The Birthday Crown that Wasn’t. A Story About Growing Up.





I've never been the mama to mourn the loss of the each passing stage of development. I don't mope over first solids, cry over babies growing out-of-arms, or pine away for the days before name-this-developmental-milestone. I've embraced the changes. Every step of the way. I celebrate the getting-bigger as it comes. Every. Time.

But. Nine. What is this? Nine. Nine feels big. As in: my kid is growing up fast. He is somehow 1/2 way to being an adult. How is this possible?

Sure, he still puts on costumes and goes to Antarctica with his sister (in a wool hat and mittens in August). Yes, he still loves to cuddle and be held and be read to. Yes, he still apologetically adores both Pete and I. But still. He is growing up.

It is a subtle shift, but I can feel it in my bones. (The Nine Year Change. I need to read up to find out just what that's about.) I've seen the shift in subtle ways. Like interest in friends. And sleepovers. And weeks away with my parents. And a subtle moving away from me, ever so slowly creating his own space. But nine. Nine is big.

Here's how I know.

We were getting ready to go to the cabin to celebrate Sage's birthday last weekend. It was the first birthday that Sage doesn't have a birthday crown. (His was washed by mistake last year, caught in the tangles of a shirt, and it was toast. He cried big tears and then we let it go.) Pete was loading the car while I got the birthday stuff together. No crown, I thought. Strange. I stood there, staring at my felt, thinking, "Nine? Nine is big. But maybe, just with us he might…" I decided to make him a grown-up interpretation of a birthday crown, just for family use. Maybe just for this last year (or maybe for a couple more). If I sprung it on him and it was really a cool crown – all black and awesome – he might be taken by its charm and stay little for one more year.

I grabbed his baby sling and cut a chunk out of it (it was threadbare and set aside for special projects). It seemed like the perfect thing, to bridge baby to young boy to big. I set to work sewing an elastic casing. I'd hand sew the crown at the cabin the next day.

Enter Sage, stage right. "Whatcha making?"

Me, trying to be cool, "Oh, just an elastic casing."

Sage, sharp as a tack, "For what?"

Me, "Um, a birthday crown. Because yours got wrecked. Do you want one?"

Sage: silence. He stares at me with an exaggerated "what-do-you-think-I-am-a-baby?" expression on his face, lip curled up, one eyebrow down and scrunched, kind of like there was a really bad smell in the room. "Um, no. I don't like birthday crowns anymore."

I was thwarted. He had already done it. He went and got big without my permission.

In that moment I experienced what I think others do at earlier milestones. I experienced the irreversibility of this growing up, and the deep – and yes, sad – realization that early childhood is over. There is no going back. The innocence of little is done. Forever.

I had the sensation of standing on a dock and seeing a ship begin to slowly pull away from shore and I realized that I couldn't quite reach the ladder and I wasn't meant to go along anyway. We'd always be together, but he has his own seas to sail.

There is no turning this boat around. He's growing. Becoming. Going ever so slowly away.

And my heart aches.


39 thoughts on “The Birthday Crown that Wasn’t. A Story About Growing Up.

  1. kate says:

    tears from this. Oh my, 9 is big. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I have been cool with my boys and their ages, this is such a huge reminder to make sure I truly enjoy who they are right now and not focus on the tiredness from the consistent 2 and 4 am wake-ups.

  2. marni says:

    oh my goodness, so intensely sad. I’m crying along with all the other mamas out there reading this.
    I needed this today, as my little is SO needy and into EVERYTHING right now! I’m feeling exhausted and like ‘it’s never going to end’…thanks!

  3. Casey says:

    Oh Rachel…my heart aches for you. Just please remember that the connection you share with Sage (and with Lupine too) is so much deeper than most — you are so in tune with your family that there’s no way that ship would ever lose communications with you on the shore.

  4. Roberta says:

    I feel so much for you. My oldest just turned nine last month. It is big — bigger than I remembered as a child (10 was big then). It’s part of our job, letting them grow up and move away…but oh, it’s too soon!

  5. Andrea says:

    Ok, my little guy is three (but likely to be my one and only little miracle) and I, like you, have never been one to cry over first steps, first words, getting bigger, getting more independent – if anything I have been relishing how our connection has deepened now that we can communicate better and do more activities together – but this post has put a huge lump in my throat and makes me want to grab him and just hold on to his little kid-ness forever!!!!

    Thank you for making me wake-up and appreciate each step and stop wishing for and rushing to an “easier” phase/age with him.

  6. Cassandra says:

    Totally misty over here…I get it totally. With one child starting UW-Madison and one starting preschool today, I myself have had some milestone pangs. I am clinging to my two year old still at home a little too tightly today… It’s hard.

  7. Alyssa says:

    I can’t believe you made me cry!
    Your writing is strengthening in just the year or so I’ve been peeking in on your blog, I’m really impressed with the way you are capturing some BIG business here on this space, Rachel.
    My next thought was – remembering sailing my own ship away from the shore of my parents… and knowing that I came back! That my mom and I sail together as comrades once again, on different boats, and appreciate how our separate journeys make our new ones all the better. May it happen that way for you, and for me and my dear little ones.

  8. bridget says:

    Wonderful post, your writing really captures what so many of us think but can’t get onto paper. Wishing I wasn’t at work and was home with my kids.

  9. Denise says:

    beautiful post, Rachel. . .as you know I sometimes (lately often) yearn for the days and years down the road. This is yet another timely reminder to me to lighten up a bit and relish my days NOW. love you.

  10. susan says:

    Wow. My girl is only three and I, too, have not felt much in the way of “looking-back pangs.” So far, I’ve just enjoyed the growing. But this makes me think forward, and I am vividly imagining that heartache. I wish I had some wisdom to impart, some experience to share, but as usual, I can only empathize and use your words as a reminder to appreciate my journey right now.

