"Daisy, F3," he says as we pull into our parking spot on the third level of the Disneyland parking structure. The park's about to open and we've arrived, just the two of us, our last hoorah before school starts.
It was a last minute plan. I suddenly found myself thinking about the summer before Fable was born and how I took Archer out of school so that we could spend the last few weeks together as a duo. I longed for a day like that - a full day for Archer and me - I needed summer closure but it was more than that. I needed to break up with my preschooler so that I could enter a new relationship with my kindergartner.
"I'll remember it's F3 because F is what Fable starts with," Archer says. I thank him and we walk toward the escalator hand in hand.
The alarm goes off and I pull the pillow tight over my head. 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," he says and I open my eyes.
Before we go on any rides, Archer tells me he wants to watch for a minute. He wants to "watch the rapids ride," he tells me. So we sit together on a bench for almost an hour as he points and studies and tilts his head watching, counting, trying to understand why one raft is here when another is there, tracing time with his finger he calculates distance, studies the faces of the hundreds of people who pass by us screaming down the fall.
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.
Sometimes I feel guilty for wanting to drag him away from his world and into mine. And I have to stop myself from doing just that.
"I'm here for him," I remind myself. "I'm in his waiting room, here. I have to take a number."
So I do. I sit cross-legged on the pavement behind him and wait, watch the back of his head look left, look right, look left, look on, and wait.
"Hey, mom. Want to go on this ride with me?"
Of course I do so we get in line.
He climbs into the raft first and I follow, both of us seated in a raft with strangers on all sides, all of them 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 it's okay, that the sun will dry us, and for a second I forget who the parent is. Shouldn't it be me assuring him?
"The sun will dry us," I say.
"I already said that."
When it ends our hair is drenched and our shoes are full of water, clothes are 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 know. Let's watch the ROLLERCOASTER!"
So we do. We dry ourselves under the sun, sip water from our bottles and watch the rollercoaster. We order food, rock our table on its bad leg, eat, watch. The check comes and goes. I fold the receipt and put it in my pocket as Archer explains to me which cars go on which tracks and why. We're still watching.
I tell him that he can watch for three more times. Otherwise we'll be here all day at this table and the sun won't be able to dry our butts.
"Four more times," he says.
His head goes back as I adjust his collar, button the three buttons on his shirt, help him with his sweater, tie his shoes. Hal is boiling his lunch on the stove and Archer shakes his head back and forth making it very difficult for me to get that last button. But he's so excited so I don't say anything. I just move with his jumps and jolts and sways, trying to fit the button through the buttonhole until finally...
It's 7:12 am and I want to be out the door in eighteen minutes. Hal and I are still in our pajamas but at least the kids are dressed.
"You look very handsome," I say.
Archer makes a face. "No I don't."
We're on Autopia for the third time. It's Archer's favorite ride besides the Monorail which has the best view of Anaheim's great power lines. Archer's driving but he doesn't know my foot is on the gas.
When we stall, I tell him it's my fault. But he's too busy trying to make the car move with his own foot to hear me.
He's mastered the art of steering without bumping us up against the track. Two times is all it took for him to figure out how to steer. Two times and forty minutes of watching from the sidelines.
"I can steer you really well, Mama" he says.
And he can.
We're in the car now. We've all managed to get dressed with one minute to spare. Archer requests his favorite song and I turn the volume up as Hal backs the car down the driveway.
At the stop light 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. And then Hal tells him about his first day of kindergarten and Archer nods, half listening, half studying the new route from our house to school.
"Hey, dad?" he says. "Light's green. You can go now."
I take him on Small World because it's my favorite. He doesn't want to go on it with me at first because he wants to watch the submarines. I tell him that I can't go on that ride with him because it scares me. That I'm afraid of confined spaces and that I would get very sick if I went inside.
He tells me we can go on Small World, then, if I want to.
We share a cotton candy and laugh at the wooden frogs.
