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Five Days of Suspended Reality: Part 5

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It was time. After four incredible days at Disney World, it was time to go. Time to walk away from our glorious days of “suspended reality.” Time to offer our thanks and say our goodbyes. And time to pack an extraordinarily large amount of swag into already-bulging suitcases. After only a few hours sleep, we set to the task of packing, trying to figure out how to get all of the things we didn’t bring with us−light sabers, souvenirs, food, 20 new t-shirts, 5 so-far-unused rain ponchos, etc.−into our bags. With a little creativity, we managed to find a home for nearly everything before it was time to go to breakfast. We ended our time at Disney World in much the same way as we started−at the Atlantic Dance Hall for another delicious buffet. When we arrived, the cast was in the middle of the Monday morning broadcast of the show. We found a table close to the side of the stage where we could see both the cast and one of the large TV monitors they had set up in the room. Then we got our food and our much-needed coffee, and settled in to listen to the show. We never expected to need Kleenex by the time it was over. Alongside their normal comic bits, the cast shared stories about the trip and the medical journeys of many of the Kidd’s Kids. Some were funny. Some were merely heartwarming. And some were profoundly moving. More than once, Ray and I locked eyes and realized we both were fighting tears. Despite all the excitement, distractions, and energy of the trip, it was impossible to forget that a painful path had led each family there. Mickey and Minnie were the special guests that morning, posing for pictures and signing autographs. While we were in line for our turn after breakfast, Samantha suddenly said, “They’re talking about Anthony!” We quickly left our place in line and found a spot on the steps near the stage to listen as Kidd talked about Anthony. First, he shared some of the funnier moments of our Saturday afternoon on the motorboats—Kidd readily admitted his reckless attempts to flip J-Si and Anthony’s boat!−and then he shared some of the details of Anthony’s journey which he had learned from Samantha. This moment was the first time we learned that Kidd and Samantha had talked about Anthony during their boat ride. It was a lovely surprise and a poignant moment to hear Anthony’s story shared so thoughtfully with the KKITM audience. An unexpected public acknowledgement of what Anthony has so bravely endured. I still get misty-eyed when I hear the recording.


Before we left the Dance Hall, we spent some time with Mickey and Minnie, posed for our “TCU Horned Frog” picture with Tim Halperin, and then watched as Anthony took his place with the other Kidd’s Kids for a final group picture with the cast. The smiles on the faces of the children disguised the brutal reality that each one was fighting some form of significant illness. For the last time, we walked back over the bridge to the hotel from the Boardwalk to finish our packing. Although our flight did not leave until mid-afternoon, check-out was at noon. We had just a few items left to pack, which now also included the contents of the gift bag we received that morning at check-in. Instead of a Kidd’s Kids bag, this bag was from the Princess Alexa Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides “dress-up” opportunities for seriously-ill children. Anthony’s bag contained a red and black knight’s costume, complete with sword and shield. With these new weapons as well as his light saber, Anthony left Disney World armed and ready for battle!

Swan and Dolphin

We took our suitcases downstairs to a luggage holding room as we still had a couple of hours before we had to leave for the airport. While we waited, we browsed the hotel’s gift shop for the first time, allowing the kids to spend the rest of their souvenir money. Before we left home, coworkers of our friend, Christy, had donated a rather large amount of money to each of the children to spend on souvenirs. This gift touched us deeply as the kids, for the first time in their lives, were able to purchase what they wanted without worrying about the price tag. Thank you Brownrigg Insurance Agency for your thoughtful, generous donations! At 2:00, we boarded buses to the airport. When we arrived at the hangar, we walked into a party, similar to the initial departure event, with music, food, games, and more gracious Southwest Employees to greet us. After we ate our delicious lunch provided by Cantina Laredo, Samantha hung out at the basketball goal on one side of the hangar, while Ray, Abby, and Anthony played ball with a young girl confined to a wheelchair on the other side. When it was her turn, they placed the ball in her hand so she could either bounce it to them directly from her hand or hold it under her chin then let it roll down her chest and across the floor. Ray enjoyed watching her work up some speed for the ball by spinning her electric wheelchair around and then letting go of the ball as she came around again. I sat quietly and watched them from our table, struck by what a unique opportunity this trip provided—a chance for these suffering children to connect and to learn that they aren’t alone. We boarded the plane around 4:00. Abby was my flying buddy on the left, and “RussFace,” the head of social media for KKITM, was on my right. I enjoyed hearing him talk about the trip from a staff member’s perspective. While the families were enjoying the vacation of a lifetime, the staff was working tirelessly behind the scenes, often with only a few hours of sleep each night. It is humbling to realize how many people willingly gave so much of their time and energy to make this happen for our family and for so many others.

Trip Home from Kidd's Kids

When the Southwest Airlines pilot began the descent over Dallas, we laughed as many of the kids, including our own, screamed and threw their hands in the air as if they were still on a ride at Disney World! As was predicted, it was raining when we arrived. Consistent with our excellent treatment throughout the trip, rain ponchos (yes, more rain ponchos!) had been tucked into the pockets of each airplane seat, ensuring that no one would get wet on the way to their cars. No detail was missed! At first, the crew announced that, because of the rain, one member of each family could de-board the plane and move their vehicle around to the hangar entrance. But later, to make it even easier for us, they changed their plans and decided to pull the plane all the way into the hangar so we all could de-board under the covering of the roof. Could they be any more thoughtful?! When we walked down the steps, we were warmly greeted by more Southwest Employees holding “Welcome Home” signs. Then Ray left the hangar to get the van while the kids and I waited for our luggage to be pulled off of the plane. While we waited, I was able to thank Kidd personally and say a quick goodbye to some of the families we had come to know.

Car Shot

And then, seemingly suddenly, we were in the van and it was over. I heard some sniffles from the back of the van as we took one last look at the plane and watched as the other families loaded their luggage into their cars. We waited for Kidd to drive off in the car next to us, and then Ray pulled away, leading us back to reality. Our trip was over, but I felt no sadness. I was perfectly and completely satisfied that we had just enjoyed one of the best experiences of our entire lives. Quite possibly the best. And one we will never forget. The words emblazoned on the side of Southwest's Kidd’s Kids’ plane say it all: A smile happens in a flash, but its memory can last a lifetime.

And what a beautiful memory it is.