I need to tell you something, and it’s hard to admit.
As a disclaimer, I want you to know that I love being a parent IN GENERAL. I loved Owl’s babyhood, I enjoyed his toddlerhood, and until recently I never once regretted his growth and change into a bigger and ever-more-complex-and-complete person.
Note the “until recently” part.
I have not enjoyed age Four.
His fourth birthday party, which I never blogged about due to pregnancy exhaustion and difficult life circumstances, was great. We rented our housing complex’s recreational building, bought a bouncy castle on Amazon, blew up a lot of balloons and let the kids go.
Owl was adorable, running around in his tutu (because it was a party, you know) and having so much fun, and it was great.
I feel like it has all been downhill from there.
In Owl’s defense, I think a lot of it has been my own perceptions. As previously mentioned, I was exhausted by pregnancy, working at the vet clinic and training dogs on the side, and doing the majority of the parenting due to PH’s severe depression. I have spent the last year severely lacking in patience or a general spirit of fun.
Meanwhile, Owl has been getting older, physically larger and his thought processes are becoming more complex. He has started to question my parenting decisions, argue, bargain, and whine.
Worse, though, his constant need for human interaction has now progressed to physical demand. If he doesn’t have someone looking at him and talking to him, he will do anything he can to get their attention, from making loud noises to pressing his face directly into theirs, to physically grabbing them or playfully smacking them or even running full tilt and crashing into them.
I’m not a fan.
Maybe my impatience and exhaustion made me more prone to inconsistent parenting and more likely to give in to repeated demands, which would have rewarded that behaviour.
I don’t know.
Maybe he didn’t really escalate his tendency to initiate roughhousing uninvited, but the behaviour simply became more noticeable because he was shooting up in size and I was encumbered by pregnancy.
I don’t know.
Maybe he didn’t really become less able to sit still at the dinner table or during a conversation. Maybe I was just too exhausted to discipline his comings and goings consistently.
I don’t know.
Maybe I wasn’t more permissive at all – maybe I became too strict and he was acting out because I made him feel like a burden.
I just don’t know.
All I know is that my sweet, polite, friendly little boy had somehow morphed into this roaring, crashing, impetuous twerp. He slams into me and nearly knocks me over on a daily basis, and no amount of scolding could seem to stop him from doing it again and again. He smacked and hit me playfully every day, and when I beg him to stop hitting me he just starts hitting himself in the face or head instead to demonstrate how un-painful it is, and I have to explain that pain is not the POINT. I just don’t WANT to be smacked, playfully or otherwise.
I don’t want someone imposing his face into mine when I’m trying to read and blowing raspberries at me.
I don’t want someone going “waaaaaaaw!” in my ear when I’m trying to talk to my husband about something important.
I don’t want to have to tell him ten times to stop climbing on the arm of his chair.
I don’t want to have conversations that start with, “Mom? What if I POOP on your FACE.”
I don’t want to sit down with my son to play with him only to have to stop play because he has nearly knocked me over despite me yelling “stop! stop!”
I began to blow my stack at him regularly. My communication with him has become routinely snarky. His full name is called out in disapproving tones on a daily basis.
And it’s sad.
Yesterday, after both PH and I had lost our temper at him because he had whined and argued and bargained and disobeyed until our tattered patience was entirely shredded, he came up to PH and hugged him and said to his father, “Daddy, it’s hard to be a little boy sometimes.”
I’m sure it is. His problem isn’t anger or malice, it’s sheer ROWDINESS and repeated personal-space violations.
It helped to have my mother and mother-in-law tag-teaming off with him over the past few months, especially as my pregnancy progressed and my temper shortened.
After Fritter was born I felt almost repulsed by his presence at times. I am ashamed to say it, but it’s true. His head was so gigantic when it loomed over her tiny face.
But then it started to get a little better.
One day, when Fritter was a month old, I looked at him and he seemed little again. Because he IS still so small. It’s hard to remember that, especially when I see how much he has shot up in the last year. When your kid wants to know how the universe began and hypothesizes that God might have created the singularity from which sprung the Big Bang, it’s hard to remember how young Four really is.
But somehow, he just isn’t my baby anymore.
I can’t cuddle him because he squirms and then tells me I’m a doo doo butt. I try to nurture him but then blow up at him because no amount of attention is ever enough attention, and if I try to do ANYTHING ELSE he will follow me and talk to me and stick his face into mine if I am not looking at him and I JUST CAN’T HANDLE IT and I’m mourning that now, on the eve of his turning five.
I’m sad that he grew into someone who smashes into me until I yell at him, that he has become someone I try to hide from because I know that he’ll start blowing air in my face through a plastic straw or ask me to affirm the same fact seventeen times until I completely lose the ability to sound remotely enthused by said fact (“My car is red and yours is green, okay, Mom? Your car is green and mine is red. Mom? Mom? Right? Mine is read and yours is green? Right? So, your car is green and mine is red, right? I said RIGHT, MOM?”)
I desperately want to change how I perceive him. I desperately want to cherish his many wonderful qualities and overlook the rowdiness. I want to enjoy his smashing and crashing and shrug off his constant need for physical and verbal attention EVERY SECOND OF THE LIVELONG DAY.
I mean, this kid won’t PLAY WITH HIS OWN TOYS because he doesn’t want to if I don’t sit there and play with him. It doesn’t matter what toys he has, if you suggest he PLAY WITH THEM BY HIMSELF he acts like you’ve just grounded him for a month.
He just wants me to spend time with him.
I’m afraid that one day he WILL learn how to play by himself in a room and won’t want me around anymore and then I’ll miss this.
But I’m more afraid that for years and years he’s going to be completely incapable of spending 5 minutes on his own, and constantly making me mad by violating my personal space and physically demanding my attention until I snap.
I’m worried our relationship will be irreparably damaged.
No, you know what?
I’m ANGRY at Four.
It stole my baby, it turned him into someone I often don’t enjoy the company of, and I’m terrified that it won’t get any better.
I want to have conversations with my son that don’t leave me gasping for patience.
I want to hug him and not say “Ouch! OWL!” a second later.
I want to enjoy his presence a reasonable distance from my face, not from two inches away.
I want to be able to have a conversation at the dinner table that isn’t CONSTANTLY INTERRUPTED with questions about the topic, definitions of every second word, the personal histories of any people mentioned, and so on.
DAMN YOU, FOUR.
I try to remind myself that personality is not stable at this age. He has far more in common with other four year olds than he does with, say, his future self at age 20 right now. And when I see other four year olds they seem just as ill behaved as mine is or more so, which is deeply comforting.
My son is outgoing, enthusiastic, thoughtful, kind, incredibly loving, and well spoken. I find him adorable often and I love him dearly. I choose to believe that the person I love is the person inside, and the person who drives me crazy is just being FOUR.
I look forward to enjoying his presence immensely in the future. But tonight, I’m missing the toddler that he was, and worried about the kid he may yet be.
PLEASE, let Five be better.