She wakes up at three.
She wakes her daughter up shortly thereafter.
She makes her daughter a light breakfast.
She drives them both to the airport.
She boards an airplane with her daughter.
She watches a horror movie on her phone.
She can’t help but smile when her daughter’s head comes to rest on her shoulder.
She pays very little attention to the movie after that.
She doesn’t wake her daughter right away when the plane lands.
She can’t even begin to count the number of times her daughter had slept on her shoulder, but the last time was long enough ago that this could maybe be the last-last time she’d be able hear her daughter’s beathing up close, smell her daughter’s hair that’s somehow held onto its baby scent, feel the ache in her shoulder similar to the ache in her back, and the ache in her arms, and the ache in her belly from when her daughter was four, and one, and still growing inside of her.
She whispers her daughter’s name—eventually.
She says they’re here.
She follows her daughter to the front of the plane.
She follows her daughter to baggage claim.
She walks to get a pair of coffees but can’t remember when it had become a given that a visit to a coffee shop with her daughter nearby meant buying two coffees.
She stands in line with her daughter waiting for a bus.
She almost reaches for her daughter’s hand like she used to, hoping the school bus would be a little late.
She drops their bags off with a pimple-faced kid in a bellhop uniform.
She goes to the lobby bathroom to spray herself with sunscreen.
She steps back into the lobby and hands her can of sunscreen to her daughter.
She waits for her daughter in the lobby that smells vaguely like the beach and sort of like a candle shop.
She pops her head into the bathroom and asks her daughter if she needs help reaching any of the tough-to-reach spots.
She asks her daughter if she’s sure.
She asks about the back of her neck, the back of her knees, the space between shoulder blades.
She nods when her daughter’s answers are yes and yes and yes.
She says okay, okay now that her daughter’s tone has sharpened a touch.
She walks toward a large circular couch.
She sits down.
She scrolls through years and years of these visits saved in her phone.
She zooms in on her daughter’s face as the two of them sat on that very same, wildly ornate resort couch in 2019.
She zooms in on her daughter’s face in a similar photo from 2017.
She zooms in on her daughter’s face in similar photos from 2014, 2013, 2012.
She scrolls to a similar photo from 2009 in which her belly was just beginning to show off the beginnings of her daughter while she was sitting next to her own mother.
She asks her daughter to sit for a photo once she returns from the bathroom.
She jumps off the couch after her daughter points out that their ride to the park had just rolled up.
She chases after her daughter.
She slides into the backseat of a polka-dotted car.
She buckles herself in.
She tells her daughter to buckle up before realizing she’d already done so.
She reads their itinerary aloud like she had on previous trips, stopping every so often to watch her daughter’s reactions to the names of rides and restaurants; excited, sure—but different…or maybe just not entirely the same.
She follows her daughter into the park.
She picks up her pace to match her daughter’s.
She points to the restaurant where they’ll eat dinner later on.
She wells up a little at her daughter’s nod-and-smile acknowledgment that her favorite restaurant in the park still being her favorite restaurant in the park.
She flags down a photographer on Main Street.
She hands the photographer her phone.
She wraps her arm around her daughter’s waist and pulls her close.
She places her other hand on her hip instead of acknowledging out loud that her daughter is nearly as tall as she is now.
She smiles for photo after photo.
She almost refuses to loosen her grip as her daughter pulls away.
She shows her daughter their photo on her phone.
She sends the photo to her friends.
She sends the photo to her parents.
She sends the photo to her husband.
She posts the photo to her stories.
She asks her daughter if she’d like to go the long way around so they could see the whole park before getting down to business like they had every other time they were here.
She agrees with her daughter that they should head straight for the first ride so they could maximize their time.
She says that she’s never heard her daughter talk about time like that before.
She says it’s such an adult thing to talk about.
She nods and smiles after her daughter reminds her that she is in fact turning thirteen in the morning.
She tries keeping pace as her daughter makes a beeline for the castle and hangs a quick right once she reaches the Walt statue.
She tries to say maybe they should stop for a photo in front of the statue, but the crowd swallows her sentence, and her daughter is slipping farther and farther away, so she says excuse her, excuse her as she cuts through the crowd to catch up.
She smiles and laughs and screams through dark tunnels and beneath star-speckled girders as her spaceship-car climbs slopes and zips down twisty drops.
She listens as her daughter does the same.
She tries keeping herself quiet so she can listen more carefully because her daughter sounds so much like she did the last time they were here, and the time before that.
She hoists herself out of the car to help her daughter if she needs a hand—her daughter doesn’t need a hand.
She listens as her daughter talks about how much fun the ride still is; it’s just as she remembers it.
She stops herself from asking her daughter not to sit on the conveyor belt handrail as they glide toward the giftshop as if they were already back in the airport.
She takes a photo of her daughter as they slide past a 70s-futuristic diorama.
She doesn’t send that one to anyone; that one’s just for her.
She leads the way through the giftshop.
She buys them both a soda.
She buys her daughter a mouse-shaped trinket, something her daughter would have pinned to her shirt if she were still eight.
She takes a deep breath to keep herself in control as her daughter wraps her up in a hug.
She squeezes her daughter tight.
She watches her daughter tuck the trinket into her purse instead of pinning it onto her shirt.
She points the way to their next stop.
She follows her daughter.
She takes a picture of her daughter next to dogs and cowboys and genies.
She ignores the parade down Main Street and keeps her eyes on her daughter’s smile.
