Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is 4 the new 2?!

I know that, as a woman approaching my 40th birthday (and not in a Meg Ryan's whole "And I'm going to be 40!" "When?!" "Someday!" "In EIGHT years!" type of way. I am staring down the barrel of that mother), our society tends to pshaw the big 4-0 by saying that 40 is the new 30. Or the new 25? (please?! sigh. I can dream)

So, as the past two weeks have addled my brain with the insane tantrum-throwing behavior of my 4 year old, I wonder if the same holds true for him.

Is 4 the new 2?! We all live in dire dread of the "terrible 2s," and I won't pretend that Ethan was a perfect angel when he was two. Our move to Los Angeles rocked his world, throwing off his routine and forcing him to make new friends. We left the park, both of us in tears, on more than one occasion after he threw sand at another kid or shoved mercilessly on the playground. But I got that; just learning to share, having a relatively limited vocabulary, all of that. The terrible 2's make perfect sense to me. Even the "terrifying 3s" saw their share of behavioral issues. There was the experiment in hitting and spitting. Those were super fun times. But overall, he handled our move to the Bay Area so much better than the move to LA. He used his words so much more effectively and was all around, well, easier.

But 4? These first three months of 4? Oh my holy hell, WHAT did I do in a previous life to merit this??!!! (okay, I exaggerate; he's mostly a lovely child) In particular, the last week or so have been a melange of tantrums, hitting friends, freak outs, melt downs, spitting, wrestling matches (and not the fun kind) over toys, and experiments in outright smug defiance. All in time for us to head back East to see our friends and family for vacation. Which will be awesome for them! Can't wait to see you, friends! Please put shin guards and a helmet on your kids!

I'm not sure where this upheaval of 4-year old malaise and crazy is coming from. I have to assume there is some serious hormonal surge coursing through his little body right now, right? His regular structure & routine has not been disturbed, and Husband & I are consistent and timely (I think) with consequences.

But it's gotten to the point where today I turned down three play date offers. It's just exhausting right now to referee all of the little scuffles he finds himself in, whether initiated by him or not. I'm not trying to punish him. I thought perhaps he needed some serious one-on-one time with mommy who will not take his toys & will just play with him what he wants to play. No sharing, no trying to get along with another preschooler. Just time with unconditional love mama. We tend to be constantly on the go & I thought maybe he was suffering from play date burn out.

We had a fairly awesome morning. Watching too much PBSkids, playing with cars, tickle fights, and full-on belly-laugh marathons. And then.

Then came the hour-long tantrum. Which involved hitting, punching, spitting, defiance, screaming, crying and an honest-to-goodness can't-calm-down hysteria. I had to literally scoop him up, carry him to the car and drive. Like I did when he was 2, and losing his little toddler brain over some injustice or another. By the time we got to the grocery store & he found the cart with the giant car on the front of it, he was calm(ish). And let me take a moment to send my apologies to all the Safeway patrons who not only had to catch the tail-end of the epic meltdown but who also may or may not have to Neosporin and bandaid their ankles thanks to my shoddy ability to steer that massive cart/car combination. It just doesn't take corners very well at all. I'm sorry. Look on the bright side, I didn't completely mow you down, right?

Fortunately the lady at the deli counter further saved the day by offering Ethan a slice of turkey. I knew he was hungry & that his hunger was probably the impetus for his tantrum o' crazy. But he wouldn't eat ANYthing I'd offered or put in front of him all day. Pancakes, cereal, toast, eggs, pb&j, quesadilla, string cheese--nada. Apparently he was holding out for the fine dining experience that is a piece of turkey on wax paper in his grocery car. Damn foodie.

There is something equal parts fascinating and terrifying about having a 4 year old. Old enough to push limits in a way they never could before, but too young to really reason in an effective way (at least from my experience). I kept asking him to eat, trying to explain to him why I thought he was cranky & even admitting to him that I get a touch of the beast when I'm really hungry. But all to no avail. King o' Crazy had to work it out his way. Letting them have the space to figure it out is so hard. And sometimes embarrassing and unnerving (oh, the judgy eyes of strangers!!!)

So now we are at home, the child's belly full of turkey and hot dogs (I've got no guilt--he weighs 30lbs soaking wet) and we're back to having fun. I sense a play-dough kitchen marathon approaching. And I guess there's nothing for me to do right now but enjoy the moments between the last meltdown and the next...

Hold me.


Anonymous said...

i love the deli counter snacks at the grocery store. always a life saver. noni was a pretty easy-going two. three is turning out to be much more hormonal.

Jen said...

I don't know if this is true or not but I heard there is a surge of testosterone in 4-year old boys. If it's any help, I just witnessed my nephew usher out the
4s and move into 5 and it's a glorious new era. Hang in there!

Corinne said...

Please do NOT tell me this... I thought three was the worst age :(

lonek8 said...

I'll tell you (not that you've asked my advice) but when my kids are freaking out/refusing to do something e.g. eat and I have already done the whole try and give them what they want, explain the problem, admit I also have cranky issues when hungry or tired and I am at my wits end I will just look them straight in the eye and say "fine. If you aren't going to help me fix the problem then I'm done trying. And you can be as upset as you want, but you will not do it around me. if you want to scream and cry then you do it in your room. Otherwise be quiet." And then I completely ignore them (which is SO much easier with other kids who are demanding attention too). It isn't perfect, but more often than not it works, and removing myself from the situation certainly helps me tons.

Also - those big car carts (of which I have to push one EVERY TIME since I need to fit three kids) pivot from the center. once you learn the trick of that, they aren't quite as hard to maneuver, They're still no maserati

Grandma Bear said...

Fitzhugh Dodson, who was my child-rearing guru when the kids were small (How to Parent, I Wish I Had a Computer that Makes Waffles) called 4 "first adolescence" --- so he's coming by it honestly :-)

Becca said...

charlie turns 4 in November and just this week I've noticed a subtle shift in his attitude. It seems like he's transitioning from a little kid to a big kid or something. Can't wait for the day long tantrums. Thanks for the heads up!