For the most part four year olds are awesome. Three-and-a-half year olds are possessed little tyrants who defy all logic and accept instructions only from some mothership whose sole mission is to test survival of the human race. But four year olds are, for the most part, awesome. The change between three and four years old was dramatic. One night bedtime was an hour long ordeal of running naked through the house, sobbing, and the worst insults a three year old can think of (“You are a bad Dada! Bad Mama!). The next night, two nights before Thomas’ 4th birthday, 7:30 pm rolled around, Thomas yawned and announced he was tired, and suggested that he go to bed. I remember Jeff and I looked at each other in open-mouthed astonishment thinking that surely Thomas must be deathly ill. But no, as it turned out, he was simply four year old; the insanity-inducing roller-coaster ride of three was over.
We’ve noticed that the half year points, (eighteen months, two and half, three and a half, etc.) are often difficult emotional times for the boys and consequently difficult parenting times for us. Noted child psychologists Ames and Ilg call the half-year points “phases of disequilibrium”. Four has mostly been smooth sailing involving such awesomeness as a child who would wake up and get his own breakfast and then play contentedly with Legos for an hour while we slept in. However, these last few months of four leading up until five remind me of three and half; with the exception that tantrums have been replaced by whining. Two of my favorite quotes about four year olds from fellow parents are “Four years old is practice for high school” and “Remember, there is a reason that they have to be five to go to kindergarten: because it means they are no longer four”. Two weeks ago Thomas finished dinner before anyone else at the table (for the first time ever in his entire life) and we had the following conversation:
Thomas: May I excused?
Me: No, you may not. We are all still eating and we eat dinner together as a family.
Thomas: I am so bored! We always have to eat dinner together. It’s so boring.
Me: Well, that’s what families do and it is always going to be that way.
Thomas: No! I’m tired of eating dinner with you, sitting at the table, talking about our day.
At that point Jeff and I just looked at each other across the table, tried not to choke on our laughter, and joked sarcastically about what terrible parents we were for provding our kids with a stable family life. In addition to forcing my child to sit through a family dinner day after day I have also done such horrible things as give Thomas homemade cake with whipped cream for an afternoon snack, however, I failed to spread the whipped cream on neatly. After Thomas burst into tears at the injustice of my indelicate application of whipped cream I simply fixed him with a steely gaze and told him in no uncertain terms that he would either stop complaining at once or I would throw his cake down the disposal. Thankfully, Thomas seemed to sense that complaining about cake and whipped cream for an afternoon snack had crossed a line and promptly shut up and ate his cake. He’s also literally freaked out for thirty minutes straight over the terror a fig beetle flying around the backyard but then the next day decided that he wasn’t scared after all of “my friend fig beetle”. I’ve also heard that he doesn’t need to come with me to the grocery store and can just stay home (by himself) and that the music I was listening to was “dumb”*.
Knowing that Thomas’ demands and mood swings are a normal developmental phase does make the process easier. Often, Jeff and I find ourselves smothering our laughter at Thomas’ ridiculous behavior and eating a hell of lot of ice cream after the kids go to bed to soothe our tired, parenting souls until this phase passes.
*In case you’re wondering it was “Footloose” which is an awesome song.