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Monday, January 21, 2013

Nine Years Old

Do you know what nine years old looks like?

Many days, it looks like noise. Lots of noise. Loud laughter, jokes whose punchlines must be shouted, games that require enthusiastic cheers, and laments that are expressed with the vehemence of curse words that Nine Years Old is not bold enough to say.

Nine Years Old is critical commentary on the cheating propensities of Certain Boys on the playground at recess. The critique is less name-calling than matter-of-fact description, but the descriptions are rife with an indignant sense that right and wrong ought to be inviolable. The tone is tinged with disappointment that not everyone understands this. (Eight Years Old could be moved to tears over this injustice. Nine is not. He merely accepts it as a disappointing fact.)

Nine eats five pancakes, two slices of bacon, and two glasses of milk for breakfast, is hungry for a snack at 10am, and then has two helpings of lunch.

Or else, Nine is too busy to eat and picks at his food, occasionally resorting to frustrated tears over the iniquity of being forced to eat broccoli that has been cooked too soft and put into sauce.

Nine uses "verse" as a verb. As in: "I love versing you guys at Mario Kart!!!"

Nine Years Old talks a big big BIG BIG game. In this pivot moment, trying desperately to find its equilibrium between respect for authority and not being a baby any more, Nine misses the mark a lot. He jokes with parents as if they are peers, leading to all sorts of oddly-familiar comments that aren't exactly disrespectful but are uncomfortably not the relationship a child ought to have with his mother.

Nine wants to be read to and tucked in at night but does not want to be kissed. Nine will fight the kiss with every power of his being, pulling the comforter over his head and giggling uproariously. Nine will sing out, "night night, LADY!" as you leave the room, having given up again and consoled yourself with a kiss on the elbow that is under the blankets.

And then, five nights out of seven, Nine cannot sleep and must come down stairs to sit in your lap for a quiet cuddle, a caressing of hair, a dozen soft kisses on the back of the neck and the cheeks. Then, and only then, can he sleep.

Nine is sports. All sports. Any sports. He wants to play them all, watch them all, memorize the stats for them all. He has favorite teams and favorite players and favorite seasons.

He is old enough to understand that his mother doesn't want him playing tackle football in third grade because of the danger of injuries, and young enough to cry over the fact that she is being too protective and he won't get hurt anyway and it's just not fair. He is old enough to ask over and over what happened at Penn State but young enough to be silenced by the quiet answer that it was something terrible, too "inappropriate" to explain to a child.

Nine Years Old will practice trash talking at dinner with his friends.

It will regale you with detailed stories about the Recess Football League, and who plays which position on which team. (They have teams! With names! And positions!) Their friend, Eight Years Old, who is relegated to the second grade section of the playground, is both Defensive Coordinator and Offensive Coordinator, the Nines explain, because he isn't allowed to play in their game, but he wants to play with them and they want him to be a part of it all. He has stats too, which they will rattle off in great detail. And if you ask how he can have touchdown stats if he has to stand on the sidelines, the Nines will tell you that Eight gets credit for all the successful plays the others make that he has called. Because Nines are generous and inclusive and endlessly resourceful despite the rules made by adults--who have marked out definitive territories on the playground to ensure that older children are not selfish and exclusive with the younger ones.

Nine can make complex rules for any game, almost instantly establishing teams and guidelines and amending them as the game progresses. Everything will be fair, even if three warriors are armed with flying monkey slingshots, while two have laser tag guns, and one has a plastic sword. Each weapon will have its own rules of engagement, and all the Nines will abide by them.

Until they don't. And then all the Nines will erupt into noise even noisier than the noise of enjoyable battle to argue loudly about who is or isn't following the rules they have just invented.

But alone, Nine will duck its head to hide tears of happiness when it learns that a friend with a serious medical condition will be allowed his very first sleepover ever on the occasion of a ninth birthday party.

Nine has boundless energy, can stay awake until 11pm--LOUDLY--with friends around, seems like it never needs sleep. And yet, Nines will come to a sleepover with tattered blankets and stuffed lovies they have clearly owned since their baby days. One Nine will announce with pride that his misshapen, greying, knitted square is older than all the boys there.

"Look," a Nine will shout as you walk in the room--half their conversations will be shouted--"did you know his Chewy is older than anyone else here?!"

Nine is nothing if not competitive. But it is also, quite beautifully, able to be happy when someone else wins a contest. Any contest at at all.

Even one over whose lovie is oldest.


Ann Imig said...

This is one of the most beautifully written and true pieces I've read in the longest time.

My son turns nine in February, and I felt every word of this in my heart.

Anna See said...

i really like this post. you did a great job capturing your boy.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

So sweet.... 9 is pretty awesome. So is ten. 11 starts to stink a little bit (literally. Invest in deodorant)

Wendi said...

My boys are 9 and 11 and this captures them perfectly. I loved your insight into how they joke with their parents as peers, but it's not always appropriate. And the hiding under the blankets at tucking in time, too. Love this post!


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