I’ve been pegged as a “mom” for as long as I can remember. One reason is that I spend an extreme amount of time with my eight-year-old brother. The other is because I am a serial planner. I plan for just about everything, even moments of spontaneity. When it comes to my monumental senior year plans being wiped-out by COVID-19, I completely lost my sense of self-direction. Instead of moving forwards towards college, I regressed to childhood while maintaining my serial-planner tendencies.
I missed out on many things in the ideal American childhood. I moved from Turkey to Portland, Oregon in second grade. My English skills were subpar, and the most challenging books I could read were the “Magic Tree House” books. My English progressed to proficiency by the end of fourth grade, right when the most checked out books at our school library were the “Harry Potter” series. At the time, my best friend had purchased all of the books — hardcover, heavy and 400+ pages each. She adored them, and I rejected them because they were too popular, or perhaps because I was a bit daunted.
After moving to Florida for high school, I realized that I could no longer shy away from “Harry Potter.” The most anticipated senior year celebration for Floridians is taking a road trip with friends to attend a day of Grad Bash. Grad Bash is an event at Universal Studios Orlando for five days each year, where from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. only high school seniors from the state are allowed to enter the theme park. There are performances by famous artists, such as Sean Paul one year and plenty of opportunities to meet random senior strangers; there are also short-ish lines for major roller coasters like Rockit and anything else imaginable that can let your inner child out one last time. In my four years of living in Florida, I shamefully admit that I have only been to Universal once. My best friend took me with her family and showed me the wonders of thrilling nausea on Marvel-themed rides and cute yet overpriced theme park merchandise.
During quarantine, I decided to catch up and experience second-hand nostalgia and first-hand longing. I read all the “Harry Potter” books, adoring the wisecrack remarks Harry makes towards Snape. I took the Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz at least 15 times and was obsessive to almost the point of listening to the prologue from the “Philosopher’s Stone” to put me to sleep. I watched all the movies festively, doing the best with what I had: alone on my couch with jelly beans (Bertie Bott’s) and root beer (Butterbeer). The only thing that kept me from thinking I was crazy was that Shawn Mendes was also obsessed with Harry Potter. So was half of the world.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the weight of my empty experiences pestered me. A lineless Universal — a four-hour drive from my house — beckoned me. I began talking to my friends about how we would’ve had so much fun at Grad Bash. I would’ve spent too much on slightly slushy iced Butterbeer. I could’ve bought an interactive wand and relived my childhood with them. My friends got sick to the point of nodding at everything I said to them to get me to stop.
Naturally, the people who made Youtube videos of themselves touring and discovering Universal soon became my good friends. But my new best friends were the mothers who blogged about their expertise from going to the parks dozens of times. After a week or so of investigation, I knew the best order to ride the rides at Universal and had memorized their average wait times. I learned what kiosks and fast-service restaurants have the most unique and affordable seasonal themed foods. I knew which hotels are the best to stay at for what party size and made cost charts. I went as far as to create daily itineraries for the trips that would never happen because of COVID-19. I even drew my maps of the parks, labeling everything important.
Once I became a Universal expert, I moved on to the more elaborate Disney World (which I had also visited only once). In addition to replicating my research process for Universal, I added more layers to my planning. I thought about the fireworks shows, ranking them in order of creativity and what one expects from classic Disney. I watched the Walt Disney Imagineering documentary on Disney+ to get more insight into the history of the parks and appreciate them more in today’s context. I rewatched Princess and the Frog in light of the Splash Mountain re-theming news and ultimately upset myself with the realization that either way the park would be amazing. I wallowed in the fact that I could not share this experience with my friends or my brother, who is finally 44 inches,tall enough and brave enough to go on all the rides.
The good thing is that I indulged in a childhood fantasy and, by doing so, lived in it to fill the gap of quarantine. For the future: To all my Yalies who want to roadtrip with me to Orlando and beyond, I’m ready!
Eda Aker | firstname.lastname@example.org