“Why is it so peaceful?” he asked through the irony.
I ignored him hoping he would take the hint.
“Why is it so peaceful?” he asked again. “I thought we were running late.”
It was his first week of being nine, and everything, apparently was different. For starters, the walk to school was now filled with added concerns and a sudden awareness of time.
“Oh, there’s one,” he said as a car appeared around the corner.
“Do you feel better?” I asked as the sound sped by.
“No. I liked it better when it was quiet.”
Nine is a lot of things. It is the Beatles on repeat. It is seven’s dinner. Nine, on a scale from one to ten, is a nine, and that’s still pretty great.
Nine is also the last year of single digits for a silly kid that has more youth to hold onto. He is sweet and cuddly, ornery and frustrating. He is stuffed animals and soccer, Star Wars and sincerity. He is so much more than just a number.
If next year is a milestone then nine is the farewell tour.
However, it wasn’t long ago that he held steadfast against the concept of aging and natural progression.
“I don’t want to grow up,” he had said through tears, content as he was to stay small forever. “I always want to be your baby.”
I didn’t disagree with him. I just held him close and told him what we both wanted to hear, that he will always be my little boy and that growing up is how it all works.
“Growing up is kind of the point,” I said, not buying it for a second. “It means you are doing it right.”
“And you will always be my daddy,” he nodded. “Even when I’m bigger?”
“That’s a promise,” I answered.
Then he grew a bit, his legs a dancing gangle, his hair a field for cowlicks. He twisted and stretched until his clothes barely fit him, shed his skin, and never quit talking—even when he was sleeping. By the time time rolled around again he had accepted his place in the scheme of things, and he wore his birthday like a badge of honor, or at least something akin to sheriff.
Nine was coming and he ran right toward it.
The walk to school is a straight shot filled with small dogs, big strollers and songbirds always singing.
“I like being early,” he had said, back when he was eight. It was something like a week ago.
“So you can play with your friends?” I had asked, full of assumption and close to distraction.
“It is quiet,” he replied while kicking at a pine cone. “I like it when it just us.”
“Me too,” I said, gazing high into the tree that had dropped it. I could feel the phone in my pocket, so close to making an appearance despite that fact that nobody wanted it, and I willed my fingers to lose their grip upon all the emails that weren’t going anywhere. The quiet lingered for a step or two. The air was crisp and bracing.
“Walking to school is my favorite part of the day.”
He let go of my hand and ran ahead, jumping cracks and looking for ladybugs, nine on the horizon and the school in the distance.
“Mine, too.” I said.
There was no traffic yet to speak of, and his smile was wide and warm with sunlight.