Each of my daughters’ birthdays brings me new wonders and new challenges. From the worries about developmental milestones and nutrition that mark the first few birthdays to the playground follies of the last six, I thought we had a handle on this parenting thing, but my older daughter’s recent ninth birthday made me realize that worrying about my child’s well-being will be a lifelong job. I mean, I knew this on a sub-conscious level, but the relative ease of the last few years of my older daughter’s life lulled me into a premature sense of accomplishment. We had made it through the tough stuff (the fuzzy first days with an infant, the sleepless nights that marked every developmental leap and every transition, the first days of preschool then kindergarten), and come out the other side with a child who was kind, responsible, and liked by people besides her parents. My husband and I thought we were in the clear at least until the teenage years, but then Karys’s ninth birthday came along and shook us up in all new ways.
Nine is new territory, not just for my daughter, but for the whole family. It’s full of big emotions about little things.
It’s a tightrope walk between childhood and adolescence. It’s a forever fight with feelings that bubble up and get caught in her throat. It’s her sobbing spontaneously because she doesn’t know what happens after death and doesn’t understand what forever really means. It’s her struggle to find the words to describe what’s happening to her and blaming me for not knowing what she can’t articulate. It’s pushing me away and wanting hugs in the very same moment. It’s her trying to figure out what kind of person she wants to be and asking awkward questions that she doesn’t really want me to answer. It’s her wanting my undivided attention while she gives all of her attention to a device or a friend. It’s her feeling left out at her own party and strutting duck-faced in front of the mirror. It’s her wondering who she would be with different hair or different interests. It’s the anger that makes her explode and exquisite tenderness that makes my heart explode. It’s giggling uncontrollably with her little sister in the next room then suddenly crying like a baby over a hangnail. It’s a dizzying dance of friendships that form in a moment and dissolve in a blink. It’s her wanting more responsibility but wailing about chores. It’s that fierce gleam in her eye that makes my blood pressure rise at the same time I realize it will later serve her well in a courtroom, a classroom, or whatever room she chooses to walk into. It’s balancing her desire to walk home by herself with my need to follow behind her to be sure she’s looking both ways. It’s being flabbergasted at how my honor student can stay focused on school work when she gets distracted five times on the way to brushing her teeth. It’s marveling at how grown up she’s gotten. while wishing she would stay a baby forever.
Yes, nine is new… just like every age that came before it and every age that will come after. I only hope that we will remember that it’s new for all of us and look behind the scowling face to see our baby’s smile, because she is always there even when she’s “being nine.”