Nine, in Mom Years.

It's hard to believe that my first baby turned nine on Sunday. Everything feels the same and everything feels different. The weather is stifling, just as it was nine years ago making it seem as if her birth occurred just a few years ago, instead of almost a decade.

Every year I brace myself for big changes, like those the first year of her life. None have ever been that drastic, none have ever felt that pressing. Until now. Now, at nine I can see we are at the cusp of what is to come. She, my beautiful, sensitive, creative, smart, and wonderful Caitlin is growing. The baby cheeks have all but disappeared. Her smile is that of a wiser older girl. Her opinions are that of a teen. She combs her own hair, paints her own nails, and recently started wearing scented lotions, purchased with her own money.
Stop. Slow down. Wait for me, I silently chant as I catch a wave of warm vanilla sugar lotion on my way to the laundry room.

Here lies the secret. The surprise. The trick.
Just when I thought she would never grow up. She did, she has, right before my almost forty something eyes.

In the fall I will have a fourth grader. A fourth grader who loves to dance and sing. Who will tell you her favorite apps are YouTube and She will tell you that she needs her own Pinterest and Instagram accounts. She will sing you her current favorite song, that she perfectly choreographed. She will explain to you that her parents are mean because they still won't let her get a kindle fire, and because they won't let her watch YouTube all day. And they made her play softball this year and she hated it.

In the next breath she will show you her American doll collection. She will share her art projects from Girl Scouts, or make you a gourmet meal in the play kitchen.

Nine is right there. On the cusp. The delicate balance between little girl and teen. Sensitive enough to still sleep with her tattered bunny, strong enough to want "alone" time.

There is something so beautiful in being in between. Still full of innocence and wonder. Knowing and wanting something more worldly for yourself. These days Caitlin wants to hang out with her friends, go somewhere, do something. She is no longer content with her own environment, the little world she has built, the one that I helped her build. It's amazing to see this change in her, this want of independence, this desire to branch out. All the while with one hand stretched out to me, still touching my arm, still needing me. The cusp. The balance. It's so delicate.

Delicate and imperfect. With nine has come attitude and smart mouthed remarks. For me nine has brought on a new intolerance to attitudes and smart mouths. I still yell. She still pushes my buttons. We still take each other to the edge. But never as often. Perhaps with age we have become more sensitive to each other. Maybe we have finally found a middle ground on which to build a better foundation for the teen age years ahead. Maybe our souls can feel this and sense that there are bigger fights to come, and perhaps our souls are steadying us.

Or maybe we are finally speaking the same language.

Caitlin is nine. Wonderful and wandering nine. Finding her footing. Carving a place for herself. Changing right before my eyes. I don't remember all that much about being nine, but I'd wager that I changed in many similar ways. Nine seems like the first door into adolescence. Walk into door number nine and begin the journey into who you are. I've been watching Caitlin and listening to her talk with her friends. The juxtaposition of being not so little, but not yet big. There is still an immaturity in her voice. Which I welcome. Which I will savor for as long as it lasts. I will keep my hand outstretched to meet hers for as long as she will allow. Because just when I think she is little miss independent, I find her tangled in my bed. I find her sitting next to me on the couch. I find her needing me, if only for a moment.

Nine may be the death of me as we begin our journey into adolescence. It may make me pine for those late night feedings and sleep training I thought were so hard. Or nine may just be as lovely, chaotic, and perfectly ordinary as all the years before.

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