Number Nine, Number Nine

24 Oct

My little girl is gone. The bashful baby, so cute she stopped traffic in the aisles at Whole Foods, has left the building. In her place is a creature who alternately cartwheels joyously around the house or howls in anguish over hurts imagined and otherwise. In short, my daughter has turned nine.

Actually, my daughter has been nine for two months now. I didn’t think anything of it while planning her birthday party. Granted, she wanted a sleepover party with a Hollywood movie theme. That seemed a little more grown up than last year’s Flower Power party with its gardening-related outdoor activities. But, she’s been having sleepovers for a while. Nothing portentous, then, in this year’s birthday extravaganza. I didn’t even make much note of the playing with makeup and pretend fashion show that were highlights of the festivities.

It was at work one evening that the enormity of my daughter’s age hit me. Three evenings each week, I put my very expensive Illinois state teaching credentials to work providing enrichment in language arts and math to children. I teach every grade level from Pre-K through middle school. By and large, I love my classes. The students are respectful, cooperative and, on the whole, a pleasure to teach.

There is one class I dread every week, though: the fourth graders. My third graders are a delight. My fifth graders are beginning to show the spirit that will mark them as adults; we have interesting conversations about the work at hand. My fourth graders are a disorderly lot of boisterous, impulsive, barely-controllable hooligans. Every class is a test of my ability to retain my composure while imparting at least some of the learning I am expected to deliver. I’ve developed a style of teaching them that owes more to fencing than to Piaget. I allow a certain amount of pandemonium, then lunge in with a bit of instruction. We continue this way throughout the lesson.

Recently, during an off-task moment, I happened to ask one of the students her age. “I’m nine!” she said. Well, gob smacked me. I was able to retain the outward appearance of a professional educator, but my brain was screaming, “She’s the same age as my daughter! How could I not have realized that!? How much time do I have before my daughter becomes a howling, uncontrollable hooligan?”

I didn’t have much time at all. As if aware that I’d been awakened to the true nature of her tribe, she began swinging from sweet to foul faster than a cup of milk left out on a hot day. Happily playing outside with the neighborhood children one minute, she’d come flying into the house in hysterics the next, howling incoherently as she ran to her room and slammed the door.

When she was little, my daughter would say some of the cutest things. At night, after being put in her bed, she would pretend to read herself a story, beginning each with “Once up a time. . .” My heart would melt. When she got a little older, her mis-sayings still had the ring of innocence to them. Dancing with me to some old disco music, she loudly sang out, “Shake your boob thing, shake your boob thing. Yeah, yeah!”

Now, she’s beginning to sound like an old soul. Her room is a disaster of epic proportions. She has taken to sleeping in the day bed in my office because she can no longer find the top of her own bed. I have cleaned her room. My husband has cleaned her room. My sister has cleaned her room. Within mere hours, her room looks like Japan after the tsunami.

“Mom,” she said to me recently, “my room is too small.”

“Why do you think your room is too small?” I asked.

“Because there isn’t enough room for all of my stuff.”

“Oh, but there is enough room for all of your stuff. Everything in your room has a home, you just never put things back where they belong.”

She sat still, looking down at her hands, considering my words. Without looking up, she said, “Maybe I have issues.”

One of the issues she has is a fascination with her ability to wail. Crying is no longer enough. Everything must be done on a grand scale these days, leading to fits of seemingly out-of-control sobbing. I say “seemingly out-of-control” sobbing because I now have admissible evidence that some, if not all, of her hysteria is histrionics.

This weekend, my husband and I determined that we would present a united front to our children over getting chores done. Never having succeeded with full family meetings, we held separate semi-family meetings with each of our children. Our daughter went first. We worked out her responsibilities and the consequences for not meeting them. For instance, anything she leaves on the kitchen table will be confiscated if not removed before dinner. She can buy it back for 25 cents per item. This sounded fine in theory. She was pretty upset about the execution, but I believe a consequence isn’t effective until I’ve seen fear strike their little hearts. Still, she left her conference calmly enough.

When her brother sat down for his and we engaged in a little pre-torture conversation about Batman, she insisted the three of us cut to the chase. “Get back on topic!” she shouted at us. We continued to talk about the Dark Knight just a few minutes longer. She exploded. “It’s not fair!” she howled. She howled, in fact, for quite some time. We ignored her, going about our meeting with our son. “No one’s making me feel better!” she wailed.

I ignored the caterwauling until I thought I heard two cats wauling. About a week ago, my daughter spent her allowance on a spy kit, complete with digital recording device disguised as a makeup case. What I heard was the sound of my daughter crying into the recorder then playing back and crying along with her own crying.

Ironically, my daughter has begun requesting that she be comforted in the midst of her meltdowns. At first, I resisted, not wanting to reward the behavior. I relented, though, and fought through the wall of wail. I held her in my arms, rocking her as I did when she was a baby.

Being a grown up is hard; becoming one is even harder. So, I’ll hold my little hooligan if it helps her. And I’ll pity my husband and son living with a tween and a woman struggling with menopause.

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9 Responses to “Number Nine, Number Nine”

  1. Amy Rohrer October 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    Darling! I am sending this to my 50 something friend who has a six year just so she can feel accompanied in her jourey!

    • Amy Rohrer October 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      Journey!

  2. santadeer November 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    I love that you relented. Willingly 😀

  3. The Hook November 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    “My little girl is gone. The bashful baby, so cute she stopped traffic in the aisles at Whole Foods, has left the building. In her place is a creature who alternately cartwheels joyously around the house or howls in anguish over hurts imagined and otherwise. In short, my daughter has turned nine.”
    HAVE FUN!
    Wait until 13 arrives!

    • jmlindy422 November 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

      I’m hoping 13 is different in girls than it was with my son. Thanks!

  4. sisteranan November 26, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Thank you, this was very helpful for me to understand my own changing daughter.

    • jmlindy422 November 27, 2011 at 10:41 am #

      It isn’t easy, is it? Hang in there!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why I’m A Bad Blogger And How You Can Be, Too! « Snide Reply - January 25, 2012

    […] written “Why Your Nine-Year-Old Drives You Crazy and What You Can Do About It,” instead of “Number Nine, Number Nine.” A friend and loyal reader suggested “ ‘Tween a Rock and a Hard Place” for that post. I […]

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