I woke up at 3:15 a.m., rolled out of bed, and somehow stayed awake long enough to make it onto an airplane with my dad. (I say “somehow,” but what I really mean is that I chattered incessantly to my dad and stayed standing as
long as possible before getting on the plane.) And when I woke up again after a poor nap because of the plane noises and the annoying manspreader next to me, I was in Orlando, Florida!
That exclamation point is important. On any other vacation, I would have complained incessantly about waking up early, the dude taking up more space than necessary, and having travel mess up my stomach. But I didn’t. I was genuinely excited.
Day 1: Crocodiles, Sushi, and Patience
On our first day in Orlando, my dad and I scheduled an airboat tour of the swamp/marsh. What with miscommunications, boat malfunctions, and the Baginski early-bird tendency, we had a two-hour wait before we could get on the boat. I’ll admit, I was getting impatient, but it was the kind of impatient that I could joke around about. I was determined not to let anything ruin this vacation, even two hours under the sweltering sun.
We saw three full-sized crocodiles along with a cute, little baby croc. (One of the crocs was named Jimmy Buffet!) Unfortunately, crocodiles don’t photograph very well, but oh boy were the landscape shots of the marsh beautiful! I usually like to enjoy the sounds of nature when I’m on water, but
the airboat was so frickin loud that we had to wear noise-cancelling headphones most of the time. We looked like a couple of damn fools, but we rocked that crazy-hair, gigundo-headphones look.
Afterward, we fought through the traffic for the Arnold Palmer golf tournament (someone please explain the appeal of watching golf to me) to a sushi place where we over-ate and were defeated by the rolls. For the first time ever, my dad left sushi on his plate. And for the first time ever, I didn’t let my digestive issues stop me from having a good time. That sushi was delicious, even if it did give me a stomach ache for the rest of the night. The pain didn’t even stop me from sleeping well. (That’s what a 3 a.m. wake-up call does to you!)
Day 2: Rockets, Free Beer, and a Worrisome Black Bean Burger
Many of the moments I find myself overcoming negativity are moments in which my stomach does not feel top notch. So when, after hours at the Kennedy Space Center, I was faced with a slightly smushed black bean burger, I was afraid my positive mood would finally break. We’d gone on a tour of the control rooms, my dad had “launched” a rocket, and we’d walked around a rocket garden that gave us both the cliché feeling of being so small in this world. Even though we had to sprint to our bus tour (my asthma did not like
me for that), I’d felt pretty interested and engaged all day. Again, not a common feeling for someone who is often in their own head.
And now I stared down a black bean burger that could ruin it all, because we wanted another hour to absorb NASA’s wonders. Oh, boy.
Well, I gotta say, the burger wasn’t the best. But it didn’t do anything bad to my stomach. I was even able to spend a relaxing afternoon and evening at the beach with my dad, enjoying some gummy bears.
Like many people in the world, swimsuits make me feel a little insecure. I don’t have a flat stomach, and because I have boobs, I have to buy more feminine bathing suits that don’t necessarily fit how I would like to present myself. And with a sub-par black bean burger probably causing some bloating, I was especially worried about how self-conscious I would feel. But I felt fine. We waded into the water, I got my hat wet, and we walked up and down the beach. Some kid kicked some sand onto me, and some idiot was feeding the pigeons popcorn, but I felt so relaxed. Neither my dad nor I got our books out, which is amazing for two people who always feel like they need to be doing something.
To top it all off, we found this on-the-beach restaurant that was super crowded, and my dad got free beer from the band for being nice to them. A lesson for everyone: move your table out of the way when musicians are cleaning up at restaurants, because you may
just get a beer out of it. Another lesson: if you have dietary restrictions and can find very little on the menu that you can eat, get a bunch of appetizers and eat off your dad’s plate! I usually let limited menus annoy me or ruin my dining experience (where’s the meat-free, dairy-free stuff, people?), and crowds are overwhelming for me, but I survived. And I survived with a smile on my face. I thought it might be the sun and nice weather that was boosting my mood, because Nebraska had been gloomy and cold before we left. But even the chance of rain the next day couldn’t bring me down. Because the next day, I became a wizard.
Day 3: Wizards, Magic Spells, and Dairy-ful Butterbeer
I’m not gonna lie. This was the day I had been waiting for the most. I was about to enter Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley; I was about to ride the Hogwarts Express; I was about to step into a book in a much more immersive way than any movie. And it was everything
I’d hoped for.
My dad must’ve thought I was crazy. I was jumping up and down, dragged him into every single store (yes, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes is just as amazing as I imagined it), and made him go on every ride. We even waited in line for Ollivander to help me get paired with a wand, which I proceeded to spend an exorbitant amount of money on (it was interactive!). But this isn’t about my initiation into the wizarding world. This is about my stomach.
The one thing I wanted to try while at Harry Potter World was butterbeer. I’d been talking about it for months, and even though I knew there was a possibility there might be dairy in it, I was determined to try it anyway. (I have a mild dairy allergy, so I wouldn’t need emergency treatment if I had a little dairy.) I held out hope that Universal Studios would have sympathy for those of us with food allergies. So when we went up to the butterbeer cart and ordered two butterbeers, imagine my disappointment when the witch plopped some cream into the cup. I was really bummed as my dad voided my purchase and took his own butterbeer to go.
I refused to be defeated by my stomach. I told my dad I wanted to take a sip of his butterbeer, that I could deal with the gas and stomach cramps I would have later. It wouldn’t kill me, it wouldn’t ruin my day—I had to try it. So I took a sip.
It was heavenly. Butterscotch, cream, fizz, and a little mustache left over after I emerged. I wanted more, but I limited myself to one sip. I sort of creepily stared down my dad as he finished his butterbeer, just savoring the taste.
If you still haven’t realized how big of a deal this was to me, I’ll explain. I have had horrible anxiety since high school that has often been tied to the GI issues that worsened around the same time. When my stomach felt bad, my mind felt bad. And vice versa. So I avoid anything that will mess up my stomach at all costs, because I don’t want to trigger my anxiety.
But I tried butterbeer even though it had dairy in it. And even when my stomach hurt later, I ignored it and made myself remember the wonderful taste of butterbeer on my tongue. It was the first time in a long time that I really felt like my mind had overcome physical discomfort rather than succumbing.
Now, I feel a little less worried when I think about accidentally eating dairy. In the past, if that happened, I would have a panic attack, or at least cry. And I’m not super emotional. I would feel out of control because such a small thing would ruin my entire mood. And now I’ve taken some of that control back. One might even say that butterbeer worked some magic on me.