Four was a rough year for us. Zippy was a super-easy toddler, but things got a little tougher when he turned three and by four he had become downright challenging. Very, very challenging.
Some days were good. Some weeks were good. But then we’d hit a rough patch. For the next week or two Zippy would be bouncing off the walls. It seemed like he wanted me to play with him ALLthe time and if that bright mind of his wasn’t engaged in an activity – if I needed to step away to make lunch or do something else – then he was into everything he shouldn’t be, picking, poking, here, there, everywhere. He was full of ideas and sure didn’t want to be told no. His ability to argue would make a seasoned lawyer envious. The meltdowns were, well, intense. If I gave an inch, he pushed it for a mile, so I was constantly trying to stay on top of things. I didn't want to squash his spirit, but it felt like he was uncontainable. It was so easy to get into a cycle of negativity – reprimands and consequences and constant frustration.
Sometimes it felt like I was the only one who saw cause for concern. I was told more than once that boys would be boys. Was I overreacting? Was I unrealistic in my expectations? I don’t know. But I do know there were afternoons that, once I finally put the boys down to nap, I called my mom and burst into tears. It was just so hard. I love Zippy so, so much. SO much. But – dare I admit it in public? – some days I just didn’t like him very much. (Gosh, I'd better hope he never reads that!) The easy, loving mother-son relationship we had enjoyed a year or two earlier suddenly seemed so much more complicated.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. We certainly had good days. I kept trying. We did reward charts and stone jars and each time a new challenge arose we eventually figured out some way to handle it. I tried to focus on the positive. Zippy is an amazing kid and I could still appreciate his humor, his cleverness, his affection, his joie de vivre. I talked to my stepsister. My niece had been tough around the same age. “You’re-not-the-boss-of-me” tough. But my stepsister told me that, since starting kindergarten, she seemed more mature, more cooperative. Maybe this was just a phase?
Zippy turned 5 a couple of months ago. Maybe it is the difference between 4 and 5, but I just realized that recently things have been a lot easier. I can’t remember the last time we had to send Zippy to his room for a meltdown. He gets himself dressed in the morning without begging me to do it for him, even brushes his teeth and makes his bed. My non-stop-high-energy-kid that had no interest in doing anything that required sitting at a table for more than 5 minutes is suddenly doing puzzles and Legos and drawing pictures. Calmly. Even by himself. For a long time! Today the entire morning was spent making a pirate map, dressing up in pirate gear, and going on a treasure hunt through the house. I helped out with the map, but then he was off, dragging his little brother along for the adventure.
Zippy missed the cut-off for kindergarten by a couple of months this year. I was glad. When school started last fall, I could see clearly that Zippy was still way more interested in playing than sitting at a desk. Now I think he’ll totally be ready to go next fall. What a huge difference a year makes.
I’m not saying things are suddenly all sunshine and cupcakes. Zippy is a kid, after all, and we still have our moments. But it does feel like we’ve finally turned a corner. The rough days are fewer and farther between. I'm can enjoy my boy again.
Sometimes all we can do when our kids are being difficult is to guide them through it. We want to find the “fix.” The thing that will solve the problem. The magic bullet. It starts when they are babies and won’t sleep through the night. What do I DO, to get him to sleep? We research, we ask, we try new things, hoping (sometimes desperately) to find that one solution that will make the problem go away. Other parents offer ideas, suggesting that there is in fact something that would fix things, if we just figured out what it was.
I’m not arguing my any means that our efforts are in vain, but to some extent the “fix” is simply time, just waiting until a phase passes (and another begins), waiting until they work through this issue or develop the new skills they need to handle it in a better way. Kids are kind of like a train that keeps chugging forward. We can’t magically, quickly transport it from rocky mountains to grassy plains. We can’t necessarily make it move any faster. But we can build the track to guide it along, make sure it’s headed in the right direction and that it doesn’t go in circles or barreling into the rocks.
It has helped me a lot to keep that in mind…although I often forget and it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier when things are really tough. But now I can look back at the last year and see now how much Zippy has matured. He seems to have transitioned from preschooler to boy. It happened slowly, under the radar, so that I couldn’t tell it was happening until I suddenly looked and there was this boy in front of me. It’s nothing I could make happen, even though I am sure that we helped guide him along, to come through this phase and not get stuck in it. The ferocious-fours were hard, unavoidable, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!