The Joyful Journey

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At Nine

I originally wrote this piece for Of Dragons and Angels. The children have pseudonyms because this is not their story; it is my story of being a parent. This the sixth year of my journey as a Meadowbrook parent and I am continually delighted by, and grateful for my fellow travelers. A heartfelt ‘Thank You ‘to all who share this path. Beth Riungu.

On opening day of 3rd grade with her teacher.

On a golden, play-filled, end of summer day my daughter turned nine. Packing the picnic things ready for home I became aware of her running at the edge of the park. A game of hide and seek I think, her lengthening shadow flitting between the trees. The still green leaves seem to hold their breath, reminded by early evening’s crimson tones that a change of season is at hand. I feel it too.

Parents at Waldorf schools hear much about the Nine Year Change; a distinct developmental phase characterized by the child’s more realistic or critical outlook as he begins to move away from the dreamy world of early childhood. Class teachers prepare us to recognize the child’s growing consciousness of his individuality; of being part of the family and the world yet separate from both. We are given notice of the unsettling new realities both we and our child will experience with this realization of Self and the ambivalent yearning for independence it may provoke.

Earlier in the summer, we had set out on a family adventure. The Pawcatuck River flows through our village and for the first time we lowered our canoe into its waters just below Shannock Falls. A brisk current carried us swiftly away under the bridge and into an unfamiliar territory of forgotten river banks and the quiet privacy of homes whose tidy roadside faces we know well.

The four of us had settled into a comfortable pace, three at the paddles and a lookout amidships when Scout had the idea to swim along behind the boat. In an instant she had leapt overboard leaving her father and I grabbing for the sides to re-stabilize our craft. Looking behind, there was Scout examining the bubbles swirling gently in our wake. She wore a life jacket though she is an accomplished swimmer, seemingly content to float without effort or purpose. Ten feet, 20, 50… the current carried us easily away from her. Our sense of having a cohesive plan for the afternoon was slipping away too. We had to readjust. ‘No’, she did not want to rejoin us in the canoe, she wanted to swim – she could manage! Monkey Boy was engrossed in a study of water skimming beetles so we let the paddles idle, slowing our progress in back eddies, keeping her in sight.

We had anticipated rapids at the old Carolina Mill and as we approached the mill race Scout was happy to grab the line thrown to her. She clambered back aboard and took up a paddle ready to navigate the foaming waters. We were working as a family again, laying our course between rocks and thrilling at near collisions with the sand bars. The rush of water took us happily along for some ways until, splash, again Scout heaved herself out of the boat. Further downstream she was back. There were downed trees across the river, their branches a tangle below and above the water. We scrambled and ducked our way through, making jokes – you finally combed your hair today even if it was with a tree! And out the other side we came.

So it continued until the afternoon grew late. Monkey Boy wanted to play on the rocks where our car was waiting downstream; we weren’t entirely sure the river would allow us clear passage to reach there and wanted to press on in good light. The distance between us and Scout lengthened.  She was tired, not really swimming now. It was time to reclaim our daughter and complete the journey. She was not pleased. Hauled aboard, she sat wrapped in a towel and quietly wept the rest of the way unable to speak.

In his book, Navigating the Terrain of Childhood, Jack Petrash describes the development of the child from birth to age 21 as a cross country journey beginning as new days do on the east coast. On entering the grades, the child crosses the Mississippi and passes into the rolling beauty of America’s Heartland. Here he is shaped by his feelings and his experiences of the feeling life of those around him. A little further west across the Missouri River, the nine year change brings a landscape that is still more dramatic and more challenging. Over wrought emotions might lead the unwary into the Badlands but a more steady path can be made through productive farmland toward the Rockies of adolescence, a glimpse on the horizon.

A few days after our trip when Scout was recalling how much she had enjoyed floating along I asked her why she has been so upset at the end. Had she felt unsafe, deserted, or just not ready to leave the water? She couldn’t say, though I could see she still felt the memory of it. I know more troubles will cloud the face of my golden child as she navigates the way ahead. I hope I can keep her safe yet still let her grow strong. Hold her close, yet let her be free. As I write, she is deep in a project; carefully constructing a sword and armor for adventures I can’t imagine. My Joan of Arc in silver duct tape shoes.

From poet laureate Billy Collins’ poem, ‘On Turning Ten

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

6 thoughts on “At Nine

    • Thank you for commenting. Out hiking yesterday something registered as strange about my son lagging behind, he seemed oddly peripheral to the expedition. Your comment made me think – he is almost 9, perhaps his behavior wasn’t so odd after all!

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