  11. Nicole says:

    you are sad…but he couldn’t be luckier to have you for a mom…no matter what age. I am endlessly thankful that Pete found you and you are the wife and mom you are.

  12. Ami says:

    Sigh. So beautiful and poignant. Indeed we are often racing through our days counting the minutes til bedtime. When we can just. catch. our. breath. And then suddenly they are 6 then 7 then 8 and we realize that we can’t hold water in our hands. No matter how hard we try. I love you, dear friend. And happy dawning of the 10th year to Sage, who I remember cradling in my arms thinking “wow, he’s way too big to be a newborn”.

  13. rae says:

    this gave me chills…and tears. love how you compared it to watching the ship sail away. my eldest is 7 1/2. this day is coming soon i know. much love to you, mama!! at least you can take comfort in knowing those early years were protected, revered, and nurtured to their fullest potential.

  14. Jennifer says:

    I, like every mother on here, just had a swell of tears and an irresistible urge to go hold my littles very close. Beautifully put. Oh, but I did laugh at the face description, I could totally picture the face being made lol!

  15. Rachel Wolf says:

    Thanks, love. (And he was way to big to be a newborn. One of the first things I said on looking over Lupine after she was born was, Shes TINY! and Gretchen our midwife said, No shes not! He was my only point of reference.) xo

  16. Lou says:

    Oh its so sad but great at the same time. Just last week my LITTLE girl decided that she needs to shut the bedroom door when she gets dressed!
    For me that just shows that she wont be little for ever!

  17. Lynne says:

    When my son was brand new, every new stage made me feel like he was slipping away. I felt like this precious time went so unbelievably quickly, and I was left in awe, watching this newborn emerge into a person. I was excited for him, but sad for me. I did not wish away sleepless nights. I did not wish away endless cluster nursing. I did not wish away rocking my sleeping baby in my arms. I knew I wouldn’t get to keep these stages, and I wanted to embrace him and embrace the moments. I rolled with the easy and the hard, and kept in mind that I wouldn’t get to have it long enough. And I felt sad when he stopped needing me during the night. And I felt sad when he let me know he was done nursing. And I knew I had to stop feeling sad.

    I did not want to look back on his life, and feel I spent too much time mourning what I couldn’t alter. He was older. And amazing. And kind. And I had to just embrace each stage, and each skill, and love it. That has been my goal this year. Live with it.

    That being said, I feel that in a few more years, despite all my progress, I will be standing in your spot, looking from my sewing machine to my little man and back again, and feel the distance that time is supposed to create. And despite the living in the moments, and the letting go, I will feel sad again. Thank you for this post. It was healthy for me.

  18. radha says:

    definitely crying over here… take it from this mom of an (brace yourself) 11 year old! It goes so fast and it is all so beautiful…

  19. says:


    My littles are younger – almost 2 and 4 – and I tend to be the emotional type. More so with my first; I guess I’ve just gotten busier and more preoccupied with two!

    It’s always bittersweet for me, the passing of each stage. I don’t get emotional with each separate one, but it will all of the sudden occur to me – ohmigosh, they’re growing up! I will probably cry when my almost-2-year-old stops nursing; I love my babies, and the fact that they’re growing up makes it seem like they’re growing AWAY.

  20. S says:

    Oh! My son is 13 now. Taller than me. His feet are bigger. Nine seems so little now. Let me tell you, I enjoyed all the days, newborn, 3, 7, 9. But it gets better. It does. 12 is awesome! 13 is amazing! Don’t feel sad. Soon you’ll be watching him learn how to be a man. It’s exciting, it really is. And fun.

  21. Thesebmama says:

    I am experiencing this now with my 20 and 17 year old daughters. I got to be at home with them until the older was nine. Then, even though I had to work part time, and was a single mom, we had the best times together. We were crazy and silly and safe with one another. And now one is in college and has a boyfriend and will never really “come home” again after this summer. And the younger has a boyfriend who lives with us and I never spend the large chunks of time with her that we used to have. And they eat junk food. And I can’t control it. And she has a “redneck girl” bumper sticker on her giant f350 diesel truck. What happened to all that Waldorf upbringing? But our children have their own path and our love and understanding and values live in them regardless of the outer look of things. It is so hard to let go, but the time comes to do it anyway. Now is the time to return to my own inner landscape with renewed interest and ability to explore and develop myself as an individual, beyond my roles as a mother/daughter/girlfriend. While one phase has ended forever with all itts innocence and beauty, another exciting one is just beginning. The journey never ends…

  22. Amy VanSpeybroeck says:

    I can identify with that heart ache. I was cuddling with my 3 month old son tonight (first child) and talking with him about how much I love him. I said to him that I always wanted to cuddle with him and as soon as those words left my lips I realized that there will come a day when he no longer wants to cuddle – and my heart started breaking… Hugs to you mamma!

  23. Susanne says:

    I think that would have broken my heart right then and there if I were a mama. How did you not cry over that!? Sometimes, when I get all sentimental, I remember how it was not all that long ago when I was a wee one myself. Now I am speeding towards 30 and still not really sure of where I am going…

  24. Jayna says:

    so…this is where I will be in two years. Thanks for the heads up, and btw, strong analogy. With a almost 7 year old, I can feel the shifts, and sounds like the big one is 9. Happy birthday Sage!

  25. Rachel Wolf says:

    I, too, have loved all the stages. And 9 is even more amazing than 8, 8 more than 7, right on through counting backwards to infancy. For me it was more the awakening to the linear path we are on. Hes getting bigger. No turning back. xo

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