She buys prints of the two of them acting as if sitting in a plastic log and dropping through coils of thorns into shallow water is no more thrilling than watching reruns before bed.
She challenges her daughter to a brain freeze contest by the Dole Whip stand; the winner determined by duration and severity, of course.
She watches her daughter laugh at the dad jokes told by their tour guide as they float through a jungle of mechanical animals.
She holds her daughter tight while chopped off heads jump up from behind gravestones, and dead women use crystal balls to communicate from beyond the grave.
She kicks her daughter’s ass in their competition to see who could best protect the Galactic Alliance from the threat of invasion.
She says nothing and keeps her daughter in her periphery as they cool themselves off sitting across from one another in a blue pod drifting in slow loops around the park.
She catalogues every moment, every rare sighting of her baby, of her big girl, of her little shadow, of her pre-teen princess, all at once and one at a time, fractions of seconds at a time.
She steps off the ride with her daughter.
She asks her daughter to repeat what she had just said because she’d lost herself for a while there and missed it.
She responds to her daughter asking what’s next by kissing her forehead and taking the lead.
She feels her stomach sink a bit with a familiar chiming from her daughter’s phone.
She smiles and tells her daughter, sure, she can take the call.
She gives her daughter some space—but not too much.
She listens to her daughter’s tone shift as she uses words and phrases said only by kids—teenagers—speaking a language all their own.
She pretends she doesn’t hear her daughter tell her friend she’d ask.
She says, sure, take Lilly on a tour of the park.
She tells her daughter she won’t be far behind just in case, but she’ll keep a healthy distance.
She watches as her daughter walks away from her, holding her phone up to the Walt statue, to the castle, to the wide-open castle doors, to the mosaics of princes and princesses on the walls inside.
She stays out of sight.
She watches as her daughter drifts further and further away from her.
She buys herself a fruity, colorful, caffeinated drink.
She buys a second of the same for whenever her daughter finishes her call.
She drinks hers to nothing but ice more quickly than she would have typically done so.
She glances back and forth, back and forth from the bustle on Main Street to her daughter sitting on a sunny patch of grass the way she used to during story time in daycare.
She could kick herself for not beginning their trip in one of the parks that sells booze just about every six to eight feet.
She could use a beer right now.
She turns her eyes back to the patch of grass where her daughter is sitting—was sitting.
She scans several other patches of grass; maybe her daughter had moved to a shadier spot—it was Florida after all.
She trots toward the patch of grass where she could have sworn she’d seen her daughter last.
She pulls her phone from her purse.
She scrolls through her photos for a close up of her daughter with which she’ll begin asking people, have they seen this girl, have they seen this girl.
She thanks the first couple of people who shake their heads no.
She walks away from the next few without a word.
She begins to jog toward the closest cast member who maybe could hopefully possibly help her.
She hears her name—Mom, not her other name.
She spins herself around to see her daughter standing there asking if she’s okay.
She’s okay—now, of course.
She asks where her daughter had gone.
She points to where she’d been sitting.
She points to where her daughter had been lounging and chatting.
She says she thought her daughter had disappeared.
She hugs her daughter.
She kisses the top of her head.
She tells her daughter, “Don’t disappear please. Please don’t disappear.”
She orders spaghetti and meatballs and a beer.
She purses her lips to hide her smile when her daughter orders the same thing she’d ordered the last time they were here, and the time before that, and the time before that.
She sips her beer slow.
She reminds her daughter not to fill up on bread.
She stops herself from asking if her daughter would like her spaghetti cut up into smaller strands.
She stabs her fork into her last meatball and plops it onto her daughter’s plate.
She orders another beer.
She drinks this one even more slowly than the first.
She takes her time, sitting across from her daughter.
She points to the Main Street Electrical Parade marching by in a glowing, glittering rainbow of color and light behind her daughter and beyond the restaurant’s front windows.
She watches her daughter watch the parade.
She asks her daughter where she’s going after she all of the sudden stands up.
She scoots herself over in the booth to make room for her daughter.
She drapes her arm around her daughter’s shoulders.
She clenches her teeth in a futile attempt to stop her welled-up eyes from spilling over her eyelids.
She keeps her eyes on the parade, but pays more attention to the baby smell of her daughter’s hair, the sound of her daughter’s breathing, the weight of her daughter’s body leaning into hers—her baby, her big girl, her little shadow, her pre-teen princess, her soon-to-be teenager; the woman she’ll grow into…the one she’s begun growing into already.
She pays the check.
She walks behind her daughter as they step into an evening that could be seen from space.
She says, “Ready?”
She says, “I am if you are,” answering her daughter’s, “Are you?”
She doesn’t respond right away after her daughter asks, “Can we stay a little longer?”
She takes in the sight of her daughter haloed in the light of a billion bulbs and lasers and fireworks.
She takes a photo of her daughter as she was a second ago, two seconds ago, three.
She laughs a little when her daughter’s cheeks begin radiating red—like they’d done a thousand times over years and years.
She says, “I’d love that.”
She takes her daughter’s hand.
She leads the way to her daughter’s favorite spots she knows by heart.
She’s exhausted and a little giggly from the beers, but won’t leave until her daughter’s ready.
She’ll keep pace until she needs to be rolled out of here in a wheelchair, or her daughter needs to be piggy-backed to the hotel—whichever comes first.
She’ll keep this going as long as she can—for however much longer she’s able.