to go down there twice more as a child and teen. And Mr. Toad was for Dad and I.

And then, it happened. I was probably about 29 when I returned for the first time since I was fifteen. My parents had divorced by then, but my Dad and step mom took me down along with my step niece, who was eleven at the time. I’m pretty sure the decision to take me had a lot to do with having a responsible adult to share a room with her so the two of them could get alone time. I didn’t, and don’t care. I would do any amount of babysitting for a free trip to Disney World, and she was a good kid. But this was before the days when I obsessively followed Disney news, so imagine my shock to find that Mr. Toad was gone.

In it’s place? Winnie the freaking Pooh. Now, I’d always liked the old Pooh movies and books well enough, but even before this travesty of a ride removal, I had not been pleased with the newer material. Eeyore smiled sometimes. Eeyore should not ever smile. But this? This was one step too far. I hated that ride. That ride had taken away something I loved, so I hated it. I’m not sure that I actually thought through the connection, though. I just thought it was stupid.

I returned to Disney World this year, this time with my Mom. Just the two of us on a fantastic mother-daughter trip. It had been fourteen years since the previous trip, and it was a blast. On our very first day, we rode the Winnie The Pooh ride. I mean, it wasn’t our first stop or anything. To be honest, we rode it while waiting for our fast pass to one of the roller coasters.

But, you know what? I liked it. The Heffelumps and Woozles were not being portrayed as actually being Pooh’s friends. No smiley Eeyore that I am aware of. The bouncing with Tigger part is fun. It’s an adorable, nostalgic ride.

So what changed? I had, I suppose. I hadn’t realized it, though. Somewhere in that fourteen year period, I learned that sometimes, progress means that you have to leave some things behind. Those may be things you quite enjoy, even things that you love. True, you should never let go of what you love for no good reason. You wouldn’t leave a good relationship that made you happy just because it’s been five years and there might be something new out there. But you also shouldn’t always stay put in the same place in life. You may have to leave a job you enjoy if you’ve gone as far as you’re going to get in it and want to continue to grow. You may have to leave your best friend behind when the time comes to go off to university. You may have to say goodbye to one of your favourite Disney attractions if you want them to continue making new things that are exceedingly cool.

No, I guess I hadn’t been thinking these things when I got on the ride, but I also didn’t get on expecting to hate it. I expected to feel very little, though. I expected it to be a time sink to get out of the heat and crowds. Instead… you know what? I quite like that ride, now. It isn’t one of my favourites, it never will be. But I like it. Also, I never have to feel guilty for riding Mr. Toad with someone other than my Dad. That ride will always be ours. Even if I go to Disneyland in California, where a version of it still exists, it won’t be ours and I won’t feel guilty, because Dad and I in that old-fashionned car with my little hands on the steering wheel that I thought was actually controlling the car lives in my memory.

And a cute Winnie The Pooh ride lives in Disney World. A ride that taught me to let go and embrace change, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
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