I’d like to take a moment to enthusiastically discuss how wonderful four-year-olds are.
Before age 4, my favourite age was the time between 6 months and 18 months old – that wonderful year-long period where babies transform from gummy-mouthed grinners to wobbly walkers. They’re chubby and compliant and smiley, there are no tantrums, they wear what you want, hairclips stay in and there are new milestones every month. For me, at least in retrospect, these were the parenting glory days.
Aaaand then it seemed to just track gently downhill for a while. Two hit and the first hints of defiance started to show themselves, and then from the time that Olive was two-and-a-half to three years old I was dealing with the fallout from the sudden end of my marriage, and that meant I was basically emotionally absent.
I look back at that five or six month period of time in the immediate aftermath and I honestly struggle to remember what was happening. Like, the day to day business of survival. Who was shoveling the walk? What did we do during the day? How did we end up with food in our fridge and clean clothes? How the hell did I pack and move to a different city and unpack and find work and enroll Olive in preschool and basically begin a new life from scratch while looking like a skeleton and subsisting on sleeping pills, anti-depressants, and smoothies?
I suppose Olive should really get a pass for this age because, a) I have virtually no memory of it and b) she could have been a total angel and I still would have felt that parenting her required infinitely more resources than I possessed at the time. I have a lot of guilt over my emotional absence during this period of her life. I think I should just give both of us a pass.
Anyway. Then there was three.
Apologies for being indelicate here, but fuck three. Just fuck that entire age. I’m going to go on record saying that three is terrible and it should be abolished entirely. Much like some hotels just go directly from floor 12 to floor 14 to appease the superstitious, kids should just skip right from two years old to four and if they did, I swear the vertical “what the fuck?!” line in the middle of my eyebrows would be like 90% less deep.
Three, at least in our house, began every morning with a battle, consisted of battling all day about every minute grievance a human could possibly have, then ended with the greatest battle of them all: bedtime.
Three was basically just this conversation, repeated in various forms about various subjects, nineteen million times a day:
Me: Okay, time to put on your pants!
Olive: *whining* Noooooooo.
Me: Well, we’re going out so you need to wear pants.
Olive: But I don’t like wearing pants.
Me: Yeah, I mean, I get it. Being naked is awesome but unfortunately we can’t go outside naked. We have to wear clothes. So, if you don’t get dressed, we can’t go.
Olive: I don’t want to go.
Me: Wait, no. No, no, no. I- we’re going. I mean, the going is not what’s being debated here.
Olive: I DON’T WANT TO GO!
Me: *Deep breath. Dangerously cheery voice.* Well, we are going! So, let’s choose something for you to wear. Would you like your jeans or your leggings?
Me: That’s not- I mean, you can’t- there wasn’t a yes or no question there, Olive. I gave you options and you have to-
Olive: I ALREADY SAID NO.
Me: *High-pitched internal screaming until I pass out*
And that was three. Always. With everything. And we’re talking basic shit! Wearing clothes. Washing her hair. Leaving the goddamn house but also, coming back to the house because nothing makes sense and three is a fucking terrible, terrible age. I mean obviously I still loved her, there were many great days and memorable moments and I wouldn’t truly wish to skip any of it but overall? I’m going to be honest and say that I was not a fan.
Now. Let me introduce you to four.
My mom used to tell me about four. She’d tell me stories about fewer tantrums and wanting to help and sunny dispositions and I’d greedily drink them in while also viewing them with great suspicion, like they were shimmering oases which would turn into a mirage when I finally gathered enough strength to crawl near.
But holy crap she was right. I mean, there are still arguments and clashes and issues because she’s still a kid, but it’s a world of difference.
Case in point: Do you want to know the reason she most often gets upset these days? Because she couldn’t help with something.
Either I mopped the floors when she had wanted to mop them or I forgot to call her when it was time to turn the dishwasher on or I fed her fish, Charlotte, when (as she sternly told me the other day), “She’s my responsibility, remember?”.
She wants to help all the time. With everything. She thinks about people’s feelings. She’s (mostly) kind,(usually) polite, and (almost always) really fun to hang out with.
In contrast, three meant having talks with her on a daily basis for two months straight about why it was not okay to hit me in the face when she was upset. Guys, I had to explain to her why it wasn’t okay to physically assault her own mother.
But four? Four means having her say “I love you, Mummy”, unprompted, literally dozens of times a day. Seriously. I’ll be peeing and she’ll bust through the door like the Koolaid man just to tell me she loves me.
What is this world?
I love age four, and although I have always loved Olive and will always love her, fiercely and with all my heart no matter what terrible phase she goes through (come at me, 13. I’m ready.) it’s just also so much easier to like her these days.
So I suppose this post serves to reflect upon how utterly grateful I am for Olive, age four. And how grateful I am for having survived Olive, age three.
And as for those of you still in the trenches fighting nonsensical, infuriating battles on a daily basis? My deepest sympathies. Good luck to you, friends, and godspeed.