There are lots of good things about four.
Four means he can buckle and unbuckle himself from the backseat, and it doesn’t take an eternity. Four means I can trust him, sometimes, to go into the men’s bathroom and come out with his hands actually washed with soap. At four he can reach the faucet to get his own cup of water and unlock the front door when my hands are full.
But four also brings heavy new words.
I hate you.
At two or three, there was screaming. High pitched, ear-piercing, scream-bloody-murder-until-you-pull-the-car-over-and-make-me-stop screaming.
Most of the time with the screaming I kept my cool, trying to remember Jay’s words: It’s only a phase, it’s only a phase. But on desperate days I screamed right back at him, threatened the wrath of Daddy, or just tried to whip it out of him. That was not pretty.
But the screaming taught me something. While it feels oh-so-good in the instant to throw my own ugly mommy tantrum right back at them, it’s never good afterwards. Minutes or even seconds later, there’s that sick to my stomach feeling that serves as a reminder that I just demonstrated the exact kind of behavior I am trying to get rid of in my kids. So I would stew a little longer, finally resolve to let go of my pride, apologize, and then try to have the conversation I should have had the first go round.
So now I try hard to skip my own tantrum and go straight to the calm convo. For my teacher friends, I’m all about the reteaching part of PBIS. Hear me – I still screw up plenty. Last night at bedtime, for example, Ugly Mommy put the kids to bed via shouts from the basement. Ugh. Still not pretty. But I’m trying to do things differently.
I think today in the doorway of my classroom he was expecting, hoping perhaps, that he’d push me to that ugly point with those three tiny words. Eight letters. Ihateyou.
But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that he doesn’t actually hate me. Instead of the swift smack to that chubby spot on the back of his leg that I wanted to give him, he got an earful instead. It went something like…
I love you, Bubba. I know you don’t hate me. I know those are words that you say because you are angry. You are angry because we have to leave right now which means you have to stop playing the iPad. Next time when this happens, you can say, “I don’t like it when I have to stop. I wish I could play longer.” But you don’t need to say those ugly words. Those words hurt my feelings, and you don’t really mean what you are saying.
I hope he heard the most important part: I love you, Bubba.
Maybe he even heard: I love you, Bubba, even when you’re begin a jerk. I love you enough to keep reteaching you, to keep reminding you to not sin in your anger. Say what you mean, but leave out the extra. I know there will be even bigger screw ups than Ihateyou in the doorway, and I will keep loving you.
Iloveyou. Eight letters.
Yesterday I heard a teacher friend say something that I just have to add. She explained that whenever there’s a problem in her classroom, she looks at herself first. Instead of, what’s that kid’s problem, it’s, what can I change?
While I certainly can’t bear the total responsibility of my four year old’s words, I have to admit that I contributed to it. I dragged them to school for yet another day of hanging out while Mommy works on projects. I worked right up until the time we needed to go, so we had to hurry. I probably hadn’t given enough of a warning that go-time was coming.
Yes, the four year old has room to grow, but so does this (almost) thirty-four year old.