Four-year-olds can get very angry. At 4, they are harder to fool, and they have a lot of passion about things like yogurt. Also, they can speak in full sentences and tell youexactly what they think, which is not always nice. I made the recent mistake of disagreeing with my own 4-year-old about whether or not she ate a certain yogurt (shehad eaten it, but I couldn’t figure out a way to evict the yogurt from her stomach to prove it to her). Three days later, and I’m still startling at loud noises.
If you find yourself stuck in a room that is being dominated by an angry 4-year-old, here are some steps you can take to try to ensure your own survival:
1. Start with giving them a time-out. Realize quickly that you did not anticipate the level of their commitment to the yogurt that has already been consumed. It appears that they have associated the yogurt with “oxygen” or “will to live.”
2. Suggest taking deep breaths as the child seems to be self-combusting. Call and apologize to your neighbors for the noise. Explain to them that you have a 4-year-old who wants a certain yogurt that has already been eaten. They end up apologizing to you and sending you a get-well package.
3. Speak softly, or loudly, or don’t speak at all. I’m not sure. One time, one thing works, and then the next time, I am told that I am a horrible, mean, no-good sort of person.
4. Create a diversion. Or focus on the problem. Do whichever but make sure you are wearing a protective coating of some sort.
5. Play soothing music. And then stop doing that, immediately.
I have decided that becoming a sister wife might be the most awesome thing ever.
A girlfriend who lives with me and helps me cook and clean and remember what our husband said during that last argument so we can both hold it against him? Yes, please.
However, I also realize that it would take a special woman with very specific characteristics to want to join our band of crazy.
Along with the ability to laugh at fart jokes and negotiate your way out of a toddler “why” spiral, here are the qualities you would need to have as my sister wife;
1. You can’t be too hot. Let’s even say you could be manly-looking. Facial hair, displeasing moles, that type of thing. My husband must still see me as the hottest. You aren’t here to rain on my parade, just to hold my umbrella.
2. Okay, maybe no umbrella holding. Lets just say you are asexual. We need to take that whole thing out of the equation.
3. You don’t want any of your own children, ever. Mine are enough, trust me.
4. BUT…you have to love my kids as much as I do. And you have to really like getting down on the floor and playing with them. You don’t mind getting bossed around by toddlers and you love to hear lengthy descriptions aboutMinecraft worlds complete with nausea-inducing demonstrations. The kids will still love me the most, though.
5. You don’t judge the occasional glass of wine before 5 o’clock. In the morning. I’m kidding.
6. You don’t mind getting asked trick questions by children all day long.Like…”Sister Mommy, do your want the blue blanket or the green blanket?” If you say, “The blue one.” You will be told, “Actually, you get the green one.” This happens every single time. You will never get the answer right.
7. You have a high tolerance for sleep-deprivation. In fact, you think sleeping is for sissys and grandmas.
8. You love irony. For example, a child who has not wet the bed in years will always wet the bed the night after you wash their sheets. Or, a child will only throw down the f-bomb in front of your mother-in-law or the clergy.
9. You get genuine joy from removing brown kid goo from walls and teaching unwilling participants to use forks and saying things like, “You guys have lost the right sit within touching distance of each other for the rest of your lives.”
10. Cooking dinner is your jam. Because the people around here expect dinner every night. I KNOW.
11. Speaking of dinner, you don’t get your feelings easily hurt because the amount of effort you put into cooking dinner is directly related to how much everyone is going to hate it.
12. You would love to read the children’s book Holler Loudly! 10 times a day for 6 months with a convincing southern accent.
13. You are very creative and know a wide variety of fun activities that the kids would like to do around us but by themselves. That’s the key. BY THEMSELVES.
14. You enjoy the feeling of asking someone to clean their room and they burst into tears.
15. You don’t have an aversion to strong smells. In fact, you consider catching vomit with your hands an art form.
If you match all of the above criteria, congratulations and I’m very sorry. You just might be my sister wife.
On the best days I patiently, creatively ward off Monsters. I am able to convince my children that we have magic Monster-proof paint on our house, or that the Monster is actually very tiny and wearing a tutu and singing Puff the Magic Dragon.
On the worst days, I get horribly, loudly frustrated when my child comes upstairs for the fiftieth time, “Just go to freaking bed, already!” is the last thing they hear from me before they go to sleep.
