Over the course of the past few summers, I, like many other broke college student before me, have known the terrors of grinning and bearing it through yet another tedious part-time job. As a former carhop waitress, grocery store cashier and a substitute teacher, I have explored many paths of employment...some more pleasant than others. This past June, I embarked on one of the most underrated endeavors of the summer season: joining the show cast of a nearby theme park. To clarify, that means I get to be an active member of the park rather than running a cash register or serving as a ride attendant. I don't work in food services, nor am I tasked with manning the park entrance. When extended family and old classmates I haven't spoken to in months ask me about my summer, I get the hilarious privilege of telling them that I get paid to sing and dance (which, if you've ever met me, is really not all that surprising) while clad head to toe in one of the many theme-friendly costumes the park provides.
For various reasons, I can't exactly disclose what I may or may not do at work, but I can give you all a hint: I work at a Christmas-themed park. Storybook characters put on shows with Santa, elves put on demonstrations in their various workshops and we have reindeer, both mammalian and costumed in nature. There are even magical singing and dancing rag dolls--like a life-sized Ragg
edy Ann and Andy sans copyright. In fact, we even have our own zip code so that kids can send their letters to Santa (and an option for Santa to send personalized letters back to the children). Santa's Workshop at the North Pole, NY happens to be one of the oldest theme parks in existence, not to mention that it's Christmas every day there. Does celebrating the same holiday every day sound exhausting to you? I can promise you, it is. However, it's also an incredibly rewarding job. I mean, how many people can say they spent their summer making children's dreams come true?
Perhaps it's the nostalgia talking, but there's something truly incredible about the general atmosphere of a theme park. The problem is, as with Santa Claus, not everyone can see it so they cease to believe in it. As we grow older, we come to appreciate less and scrutinize more; this is doubly true when it comes to what we find appealing in our youth. To an adult, visiting a theme park becomes more of a chore or obligation than a source of enjoyment. Anything a child may overlook through the haze of their enjoyment becomes an inconvenience. Long, warm days in the sun elicit sighs of impatience rather than squeals of excitement. Instead of jumping at the chance to see a giant, costumed character and make friends, we tend to poke fun, lose interest or even pity the "unfortunate" sap stuck inside (yes, it is hot today; I definitely needed a reminder of that as I sit in a furry pool of my own sweat). If you do your best to look at things through the lens of a child's rose-tinted glasses, however, the joy of being young and naive doesn't have to escape us.
Working with children has helped me to open my eyes to why my job is so magical. Every day, the exuberance with which I am tackled and handed personalized drawings by small children filled with wonder eases the stress of being an adult who has to work for financial stability. Of course, that's not to say that children's happiness solves all of my problems, but there's something infinitely more pleasant about your job when it's potentially changing an adorable, smiling bundle of excitement's life for the better. Spoiler alert: I'm not Santa (shocking, I know), which by associations means that children don't exactly dream of seeing me or any of my castmates when visiting the park. However, whether a family is returning for another year of fun or visiting for the first time, their experience is heightened and their hearts captivated by employees and castmembers alike who are willing to give them that magical moment that they've envisioned. In a sense, I am one of many people responsible for making magic happen, and it's that's not one of the coolest things ever then I don't know what is. I encourage children to believe not only in Santa, but in happiness and joy and laughter: things that we could all use more of in our lives.
Is my job always candy canes and horribly cheesy cliches? Absolutely not. Some days the heat is unbearable and sticky, others it rains miserably and we have to smile through the melting faces and uncomfortably damp costumes. Shows go wrong, kids don't always behave, and even worse, the parents don't always behave. Among the long hours on our feet, dozens of cheap black shoes come and gone, and additional publicity events outside of the park, dreams are being fulfilled. Every rainy day can be brightened by the smallest gesture, every long day made worth it by a laugh or a hug. A picture, a high five, or a hand held can mean the world to a child, and that joy-filled moment will live on for years as they grow to be adults and can look back on their visit fondly. I have spent this summer as many other theme park show cast members do: earning a cherished spot in random families' albums from both near and far. It may not always be the most glamorous job, but at the end of the day, it will always be the most rewarding.