My son turned 9 in June. Always a thoughtful, precocious dude (in his mama’s indulgent eyes anyway), he has now entered what Rudolf Steiner termed “the nine year change.” My kids started out in a Waldorf school and if I were a good Waldorf mother I could quote chapter and verse Steiner’s philosophy. I’m not. But here’s what I know.
Nine is an age where authority is questioned and danger becomes real. Bodhi is squarely “in the world” now – asking how much things cost, how certain things historically came to be and (most annoyingly) realizing his parents are fallible. That last one is a pain in the ass. Every day he is a lawyer in the Courtroom of Life, drilling down questions to catch us in lies.
Which he does, of course. To us, they are white lies. To him they are EVIDENCE that his parents can be WRONG.
We were in a coffee shop. CNN played yet another image of yet another angry police state. Riot gear, sobbing citizens, rocks picked up to be thrown. I turned him away from the TV so we could have one more lunch in the Age of Innocence, before me (adult) would learn of another gruesome story and he (nine year old boy) would know of another upset in the world.
It was Ferguson. Bodhi was deeply interested in all that went on there. He has many friends of many different colors, so the whole idea of modern “racism” was new. He’d learned about Rosa Parks and MLK in a historical context, but those were the Bad Old Days of Segregation. That was all done, right? If not, why the hell not?
He asked me about it at bedtime.
“Here’s the thing, bud,” I began, groping for words like parents the world over. “In Ferguson – in a lot of places, actually – if things have not been worked out and expressed between two sides, a law won’t change that. It’s supposed to. But if there are still feelings that haven’t been expressed or ways of doing things that aren’t fair, they will bubble up. There will be a ‘final straw’ and it will all bubble up. It seems out of nowhere, but really it just means there have been things heating up below ground for a long time. Like a volcano.”
“Adults tell us all the time ‘use your words” but then they pick up guns and shoot each other. Why don’t they what they are always telling us to do?”
Nine year change.
Also, the truth.
His secondary interest, besides the Courtroom of Life, is roller coasters. (I know, I know. From the sublime to the ridiculous.) With exacting detail that borders on tedium for us non-zealots, he will explain all the rides in parks around the country and – most significantly to him– the height limit for each.
Fifty-four. The magic number. Fifty-four inches and you get to ride everything.
There are previous cut-offs at 42 inches, 46 inches, and 48 inches — each threshold met with the excitement of a Bar Mitzvah. But 54 inches? That day you really are a man. And get to ride Batman.
“You’ve really had a growth spurt, honey,” I say idly.
Bodhi’s eyes light up and he races for the tape measure.
“REALLY? Do you think I’m 54? I think I’m 54. Let me put on my sneakers to see if I’m 54.”
Wearing nothing but his underwear, he puts on the sneakers with the thickest sole. I stretch the tape measure and with a pen mark the 54-inch spot on his door jam. He stretches up — no tip-toes (he knows better) but the longest giraffe neck a human being can muster. His eyes are wet with anticipation.
“Woooooow,” I say, drawing out the word, delaying the inevitable. “So close, buddy. So close.”
“Am I 53 and three-quarters?” (Thank you third grade fractions.)
“Uuuuuuuugh.’ More drawing out. “Not … really. More like 52 and a half.” More like 51 and three quarters.
For all the newfound cynicism of the nine-year-old, they are still children after all. With lightening speed, they switch from eye rolling to inconsolable sobs, as Bodhi did then. Stretched out on his bed, he wept for the injustice of it all, for the confusion of being all grown (seemingly) only to be slapped down to the kids’ table once again. The sobs were so committed and so sudden, I wanted to laugh. I am an actress after all. “Aw honey, “ I wanted to say, “that cry is so fake! No one will believe it!”
But of course it wasn’t fake. It was a cry from the soul, and as such warranted nothing but love. I rubbed his back and murmured, “I know. I’m so sorry. This must be so hard” – none of which had any effect. So I tried telling the truth.
“Bodhi, here’s what I do know. Once you are 54 inches, you will never not be 54 inches again. This time seems so long because you want to ride Batman so badly. But once you are tall enough to ride Batman, you will never not be tall enough to ride Batman again.”
Once you know about racism you will never not know about it again.
Once you know about hypocrisy you will never not know about it again.
Once you know about global warming, you will never not know about it again.
I don’t want to keep my children artificially innocent. I have no fantasy that there is a place on this earth where this moment is any easier. Small towns, cities, USA or otherwise – this is a moment in child development that is inevitable, necessary, and breathtaking. I only hope that as these awarenesses come to my kids, they also have tools, community and courage with which to face the very real problems of their world. I hope that they – and I – can be part of the solutions and not exacerbate the problems.
Our reward for all that? A long ride on Batman.
Seems like a good deal to me.