I had lunch with a friend last week who I hadn’t seen in a while. As is always the case, after spending a few minutes catching up on each other, we spent the rest of the meal talking about our kids. She has a child around Annabel’s age, so we talked extensively about life with four-year-olds.
My friend’s kid is a lot like Annabel: articulate, charming, and smart. When they’re good, they are amazing. When they’re having a bad day…look out. It’s always nice to have someone else say, “No, you are not the only person who experiences INSERT PARENTING STRUGGLE.” We both have some big struggles with our four-year-olds. They both act older than they actually are, and I think a lot of our frustration with them stems from that. We get used to that maturity and when they act like, you know, four-year-olds, we’re stunned. Of course isn’t entirely fair to the kids, but it’s hard when you know how good they can be. And, as my friend said, “It’s exacerbated by how quickly they go from awesome to awful.”
My friend went on for a while about her kid’s epic meltdowns. The most difficult thing about the meltdowns is that they’re rarely caused by anything immediately fixable. Four-year-olds are emotionally unstable little creatures who can freak out because the sun rose and the air tastes weird. You can do everything right: make sure they get enough sleep, take away external influences, give consequences, etc, and the meltdown will still go on full-force. There’s no reasoning with insanity, and four-year-olds have insanity coursing through their veins.
The hardest thing for my friend is how quickly her child recovers from the meltdowns. The kid will go from shrieking incoherently to acting pleasant in the blink of an eye, practically giving my friend whiplash. “I don’t know how or why, but as soon as s/he finally gets over whatever the injustice du jour is, s/he’s ready to move on like nothing happened.” Which is all well and good, except my friend struggles with bouncing back. “The kid is skipping around and playing and being delightful, and I’m sitting there seething…basically holding a grudge against my four-year-old.”
I totally get that. I’ve had to quite literally shake myself to stop holding onto anger. There is no point in staying angry over something that a four-year-old has gotten over because as far as the kid is concerned, it happened one million years ago. At lunch time I could say, “Annabel, I am upset about the tantrum you threw at breakfast this morning,” and she’d reply, “I had breakfast today?” But still, it’s hard to not grab the kids by the shoulders and shout, “I want you to acknowledge the emotional turmoil you put me through!!” Sometimes (okay, lots of times) being the grownup is lame.
If I didn’t have my commiserating time, I know I’d feel totally alone. The good thing about four-year-olds is that they eventually become five-year-olds, etc, and I’m sure by the time they’re teenagers they’ll totally have this whole emotional thing worked out, right? Super-excited!