Miss Nine Runs Barefoot
You’re speeding down the grassy corridor before the finish chute. I recognize your long brown hair tied in two ponytails: one on top, to prevent bangs from flopping into your eyes, the other in back to collect the rest of your thick waves. You’re wearing the navy blue Bloomsday t-shirt you earned walking twelve kilometers in Spokane’s race last year. Tiny pink cotton leggings end just before your knobby knees. You are my colt, my rakish nine and-a-half-year-old, steaming to the end of a mile-long race. I snap a picture, capturing the glow of your pink cheeks.
My heart must be beating as quickly as yours, and I’m standing still.
“Go Fiona! Good job, Fiona!” I cheer as motherly pride swells in my chest like a one of those Styrofoam creatures that grows in water from thumb-sized to palm-sized. My girl. You emerged as a four-pound twelve-ounce bundle, so tiny we once placed you in an empty box meant for Sean’s size-ten shoes. Today, you’re running your first mile-long race, mustering all the effort your four foot, two-inch, 51-pound frame can withstand.
I write to capture the joy and pride you bring me, because your tween and teen years will manifest in a finger snap – click! Attitude, acne, awkwardness – in one hormonal package. I’ll strategize and theorize when we get there. For now, I fete your nine-ness, your you-ness.
You possess such body confidence – shower time is another opportunity to strip and prance, whooping, “I’m underwear girl!” You wiggle nonexistent hips and fling your long locks.
Who are you at nine? You love school, especially friends and your teacher, Mrs. Styles. Mrs. S. told me earlier this year, in her clipped British accent, “Fiona is a lovely LITT-uhl LAY-dee.” My heart grew two sizes that day, too. You’re getting better at math (they say ‘maths’ in New Zealand) and your reading has improved, though you’re still in the bottom group in your class (this could be because you read so quietly your peers and teacher can scarcely hear you). Thanks to your friend, Bree, you’re a school librarian, helping other students check books in and out each Tuesday at lunch time. You’re making a papier mache head at school designed to look like you, with eyelashes and freckles. You spend hours drawing.
I find your notes around the house, including this one tucked into your sock drawer:
Dear Tooth fairy I hope this is a good tooth for you by the way my name is Fiona I am a girl and my fav colour is pink and I have a little brother named Finley. I’m ___ [nine has been erased] years old. I hope you are having fun with your fairy friends. Love Fiona.
p.s. Can you write about your self and your name and are you a girl or a boy?
I share this, Fiona, not to embarrass you when you’re older, but to document your innocence and celebrate your belief in fairies. I wished I still believed in fairies. I believe in you instead.
You’re gaining new skills in soccer, playing on the same team as your younger brother. Though you don’t score goals each game like him, you’re no longer the tiny girl lost on the field, looking at daisies, chatting with friends. Your eye’s on the ball; your heart’s in the game. You recently won ‘Player of the Game’ for your teamwork and willingness to work.
You’ve just transitioned from Brownies to Girl Guides, a rite of passage for nine-and-a-half-year-olds in New Zealand. You wore a blindfold and bare feet for the initiation. The Guides helped you wade into buckets of whipped cream, pasta, peas, and water. You handled the challenge with poise and laughter. Later, I scanned the girls gathered in a horseshoe. They look so much older than Brownies. You are by far the tiniest sprite of the bunch.
You’re still a force of nature. And Finn tells me you deliver a mean pinch (STOP THAT).
You squabble with your seven-year-old brother, Finley, about who pinched whom or who got more treats or who left the lights on in his or her room. You’ll announce, “Finley is the WORST BROTHER EVER!”
More often, you play with that pesky brother and mother him like your own child. Despite efforts to separate you kids, you still let ‘Little Bruddy’ sleep in your double bed each night. “Finley’s really warm,” you say. I struggle to argue with that.
I remember the scent of your baby head as you lie in my bed nine years ago. I craved your warmth then, too.
One month before your birth, I wrote in my journal:
December 27, 2003
I haven’t even met you, Fiona, and already, I love you! Sean and I are beyond thrilled you’re coming…I have so many hopes for you: that you’re happy, healthy, active, smart, curious about the world and loving to your family…maybe you’ll be a runner, Fiona...
You live each day with joy but still mourn your daddy. Tears sometimes flow at night when you’re tired. Your dad lives in dreams and in school assignments. You recently answered a homework question, “If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?” Your answers:
1) To go back to the u.s.a.
2) To have my daddy back
3) To get an I-pad
In that order.
You’re fiercely loyal to your father, sometimes saying things that sound flip, like, “Petey’s not cool,” as if to tell the Universe your First and Best Love will always be Sean. Still, you fling your arms around my (our) here-and-now love, Pete, as if to stake your claim. You hug goodbye each morning and snuggle him at night. You proudly describe for Pete school achievements, Girl Guide adventures and give him high-fives after soccer games.
Someday, you may decide stepfather love is a fine substitute for father love, that the arms of someone still on this earth can comfort just as well or better than the metaphorical arms of someone who left the planet much too soon.
My firstborn, you have given me more than I could have envisioned. You are evidence Sean and I loved each other; proof part of him still lives. I enjoy more playgrounds, kiss more cheeks and braid more hair, thanks to you. I never knew a nine-year-old could accomplish this much without being a child prodigy. Your genius, your talent, rests in being you. Your genetic code comes from Daddy and me, but your soul is God-given and unique.
I write to remind myself who you are in this moment, because you’re changing with each school term, each sleepover, each art project. Remember, Fi, you are all the ages you’ve ever been. My baby. My toddler. My kindergartner. My Sweet Miss Nine. I love you.