Soon, very soon…my daughter will be in double digits. With the start of the holiday season rushing in on the coat tails of Thanksgiving, it will be here in no time at all. And while I look forward to celebrating her 10 year birthday, I do so with the familiar bitter-sweetness that has become a hallmark emotion of being her mother.
Age 9 has been an eventful one. It has been a year full of firsts. This year marked the first time she’s joined a team sport, playing for our town soccer league both outside and indoor. This is the first year we have all come to learn the delicate balance that comes with managing multiple after school commitments. This will always be the year she got her first horse. It was a beautiful moment, witnessing her stunned joy. It was a surprise unlikely to be matched by much else for many years. Age 9 also saw her first pimple, and an abundant show of gratitude once I managed to camouflage it with some of my “magic” cover-up.
This year she began wearing those tiny bralets under her clinging uniforms…a decision that was much more about laying the groundwork, rather than because she really needed them just yet. It was also the time of “the talks” about hygiene and the importance of washing her face….talks made all the more imperative after that first major pimple appearance the same week as school pictures. We talked also about a girl’s first period, something hopefully that is a year or two off. She is still so much a child, but there are some signs and things can change so rapidly and I want her to be more prepared than I was.
She is still shy, though she is beginning to open up to adults she knows. I see her testing the waters by ordering her own food and having more animated conversations with her soccer coaches on the sidelines. I think she is more outgoing when I am not around, a dynamic I don’t fully understand. All the same, I try to back off more and give her some room to engage others outside the realm of her mother’s shadow. She is still so easily embarrassed and I am always afraid to upset the balance of her world in some accidental way. I am encouraged by her building confidence on horseback but dismayed with how much she still fears getting hurt or failing at something. I find myself frustrated, watching her on the field, dogging the ball or falling back when I know she has the speed and skills to attack. I often ask myself, “How do I encourage her to be more aggressive?” Then, I find myself asking, “ but do I really want her to be more aggressive?”
My daughter is, at her core, sweet and reserved. She mostly plays her emotions close to her chest. At 9, she has developed this silly, funny sense of humor that she really only reveals to a handful of family members and her best friend. Her timing is spot on though, and I think I have laughed out loud at her antics this past year more than any before. I hope double digits brings her more confidence and more opportunities to share this wonderful, vibrant part of herself with others.
I am convinced 9 year-olds have compromised hearing. I need to repeat things four or five times before she “hears” what I am telling her yet, she her ability to eavesdrop on my conversations is startling. It has spawned more than a few arguments and shouting matches that have sent the dogs dodging for cover. My husband has frequently had to step in, to remind at least one of us, that they are an adult. My frustrations with my daughter however, pale in comparison to my pride and admiration for her.
I have seen her push herself well outside her comfort zone to achieve something she wanted. I have seen her rally after an injury, stifling tears and tabling the drama to run back out onto the field or climb back up into the saddle. She has been brave when she hasn’t really wanted to be. She has turned toward a challenge, even as I see how much she wants to run back to me.
My daughter is a nice girl. She is a good friend. She is loyal and loving. At 9, she prefers the company of girlfriends but seems to also enjoy the quiet and polite boys in her class. She seems blissfully unaware that, in the space of a few years, the boys may start paying her a bit more attention. Even as my daughter stands, fussing with stray ponytail hairs in the mirror and mugging playfully with her reflection, she is completely unaware of how beautifully unique and lovely her features are. I have caught myself tearing up at how beautiful she looks in some outfit she has casually put together, not realizing how the color she’s chosen sets off those amazing sea green eyes or how the cut and fit show the graceful lines of her slim silhouette. She is so physically different from me, that it takes my breath away. The truth is, she just takes my breath away…in the moments of her wild at play, in the midst of her darkest mood, in the sweet silences of her sleeping…in all her movements and motions.
My daughter at 9, might be my physical opposite but there are ribbons of my own nature woven into her being. She seems to share my far ranging musical tastes, adopting my playlists as her own on our car rides and during our time spent cleaning or tending to Roo. She loves having people over, playing games and spending time with family. She has greedily binge-watched some of my favorite shows with me, as interested in Stranger Things or The Umbrella Academy as she might have been with some of her more mainstream choices.
Sometimes I’d like to say my daughter is a mini version of me, a “mini me”, but in truth she is very much uniquely herself. She is a wonderfully blended mix of her Dad’s quiet nature and summer-kissed caramel complexion and my fiery temper and penchant for debate. My daughter is also prone to goofy song and dance numbers, funny photobombs and bursts of manic storytelling. She is obstinate and argumentative, seeming to relish flexing her mental muscles with me most of all. She is unabashedly affectionate. Most nights she clamors up between us in bed, insisting she wants to still fall asleep with us even though she’s almost ten. We wake up to her most mornings with one of her legs cast across our bodies or her arms around us, sleeping contently, as close to us as she can get. She will still randomly take my hand when we are walking, or drape her arm around my waist while we wait in line. She does these things almost unconsciously, undeterred by the strangers and observers around us.
She calls me Mother Bird when with her friends and Mamma when it is just the two of us. She will thank me, sincerely and unsolicited when I do something for her or buy her something she has asked. She will just as readily storm off with an exaggerated stomping of her booted feet when I scold or embarrass her.
Everything in her current wardrobe is black, blue or gray and all of it is devoid of glitter, ruffles or depictions of small woodland creatures. Even the dresses she selects for herself, when forced outside her typical leggings and hoodies, are unadorned and easily paired with cowboy boots and denim jackets by design. She is developing a style all her own and it’s one that I secretly love on her.
There are a few months remaining until her birthday candles number 10. I have enjoyed this 9 year old version of her, even though I have spent most of this year feeling like she was once again moving too quickly for me to keep up. Her steps have been different than those she took as a toddler when her racing, stumbling feet kept her just ahead of my reaching arms, carried forward by momentum and sheer will. Her steps away from me this past year have had the measured, deliberate cadence of a young girl discovering the best parts of herself to explore and expand her world. I am immensely grateful that, no matter how far ahead I feel she is getting, at 9 she still always takes the time to look back and assure I am still there….if and whenever she needs me.