This morning, O. said to me "I'm really four, right, Mom?" And I assured him that he was indeed, really four. "I waited a long time to be four, didn't I?" he added.
Today, I'm reflecting on what it means that my son is now four years old, and what it was like to celebrate Mother's Day yesterday after one of my most trying weeks of being a mom yet. A little over a week ago, O. was bitten by our neighbor's dog. He's okay, and while one of the bites was on his face, near his eye, it didn't require stitches, and is now healing nicely. Our neighbors are friends (and readers of this blog), and I know are feeling nearly as bad as we are over the whole situation. To top it off, four days later, we made a return trip to the ER with N. She tripped and fell at the zoo, split her lip open, and required three stitches.
Aside from having to be vigilant about applying sunblock and Mederma all summer, we probably won't even notice any marks on either of my kids in a couple of weeks. But of course, there's the worry about the wounds other than the physical ones. The fact that it's enough on O's mind that he wants me to be sure to tell his principal for him when he greets us on our way into preschool. He's thinking ahead to our trip to the lake, the next time he will sees his cousins and asks whether or not his boo-boo will still be there. He's also suddenly interested in what makes an invisible fence work. I start to think about my own first memories, and wonder where this will lodge in his own story of his life.
I'm torn as to whether to write about any of this, not sure really what the etiquette is for such situations, but somehow it just doesn't feel right to skip over my thoughts about O., wrapped up as they are in his moving on to a new age, and move right on to blogging about the cool things I have been finding at my library lately, or a couple of cool websites I recently discovered.
My thoughts on being his mother right now are all tied up in what it means to look at his face with its fresh but already fading reminder that he's heading out into the world where I can't protect him from everything. I knew that, had already experienced that in his forays into the world of school, and playing on a soccer team for the first time. But this time, the thing I couldn't protect him from wasn't something you'd rather delay because you don't want him to grow up just yet. It's something I didn't want to ever happen at all. It's not just me that knows I can't always protect him. Now he knows it too.
Of course, I would rather have these learning experiences be things like realizing he's not the fastest one on the soccer field. But we can't ask for what happens to us in life, only do our best to handle what does happen. I know he will be fine. Realize in fact, that this is helping him become the man I look forward to knowing. And so, while this experience is weighing a little heavily on us these days, I want to take the time to remember all the other things that make knowing my four year old so amazing.
For example, I continue to be astounded by the ways that his mind works. Sometimes he make connections that just amaze me in their complexity and memory recall.
We were driving through the campus of a local university recently, and he asked what all the people were doing walking around. I told him that they were in college, and were probably on their way to class. He said "But Mom, college isn't for going to class. I go to class. You go to colleges just when you're on vacation." It took me a moment, but then I remembered that his only other reference to "college" was our stop to look around the University of Virginia on our way to the beach two years ago.
Of course, he also knows exactly how to push all the most annoying buttons on me. We spend large amounts of time discussing potential situations he is sure he will not like, and all the ways he is going to be naughty when he gets into said situations (eg: haircuts, dentists, doctors). Then when we're actually in the situation, he acts like it's no big deal, until we leave, and he throws another fit to show me how mad he is that I made him do such a humiliating and awful thing.
He is newly argumentative, and occasionally shoots me a "Yeah, so?" look that I fear will haunt me well into his teens. He finds potty talk alluring and hilarious, and slips it in to conversations purely to test my mood and, to see if his sister will choose to add those choice words to her limited vocabulary.
When it comes to his sister, he's either her greatest champion or her worst tormentor. He loves to try to get her to do crazy and reckless things, like take all the pillows off of the couch and leap into the pile they create on the floor. (Maybe I should be thankful this week brought our first trips to the ER). He teases her by taking exactly the toy he knows she wants right then, throwing it into his dump truck and racing in laps around the kitchen, usually while I'm trying to cook dinner. Her screams don't seem to bother him at all. But then, the moment that her tears are caused by something I've said to her, he runs to her rescue, bringing her exactly the right baby doll, and finding the words to calm her that no one else can.
The day before his fourth birthday, we were making preparations for a little party with some of his friends at our house. I had planned a "dinosaur dig" which involved hiding tiny plastic dinosaurs in his water table, which he was helping me fill with sand. When I mentioned that when we did this activity, each child would get to take home whichever dinosaurs they found in the sand (said dinosaurs were purchased specially for this activity), he promptly lost it. He gathered up all the dinosaurs, started crying hysterically, and said: "Call all the moms and tell them not to come tomorrow. I don't want to have a party. I just want to stay three. Then I won't have to share."
It's both delightful and frustrating to watch him on the soccer field. It's clear he has his own game plan devised in his head, and it does not necessarily involve taking the ball away from the other team, nor scoring a goal. He runs with purpose, watching his own feet rather than the ball. He has a look of competitiveness and focus, but is most glad to head back to the sidelines to drink out of his water bottle. If you ask him what he thought of the game, he says "That other team is just too fast. But I scored goals at practice time." And that, of course, is just fine.
Yesterday, after a delightful Mother's Day morning, filled with gifts J. had helped the kids make for me, and a breakfast I didn't have to prepare, J. was outside cutting the grass. O. and N. were running wild and ganging up to not listen to me. At one point, I had to yell at both of them because they were about to break some toy. O. turned to me and said "Is it still Mother's Day?" When I replied that it was, he came over and gave me a hug, said "I love you, Mommy," and proceeded to behave for nearly five straight minutes.
What I love about where he is in his life is that magical combination of challenge, awareness, and sweetness. And the fact that I can still cure just about anything with a hug.
*The post title comes from a phone conversation between my grandmother and O. on his birthday.