Nine is here. Today.

You sprinted into our room and announced in a voice that echoed as if we were in the middle of mountains, “Today is my birthday.” We sandwiched you with hugs and kissed the fleshy part your cheeks. I did not want to let you go. Hugging your fleece pajama pants, my insides pulsed with a roller-coaster moment, pausing at the ferocious pace of time’s passage.

After a few seconds, you escaped out of my embrace, hurrying toward your room. So much of nine is like that. Your need to let go pulses quick, while I crave just one more second. Over the last year, so much about curving into nine startles in a way that I failed to anticipate.

Last week, you pulled out one of your few remaining baby teeth on your own, while I worked in my office. There were no pleas for help or tears over the blood, you walked in and announced, “Here is my tooth, Momma. I pulled it out.” When I asked whether you needed anything, you replied, “I got this, Momma. Don’t worry.” I laughed-cried at your adult response. In the very next moment, though, you reminded me again, that you were still my little girl when you asked, “Do you think the tooth fairy will come tonight? She might be tired from helping Santa.”

Nine is also about you moving forward, but still holding on too. I caught you belting out the lyrics of “Shake It Off” in your room, swinging your hips, singing with expressions like you were performing on stage. I witnessed you mouthing the lyrics with so much self-confidence, then you retreated into my little girl, when you asked for me to tuck you in at night and close all the doors to make certain that the monsters don’t creep under the slits of light beneath your door.

Though, those moments when you think I can protect you from everything, are disappearing. When you witnessed a family member falling ill, you asked the question I didn’t want to answer, “Momma, is she going to die?” I paused. Then you asked, “Are you and Daddy going to die?” Answering that question meant a metaphorical letting go. One that I wasn’t prepared to confront. Instead, I told you, “Of course not, honey, we are going to always be here for you.” With that I watched your shoulders relax, your lean legs moving toward all the Legos scattered in your room. “Ok, Momma, that makes me feel better.” You sat on the floor, humming to yourself and began building your cruiser.

Nine does that it. It switches from happy to introspective to happy again.

Nine is the consummate tease. You still believe in Santa, but assert your independence when picking out the clothes you want to wear. When I least expect it, you ambush with an unanticipated hug, but in an instant, you talk back when I ask you to finish your homework. You are confident to dance alone at your Uncle’s wedding, extending your arms high and finessing the intricate steps of Indian dance, but when someone hurts your feelings, you dissolve in a puddle of tears that are sometimes inconsolable.

As your mother, nine is difficult. It is the last year before you head toward double-digits. The years of teen angst will pour before I know it.

But for now you are only nine. We will celebrate with the goodness that only girls adore: balloons, streamers, singing Happy Birthday multiple times and dancing around your cake like Elvis (who coincidentally is born on the same day as you).

Happy Birthday, my sweet and precarious little girl. Your momma is clenching her grip on nine, holding on to every glorious second.