"Daisy, F3," my son Archer says as we pull into our parking spot. Disneyland’s about to open and we've arrived, just the two of us, our last hoorah before school starts.
The alarm goes off and I pull the pillow tightly over my head. My husband, Hal, offers to wake the kids so I roll over, fall back asleep until Archer's voice wakes me, this time for good. "Hi, Mommy. It's kindergarten day."
Before we go on any rides, Archer tells me he wants to watch “the rapids coaster.”
“It will only take a minute,” he says, but an hour passes and we’re still watching. He points and studies and tilts his head, trying to understand why one raft is here when another is there, tracing time with his finger as he calculates distance and studies the faces of the hundreds of people screaming down the falls. Every few minutes I ask Archer if he's ready to get on the ride.
"Not yet," he tells me but I'm getting impatient. Bored. I cross my legs and watch him, pick my fingernails and wait.
"Hey, Mom. Want to go on this ride with me?"
He climbs into the raft first and I follow. We are surrounded by a group of seriously prepared strangers covered in plastic to keep their clothes dry. Archer flashes me a look and I tell him that, no, I don't have plastic in my purse.
He tells me that it's okay, the sun will dry us, and for a second, I feel like I’m the child.
When the ride ends our hair is drenched, shoes full of water, clothes soaked through. We walk like ducks to the bathroom where we dry our shoes under the electric hand driers before unfolding our soggy map and pointing out a new destination.
I adjust his collar, button the three buttons on his shirt, help him with his sweater, tie his shoes. Archer shakes his head back and forth making it very difficult for me to get that last button. I’d tell him to stop but he’s so excited so I say nothing, move with his jumps and jolts and sways, try to fit the button through the buttonhole until finally...
It's 7:12 and I want to be out the door in eighteen minutes. Hal and I are still in our pajamas but at least Archer is dressed.
"You look very handsome," I say.
Archer makes a face. "No I don't."
We're on the retro car ride, Autopia for the third time. Archer's driving but he doesn't know my foot is on the gas. He's too busy trying to make the car move on his own. He's mastered the art of steering without bumping against the track. It only took him two times to figure it out. Two times and forty minutes of watching from the sidelines.
"I can steer really well, Mama," he says.
“Indeed you can.”
We're in the car now. We've managed to get dressed with one minute to spare. Archer requests his favorite song and I turn the volume up as Hal backs out the driveway.
At the stoplight I turn down the music, tell Archer about my first day of kindergarten. I was wearing a white dress with blue stripes and my teacher's name was Ms. Parish. Hal tells him about his first day of kindergarten and Archer nods, sort of listening, mostly studying the new route from our house to school.
"Light's green, Dad. You can go now."
I take him on Small World because it's my favorite. He tells me he’d rather ride the submarines, but I say I can't because I’m afraid of confined spaces and would get sick if I went inside.
“Then let’s go on Small World,” he agrees.
We share a cotton candy and laugh at the wooden frogs.
On the playground, the parents gather with tired eyes, watching nervously, sad and scared and excited and overwhelmed. Some of the children cling to their parents, or at least, stay close. Not Archer. He could have easily said goodbye at the car and walked himself to class. I'm glad he's excited but there's a part of me that hoped he would cling to me, at the very least, hold my hand. Instead, I hold his backpack.
I feel bad because I left his sweatshirt in the car. I hadn't realized we'd still be here. Thought we'd stay for the day and be home for dinner. It’s dark now and getting cold so I give Archer my cardigan. He puts it on and laughs as it falls down to the tops of his shoes.
“It’s a little big,” he says.
Archer drags me toward Tomorrowland, where a man at a booth is selling light sticks and things that flash like strobes. I offer to buy him one if I have enough money—I only have ten dollars left in my wallet. Archer gets so excited he starts jumping up and down but can't decide which light he wants until...
"THAT ONE!" he screams.
"How much for the light saber?" I ask the man at the booth.
"Ten dollars," he says.
Archer looks at me and smiles.
The fireworks are about to start so I carry him on my back and we run, dodging strollers and families clutching giant stuffed Mickeys. Archer wants me to put him down, says he can walk on his own, but I don't want him to miss this.
"We're almost there," I say.
And then they start. We watch together as the fireworks explode and he's smiling at them with his hands against my neck, light saber to the sky. He puts his head on my shoulder and the lights dance across his face. The music swells, all songs from my childhood Yesterday-land. Archer’s never heard them before but he likes that the fireworks make a heart in the sky. I haven't seen the fireworks at Disneyland since I was a little girl and have no recollection of them being this magical. I urge them to go on forever.
"Let's go home."
“Really? You don’t want to stay a little longer?”
“No, Mom. I’m ready to go.”
Archer points his light saber toward the entrance as we make our way back through the crowd.
We try to walk him into class but he takes his backpack from my hands and scurries ahead to join his classmates on the rug. I wave to the back of his head.
“Goodbye,” I say.
On the way back to the car Archer insists on walking, using his light beam as a sort of cane he hits against the pavement. "Crack, crack, craaaaaack," it goes, smacking and dragging until at last we arrive at the car.
And then, as if by magic, the light beam stops blinking. Perhaps he broke it hitting it so many times or the battery died or it was just its time. Clutching the broken beam, Archer bursts into tears. I wait for him to fall asleep before I do the same. I’m crying and I can’t stop. Because the day is over. Because the light went out. Because our moment has passed.
Because all moments do.
Rebecca Woolf is the author of Rockabye: From Wild to Child, a memoir about how her life changed when she became a mom, based on her popular personal blog, Girl’s Gone Child.