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How I told our kids we weren't going to Disney — because of Zika

When we found Kristti was pregnant with baby No. 4, we didn't think it our Florida vacation would change. And then our OB-GYN weighed in.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

My wife and I started planning our family trip to Disney World about eight months ago. We figured now would be the perfect time for our family of five to go: Our oldest is enchanted by all things princess and our youngest is just old enough to appreciate the experience. (Who am I kidding? At 35, I still feel like a kid every time I step foot in the Magic Kingdom.)

But all our fairy-dusted plans changed a few months ago when we learned some very big news: Kristti was pregnant with baby No. 4.

Michael, Kristti and the girls in Disney in 2011
We brought the girls to Disney in 2011. They don't remember it, but we have photo evidence!Courtesy of Michael Sullivan

Initially we didn’t think the impending bundle of joy would affect our itinerary. In fact I thought it might actually make the trip better — for me. You see, there are some selfish perks that expectant dads have. For starters, you get a designated driver for almost a year. (That’s a big one.) The second is the spillover of fun stuff that your pregnant wife can’t do, like roller coasters and amusement park rides.

But then Zika came to Florida. Two days after we told the kids we were going to the most magical place on Earth, we heard about mosquitoes infecting people in the Miami-Dade area. My wife and I knew about the risk Zika posed to our baby, but — given that Orlando is not in South Florida — decided not to give it much thought.

And then our OB-GYN weighed in. Our doc’s reaction to our Orlando plans wasn't quite what we had hoped. Instead of reassuring us with miniscule percentages, we got, “Oh no! Make sure you use a lot of bug spray!” That changed our perspective, and we started considering the risks more seriously.

On the one hand, neither of us wants to let fear dictate the decisions we make for our family. And that’s not something we want to instill in our children either. On the other hand, it felt selfish to risk the the health of our unborn child. No matter how small the risk, would a vacation be worth threatening our soon-to-be child's life — a vacation that we can just postpone for a year?

Cayden and Logan Sullivan, before hearing the Disney news
Here's Cayden, 6, and Logan, 8 — before we told them our Disney vacation was no more.Courtesy of Michael Sullivan

We stumbled on a very real, sensible thought: If we chose to go, it would be the most stressful vacation of our lives. We would be so focused on applying bug spray every two hours that there would be no chance for relaxation. Moreover, the following six months would be way more stressful than necessary. Whether Kristti was bitten or not, Zika would become a constant concern — with every doctor's visit, every sneeze, every cramp.

So we decided to cancel the trip. There was a momentary sense of relief, and then we remembered we had to break the news to our kids — the same kids who’d asked, “How many days until Disney?” every day for the last few months.

We decided the best strategy would be to first find a replacement vacation. It didn’t help that Disney is pretty much the Super Bowl of vacations. We talked about packing Kings Dominion, Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg into one trip, but even the trifecta didn’t compare: “Kids, instead of dining at the Beast’s Castle, we’re going to learn about how they made butter 200 years ago.” It’s a tough sell.

So we stressed about planning the (new) trip and even more about breaking the news to the kids for weeks. Eventually we reached the 25th hour and had to come clean.

Cayden, Logan and Michael Sullivan
Our kids are within the perfect age range to visit Disney: Cayden on the left is 6 and is dressed like a princess when I get home from work at least three days a week. Logan, 8, is still young enough to be enchanted by all things princess. And our youngest, Michael, is 3 and old enough to appreciate the experience.Courtesy of Michael Sullivan

Our initial approach was just to be honest. They’re people after all. Small, blunt and occasionally violent people. Honesty is usually a no-brainer for us, but we stressed about the resentment that might form toward the new baby. We even considered avoiding the conversation altogether — by the time they figured it out, they’d be in the thick of school and sports. Maybe they would forget altogether? (This wasn’t really an option, just a welcome distraction from our predicament.)

We braced for tears and tantrums and finally just spilled it: “Girls, we’re not going to go to Disney.”

We didn’t shy away from the harm it could cause the baby, but we explained that it’s also not good for any of us either. We talked about the uncertainty of the situation, and that doctors aren’t sure how bad the virus is or have an easy way to fix it.

There were no tears or tantrums. No “you don’t love me.” Instead we were met with a nonchalant “OK” followed by, “When is ice cream night?”

We learned two big lessons after breaking the news.

First, treat your kids the way you treat all outspoken (and occasionally violent) people — with sincerity and a delicate tone. Also, kids are awesome.