Several months back I realized two things simultaneously: that you would soon be turning nine, and that looming milestone would mark something of a halfway point in our family. From that point on we’d be on the downward slide towards the day you walk out of our house and onto the next big chapter in your life. Those two thoughts brought a tremendous amount of sadness with them. Parenthood brings with it the near constant reminder of how quickly time passes. Even in the trenches, when things seem to move at such a snail’s pace, the moments are still so fleeting that you curse yourself for ever wishing them away. You blink and there are more candles on the cake. You blink again, and the candles are blown out and the ribbon thin traces of smoke have melted into the sky and you count what is left of the still warm sticks of wax to make sure that you didn’t miss a year somewhere along the way. You see time spinning away at a dizzying speed, and you mark the passage of time in legs. Baby legs and then kid legs. They were just fat and plump and rested in the crook of your arm and then they dangled out of your grasp and brushed against your hip, and now your thigh. You catch them stretching across the couch in lengths you can swear you’ve never seen before, and then you realize she’s sitting, and not lying down, and you wonder where she came from. This nine year old. You are at the tip, tip top of the hill and you know in the deepest part of your heart that this side of that point will go faster than the other side. You want her to put those arms down, hold on tight to that steel bar in front of her, and dig those heels (the ones attached to the ends of those endless legs) into the ground to slow things down. She’s flying and she’s yelling and she’s laughing and screaming and her arms never drop to her sides and her heels don’t even skim the ground beneath her. She’s at the bottom of the hill before your lightning fast camera can take six shots, and she’s rounded the bend at an angle and disappeared. She stretches out of her little bed and across her bigger one, and you feel good that she looks smaller tonight, even if it’s a trick of the eye. You would buy bed after bed after bed to keep her looking smaller and near to you. You wish, a little bit, that it would work.
Oh my sweet girl, here you are. You are at the tip top of that hill and I remember this age and it’s a good one. You are at the top of the school, you are the big kid. You have a few years yet before the slide into middle and then high school, and I hope you enjoy it. You are lucky to go to a school where the challenges and the responsibilities of this age really grow – and I know that you are up for it all. I can’t wait to see what you do this year. I can’t wait to see what you’ll read, what will keep you up late into the night. I can’t wait to watch you run across that field or scale that rope to the top and ring the bell. I can’t wait to hear the notes that come from your violin or watch you patiently teach your sister how to tie her shoes or pedal her trike. You have many moments that are all about you – and really, that’s how it is sometimes, even at nine. But you have many more moments – a little more each day – when you are the one to step in and make things better. “How can I help?” you ask, and I gladly let you take more on. I love to work beside you – I love to be beside you – and I look forward to those moments in ways you may not know.
When I thought of that halfway point, I didn’t imagine that I’d spend that last day of eight riding roller coasters with you. But there we were, and after a few years’ hiatus, you had soared beyond those forty-eight and fifty-four inch rulers and were able (and willing) to get on board. You did them all, even the ones that I’m smart enough not to ride. I vaguely remember worrying about this moment years ago – this moment when you were tall enough to ride, and ready to ride the big ones. I wasn’t sure that I’d be ready, and what would I say? How would I make the argument that it just wasn’t time? But yesterday I didn’t give it another thought. Of course you were tall enough. Of course you wanted to ride. I didn’t hold my breath until the coaster had come back to the ground, I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when the safety bars released you back into my arms. I just watched for your smile and waited for you to tell me how it was. Was it fun? Are you glad you did it? What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?
I know your hands are high in the air and I know that you will fly down that hill with a smile plastered across your face. You are brave, you are happy, you are up for the challenge and you are ready. I will tell myself that this side will be faster and scarier and most of it will ultimately be out of my control. And I will tell myself (early and often) that this is not a reason for fear or angst or even sadness. I will watch for your smile. I will ask you how it was. I will open my arms as big and as wide as I can for you to run breathlessly into them for as long as you will and listen to you tell me about the ride. I will ask you what’s next, and I’ll be right there with you. Sitting next to you, strapped in tight, or watching from a distance with camera in hand. I’ll be there. I promise. Enjoying (and celebrating) every last bit of this ride.
Happy, happy birthday, my sweet, sweet girl.