Seeing the past, present and future in my 9-year-old

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Recently, my daughter and I were out to dinner in between her play practice and gymnastics class. Though we are very protective of our kids’ schedules and let them pick only one extra-curricular activity at a time, the school’s K-12 production of “The Wizard of Oz” has made us change our tune slightly since play practice only lasts a couple of months. This happened to be an evening that was especially busy and out of the ordinary.

The two of us were chatting over chicken nuggets for her a cheeseburger for me at McDonald’s. I love having one-on-one time with my kiddos when I can and this opportunity to visit with my daughter and enjoy her company was a treat. I was struck sharply with the versions of her that I see. At 9 years old, she is on the cusp of becoming a young woman. And I see that in her. I see her maturity. My daughter has always been more of an old soul who has maturity beyond her years. Last year, her second grade teacher told me how excited she was to see my daughter bring in a doll to play with during free time because it was such a kid activity. Her teacher was worried that she was too grown-up all the time.

It’s been like this almost from the beginning. My daughter started talking really early and really well. By the time she was 2-1/2, she could basically converse like a miniature adult. That hasn’t changed. We can still have conversations that surprise me with their depth. I find myself praying for wisdom as we talk about big topics and try to help her handle emotions for concepts she understands but isn’t quite ready to handle. It’s a tricky balance sometimes.

As we ate our dinner, I marveled yet again at her maturity. We’ve had so many people remark on it, and I’ve lived with it for so many years, but I’m still struck by her maturity and by her. I see so much of the young woman she is growing into. She is strong and funny. She is smart — so smart! — and compassionate. She is honing her leadership skills. She cares about the kids around her at school and her little brother. She is so beautiful and stunning inside and out. I see all the growing up that she has done and is doing. I feel like I keep getting these glimpses of her future and what she’ll be like.

But then I also still see my baby girl. I see facial expressions that I’ve been seeing since she was an infant. I see her silliness and giggles. I see her playfulness and imagination that are still so very much childlike. I see her as she’s been. I will never stop seeing her as my sweet little redhead who loves to chatter incessantly (she still does!) as she toddles around. She has years behind her and experiences far behind her that I still glimpse sometimes as I listen to her and watch her.

And then there is how she is now. She is a mix of both. I see her excitement at getting a toy in a Happy Meal and being thrilled to have soda with her food as a treat. There’s my little girl. Then I see her waiting patiently in line to inquire about getting a different Happy Meal toy because she got something she didn’t want. I watch her wait for her turn and listen to her politely talk to the employee. I marvel that she is old enough to do these sorts of things on her own and without a reminder of her manners. Then I find myself with a lump in my throat when she returns to the table with a toy that she knows her brother will like because they didn’t have anything she liked but she saw something he would like.

She is such a mix of little and big and somewhere in between right now. This is the age before she’s into boys and before she thinks I’m boring. This is the age where she loves spending time with me and tells me how annoying boys are when I ask if she has a crush on anyone. This is the age where Happy Meals are still exciting but so is having a chance to wear some makeup. This is the age where she brings along dolls to pretend to feed when we go out to eat but also is responsible enough to tell me she can take care of her brother when he has play practice with her. She’ll make sure he gets his snack and does what he’s supposed to.

I’m not in a hurry for my daughter to grow up. That will happen. But I also don’t want to hold her back and treat her like she’s still a toddler. So while she is perched on the fence between childhood and adolescence, I am as well. I am sitting beside her trying to figure out how to give her more freedom, responsibility and information but also not put more on her than she is ready for. It’s quite a balance for both of us. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am her mom and not her friend as we chat. Other times, I am quite clear that I am her mom who needs to teach her.

While I know that when I look at her, I will always see my baby, I also know that with each passing year, we are farther away from that and creeping much closer to the young woman she is becoming. I am so excited to see her make her mark on this world. Her teachers last year and this year told us at parent/teacher conferences that they can pair her with any child in her classroom and know that child will learn more and come out better for having partnered with my daughter. That’s such high praise, but I can see that’s how the world is going to be. The world will be better for having my daughter in it. She has great things in store. She has already made my world a better place for being in it. Now I’m hanging on tight for the ride!


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