It's been a few years since one of their birthdays really and truly unnerved me. Nine, for some reason, is an age that does.
One year until TEN.
I don't feel old enough to have a nine year old. But obviously I am. My years of parenting babies and toddlers are almost completely behind me now, and that's only "almost" if you include Ike under the toddler umbrella, which: Okay, but barely. I've got maybe six more months before that's officially ridiculous.
He's a quirky nine, but self-aware of his quirks and self-accepting of most of them. Frustration swirls to the surface occasionally, sometimes anger, but mostly an over-the-top positivity and excitement that can only be expressed at top volume while he tells you absolutely everything he knows about Ninja Turtles.
He can stop himself now, though. He'll ask you first now, like an earnest, door-to-door missionary: "Are you interested in Ninja Turtles? Would you like to talk about them?"
A yes brings a look of immense relief and happiness to his face, a deep breath before he can uncork the thoughts and words in his brain and let them out. All of them, at once right at you. Sorry, polite obliging adult. This is just how it goes.
We hung a hammock swing in the middle our basement, so there's clearance to really move and spin and rock. He knows exactly when he needs to go swing in it for awhile. He created a "cave" in his bed out of pillows, blankets and a Bilibo he wears like a helmet over his head. It freaks me out every night because I'm convinced he can't breathe, but he can. It's his safe place, his sensory-free zone, something he'd already built for himself by the time we even learned it was something we should consider creating for him. (Non-sponsored plug there: The videos and training tools on that website are brilliant and chock-full of OMG DUH lightbulb moments.)
I said autism out loud to a stranger for the first time recently — it was time to take Noah for a "real" haircut, vs. one of those kiddie salons with TVs and one-cut-style-fits-all. We'd put it off for far too long, and his hair was getting increasingly bushy and out of control. He had a specific style he wanted and seemed motivated to try getting his hair cut by someone new. So I took him to my hairdresser, who knows him and understands him, and who has a nephew just like him. I took him at lunchtime so the salon would be mostly empty, and it was.
She had to use thinning shears on his crazy thick hair, and the wisps of hair were falling on his face and neck and the polyester drape was driving him crazy and she was cutting as fast as she could and I was holding his hands and brushing hair away and whispering to him about Ninja Turtles. He was trying his hardest to stay still but the sensory overload was building and his volume was increasing and people were staring and another stylist came over and started scolding him, asking him how old he was, then telling him to act like a big boy and to stop yelling.
Then she winked at me.
Like she thought she was helping.
"He's autistic." I said. I hope I said it politely, matter-of-factly. I probably hissed it a little though. "He's doing the best he can. Just give us five minutes."
She apologized. "Oh, I didn't know."
Of course she didn't. We didn't either, really, for a long time. But knowing has made a huge difference for us, and for him. It's not an excuse or an apology. It's an explanation. It's who he is.
He's nine. And he's amazing.