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Whoever Told Me 4 Was Easy Is a Big, Fat Liar

Photograph by Twenty20

When my son was knee-deep in the throes of being an absolute threenager, I was at the end of my rope. Three was ROUGH. Some days, it felt like only one of us was going to survive—which of us varied by day. Either way, I was at my wits' end. So, I posted about my frustration.

“Four was so much better,” said one of my friends, referring to her daughter. She gave me hope at a time when I really needed it. I clung to the hope that 4 was going to be the light at the end of the tunnel for every one of those 365 days that my son was 3.

Then, hallelujah, he turned 4. And it only got worse.

MY FRIEND LIED.

I have heard this stage called the “freakin’ fours,” “facist fours,” and “f***ing fours.” Whatever they are, my kid’s got ‘em. And he’s got them bad. And as much as I love my friend, I want to kick her in the shin. Because nothing has gotten better. In fact, some things have gotten worse.

Four is the year of big feels. My son constantly operates at a 10. The smallest perceived slight can ricochet him to a 12 in about a second. And there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to any of it.

I’ll ask him to hand me the remote and he’ll totally melt down. Seriously, this kid has absolutely no chill whatsoever. It is like living with an active volcano: you never really know when it’s going to explode, so you have no time to prepare and hide. You just get swept away in the boiling lava, all while asking yourself what exactly just happened.

And this doesn’t just happen maybe once or twice a week, or even once or twice a day. This can happen five times in a 20-minute span. I’ve started prefacing things with “don’t freak out,” like I’m a teenager about to tell my mom something bad.

With 4-year-olds, everything is a catastrophe. There are no more fruit snacks? Tantrum. You can’t have ice cream for breakfast? You’d think the "Bubble Guppies" got taken off Amazon Prime.

The pickiness also seems to reach a new level too. It’s not just food. That’s an issue, but I’ve learned how to deal with it. But the visual look of something can be unappealing. He wants the blue bowl, not the orange—even though it’s the same bowl in different colors. “This cucumber isn’t shaped right.” I have to sift through bags of chips because he doesn’t like the ones that are folded in half.

I have a bachelor’s degree and I spend most of my day sifting through potato chip bags making sure the chips are flat. How did I end up here?

I thought I had 10 years before I had to deal with this insanity, but here we are.

He has his own pillow, but he’s now decided that he likes mine better, and so somehow it’s become “our” pillow. He knows that he can’t wear his sandals to school; yet, at least once a week, we fight about the fact that he has to wear sneakers to school. Smiley faces MUST have eyebrows. If he has a blue plate, he has to have the blue spoon and fork to eat his dinner. He’s not just doing it to be cute, he’s doing it to push me over the edge.

And don’t get me started with the sass! Oh my god, it’s like living with a 15-year-old girl sometimes. I thought I had 10 years before I had to deal with this insanity, but here we are.

It’s not just typical not listening type stuff, either. “Leave me alone, Mommy,” he says. This kid is 4 YEARS OLD. I try to give him space and now he’s taken it too far. He needs space and doesn’t want me to bother him while he’s trying to play or watch TV, but every time he sees me go into the bathroom, he’s right behind me, as if we’re going on an adventure. Personal space is only for him, apparently.

Suddenly, everything is “lame.” The PJ Masks shirt he picked out? “No Mom, I can’t wear that shirt, it’s lame.” He looks at me as if I’m a total idiot. Again, I have a college degree, kid.

His other favorite phrase? “I’m busy.” I suppose that can be partially my fault, but still.

“Bub, can you pick up the stuff you left on the floor?”

“I’m busy, Mommy—you do it.”

I can’t even deal with him sometimes.

That’s not to say that 4 is all bad. He’s becoming his own person more and more every day. These are just the ways he’s choosing to flex that independence and try to figure out his boundaries. He’s more cuddly at 4. He spends half of his time trying to scheme his way into my lap so that we can have a few minutes (or seconds) together. He loves to hold my hand while he falls asleep. Lately, he’s been very into giving me kisses on the forehead.

And he is ridiculously smart. I keep saying that when he gets older, he’ll either be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the head of a prison gang. I’m leaning more towards the former, though. Four is such an interesting age—they’re not really sweet and innocent toddlers anymore, but they’re also not as grown-up as elementary school aged kids either.

It almost makes up for all of the chaos. Almost.

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