My daughter, Ava, turned nine last November. I think the cake was laced.
Or she’s been possessed. Jury’s still out.
I read at some point about the “9 year change” – basically it’s a second major separation from the parents (following the one occurring at around 2 years), but it’s a sort of existential separation, where the child realizes she is not only physically separate from her parents (mother mainly), but also mentally and emotionally distinct. It is an awkward, precarious, questioning time resulting in mood swings and a lot of boundary-pushing. Some nine-year olds begin to contemplate death – including their own (which seems weird. I didn’t realize I was going to die eventually until I was about nineteen, while sitting under a tree in the quad in college, but by then I had discovered Captain Morgan and Hemingway, so it all seemed rather irrelevant).
Anyway, whatever the psycho-babble explanations, my kid has turned into a complete whack-job. One moment she is calm, collected and really quite grown-up, discussing relatively mature topics in an engaged, humanlike way. Five minutes later she’s giggling, flailing about and uttering strange sounds in a manner so goofy I can’t decide if she’s cute or has some sort of formerly unrecognized handicap.
My aunts, who’ve each had a small army of children, assure me this is normal.
And I’m sure it is. The aunts also muttered something about prepubescent hormones and I’m sure they’re right about that too. But I don’t want to talk about the fact that my baby girl who isn’t a baby girl at all could potentially in a couple years be faced with her biological make-up in a very real way and I may actually implode upon myself in grief, denial and fear.
I think this is an exaggeration, but one can never be sure.
What I want to talk about is the fact that my daughter sometimes irritates the living hell out of me and no, there is no gentler way to put this. And I don’t mean irritated like “wow, that’s kind of annoying. Wish it would end.” I mean irritated like a tag tickling the back of your neck, like an itch on the bottom of your foot, like I don’t really want to be near you irritated. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it comes, whoa. Look out.
It makes me sad to feel this way.
I don’t know what’s happening here and I don’t like it and I’m pretty ashamed. Do good mothers feel this? Probably not. Good mothers probably have the maturity to recognize the brevity of the whole situation. They are probably less selfish and ego-centric, which enables them to be patient, forgiving and understanding with the kid, rather than short-tempered, visibly annoyed and retaliatory.
I ask her nicely. She ignores me. I get mad. I yell. She responds or doesn’t. Or she screams and storms off or she cries or gets hysterical. And my heart breaks. Sometimes I’m a bully. I use my power as mother, use my strong voice and body to control and make things change and get what I want. Then I apologize, having acted poorly.
It’s a different feeling than the irritation I feel when Rocket is still naked after 25 minutes of coaxing to get dressed, or Georgia decides to nurse the instant I finally get up to take a shower. It’s a separated irritation. It’s a real irritation. She annoys me like other adults annoy me. And this is strange because she isn’t an adult. She’s not even a little adult. But she is. But she’s not.
Oh, Ava, I love you.
What burns child is that you’re walking right away, just as you should. I feel the world and time and biology pulling you down the hall, closer to the door, someday you’ll cross the threshold. But I want you to stay inside, baby girl. With me. Here at home. Right by your mama.
We’re separating, she and I.
I try to enfold her in arms that don’t quite reach any more.
Everything about her demands distance. She occupies more space physically. She has her own interests. Often she prefers being alone in her room. I see her thinking and contemplating things in there, by herself (objects or photos or books but rarely dolls any more), checking in occasionally to see what I think. Or not. She has real smells like real adults (bad breathe and sweat and stinky feet and unwashed hair). She is not uniformly pleasant any more.
Screw you, biology. Give me my baby back.
Rather, God, give me the strength to love her as she needs me now. And I promise I’ll get used to this.
It’s funny how nature knows how to baby-step a mother and child into separation – knows how to make a kid just big enough and strong enough and smelly enough and annoying enough that separation becomes even slightly palatable to the mother. What a stark contrast to the way I feel about my infant Georgia, who is so luscious and aromatic and infinitely attractive in absolutely every way that I want to eat her sometimes – literally consume her! – because I just can’t get close enough.
So little Ava, I guess the deal is that you will remain forever stitched into the fabric of my soul, though you are no longer hanging on my coattails.
Huh. Guess I did want to talk about it.