Memories of Being Nine.

This weekend I went to a Spongebob themed birthday party for a girl turning nine. It took me longer than I thought it would for me to pick out a gift for her, because nine is a difficult age. At nine, kids are too told for “little kid” toys, but too young for “pre-teen” things (well, mostly) and I don’t want to encourage the bratty behavior of Hannah Montana, etc. They understand sarcasm enough to use it, but not to use it appropriately, so that most of what they say is really smart-alecky sounding, even when they don’t mean to be smart.

Anyway, I spent a long time before going to the store trying to remember what I would’ve liked when I was nine. That’s third grade, in case you can’t remember. At age nine, I was re-reading (for the fourth time, I think) the Chronicles of Narniaand had just started tearing through Nancy Drew.

Side note: I’ve read every one of the “original” Nancy Drew stories, by the way, and a few of the “modern” ones that really aren’t as good. I was really upset when they made her into a pre-teen for the movie a few years back, because Nancy in the books is in high school and can drive and has a boyfriend and is cool. I had no trouble looking up to her when I was nine, so why do you have to make her younger and dorky for the movie?

I think by then I was also into collecting plastic horses (there are over 100 of them in the guest room closet at my folks’ house, or used to be anyway) and loved going to football games, assuming the Gators were playing. So anything having to do with that would’ve worked for me as a birthday gift. I’d like to think that most of the kids in my third grade class would’ve liked at least one of those things (books, horses, sports) so that would make me mostly typical, right? (Here I am, though I think this might have been my 8th birthday and not my 9th…)

Well, it’s harder than you think to shop for a nine year old. They watch cartoons that scream at them and flash bright colors, or they watch (on TV) bratty kids who have dumb parents get into trouble and somehow never get punished. They only play outside where either mom can see them every second or as part of organized sports. They have hours of homework at night (even in kindergarten). They have video games that reward them immediately with points or “gold” or whatever it is for their “actions.” The education budget is limited so there’s not much in the way of art or music or even playground time.

This all makes it hard to shop. I don’t want to give movies that encourage sitting indoors, but you can’t easily give “going outdoors” as a gift (though I did take her to see sea turtles on Friday, which she loved). I settled on art supplies, of the slightly crazy (drive mom slightly crazy, that is) variety: “3D” sidewalk chalk with glasses, scratch and sniff colored pencils (with Spongebob coloring sheets), glass markers (as in markers that draw on windows, mirrors, etc and can be washed away), and a paint-it-yourself pet’s bowl kit (she’s got a dog). I must have picked well because another kid at the party said, “Oh, I almost bought her that, too!” to about three of the items.

Really, I tried to remember being in third grade, but the memories are hazy. Third grade was the first major move of my life (since I don’t remember the move that happened when I was two). Six weeks before the end of the school year, my family moved from Georgia to Florida and I started a new school. Too late in the year to really catch up, but enough into the year that I wasn’t the “new girl” in fourth grade and was therefore uninteresting. Oh, and I had a “funny accent” (remember, from Georgia) so that didn’t help. Memories of third grade beyond moving? Well, I remember painting paper fish to make a mural. I remember getting my desk dumped because it was messy (which is a fate I don’t think should happen to any child, but I’ll get into that another time). I remember trying to quit school on the third day because my teacher didn’t want me to have “doo-dads” (i.e. fun erasers and colored pencils and the like) in my desk. The thing is, to this day, if I’m doodling or playing with something while I’m talking to you, it’s because I’m concentrating on what you’re saying. It sounds weird, but to keep my brain on one informational topic, I have to be doing something creative with my hands, or my brain will get distracted. Really. But I think leaving behind the only place I’d ever known and moving to a new state and starting a new school sort of blurred any memories of what was popular at age nine.

I remember New Kids on the Block, vaguely, and remember my NKOTB slapbracelet vividly. And MC Hammer, because we all tried to do the dance. I remember watching the Ghost Busters cartoon, though I think I had to sneak that one because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t really allowed to watch it. I liked the Disney afternoon cartoons, like Rescue Rangers and TailSpin and DuckTails. I played kick ball on the playground and we made forts in the woods behind the playground (which our teacher supervised). We read The Boxcar Children on days it rained so our room sounded like the boxcar with the rain beating down, and when we read Sarah, Plain and Tall we got boxes and slid down the hill behind the school. I don’t think a teacher could get away with that now. My best friend and I made friendship bracelets and we wrote letters (pen pals were cool!) and we rode our bikes every afternoon.

Do kids do that stuff any more?

Anyway, that’s what I remember from age nine. I had seen the Berlin Wall fall down and I was worried about the rain forest getting cut down and I already had two siblings and I wonder how much those things have affected the way I think now.

The kids turning nine this year? They were born in 2001. That means they’ve never known a time when we weren’t at war against “terror,” which is a hard enough thing to grasp as an adult. Imagine a kid whose whole life is lived knowing about terrorists, and hearing about global warming, and not being in schools that fund the arts so they have no outlet to express themselves.

To all of my friends who have kids: I will be giving them art. They need it.

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