We usually have a long Labor Day weekend at home and at least a week of school under our belts before September 14th rolls around, but this year we spent the first few days of the month in Minnesota and then rushed home to news of a teachers strike that delayed the start of school and indefinitely stretched out summer.  Finally, though, a resolution was reached and the dice fell so that Juliette started third grade AND turned nine on the very same day.  She was pumped, and I was pumped for her, but also my head spun as I hung birthday streamers and readied her backpack on Birthday Eve.  I had thought this was all happening much too slow (can we just get this school year show on the road?!), but suddenly it felt all too fast (can’t I keep my eight year old home with me for just another week or two?!).

With Isaac in a phase of life where you see marked changes in him week by week, Juliette looks so…constant by contrast.  She’s my steady Betty.  But that first day of being nine, that first day of third grade, the signs were there of a more mature kiddo.  It was evidenced in the extra time she took to pick out her outfit the night before, in the way she carefully laid out her clothes and considered her hairstyle.  It was there in the confidence she exuded on the walk to school, the absence of new-thing jitters as she talked about seeing her friends and meeting her teacher.  It was especially there that afternoon, when she got up from the living room floor where she was playing with me and Isaac and said she wanted to go do some Sudoku in her room.  Alone.  Goodness, she’s growing up, becoming so independent and thoughtful.  And stylish!

(For the record, there was just one brief moment before she passed through the gates when she looked back at me with those “help me, Mama” eyes, but it passed before I could even offer one more hug!)

She was sent home with a small paper bag that first day of school and was asked to put in it four things that describe her best.  I loved watching her deliberate over this as she gazed at our bookshelves and perused her dresser top for just the right treasures.  I especially loved when she picked up the small Eiffel Tower figurine I gave her several years ago and said she definitely wanted to bring that, so she could tell everyone how much she wants to go to Paris with her mom someday.  She also chose her Rubik’s Cube, a symbol of how much she loves puzzles; a softball; and a small Harry Potter Lego figure.  That’s her in a nutshell, though I imagine if she could have fit her baby brother in that bag, he would have made the cut.

We went over all the options for her party this year, grateful for the freedom from Covid-related limits, but still she decided she wanted something small – just her three best buds over for a sleepover.  I took her to breakfast on one of the strike-days and we made a plan:  pizza, cupcakes, nail-painting, a movie, and “spa vibes”.  Juliette inherited my love of a good plan, so we took our time setting the agenda over coffee and hot chocolate.  I really like sitting across the table from this kid.  Guaranteed good time.

Since her actual birthday was a school day with the added bustle of evening soccer practice, we celebrated that day simply, with treats and gifts and just our little family.  A maple bar for breakfast, her all-time favorite burritos for dinner, and root beer floats for dessert.

She is the best gift-opener, delightfully thrilled by each and every present.

Her favorite present?  A tie between a bottle of pink nail polish and her very first Kindle.

Party day followed on Saturday – the girls showed up before dinner so that they could spend some time playing Babysitters Club before diving into pizza and cupcakes.

(Isaac presided over the festivities.)

After cupcakes, sleeping bags were rolled out and more gifts were opened.  The girls are very into their dolls these days and Juliette was thrilled with the new accessories she scored for her doll, Molly.

I love when the gift-giver is just as excited as the gift-opener.  “I can’t wait for you to see what I got you, Juliette!”

Popcorn was popped, Parent Trap was put on, and the girls got comfy while I served snacks and offered pedicures.

Lights were out by 10:30 and I heard whispers until about 11:00, but then all fell silent.  They missed the memo about sleeping in at slumber parties, though – at 6:30 am they were getting their dolls dressed for the day!

We had breakfast together and the girls made up a dance to their school song and then it was time to pack it up.  Gosh, I remember my own slumber party era so fondly – it’s sweet to see Juliette getting her turn.

My girl.  MY GIRL.  What a privilege it is to be her mama, to get a front row seat to watching her grow.  There is a new girl at Juliette’s school who has yet to find her crew – she doesn’t speak much English and her one buddy was out sick last week, which left her on her own in the lunch room.  When Juliette saw her at a table by herself, she felt her heartstrings tug, got up from her seat, and asked this new girl to join her table.  There was a moment of awkwardness as they both fumbled over the language barrier, but hand gestures of “come along” were made, smiles were exchanged, and trays were scooted to make space for one more.  When Juliette told me that evening what happened, I hugged her tight and told her what a big, hard thing she had done.  She didn’t really think it was that big or that hard – kindness and inclusiveness are her default.

So year after year, Kiddo, birthday after birthday, keep being YOU.  Because you are remarkable.  Happy Ninth.

One Comment

  1. Val says:

    Happy 9th Birthday to sweet Juliette! She is growing into a very lovely girl. I love that she reached out to the new girl in school. You are doing a good job mom and dad!♥️