On the playground the parents gather, all of us with tired eyes behind smudged sunglasses, watching nervously, sad and scared and excited and overwhelmed. Some of the children cling to their parents, or at least, stay close. Not Archer. Archer 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 wishes he would cling to me, too, or at the very least look back.
But he doesn't. He runs off full speed toward the farthest playground as I hang back and watch from afar.
He doesn't look to me for reinforcements so I don't give them to him.
Instead, I hold his backpack.
"I'm cold," he says.
I feel bad 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.
I don't know what time it is, past bedtime most probably, but here we are. I cancel plans with the friends I was supposed to meet later, give Archer my cardigan to wear and watch him step onto the fence and watch Thunder Mountain speed rickety on by.
On the way to Tomorrowland, we pass a booth and a man selling lights sticks and twirly things that flash like strobes.
I offer to buy him one if I can afford to. I only have ten dollars cash 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.
Archer's eyes are this amazing shape, like backwards almonds and I wonder if that's why he sees the world so differently from anyone I've ever met. The other day we came across a cat with one eye and one ear and Archer gasped, pointing and said, "Mama, look! Look at that cat! It has the most beautiful tail!" He said nothing of the missing eye and ear.
He's always been like that, even before he could speak. In awe of power lines and broken pieces of glass in the road. Archer has always found beauty where most look away in disgust. Archer's favorite part of nature is always the trash we find on the winding paths. His favorite part of a house are the cracks in the driveway.
We are told that the fireworks are about to start so I carry him on my back and we run, his light wand in hand through the crowd, 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, so I hold on.
"We're almost there," I say.
And then they start. I keep running because I want us to get a better view.
And we do. We watch together as the fireworks explode and he's smiling at them with his hands against my neck, pointing his light saber and his weight is such that I can barely keep him elevated without falling. I stagger but hold on.
He puts his head on my shoulder and the lights dance across his face. The music swells, all songs from my childhood from Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty... Archer doesn't recognize them but he likes that the fireworks make a shape like a heart in the sky.
I haven't seen the fireworks at Disneyland since I was a little girl and even then I have no recollection of them being like this. I urge them to go on forever.
"You can put me down now, Mommy. These fireworks are too long."
So I do.
And before they have even ended...
"Let's go home."
Archer points his light saber toward the entrance as we make our way back through the crowd.
We walk him into class but he scurries ahead. Doesn't ask us to come inside. He'll see us after school, he says, waving. This isn't the first time I've left him at school but it feels different. Preschool was for my baby. Kindergarten is for my boy.
He hangs his backpack in the closet and joins the rest of the students on the rug. I wave again but this time he's not looking.
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 with every step. "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 maybe the battery died or maybe... magic.
Archer looks up at me, lip quivering before dropping his toy and bursting into tears.
I wait for Archer to fall asleep in the backseat before doing the same.
I'm crying and I can't fucking stop.
Because the day is over. Because the light went out. Because our moment has passed. Because all moments do.
After this week I'll be blogging seldom, if at all, about Archer. For those of you who have been reading since the beginning, you'll know that this has always been my intention -- to let Archer take over as keeper of his own life stories once he started Kindergarten. He has a right to his privacy and although I've only shared what I felt was appropriate, he has gotten to an age where I feel it's no longer my place to write publicly about his world. (Same will go for Fable when she starts kindergarten.) Archer's been my muse for as long as I've understood what it meant to have one and it's painful letting him go. But every day I become more aware of the fact that he doesn't belong to me. Still, this is going to be a challenge -- keeping Archer out of the spotlight I have fixed upon him since his birth and although I've spent the last year posting less and less about his life, keeping him on the periphery of what I write about is going to take some getting used to. In the meantime, thank you ever so kindly for your support and understanding -- for the love you've shown for him over the last five years. I'm blown away by the boy he has become and am beyond proud to have been able to share so much of him with you. Again, thank you all.