When I was in high school, I dated a boy whose littlest sister was quite a bit younger than we were. I remember sitting beside her in the springtime, watching her brother’s baseball (maybe? The details are fuzzy) game and chatting. Upon being asked what she would be doing during the upcoming summer break, she replied, “Waiting.”
Waiting for what?
“Waiting to be eight.”
If memory serves, there was a legendary summer camp she would be allowed to attend once she turned eight (I believe, at the time, she was only six, so this elusive camp experience was still quite a ways off). I chuckled at her response, but – obviously – it made an impression on me and has stuck with me all these twenty-plus years.
There are certain ages that are rites of passage, some established by American society (sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one), others by culture or religion (thirteen, fifteen), and still others because they mark milestones that we set for ourselves as somehow being meaningful (thirty, forty, the Beatles’ storied sixty-four). It had never occurred to me prior to talking with this little girl that eight was an age that was of any special significance.
On Friday, Annie turned eight, and she viewed it with the same reverence. In our family, there are special privileges that you are awarded for turning eight – permission to get one’s ears pierced, an invitation with Daddy on one of his business trips – but, even taking those into consideration, Annie had been very highly anticipating her birthday. Although it went beyond her usual annual birthday excitement, I didn’t really think anything of it, chalking it up to her great desire to have pierced ears.
She’d been talking up her birthday for weeks, highlighting it on the calendar and mentioning to me, every single morning, how long until the big day – a countdown of sorts. Because she seemed to be so looking forward to her birthday, so eager, I was taken aback when she looked deeply forlorn a few nights ago.
What’s up, kiddo?
“Mommy… I just can’t believe I’m going to be eight.”
I laughed – actually laughed out loud – and said that I couldn’t believe it either, telling her that I felt like just yesterday that she’d been born, but I stopped my kidding as she began to cry.
“I just think, if I did the research, I’d discover that there are a lot of things that I can’t do once I’m eight.”
Huh? You did research on something?
“No! I’m saying that if I did research, I would find out that there are a lot of things that will be different when I’m eight.”
And then it all came out…
There are games and toys that are recommended for age 7 and under. There are rides that are only for little kids, not big eight year-olds. When you play a game, the youngest goes first – and if she’s now eight, she’ll get the short end of the stick. She’s the first of her (girl) friends to turn eight, and now that she’s so old, she’s afraid that they’ll look at her differently.
I briefly attempted to remind her of the good things about turning eight (“But you’ll be able to get your ears pierced!”) and to counter each point that she made (“Games for really little kids aren’t much fun anymore!” “Rides are height-based, not age-based!”) until I realized that it wasn’t really the details that were bothering her; it was the concept. Turning eight had become a milestone for her, and it had grown so huge in her mind, it suddenly became this Big Thing.
And, oh man, do I get that – becoming anxious about something that you’ve set up as Really Important in your mind, even if you’re also really excited about it. All of the energy that keeps you psyched up can accumulate and then implode on itself.
Plus also? Birthdays can be scary, folks.
So I hugged her – a lot – and listened to her fears (I even managed to keep a straight face; props to me) and reassured her that, no matter what, no matter how old she was, she would always be our baby, and we would always adore her (even if she never stops talking). Being eight is different, but it doesn’t have to be bad – it might turn out to be incredible.
It wasn’t a lie; she will always be my baby. And I do feel like it was just yesterday that she got stuck sunny side up and had to be yanked out via emergency c-section (after three hours of pushing with the epidural turned down to zero – good times!). I am completely serious when I say that I cannot believe that she is already eight – EIGHT freakin’ years, omg, are you KIDDING me?? – and that I am astonished by how quickly the time goes.
Surely this was last year, right??
If the next eight go by half as fast, I will hardly be able to catch my breath (I’ll also be crying in the fetal position in the corner because that will make her sixteen and she will be DRIVING, I CAN’T EVEN la la la I’m not listening). But, as much as I’ve talked to the fates about slowing things down for God’s sake, no one is listening… so I guess I’d better invest in a good seatbelt – metaphorically and literally – and try to enjoy the ride.
It’s not too hard, because with this kid along, it’s the funniest ride of all time.
Happy 8th Birthday, Annie! I hope it was worth the wait.