About six months ago, I heard that 9 is a scary age for parents. I’ve heard it’s full of sass, indignation, and moodiness from another world.
At the time, my 8-year-old was existing in a beautiful state of calm. 1 and 2 were golden years for her, but 3, 4, and 5 were a shock to my senses. So much anger in a tiny body. So much defiance. So much whining. 6, 7, and 8 were comparatively easy, and I may have even begun to pat myself on the back for the peace in our home.
And then, as if programmed, the feared 9 began to reveal itself. My 8-year-old still has a few days until she’s officially 9, but she must be advanced for her age, because the sass, indignation, and moodiness have kicked the door down and tromped through every room of the house with heavy, muddy boots.
I guess I’m not surprised, since I was warned about this stage. But I was kind of thinking if I worked hard enough, my efforts would override any developmental hiccups for my daughter. It appears, however, that we’re going to walk the difficult road of 9 no matter what I do.
Still, I do have a bit of optimism about this future year. Even though she threw a fit this morning because my husband said, “We don’t have A rainbow mug,” instead of “We don’t have THE rainbow mug,” I’m pretty pumped to get this 9 show on the road.
Because for the first time in parenting, I have a long memory of myself at her age. My memories from earlier years are snippets of events and moments; they don’t give me the big-picture view of what it was like to experience that age. But 9? I remember the whole goshdarn year.
I remember vividly the friendship drama that popped up out of nowhere; how I wore a particular vest “too often” and it caused a rift right down the 3rd grade. Half of the girls made fun of me and told me I was dirty, and the other half told me they were on “my side.” I remember fighting and pushing and arguing with my parents. I remember the awkwardness of my hands as I learned to do my own hair. I remember feeling like I just wanted to be grown up and able to do whatever I felt like. I remember thinking that everybody else had a better life than me. I remember losing my belief in Santa, but still hoping he might be real.
It was an in-between time, and it was hard.
But I also remember feeling happier than a kid in a candy store. I remember playing pretend, and running and laughing at recess. I remember making big plans with my friends for our futures and deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up — again and again and again. I remember spending time with my little brother, trying to teach him everything I knew. I remember getting presents I hoped for at Christmas and going on family vacations.
I was exceedingly happy.
But I also remember being in the depths of misery.
It was a confusing time when I felt like I sort of understood the way the grownup world works, but also knew I had no clue what was going on. I wanted to know the answers to everything, but I also loved living in my bubble.
No wonder 9 is hard. No wonder emotions run out of control like a derailed freight train.
So after a difficult day with our almost-9-year-old, I decided someone needed to tell her what was going on.
I wrote a letter to her and explained that when I was 9, I felt angry a lot. I felt frustrated. I argued with my parents, and sometimes I didn’t even know why I did it. I made sure to include that I was also very happy during that time. But I explained that I didn’t understand why my emotions went up and down like that.
And I told her I was pretty sure she knew exactly what I was describing because I suspected she felt the same feelings.
And then I told her this was normal.
I left the note outside her bedroom door, and ended it by asking her to come find me for a hug after she read it.
As I was changing the baby’s diaper, she loped into his room, a shy grin on her face, lanky arms swinging by her side. I passed the baby off to Dad, and she folded her long, almost-9-year-old body into my lap.
I asked if my letter made sense to her, and she agreed that she completely understands. We decided we’ll try and remember to hug when we’re angry, and came up with contingency plans should either one of us forget.
I had been a little nervous to write that letter to her because I don’t want to project my experiences into her life. But I could see visible relief as she realized I understand what life feels like for her right now. And I knew I was on the path to understanding her again.
I know we’re just at the beginning. I know this was just one good moment. I know that even after we get through 9, we still have bigger emotions coming our way as she continues to grow.
But I also know we can do it. With a lot of tears, plenty of mistakes, but loads and loads of forgiveness and grace, we’ll navigate this time — and we’ll do it together.
Bring it, 9.