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.