My 9-year-old is currently throwing a tantrum. He’s in his room screaming and crying because I told him to clean the hallway. I told him to clean the hallway because I caught him whapping a wreath with a plastic sword. “I understand you’re angry,” I said to him. “But there are consequences to your actions, and to show me that you have respect for the things in our house, I need you to pick up the hallway.” He screamed and cried. I told him I understood that he felt this wasn’t fair. I understood he was angry and sad. I respected his emotions. But he still needed to clean.
His response? I was a meanie. I did not care. I did not respect him. I did not, in fact, love him. At all.
I told him, finally, that he was saying things to hurt me and could go to his room until he was ready to be kind and clean up politely. So he screamed and cried — partly in earnest, partly performatively — for at least fifteen minutes. I offered solutions to this tantrum, including reading a book. It took his father to calm him down.
This is a 9-year-old: the occasional self-regulation of a toddler trapped with the smarts of an older kid.
My 9-year-old is a delight. We can have real conversations about things like music, race, and other important topics. He has interesting opinions and things to contribute. I genuinely enjoy his company. We have inside jokes. But at the same time, despite our conversations on things like racism and climate change, he’s still my little baby. He puts his underwear on backwards. He makes little kid decisions, like pulling his bike out when we’re about to leave the house. He can’t find his shoes. He announces that he has to poop. He’s currently playing Jedi Knight in an office chair with his baby brother.
But he thinks he’s a teenager.
My 9-year-old wants to dress himself every day. Problem: he has no sense of fashion. I have to redress him some days. He can stay home by himself for short periods, but he wants to be able to watch his brothers while he does — and I can’t trust him to do that. He wants to read books too mature for his age, but I can’t trust him to put the books he can read back on the damn shelf.
And the backtalk. Oh lord, the backtalk.
I used to think that because we homeschooled our kids and didn’t let them watch shows in which clever kids ridiculed stupid-ass adults, we would skip the backtalk. Turns out I was that stupid-ass adult. My 9-year-old backtalks all the damn time, and he just started this year. He huffs about doing his chores. When asked if he did something, like put on his clothes, he snaps at us. When we tell him that he needs to brush his hair, he throws back a snarky remark. I’m mean and Daddy is mean. When we try to tell him not to backtalk, he yells back, “BUT WILL YOU JUST LISTEN TO ME?!” in an ultra-dramatic, ridiculous fashion. We remind him that this is not theater class and he is not on stage, which isn’t great parenting, because he just huffs back, “I KNOW! I NEVER SAID IT WAS!” and just escalates the situation until one of us has to walk away. Because he has a bad temper, and he inherited that temper, honestly, from me.
This is apparently a commonality in 9-year-olds; his friends’ parents say that their kids do the same things.
He’s in a weird space between childhood and adulthood. Half the time, he wants to be a little kid: to play with dinosaur toys, to line up toy soldiers. The other part of the time, he only wants to play with LEGOs or engage with media. That media can range from little kid stuff, like Scooby Doo, to stuff meant for adults, like Dr. Who, Blue Planet, and The X-Files (most of which we won’t let him watch, because, like a little kid, he’ll have nightmares). He’ll read about UFO reports on the Mutual UFO Network web site all day, but mention Mothman, and he’ll crawl in our bed at night. He loves the way-too-old-for-him (at least to me) Monster Squad, but still adores The Lego Movie (though let’s be honest: who doesn’t?), Moana, and The Secret of Kells. His reading material is the same. He’ll dig through thick books about cryptozoology and mammalian evolution, but sometimes, he wants to read Level 1 books about Darth Vader. It’s a constant push-pull between childhood and something bigger. Not quite adulthood. But my baby is growing up.
Nine years old is fun. I have a constant companion, someone to really talk to: about pot legalization, about George Wallace, about racism, about whether or not you should keep toxic people in your life. But I also sometimes have a tasmanian devil screeching that I hate him. Someone wants to share my favorite TV shows and books with me (and joke about how my middle son is a total Slytherin), but someone also infuriates me when he throws down over something stupid, like letting the dogs in. It’s like living with this volcano whose eruptions no one can predict. All we can do is the same you do for toddlers: make sure he’s not hangry, thirsty, or tired.
The feed and caring of a 9-year-old is pretty similar to a 2 year-old that way. I figure if I survived those years, I can survive this. At least this time around, he’s got an opinion on David Bowie.