One day they’re cute, toddling creatures with bright eyes and chubby cheeks. The next day, they’re big-eyed, stretched-out maniacs, hollow-cheeked, running surefooted, usually in a beeline directly away from you. While screaming something like, “You’re not my mommy!” To which you can only glance around guiltily and assure passersby that you are, indeed, this tangle-haired hellion’s mommy. #TrueStory
This has happened to me, and it will happen to you when your darling baby skips all too quickly from a sassy but cuddly threenager to a 4-year-old.
I’ve heard them called “The Fascist Fours,” but I’ve always preferred the down-and-dirty, whispered mommy nomenclature: “The Fucking Fours.” Because they are fucking loud, fucking annoying, fucking scream-y and fucking tantrum-y.
My brain tells me this is because your child is negotiating the transition between babyhood (3 and under) and childhood (5 and up), but that doesn’t make it any more bearable. These little 4 year olds are trying to do the work of childhood with the emotional capacity of babyhood. And it is fucking exhausting.
Oh, yes, you can feel bad for their muddle of emotions. You might want to swoop them into your arms and cuddle them. But chances are they will scream, “Don’t you touch me!” and run away into a corner. Sometimes they will melt, babyhood winning, just desperate for comfort and a kiss and some love. You can rock them. You can revel in that golden moment when you have your baby back, just for a second, rest your cheek against their head and smell the deliciousness of their hair.
Then they will worm away and sprint in the opposite direction to wreak more havoc.
They like to test boundaries during the fucking fours. Unfortunately, they have the vocabulary to do it. It’s as if they wake up in the morning and think, Hmmm, if I scream and thrash and howl, will Mommy give me cake for breakfast? Let’s give this a shot. They will state their desires confidently. You will gently say no. Then their screams will reach registers hitherto unknown to the human ear. Their thrashing will knock into people, bruise shins, clock siblings, and frighten the dog. Maybe a cookie and Caillou will calm them down. Fucking Caillou. They learned it from you, you whiny asshole.
Fucking fours also want to do whatever their older siblings are doing, no matter how complicated or inaccessible. If Big Brother has a friend over, Mr. Four is right up in their grill, wanting to play whatever they’re playing, until they run away. He can’t understand that he’s being annoying as all fuck, so he runs to you weeping copiously, tears dripping off his nose, screaming, “Mommy, why don’t they want to play with me?!” And you have to take this snot-covered beast into your arms, shush him, and explain that the big kids want some time by themselves, so why don’t the two of you play some Play-Doh?
And as much as you may hate playing Play-Doh, for half an hour, you will have your sweet baby back. He will make you misshapen cakes and donuts. You will roll snakes together. “This is a mama snake, and this is a baby snake,” he will say, and you will know exactly what he means. Then he will suddenly leap up, leaving you with a mess of Play-Doh and sprint back off to annoy the big kids.
There will be tantrums over dinner. He will scream and refuse to eat then ask for a snack 30 minutes later. You will refuse and get more screams in return. Offers to read a book to him will be met with angry rebuffs. As he gets sleepier, he will get cuddlier. He will acquiesce to that book. Then he will throw down because you laid out the Paw Patrol pajamas instead of the Ninja Turtle ones. You will switch them, for expediency. Then he will melt down over an inability to put on his socks.
Then you will tuck him into his big-boy bed, the one with the special character sheet-and-comforter set you took out a second mortgage to buy at Target. He will close his little eyes. He will be a Big Kid in a Big Kid bed.
Until he sneaks into your bed at 3 a.m. Then he’s a sweet baby for three seconds before the thrashing, whining, and kicking begins.