Petra’s birthdays always kind of sneak up on me. I forget that she still has to level up, because I’ve been thinking of her as “almost 9” for such a long time now.
I’m glad she’s 9. She seems to be mellowing out a little bit (a very little bit). 8 was pretty intense, even for Petra. Of all of us, she’s the one who has had the least change with the pandemic; she’s never been super social, although she does love her friends. I think she has more friends now than she ever has before, and maybe values them more because time with them has been harder to come by with all the restrictions.
For her birthday, we kept it simple—a DQ ice cream cake, gifts, some general celebration.
I also happened to go to Costco on her birthday, which reminded me to pick up a bottle of her commemorative birthday wine (for me). The night before she was born, I went to my writing group, as pregnant as I would ever be. My friend Tonya and I walked in together. Chad, who was hosting, looked up at us and said, “Can I interest you in a ménage à trois?” We must have looked taken aback, because he immediately laughed and said, “It’s the wine!” She was born about nine hours later. So now it’s how I toast her natal anniversary, when I remember to get it.
She was genuinely delighted with all her gifts. I felt a little bad that I had pretty much only gotten her books (I mean, she does love books), so at the last minute, I threw in a few five-subject notebooks (she had never seen those before) and a cuddly fleece unicorn lounger thing. It has a horn and glows in the dark. Who could ask for anything more? Silas picked out an animatronic Eevee toy for her. I’m glad he did. It’s a ridiculous piece of plastic junk, but it’s also the only thing she got that could remotely qualify as a toy. Nine is still young enough to need some toys.
Petra’s two very special Big Kid presents were a Kindle from Grammy and Grandpa, and a sewing machine from Grandpa Walter and Grandma Robyn.
The sewing machine is an interesting gift. I wouldn’t have thought to get her one, because I have one and she is always allowed to use it. But there’s something about having one’s own tools that feels significant. Her reaction reminded me of when my parents got me my own SLR camera when I turned 10. I probably could have used my mom’s camera, but being entrusted with one of my own felt like such a huge deal. After her work on the masks for Silas’ party, she definitely caught the sewing bug. We’ve cut out a skirt and started sewing it already.
She’s been dying to have her own Kindle ever since I told her that it was a Thing, and I spent all of September saying things like, “Maybe when you’re 11, like Silas, we can get you your own Kindle. That’s a gift for a big kid.” Of course, I knew that she was going to get one. The Kindle kids edition comes with one year of their kids version of Kindle Unlimited. I also figured out how to put library books on their Kindles. Both kids are constantly adding books to their Kindle libraries. Petra has been getting a lot of use out of hers.
For Petra’s birthday adventure, we took Emmy on a trip to the ropes course in Roanoke. Carlos met up with us there. Petra and Emmy had a good time climbing and ziplining. Silas did admirably well, without the panic attacks he suffered the first time. I was relieved that Emmy didn’t freak out—handling it with my own kid was stressful enough! But everyone did really well.
This year, for Petra, has been all about books and cats. We stopped fostering about a year ago, when we took in Clementine. Four cats is plenty. She asks from time to time when we can try fostering again, and we always put her off. She’s focusing her cat energy on clicker-training our three younger cats. She hopes we will, at minimum, be able to convince them to come when they are called, consistently. Other tricks, like sitting or shaking paws, are kind of fun, but not as urgent.
She’s taken off as a reader this year, polishing off novels in a single sitting. I love that she churns through all different kinds of books, from picture books to graphic novels to nonfiction (mostly science, despite my constant efforts to get her interested in history—even trying to do an end-run by getting books about the history of science) to novels. She loves the Warriors series, by Erin Hunter, and is counting down the hours until the next Wings of Fire book drops. She hears (how?) about books that are coming out months away and spends her allowance on preorders. I recently introduced her to the concept of a “car book,” that is, a book one keeps in the car, for emergency situations, like getting dragged along to a meeting or suddenly getting stuck for an extra long time at the doctor’s office. To this end, I bought her a copy of All Creatures Great and Small, which is perfect as a “car book” because it is a series of self-contained stories. It’s also quite long, and is the beginning of an extensives series.
Petra continues to be great at science. She reads a lot of nonfiction, and retains an astonishing amount. She also spends a lot of time just hanging out in the field and forest. We did a stream study field trip, and of all the kids, she was the one who was the most interested in figuring out the implications of the various animals as indicators of stream health. She also made some fascinating connections, like correctly observing that amphibians need very clean water because they absorb everything through their skin. I love watching her observe the natural world and draw conclusions from what she sees.
