Madi is my incredibly awesome sister-in-law, and she loves Disneyland.
So for this very important anniversary of the day she was born, Madi and her hubster Alex hopped in their car and drove from Northern Utah for 700+ miles to Southern California to experience a couple days at the Diamond Celebration of the "Happiest Place on Earth." They met up with my hubby, his mom (also visiting from Utah), and me.
|Connie (my mother-in-law), Alex (brother-in-law), and Madi (sister-in-law) -- so lucky to have great in-laws!|
You may have noticed that Madi doesn't have any hair. Madi has an auto-immune condition called Alopecia, which pretty much means she doesn't grow hair on her body. Basically, her body doesn't recognize its own tissue, so her immune system destroys her hair follicles, preventing hair from growing.
She's had the condition since birth, though she was able to grow some hair while growing up, despite the condition worsening over time. It wasn't until her senior year of high school that she had to start wearing a wig to school -- a not-so-easy situation for a teenager just about to face the world on her own, but she pushed through it with a sense of humor. Eventually, all her hair fell out.
Usually, Madi wears a wig.
|Alex and Madi on their wedding day - August, 2013|
Though this last Halloween, Madi surprised the masses by showing up at a costume party with hard-to-beat homemade costume -- a bald eagle.
|How awesome is this?|
A few days before coming to California, Madi announced she was leaving the wig behind in exchange for a bottle of sunscreen. I seriously thought that was the most awesome thing ever. I had never actually seen her without her wig on -- and I felt like her being willing to ditch the wig at such a public place showed that she doesn't need a fancy hairstyle to know who she is and value herself for what really matters. That deserves some props.
And she rocked her look.
It was interesting to watch other people notice Madi in the parks. Often people would smile at her in a sort of way that acknowledged that they notice her bald head, but either want to show support, or don't want to come across as rude by being caught staring blankly. I am totally one of these people -- I often smile at people with no hair, or a disability, or anything that sets them apart from the crowd. But in my defense, I pretty much smile at anyone who doesn't have anything that sets them apart from a crowd, as well. You're a human? Smile. You're a tree? Smile. A rock? Smile.
Still -- it made me wonder what I was causing those who look a little differently to think when I smile at them (and how badly I'm confusing people who don't look different). Madi says it's a little obvious people are acknowledging her head, but she says she doesn't mind. She even appreciates these people. More than likely, they probably think she's going through chemo for cancer, which she thankfully isn't. My good friend Chris, who had an amazing sense of humor, incredible life perspective, and who recently returned to live with God after fighting a rare form of cancer, often laughed that --
"People are really nice to you when you have cancer. Everyone should experience this -- well, not the cancer part."
People are really nice to you when they think you have cancer, too.
Madi told me kids are the most fun to watch because they're so honest. Once, she took her wig off in front of a class of kids she was teaching to help demonstrate a point, and a few days later, one of the kids told her that it gave him nightmares for days. She has a good sense of humor about that.
One moment that totally caught me off guard was when a passing woman grabbed Madi's arm and said "In Jesus' name, be healed," and then kept on walking. As I was picking my jaw up from off the floor, Madi shrugged and said that it wasn't the first time that had happened. When she dressed up like a bald eagle last Halloween, a woman grabbed her, pressed their foreheads together, and said a surprise prayer of healing because Jesus had told her Madi was sick.
As a follower of Christ myself, I was a little conflicted with how to feel about the passing healer woman. Part of me admired and appreciated her faith in Jesus, but another part of me felt like she was popping the physical and emotional bubble of personal space.
Speaking of saying weird things, Madi's hairless arms feel like a baby's bum. Not gonna lie, I kinda want baby bum arms.
Since Madi was a little girl, she has been a huge fan of Ariel -- the mermaid from The Little Mermaid (for those of you living under a rock). In order to maximize Madi's happiness quotient on her birthday, the day became a sort of "Ariel Appreciation Day," which included riding The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure seven times.
|In line for The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure.|
I happened to be a Disney Ambassador on opening day for that attraction, and even though that meant memorizing facts about the ride, walking the construction site with its designer, and riding it repeatedly beforehand, I still noticed so many new elements each time we rode it. Disney Imagineers are amazing (shout out to Larry Nikolai -- very talented, and incredibly humble and kind).
I laughed my head off watching Madi run out of the attraction and punch the air with shouts of how awesome it was, just as we all turned and got back in line again.
And, of course, we couldn't celebrate Ariel Appreciation Day without having lunch at Ariel's Grotto, where we got to meet Ariel, herself.
|Not sure what the conversation was about, but it was apparently interesting.|
|The food and desserts were amazing. We were full for the rest of the day.|
The whole day was a lot of fun. Even though it was a Saturday, we didn't have to wait in a lot of lines, and we rode pretty much everything we wanted to, which was a nice surprise.
|Grizzly River Rapids -- Not my first choice.|
As a former employee of Disneyland, I was quite happy to see so many thoughtful cast members (aka - those who work at Disneyland) wishing her a happy birthday and treating her with such kindness. I was even more happy to see them doing the same thing to every person -- whether they were celebrating a birthday, just walking around, had hair, or didn't have hair. Disney truly attracts some of the most friendly and kind-hearted people to work there (how did I get a job there?).
The princesses were a lot of fun to talk to, too. This was my first time eating lunch at Ariel's Grotto -- thanks Madi & Alex!
I should also point out that from the moment we all got together, it was obvious to the world that my husband Spencer and Madi's husband Alex were related. They laughed at the same jokes (usually their own), both have the same tall form and slightly hunched walk, and even drive the same car and have the exact same unexplained left hip injury. Since I happen to really like hanging out with my husband, it wasn't too shabby hanging out with people similar to him.
And our very own bald eagle was a great example of what it means to be fearless, funny, understanding, and all-around awesome.
Happy birthday, Madi!!