Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hold onto 9 as long as you can.

If Stella’s current age were an inanimate object, I’d grasp onto it so tightly my fingers would bleed.

She’s 9. Because of her height and early development (thanks maternal genes), she looks older. But she is 9, and it is wonderful.

She’s almost my height and her feet are nearly the same size as mine, meaning that she often borrows my socks. She can read a book in a day and discusses complex ideas like racism and religion and gender norms with me as we lie together in her bed. Her favorite food is sushi and she’s quite good at baking. She writes in her journal, writes poetry, writes graphic novels. She looks after her little brother and can open up the bottle of allergies pills so she can take one each night.

But she’s also such a little girl. When we go to restaurants, the host eyes her and asks if she needs a kids menu. Her response is always, “Yay! They have kids menus here, Mommy!” She likes to curl up in my lap and have me tell her stories. She puts together outfits that are quirky and adorable and obviously free of any worry that someone might judge her. And although her reading level is close to that of a 9th grader’s (ahem, humblebrag, ahem), she loves to sit next to her brother as I read them both Dr. Suess.

She got a Build-a-Bear Workshop gift certificate for her birthday and was elated. I took her, and she was jumping up and down with excitement as we entered. She chose a purple, green, and pink cat with a strawberry scent, a cat sound in the paw, a pink and purple dress, and pink and purple bows. She named her Candy, and slaved over all the details on Candy’s birth certificate. She held her tight as we walked out to get some frozen yogurt.

Suddenly, a cloud crossed over her face. “Mommy, I’m worried.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Do you think Johanna will be sad?” (Johanna was a first Build-a-Bear: a frill-free, basic model.)

“Why would she be sad?”

“She might be jealous that Candy has a strawberry scent and a cat sound. I feel bad for her.” She looked like she might cry.

“Yes, but she’s special because she’s your first. Maybe it would help if Candy could share some of the bows in the 4-pack she got?”

And her face reversed, lighting up like the Eastern sky.

She still thinks I’m cool. She decorates her walls with her own drawings and must sleep with a “lovey.” She doesn’t like scary movies and still watches little kid cartoons. She carries a cat backpack and a cat lunchbox and her favorite outfit is a cat dress with cat leggings. If she’s in a particularly sassy mood, she’ll pair it with a cat ear headband.

I teach adolescents. I know what lies ahead. She’ll always love me and she’ll always be my little girl, but there will come a time when I do something that deeply embarrasses her. She’ll feel smarter than me, exasperated by how little I know about anything. She’ll be worried about what the other kids think about her, will choose her clothes more carefully, will gravitate toward shows and books with more angsty themes. She won’t be an actual little girl.

Many people reassure me that our bond can, in fact, endure throughout her adolescence. There are some kids that resist some of the darker corners of the preteen and teen years, kids that still hug their mothers in public and don’t roll their eyes so frequently that we fear they’ll be stuck that way.

Still, I know I better cherish this time like crazy. I will snuggle up with her in bed tonight. We’ll discuss Trump’s immigration policy while we brush Candy’s strawberry-scented fur. And I’ll try for the millionth time to freeze time.

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