She’s still very into all kinds of crafts and engineering. She started doing pottery lessons this summer and loves it. Her teacher is a good fit for her—creative and quirky, knowledgeable about the science of clay, and interested in exploration for its own sake. Petra adores her and counts down the days from one lesson to the next.
Petra is working on her second book. She types and writes slowly, so she’s recording her story on an app and I am transcribing it. It’s a series of Warriors fan fiction. The narrative structure is a little underdeveloped, but at a sentence- and chapter-level, it is really good. Her detailed understanding of the cats’ world includes startling insights about plants and animals—what plants can heal or dull pain or poison, the patterns of flight in different animals. I think if she and Silas could work together on a book, it would be outstanding. His grasp of story structure, voice, character, and rhetoric could provide scaffolding for her detailed observational work. I imagine their collective work as being a bit like The Trumpet of the Swan—a funny story, richly told, but built on realistic observations of nature.
Petra seems to finally be developing deep empathy. She’s doesn’t feel other people’s feelings the way Silas and I do, and she’s said on more than one occasion that she’s glad for that. But she is starting to be more aware of how other people feel and how her actions affect others. She’s starting to be a bit kinder, to slow down and think about other people’s inner lives. Maybe it’s because she’s been reading so much. Perspective taking is a huge skill that comes from time spent in fiction.
I can’t wait to see what this new year holds for this fascinating child. She sure does keep me on my toes.
Here’s her birthday interview, transcript below:
Hi Petra. How old are you?
Is today your birthday?
Not quite. More like several days after my birthday.
Can you tell me what you’re wearing?
A unicorn cuddly thing.
That was a birthday present, which is why I mentioned it. How does it feel to be nine?
Not that different from being eight.
Can you tell me who some of your friends are?
Yeah. Max, Emmy, Lillian, Elisabeth, James, Esau, Arthur. Oh, wait, some other friends are Ruth and Esther.
Can you tell me anything exciting that happened in the past year?
There was one very irritating thing.
What was that?
COVID didn’t end.
That’s right. I have good news. Yesterday, the FDA approved the vaccine for your age group!
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Not quite sure. Something related to cats. I’m not sure. Maybe working at Cats Cradle? Though I’m still not quite sure what.
What is your favorite book right now? Or series?
The Wings of Fire series, still.
Can you give me a second favorite?
This one book in the Warriors series, Bramblestar’s Storm.
Why do you like it?
It’s interesting. The cats have to survive this giant flood and kill badgers. And fight them off. It’s really fun and interesting. And they make a new part of the Warriors Code.
Are you afraid of anything?
Fear. Also cats getting hurt. Especially the four cats that live here.
What is something you like to do with Dad?
What is something you like to do with me?
I like going to the library with you more than I like going to the library with anyone else because you always check out so many books. And then when we get back, there’s a huge amount of reading material. It’s really fun.
Can you tell me what you like to do with Silas?
Various LARPs. Live-action role playing games. All kinds of things. And sometimes we make new games. A while ago we created this thing called Kitten Chronicles which is really fun, playing as cats, well we start as level one kittens, trapped in a human household, and you can have one ability from your main class and one ability from your secondary class, and each time you level up, you can pick to get another ability from your primary class or secondary. And you ahve to escape the human household and survive and explore the world.
It sounds a lot like Warriors as a game.
We also have this one called Live Action Warriors, which is literally just Warriors as a game.
Can you tell me one thing that’s special about our family?
We have four cats. We have a self-sustaining supply of duck eggs. And fourteen ducks. I’m hoping that this year, or in the spring, the ducks—we found this nest thing that they’ve been taking turns laying eggs in, and they’re clearly purposefully covering the eggs up with straw and feathers to keep them warm, and they’re doing everything but the nesting thing, which is sitting on them. So we plan to coop them up in their enclosure for six weeks, and then, well, every day we’ll check for baby ducks, and also we will stop taking their eggs for that six weeks.
So that is something you hope will happen next year. And why are we going to coop up the ducks and stop taking their eggs?
Because! Runner ducks are notoriously bad at sitting on their eggs. And by the way, if we took the eggs, the eggs wouldn’t hatch as baby ducks.
Oh, baby ducks are the goal!
Didn’t I already say that?
No, you just said we want them to sit on the eggs.
Okay, well when they sit on the eggs for long enough and keep them all warm, the duck eggs with hatch and there will be baby ducks. I know that is hard for your brain to process, Mom.
Can you tell me a bit about who Ros is?
She’s a potter.
Like Harry Potter?
No, no, no no! She’s my … I’ve been taking lessons in pottery and Ros is my teacher. Also, she has a couple pets.