It started just a few weeks shy of my son’s fourth birthday when I had to carry him kicking and screaming out of a friend’s birthday party. Just days later, he had a slightly more mild tantrum in the yogurt shop. Shortly after that, he started asking so many questions about all. of. the. things that I thought my head would explode. And when he lost his mind over a single missing Lego piece, it was clear we’d entered new territory. Territory I was just not prepared for.
Everyone loves to talk about the terrible twos (which for us weren’t that terrible) and then it’s onto the “threenager” phase, which, while often really frustrating and confusing, was still manageable (and also sometimes pretty hilarious!).
But no one ever warned me about 4-year-olds. It would have been nice to know I’d soon be dealing with a new level of crazy in my house – an even stronger will, more opinions, more questions, deeper feelings, and monster meltdowns like I’d never seen.
The easily defused flashes of anger, frustration, defiance, and whining from his 3-year-old days had reached a new level. There was no talking him out of things. There was no quickly distracting him from the problem. There was no avoiding tears with well-timed bribes. Massive meltdowns that had previously been reserved for home were now happening at the grocery store and in parking lots.
And now, with him at almost 45 pounds, I’d lost the ability to physically contain him, comfort him, or put him in time-out the way I could when he was younger. I’d lost the ability to easily appease his endless inquiries with short and sweet (and sometimes made-up) answers.
And maybe most importantly, I’d lost all predictability.
Every interaction was a gamble. Would he be totally cool with getting pretzels or would his eyes start welling up when I told him we were out of goldfish? Would he scream at the top of his lungs when he got water in his eyes during bath time or would he play happily while I washed his hair?
It was like navigating a minefield. Every. Single. Day. And it was exhausting.
But now that we’re months into this new 4-year-old phase, we’ve turned a corner. I’ve gotten the hang of it a bit and I’ve settled into the new (less than ideal) normal and regained some level of predictability in my life. Phew!
I can now safely bet my house on the fact that simply buckling his car seat “too tight” will result in a three-minute screaming sesh that no Bruno Mars sing-along can remedy.
I can now assume that there will be hell to pay if his favorite Ninja Turtle shirt isn’t washed and ready to wear again four minutes after he takes it off.
I can now prepare myself for the tears that will ensue if I can’t produce the exact straw, lid, and sippy cup color combination that he had in mind that day.
I can now be sure that denying his request for a cookie before dinner will force me to step over his flailing body in order to finish making said dinner.
I can now understand that if the polar bear episode of Wild Kratts isn’t available, the koala one is not a suitable substitute unless I’m looking to get into an epic duel before 8 a.m.
I can now expect that if he asks one question about what happened to Bambi’s parents, he’s going to ask 297 more.
I can now make peace with the fact that all those cute outfits in his closet probably won’t see the light of day because trying to get him to wear anything but “cool clothes” just isn’t worth the effort.
I can now accept that if there isn’t a sticker chart to reward him for the simple acts of brushing his teeth and going potty, bedtime won’t be over early enough for me to watch the latest episode of Flipping Out.
I can now conclude that if his younger brother is crying, it’s because he definitely did something to harm him despite his insistence that it was an “accident.”
And I can also now confirm that it’s entirely possible for a 4-year-old to be batsh*t crazy enough to drive you to your breaking point and force you to start swearing openly in front of them while also being a pretty awesome, genuinely sweet human who is thoughtful enough to help his little brother put on his shoes (even if he did erupt in angry tears when you told him he couldn’t wear flip-flops to preschool first).