Life with my Four-Year Old Captor

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Have you ever seen anyone eat a s’more with this level of callous disregard?  Truly chilling.

So, I was at a bar with the kids the other day. Albeit during the day, and outside on the patio while live music played; so really as close as you can get to a good idea when it comes to taking kids to a bar. Anyways, I was at this bar, drinking water I’m sure, and a couple of fellow patrons saw my son running amok. He was doing laps around the joint, stopping to dance wildly to the music, and not stopping if anyone was in his way. The couple asked how old he was. I said he’d be two in late June, and they replied “Oh! The Terrible Two’s!” I wonder if my foreboding chuckling frightened them? Because, oh, the Terrible Two’s can’t scare me. Not when I am haunted by the Fearsome Fours.

You may know me as That Lady Who Went into a Zen Trance When her Daughter screamed “YOU HATE THAT DRESS FOR ME! YOU HATE THAT DRESS FOR ME!!” all throughout Costco, whilst shaking a monstrous tutu abomination in my placid face. See, my daughter is four, and it’s a wild ride. I am not positive that her madness is all age-related. But I think it helps parents feel like these things are a phase to attach it to a specific year. And not that we are raising someone hellbent on making life difficult. So, let’s just go with all things Edie calming down when she’s five.

I know the word “sociopath” gets thrown around a lot. It certainly does in parenting circles. (Yes, childfree folks, when we are not Instagram filtering the two seconds of adorableness or pinning DIY room décor that the creatures will never let us get to anyhow, we may well be sharing rather grim emotions.) So, you think you’re raising a sociopath, do you? Well, allow me to posit the following: This morning, my daughter opted, instead of leaving her room to go to the bathroom, to get out an emergency pull-up, and pee in there. And kind of on the floor. This is not the first time this, or something similar but worse (imagine: ground littered with various soiled pull-ups, each tucked carefully into a corner of her room) has occurred.** But it is the first time my husband astutely pointed out that her behavior is the same as an actual murderous astronaut. Now, of course I’m really going to milk the bragging rights out of the first part where she’s just an astronaut, and not yet on a diapered road trip to kill her love’s chosen one. Expect a lot of Facebook humble bragging on that. But we all know where the story ends up..

Besides the pre-homicidal tendencies, I bear witness to emotional breakdowns that blow me away. At least a couple times a month, she collapses in my arms at night and begs not to die. Begs for me never to die. And weeps and quakes. It is crushing, and a little baffling. She also daydreams about being thirty, and drinking wine and chit chatting with me, and attending spin class.   I told her the other day that she doesn’t need to be thirty to go to spin with me, probably like fourteen, and she glowed with anticipation. “Only fourteen.” she beamed. Diapers or cocktails, lady – pick a goal! What goes on in that head?

Then there is the screaming. Seemingly hours a day. One of my few concerted goals as a parent is not to reject my kids’ strong emotions. I grew up as such an unrepentant people pleaser. And it’s still taking time for me to figure out how to be helpful and friendly in a way that is honest and loving – because I love people, I do; but not in a way that is self-sacrificing or attached to my own self-worth. It is tricky! I hope my kids have a bit more of a head start as far as being less concerned about comporting themselves according to what they think others want or expect. My mantra, in case you are wondering what I am thinking as my kids act appallingly in public, is “My children are not dolls. My children are not dolls.” As in, they don’t exist to be dressed up and cute in our world, which I believe. And it’s a mantra you can say through gritted teeth, so that’s a plus, too.

But that’s the theory. Lately, the reality, is screeeeeaming. I have found myself shouting my intentional, empathic statements through her wails; “Edie, you must be very frustrated that I said we couldn’t have ice cream. EDIE!!! EDIE!!!! BE QUIET! I AM MIRRORING YOUR EMOTIONS SO YOU HAVE TO SHUT YOUR TRAP!!!!” Real soothing-like. Turns out it is really hard not to reject ear splitting shrieks when they result from, say, the shrieker’s brother touching a door handle or your suggestion that she grab a sweatshirt. Not put it on. Just grab it.

It seems like the hardest times are when the kids are changing (growing) the most. And the answer is always that I need to change. They are going to be, or turn into, who they are. It’s my expectations that need to adjust. So that’s the question du jour! What do I need to shift so that she feels heard enough to stop screaming? I don’t think I’m likely to solve that whole mortality crisis during this calendar year, so that will have to ride. My current theory is that she needs less of me. Less of me interfering and attempting to solve. I have all sorts of arguments against this, including “She will maim your youngest if you don’t step in.” But, really, I think she’s getting bigger and smarter and needs us to let her carve out a more grown up role. I know she’s four. But she is dead serious. I’m not talking legal emancipation or anything. But four isn’t three. And I need to come to terms with that.

Now, I think the rational fix is to have another kid. To force me to give up more control and to ignore everyone a little more. Seriously. I think less me is the linchpin of this solution. Being deliberately outnumbered may be the way to go. Plus, what a great story to tell the third for why you wanted him/her so badly! Oddly, this is not a convincing argument to my husband, as he limps off to work on every federal holiday. Go figure. “Who else is going to be there on Labor Day, Will?” “Mumble, mumble, some people are going…(trails off).” In the meantime, I will just try to do my best and stay out of her way.

**Please do not suggest I leave a small training potty in her room. My house is not big, and she has free reign of it. Available bathrooms abound. I guarantee it took longer to get the diaper on than it would to get to a toilet. And given our history, there is ZERO chance I am giving her access to a repository of unsoaked-up urine. Zero.

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