On the best days, everyone is groomed, including me. Clean, sweet-smelling children. Nails clipped, hair combed and braided, faces free of food or boogers or whatever that brown stuff is.
On the worst days, they walk around like little wild animals and the first time I see myself is in the mirror as I brush my teeth going to bed at night. I am usually a little frightened by what I see.
On the best days, I look them in the eyes when they talk to me. I put the computer down. I get down on the floor. I mentally force the memory of their sweet voice saying, “Mama, Wook!” to stay with me forever.
On the worst days I say, “Oh my god, you need to stop singing that song right now before I fling myself out the window.”
On the best days, I can sit and watch without intervening as my child attempts for the thirtieth time to put their favorite, stained, disgusting t-shirt on in the right direction. I don’t reach forward to help them even once.
On the worst days, I wrestle them into their clothes. The ones that I want them to wear. They cry. Their blotchy face clashing mightily with their beautifully coordinated outfit.
On the best days, I am the memory-keeper of their lives. I am the one who will tell them that, at seven, they seemed physically unable to sit down at the dinner table or that, once, at two, after sitting on the potty they looked down and said, “Holy Shit!”
On the worst days, I say “Hurry Up!” over and over and I rush around and I look past them toward whatever I have to do next. And I forget.
On the best days, I look away from the mess; the clothes, the dishes, the floors, the bills, the whatever whatever. I say, “Do you want to go outside and go for a walk?” And everyone is so ridiculously excited about this that I feel bad for not looking away more often.
On the worst days, I let the stress of living life get to me. I talk with that Crazy Mom voice that I don’t even know that I have. It happens.
On the best days, when the homework crying inevitably appears, I slide the work aside and give them a hug because it isn’t always that important.
On the worst days, when the homework crying inevitably appears, I talk and talk until even I don’t understand what I’m saying. And I realize once again why I could never homeschool.
On the best days, I take a large dose of Chill The F*&$ Out. I take it and I do, I chill out. Life is usually not that big of a deal.
On the worst days, I push and try to control everything and ultimately fail and then feel bad and Ugh. Why.
On the best days, I sit and I read to them. I read and I read until they are ready to be done reading. I read until piles of books line the side of the chair and they look at me hopefully, “One more?”
On the worst days, I don’t have any time to read. Not even one moment to read to them.
On the best days, I think, “Please remember this.”
Hey you, over there. I’m watching you, and I have to admit, I’m judging you.
I see you grab his hand in the parking lot while he flops like a fish to get away from you. You swing him up in the air, and even though you are probably exhausted from running errands with a human tornado, you turn him upside and tickle his bare belly. His squeals of laughter can be heard all the way over here.
I know you, I think. You go to work. Or you might stay home, I’m not sure. You tell yourself they will turn out OK, but in your mind, you aren’t really sure you’ve made the right decision.
I watch as you squat down and take her chin in your hand so that she has to look in your eyes. You are outside the ice cream store, and you are frustrated because she whacked her sister in the head. Still, you talk to her in a low voice so that she isn’t embarrassed. And even though you probably feel like saying, “I just don’t want to raise an asshole,” I’ll bet you didn’t.
You look tired. Occasionally, you look around like you don’t know how you ended up with all those kids who run up to you and insist that you are their mommy. They touch you a lot. They are loud and sticky. And, still, I can see that you give them everything that you have. Everything.
My mother never hovered over me. She shooed me outside and went about her business; baking, cleaning, and visiting with her friends. I don’t think she ever thought twice about any of this. Children played outside so that moms could get something done.
Today, I watch my daughter playing with her blocks on the floor, the sun catches her in the eyes and she frowns and moves. She has the palest blue eyes which seem to be more sensitive to the sun. She is chatting to herself about the castle she is building and the baby princess that is sleeping and the dinosaur sisters that sit and watch over the kingdom.
I sometimes feel a guilt and I’m not sure where it comes from. Should I be playing with her? Should I be teaching her letters right now? Should I be down there on the floor so that she knows that I love her?
But then I think of the shooing.
I often shoo her and her brother outside. Even though we live in the forest and there are wild animals out there. Once, when my son was three, he was relaxing in his hammock and a bear walked within ten feet of him. He ran inside, scared but exhilarated. He still remembers every moment. There are other animals; coyotes, mountain lions, owls. Something could eat them and I make them play outside. Their only rule is that they don’t play alone at twilight.
