9 Is A Weird Age. Here's What I've Learned.

The baby cuddles are over, but we can still connect.

A boy is dribbling a basketball while his mom marks him from behind
Noel Hendrickson/DigitalVision/Getty Images

It feels like just yesterday that we were on the floor for hours, tiny yellow construction vehicles in hand. Sitting on a queen-sized bed sheet covered in uncooked rice we created intricate construction scenes together. We laughed as we dug, dumped, and moved grains in and out of piles, onto wooden blocks, and into bowls. “I love doing dump truck city with you, Mom,” he would say with his little hand on my knee.

Today, he is almost nine. He has big opinions on his hair, inside jokes with his friends, and a men’s size seven shoe. Long gone are afternoons in the sandbox, rides on my shoulders, and rice-covered bed sheets. In a slow transition, without me even actively realizing, he went from a baby in my arms to a big kid by my side. Connecting with him looks different now, as he isn’t quite as keen on a mother-son cuddle session as I would like him to be. So, we do other stuff — often as equal participants. Sometimes it takes a little more effort and creativity, but it’s always worth it.

We play basketball. During quick, pre-dinner games of horse in the driveway, we laugh and talk through each letter. I can tell he is impressed with my mom-skills, and when he matches my shots, his smile lights up the entire street. We cover a lot of conversational ground during games, from school happenings to social frustrations. And on special days he makes me promise to keep his newest secret. We usually end with a mix of trash talk and encouragement, depending on the score. And either way I always remember to challenge him to another game, forcing the door open for more time together.

We sort Pokemon cards. I have become a rising card connoisseur, equipped with a wealth of knowledge and my own small collection. We organize cards together, in evolutionary piles or by value, and we talk about our favorites. We examine the artistry of the cards, sometimes debating our favorite details. He impresses me with his memory and knowledge of this weird anime world and shows genuine excitement when I remember one of his factual teachings.

We draw. Swords, mostly. Perched at the kitchen counter with sketch paper and pencils we attempt to create detailed three dimensional designs. He teaches me techniques he has learned in art class and on Youtube, and we troubleshoot with shadows and blends. It is wild to watch someone you created with talents far beyond your own. We often switch midway through, finishing each other's creations, discussing each change as we make them. And with each pencil stroke I try to make my way into his brain, asking him all about his favorite and least favorite things.

We build Minecraft worlds. Mostly I watch him, although sometimes I get to create. We research “build hacks” so we can create couch cushions and diving board springs. It is oddly therapeutic — finding these quiet, creative moments with him. He works his iPad with a quickness as he builds, and I realize that he has incredible spatial reasoning and awareness, a talent I did not know he possessed. Sometimes we get lost in our pretend cities, sparking conversations about future dreams and ‘what if’ scenarios. Other times I just watch him in silence, soaking in his movements and facial expressions.

Sometimes I long for the moments when he used to drape his little body on my lap, or rest his head on my shoulder. Or the moments I sat on the floor next to the tub singing countless songs, covering his little face with bubbles. But while that connection was easy and instinctual, these current connections are more interesting, and earned. We carve out time for them not because we have to, but because we want to. It is a mutually enjoyed relationship built on love, commonality, and friendship — one that is evolving and changing as he grows. And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.