For my daughter’s ninth birthday, she asked for three things:
- To be allowed to ride in the front seat of the car
- To walk to and from school by herself each day
- A laptop
To celebrate turning nine, she invited some friends over for a slumber party. It was at this party, during the Spin the (Nail Polish) Bottle game, where I learned that there are girls and boys in the third grade who mutually “like” one another.
As she and her friends talked, I frantically tried to assist with the nail painting even though none of them wanted my help. With each revelation of who liked who, my eyes grew. I tried to send messages with them to my husband who was reclining on the couch pretending that there weren’t 60 fingers grabbing six different fluorescent polishes on our living room rug. Had he been able to interpret what my eyeballs were screaming, it would have sounded something like this: Boys! Already?!? Did you know about this?!? And then, as another glob of nail polish dropped onto the thin plastic table-cloth I had put down as a shield, Shit!
Instead, he sent back his own message that read: What? I Don’t Know What You are Saying. Why Don’t You Speak Words Like a Normal Person? He did, however, come join me on the floor in my mission to, at the very least, teach the girls how to wipe the excess polish off the wand before applying it. Only when the talk of boys stopped and the farting and giggling began was I mollified.
This is nine.
As the mother of a nine-year-old, I have developed a new super-power: I embarrass my daughter in public. When I dropped her off for Art Camp and learned that their day would start with creative movement, she was mortified when I demonstrated a few of my own moves. She physically tried to restrain my arms as she pleaded for me to stop and then literally pushed me towards the exit.
Sometimes, it takes much less: At a restaurant one morning, I signaled to our server to wait a second as I finished chewing my food before requesting some apple juice for my daughter.
“That was so embarrassing, Mom.”
“The waitress was staring at us.”
“She was waiting to see what we needed.”
“It was embarrassing.”
Or rather, I was embarrassing.
Along with my new super-power, she has acquired a talent of her own: The Eye Roll. This eye roll goes into full effect several times a day. At the dinner table, in the back seat of the car (the one I painfully still make her sit in), and whenever my husband and I say anything remotely funny…which is pretty much all the time. Occasionally, she will substitute the eye roll for a one-sided upper lip snarl that could rival Billy Idol. At nine, she emphasizes every last word she utters. I did not-tah. Leave me alone-na. Sometimes resorting to dramatic sighs and guttural noises to express her general displeasure with members of her family.
The one wordless communication my husband and I have mastered is the look we give each other when visions of this Tween-To-Be appear before us. For now, it is accompanied by a smirk as if to convince ourselves that this is all very funny. Ha Ha! Look at how she is acting. Oh boy! We’re in for it soon. But soon isn’t now, so we foolishly laugh. Only deep inside, I cringe.
Each time she tells us that she’s basically a teenager, we remind her not to grow up too fast. But more and more, I notice that she doesn’t always want to play with her little sister, that My Little Pony has been replaced with Girl Meets World, and that when she wakes up in the morning, she stays in her room and goes on her tablet rather than coming to snuggle with me.
Despite that she refuses to hold my hand as we walk through a parking lot and her bedroom door is closed more than it is open, there are still times when she lies across my legs and asks me to rub and scratch her back, there are still moments when she nestles under my arm as we watch TV, and still occasions when she looks at me and randomly tells me that she loves me before planting a kiss on my lips, an act that, for now, still requires that she stand on tip-toes.
These days, time is fleeting. I feel it more poignantly than I ever did when she was a baby. The little girl juxtaposed with the pre-teen. Moments where she is goofy and carefree are shadowed by ones where I am reminding her to not be so sassy. There’s a moodiness about her that makes me ask her what’s wrong on a regular basis. Her answer is always “nothing.”
This is nine. It’s the way she forges her own path as we walk, but also stops to pick a dandelion for her sister. It’s the way she begs for her independence yet still asks me to tuck her in at night and sing her “Oh My Darling.” As she dances in the living room, I see some of the same spastic moves she performed with as a toddler, yet there’s a gentler swaying in her hips and her legs are lithe and lean. Next year in school, she’ll experience the joys of Sex Ed. Her innocence having slipped through my fingers like grains of sand.
This is nine. It’s the start of middle childhood and the end of baby teeth. The last year before she hits double-digits. A straddle year…with one foot rooted in her yesteryear and one that’s all-too quickly growing towards tomorrow. And it’s only just begun. With all the door slamming, the sibling bickering, and the “Stay Out” signs posted on her bedroom door, I hope that we’ll survive…after all, we’ve still got her adolescence to look forward to.