Today, we are told that we must watch our kids’ every movement, prevent every bad choice, protect, hover. We are told to make little bubble-wrapped children looking outside through a sparkling clean window. Outside, there are dangerous things and people. Yes.
And with every hovering moment, I think we steal something from them. A memory, a realization, a story. When my husband was six, he was walking alone through the forest and he fell on his hatchet. He then made the terrible choice to pack the wound with Mississippi river mud, just like the indians. Thus, he has a large scar trailing down the side of his waist. And he has a story for his life.
Our scars are the maps of our stories. If we bubble-wrap our children, their bodies will be smooth and unblemished, but they will also be like direction-less maps. Maybe they won’t know where to go with them.
I will continue to shoo because I love them. And because I can’t stand the thought of my kids growing up without a sense of freedom. Without a sense of being in their bodies as they clamber over rock forts and fall out of trees and make good and bad choices that have nothing to do with me.
I lived a whole life that my mother didn’t even know about, and I want that for them. A life. And some scars.
Murphey’s Law of motherhood states that, “When you are on the first day of a long-anticipated vacation with your husband and you have nothing to do but get a massage and drink martinis as big as your face and your parents are watching your children and they have poor cellphone coverage THAT is when your son will fall on his face at school and the school nurse will call you because he is being monitored for a head injury AND THEN the school’s power will go out and the prinicipal will email you and it will be a shit-show for about 2 hours.”
Or something like that.
Yup. Robb and I got to travel to Portland, Oregon for SIX DAYS by ourselves.
We drank our weight in good beer.
I got suckered into running eight miles when I only wanted to run four. But I had a feeling that this was going to happen so it’s my own fault for agreeing to run behind a crazy person.
There he goes!
I’m having a great time-can’t you tell!
Oh…we’ll only go 4 miles!
The wire holder thing so you DON’T FALL OFF THE CLIFF.
I had dinner with two AMAZING friends and laughed my ass off for four hours (thanks Sam and Joanna!)
I did end up getting a massage and I spent some time in a weird old hot springs which reminded me of the movie Cocoon. No really. I expected to see pods in the pool. It was totally bizarro-world.
We went to Hood River and I had to convince Robb that we weren’t going to pack up and move there right that moment because he loves beer and Hood River has the most amazing beer.
We missed the kids (kinda) and they didn’t miss us (at all.)
Here is my dad teaching Nora how to ballroom dance.
It was beautiful. I especially recommend Skamania Lodge (they aren’t paying me to say this-although maybe they should-I’ll get on that) We spent the last couple of days there and Oregon showed itself off.
Magic and stuff
Big rock. Little Robb.
And then we came back to cuddly kids and tired parents and SNOW. AHHH!
(Disclaimer: My daughter just turned four and it’s still sometimes touch and go around here.)
For a couple of years after my son turned that magical, yet more reasonable age number 4, I remember looking at him warily every time something didn’t go quite his way. I was waiting fearfully for him to lose his ever-loving mind like he did his entire third year. For awhile, we called this Post-Traumatic-Three-Year-Old-Syndrome.
Oh crap! The dog ate his cheese stick! Run and hide, he’s going to blow!
Now that I am in the midst of having my second 3 year-old, I am reminded that there are some perfectly normal every day things that I am now afraid of. Once again.
1. A change in plans. One day, my daughter cheerfully sat in the car in her gymnastics outfit. As I put the car in reverse, I felt something…strange. The car had a flat tire. We were going to MISS GYMNASTICS. The icy fear that suddenly clutched my heart had nothing to do with trying to figure out how to change a tire and everything to do with having to tell my daughter the bad news. She did not take it well.
2. Unfamiliar food. This is especially awkward if you are at someone else’s house. And while I have hope that manners are forthcoming, right now if you serve my 3 year-old an item of food she doesn’t recognize, she is going to give you a piece of her mind and I am going to die of embarrassment.
3. Waking someone up from a nap. Once a week I have to wake my daughter up before she is ready to be up. I go into her room armed with snacks and forced happiness and my voice trembling. I am unable to do anything right in those 15 minutes of my life. I will pick the wrong socks, the wrong snack, the wrong way to breathe. It will all be WRONG.
