Parenting is bonkers.
My last column was about my level-10 exhaustion from nonstop parenting during the pandemic, and now I’m going to gush about how much I dig having a 4-year-old around.
Loosen your grip on sanity and pivot with me, friends. Because here’s the thing: kids my son Harvey’s age — which is technically 4 ½, he’d surely correct me — are the absolute best. Hands down, this is by far the best age.
Forget that I’ve felt this way every year and I only have one child; I’m really sure this time.
Why? How? I’ll tell you.
The other night my wife, Elenor, was folding up the Sesame Street pop-up tent and the two-rows of Hot Wheels to clear a path to Harvey’s rocketship bed (we’ve heard astronauts appreciate caution and cleanliness). He didn’t like it so he asked her to stop, to put them back. After a second, he sternly said with eyebrows up, “Mama, I said ‘put those back.’”
And then began counting to three...
There’s no holding back the mom giggles in a scenario like this, when your way-too-little kid is kindly providing you the time to course-correct your obviously poor choice.
We’re in for it, folks.
And I love it.
Now, don’t get me wrong: babies are great. It’s lovely that they stay in one place unless you move them. Their smell is intoxicating. They want one of four things: to eat, to have a clean diaper, to be held or to sleep. It’s simple.
Then they locomote autonomously and you realize the world for what it is: a series of sharp corners and long falls. Young toddlers have no concept of consequence and will lean off a raised surface as if only supple clouds of cotton lie below. It’s terrible. And scary. Constantly.
It’s cool though, because when they can crawl and as they start to walk, their language develops along with their motor skills and the parental mind-reading can ease a bit.
But then you have a three-nager on your hands — all the attitude with none of the complex thinking. They turn their back on life’s greatest things, eating and sleeping, and 50% of all communication is telling them why they can’t do that thing or touch that thing or put that thing in their nose.
Lots of big emotions.
But something magical happens when they turn 4. It’s kind of like the moment when they see themselves in the mirror and recognize they ARE that being! Except, at four, they realize more deeply their relationship to others.
I’m generalizing a lot for someone who knows very little about parenting other than her own experience, but it seems like this is when they individuate at hyper speed. They can articulate their fondness, be motivated by treats and consequences, feel bad when they play too hard and apparently mimic your parenting with the precision of a laser.
They even begin negotiating and manipulating, which is equal parts frustrating and adorable.
For example, as we were getting Harvey to bed last week and long after he should have been asleep, he sat up and looked at me softly before telling me his heart was cracking.
I must have looked concerned, because he immediately yell-whispered, “Mimi, not like into a million pieces. When I say my heart is cracking, it’s just a phrase.”
He put his hand on my cheek.
“I said it because I love you.”
Whoosh. Any annoyance at his not-sleeping evaporated instantly.
*heart eyes* I love you, too, buddy.
And life is full of these sweet, funny, surprising moments. I can hardly stand how much I enjoy being his Mimi — even when I can hardly stand an hour more of continuous parenting.
Who knows what age 5 will bring, but I can assuredly say that it’s got big little shoes to fill.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.