Going FREE-RANGE at EPCOT

Are you familiar with Lenore Skenazy and her movement (and Wiley book of the same name) “Free Range Kids”?  Lenore is the mom who wrote the article for the New York Sun on how she let her 9 year old son take the subway home alone, a ride that he had taken with her many, many times.   She got a huge amount of media attention, for and against, and used it to launch her Free Range platform.

I felt a lot like Lenore while I was at Disney Social Media Moms.  You see, the celebration is very much a professional business conference.  As such, on day 2, there was a full line up of speakers for us to learn from and be inspired by.  This action packed day was just for attendees – the assumption was that family members would tour the parks or hit the pool while we were getting our learning on.

For most families, that was not an issue.  But for me, I didn’t have my spouse or partner with me to look after my 12 year old daughter.  I didn’t want to try and bring her to the conference – it was clearly not allowed, and even if I could get an exception, she’d be bored out of her mind listening to the speakers, which would make me miserable.  Disney does offer “kids clubs” and in-room babysitting, but since the age ranges was listed as 4-12, I felt silly considering it for someone at the top of the range.

While it seems like I debated this issue, I really didn’t.  As soon as I realized she and I would be going to Disney Social Media Moms, I assumed she would tour a park by herself while I attended the conference.  And with that, you would think I put her on the subway herself the first time.

I heard from a number of friends, and Mr. IT about how this was NOT a good idea.  That “things could happen.”  That she wasn’t to be trusted by herself.

Hogwash, I thought.  First off, she’s been to Disney more times than I can count.  She knows her way around better than most adults.  Secondly, it’s not as if I wasn’t close by and reachable by cell phone.  And lastly, she’s a good kid and I trust her.

We came up with a plan, and I was so impressed to see her doing most of the planning.

We decided that it was best for her to go to EPCOT.  The Disney conference was at the Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center, and EPCOT was the park that was closest and within walking distance.  I mean, it’s not like Disney transportation is dangerous, far from it.  I just wanted to know that if something happened that she couldn’t handle, I could walk to her.  She seemed ok with that, and understood my concern.

She was to carry her cell phone and Epi pen (food allergic) with her in a small purse.  She was NOT to lose her room key, park pass or anything else – on penalty of extreme mom rage as these were not replaceable.  She could buy food, within reason, and had to have the discussion about food allergies with the staff at the food service places herself.  She was not permitted to buy expensive souvenirs or do any shopping.  That had to wait for me, so I could join in the fun.  I also asked that she text me every once in a while, partly to make sure I knew where she was, but also so I could vicariously live the day through her. She researched the park online and used apps to view maps so she could remember where everything was.  She knew she could do it, and I was going to cheer her on.

When I settled into my seat to begin the day at the conference, I kept my iPhone on the desk waiting for texts.  She kept to her word and texted about every hour.  I learned that she road “Soarin'” about 6 times and visited Figment at “Journey to Imagination”.   Breakfast was easy – she got some sort of breakfast sandwich at the food court in “Living with the Land.”  Lunch was not so easy – there were a couple of places she wanted to go, having researched all the menus on her iPod app beforehand, but she really wanted to find a place with good seating.  As she said, she didn’t want to be “that person eating with their tray perched on a garbage can.”  What a great image.  She ended up in Mexico after walking through several of the pavilions in World Showcase.  Seemed to be a good choice for her.

I was thrilled when I viewed our PhotoPass pictures and saw that she went through the Character Spot in EPCOT all by herself, autograph book and pen in hand.

She also tracked down a PhotoPass photographer to do some fun outside shots.

When we reunited at the end of the conference sessions, I planned for us to head straight to Animal Kingdom where our dinner was that night.  Nice idea, but she had other plans.  It was hot, she was tired and she ran herself ragged.  While she agreed to go to AK with me because I wanted to go, I knew she really wanted to head to the pool.  Which we did.  She had a new-found confidence about her that was so great to see. I’m glad she had the opportunity to go “free range” that day. She learned a lot about herself and what she was capable of.  She learned to trust her gut and make the right choices.  Now, I am left to wonder if she will want “me time” on our next visits – I hope my coaster buddy still wants to hang out with me!

Disclosure: As an attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I received for a fee hotel accommodations, park tickets, many meals and access to special events not made available to the public.  Disney did not ask me or anyone to blog about this event, but being a fan of the company I can’t help myself.  It was originally published on ConfessionsofanITgirl.com on May 24, 2012

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