4. Sticking to your guns. You gotta do this sometimes. I mean, most of the time. But it’s the scariest thing ever, especially when you accidentally say something stupid like, if you don’t put your pajamas on RIGHT NOW and stop screwing around, you aren’t getting your story tonight. They sometimes want to see if you’re serious and then…well…shit gets real.
5. Too much cheerfulness. It’s almost like my daughter is a pendulum that must always swing equally to each side between cheerfulness and crabbiness. If it goes too far into happy land…I’m basically screwed.
6. Something spilling on someone’s favorite shirt. No words can express how frightening that 2 second pause between milk dousing the front of the beloved Rainbow Shirt and my 3 year-old’s realization that she will have to wear SOMETHING DIFFERENT. I’m scared just talking about it.
7. Helping someone when they clearly don’t want to be helped. God help me with soap dispensers that are too hard for her to do by herself. The one at soccer practice has ruined our day more than once.
8. Accidentally laughing at someone when they are being very serious. I try not to do this. I realize that it’s not very nice. But I do have to admit that when a small person is very seriously “telling on daddy” because he wouldn’t sing her a song after she hit him, it’s super hard to keep a straight face.
9. Missing a meal. Ummm. No…just nope. I’ve learned my lesson on that one.
10. Disappointing news. And if you don’t think you could ever be afraid of a 3 year-old? Try telling one that they can’t go to the birthday party that they have been foaming at the mouth about FOR WEEKS because they are sick.
This post is up on Scary Mommy but here is a sneak peek.
I started dating my husband when we were 19-year-old college students. During our first fight he purposefully flung himself into a snow bank and I started laughing and decided that I loved him.
We have now been together for 20 years. That is a very long time. We have weathered moments of hating each other’s guts, and door-slamming, mirror-breaking fights. We have weathered moments of laughing so hard that we are falling out of our chairs and wiping tears and snot off of our faces.
We have weathered days of just floating by each other, living our own lives and communicating in pre-coffee grunts. We have weathered moments of helplessness—one time as we watched our littlest one puke again and again after she had hit her head on a rock. We have weathered many first-thing-in-the-morning-tired looks, like, do we have to get up and do it all again?
Through all of these moments, I know that he is my person. My imperfect, sorta bossy, totally genius, loudly burping person.
But there are some things that I didn’t know would be true when I first saw that goofy guy in a red baseball cap standing outside my dorm room with a super soaker and an evil grin:
It was a beautiful Saturday morning. The sky was bluebird. It was one of those perfect days in the mountains where there is a just a little bite to the air that makes you wish for Fall and cuddling on the couch and making stew. My 8 yo son had a soccer game that morning. I won’t ever forget that morning.
His team played great. Grayson is what I would call an uninspired soccer player. He tries hard, but you can just tell that the fire of competition does not beat strongly in his heart. He would rather be talking about multiplication tables or creating forts or riding his bike. He is willing enough, but one of these years the fire will either grab him, or he will just be done.
After the game, the four of us walked to the car, Grayson, our 3 yo daughter, my husband and me. As we crossed the parking lot to the car, Gray realized that he had dropped his water bottle, so he ran back to the sidewalk to get it. I held his sister’s hand, his Dad was already unlocking the car. The parking lot was empty. We were 20 feet away.
As he stood up to turn around and cross the parking lot, he stopped. As long as I live, I will never forget the look in his eyes right before the enormous white truck drove between us. The truck had no clue that there was a little boy there because Grayson had been crouched down to grab the water bottle. If he would have taken one more step, he would have been crushed. I had no time to shout for him to stop. He made the decision to stop all by himself. He saved his own life.
And I can’t help but think that we had spent his entire life up until that moment to prepare him to stop. To make his own choices. To think for himself. What if we hadn’t made him do things for himself every single day? What if we had placed him out into the world needing to rely on us to make every decision for him? What if we hadn’t given him thousands of struggles; putting on his shoes, getting a glass of water, writing his name, scooping ice cream, playing alone outside, getting himself ready for school, making breakfast? What if he hadn’t experienced that 20 minutes of crying when he was 2 and he climbed on the bar stool and was too afraid to come down on his own, but I made him figure it out and then he was SO PROUD? What if I had done all of these things for him, always, and he didn’t have the skills to THINK. To stop on his own.
I’m glad that we put the power of his life in his hands in small ways so that, when it counts, he will be able to make a choice that might save his life later.