It surprises me that there is no witty, pun based or alliterative name for kids who are four. You’ve got your terrible two’s (which in my experience start somewhere around the day after their first birthday!) and the threenager stage. But no one has yet, to my knowledge, come up with a play on words for kids who are in their 4th year.
But then it occurred to me that ‘FOUR!’ is the noise that you shout when you are on a golf course and in danger of being clunked on the head with a golf ball travelling at great speed or the sound called when you are at risk of being crushed to death by a falling tree. And this sense of great danger and impending doom seems to adequately sum up my current experience of parenting a 4 year old!
Parenting this little dude right now is a mixture of extreme highs and lows. The highs are amazing; he’s cuddly and funny and entertaining and sociable. He loves to play with lego and go for walks and sit and draw with me. He likes to share stories and play with the big kids and be outside- regardless of the weather. Last week he saw a frog on a walk and declared it to be called Buzz Lightyear. When I asked why he said because the frog smelt like a spaceman and when pushed further on what a spaceman smelt like, he answered ‘yellow’! When he’s on form, he’s bloody brilliant company!
But man alive can he turn on a sixpence! The second life stops playing to his tune or he gets an answer that’s disagreeable to his requirements, cover your ears and run for cover. The body racking sobs when he doesn’t get to choose what to watch on TV because he picked for the previous 5 consecutive days and his siblings have run out of patience. The fluent language of whinge which, for whole days, can often be the only dialect he speaks. The over reaction and massive tantrums because he perceives the world to be against him because he hasn’t got his own way over inconsequential things like which stick he gets to play with on a walk in the woods. It’s a mixture of heart breaking and mind-blowingly frustrating at the moment and on top of already present lockdown fatigue, its exhausting!
What is really hard to get to the bottom of at the moment is whether this is normal 4 year old, ‘I’m having a hard time understanding that I am not the centre of the universe and the whole world doesn’t revolve around me’ behaviour, or if it’s the wider effects of the hideously strange and strained life we’ve all been living for the last year.
Lockdown life has probably been the most drastic change for Ted out of all of us. Under normal circumstance, two full days a week he gets ‘mummy days’ where he gets time on his own with me. Prior to lockdown not one of those days was spent at home for a full day. We’d be whizzing round trampoline parks or throwing ourselves off slides at soft play centres or scootering round a park and getting hot chocolates and gingerbread men to warm our fingers and fill our hungry tummies. The other days are made up of two half days at nursery with afternoons again spent with me and then a day with grandparents. So all in all, he was living his best life with loads of attention from the grown ups in his life and lots of play dates with kids his own age in a variety of fun and exciting settings.
But for the last year, his circle of reference has closed right down to the four walls of our house and the occasional walk to the park. The attention he received suddenly dwindled as home schooling two other siblings at the same time as trying to keep him entertained meant inevitably that the easy option was to chuck him in front of the TV and hope that Paw Patrol would do a good job of stepping in where I couldn’t. When the roadmap to releasing lockdown was released and I asked the kids what they were most looking forward to being able to do again, Ted couldn’t think of anything. He had forgotten about all the places we used to go, the classes we used to attend, the friends we used to meet, the cafes we used to frequent. In his little head, life is just this now… at home, day after day, playing in the garden sometimes, walking the dog sometimes, but mainly just us, here. When restrictions were looser in the autumn and we could visit other people, we occasionally met up with or visited a few people. But he was uncomfortable; asking when we could leave despite only having been out for a few minutes, whinging that he wanted to go home at the first opportunity. There have been times over the winter where I felt he was borderline agoraphobic, not wanting to walk with me to pick the big kids up from school, preferring to stay here while daddy worked and stare at the other parent in his life- the iPad!
In the final stretch of home schooling, his behaviour reached fairly intolerable levels of drama. Everything decision made resulted in tears. He didn’t want to go for a walk, didn’t want to have shepherds pie for tea, he didn’t get the ‘right’ coloured cup. It has been a fairly exhausting few months all round and this constant negotiating and wrangling has added to the general fatigue.
I also feel robbed. This was our last year at home together. My last year with a pre schooler before the perpetual day in, day out of school started. And we haven’t been able to go places and do the stuff I did with the older two. Yes we’ve had time together, time to snuggle up in bed and read stories on a rainy afternoon and build towers out of lego. But I’m definitely guilty of wishing the time away, hoping for the next phase when we could get out and about (preferably to indoor places that weren’t dependent on the great British weather- seriously weather in May- seriously! You had one job!)
On Monday when the restrictions lifted, we booked to go to a inflatable soft play centre as it was pouring with rain! It was busy and I was definitely more aware of the potential ‘dangers’ than I would previously have been! (I’m looking at you germ encrusted ball pool!) But he had the time of his life after his initial apprehension had worn off- He bounced and dashed and leapt and climbed and kept telling me how much fun he was having and how ‘hot and sweaty’ he was! He was being a four year old and it was a beautiful thing to behold! Watching him there made me actually feel quite emotional, thinking of all the things he’s missed out on this year.
So a new pact has been made- for the remaining weeks we have before the onset of school, we will take full advantage of all the things that are open and will squeeze a years worth of fun into the next 3 months! This is not about spoiling him with material things, its about providing the opportunities and experiences they have missed out on for the last year. Walking round museums and seeing giant polar bears stood on their back legs or sliding down the biggest drop slide that takes your breath away or dipping your toes in a freezing cold stream or rolling down a grassy bank till your sides hurt with laughter. And when the inevitable tantrums and meltdowns arrive, we’ll keep going with our ‘cuddle it out’ technique and know that, as with most things with kids, it won’t be long before we’re on to another phase and looking back on this stage with rose tinted fondness!
Oh god! I’ve just remember the ‘first term in reception exhaustion phase’! We’re going to need more gin!