I am a life raft…I am a life raft…I am a life raft…
My husband, Sam, pitched me the idea of writing a guest column this week: “700 words. On living with a 4 year old who is an insane person.”
“Haha. Redundant” was my reply.1
Yesterday, I was having a rare but delicious snack of animal crackers with Trader Joe’s Cookie & Cocoa Swirl.2 I knew my four-year-old wouldn’t try the frosting-esque spread, so, saving my food battles for things like vegetables, I put a piece of Cadbury chocolate (a special gift from an British relative) in her bowl. And she yelled at me. She yelled at me because she thought I had given her the spread and HOW DARE I put delicious things out for her.
This is life with a four-year-old. At least, life with this four year old. I can’t quite remember what my eldest was like, due to the blessing/curse of the newborn haze I was under; our oldest was three-and-a-half when our youngest was born.
I started a hashtag on Twitter (#igotyelledatbecause) because sometimes it’s easier to keep calm now when you know you can be passive aggressive on Twitter later.
Some examples from the past week. I have gotten yelled at because:
- I did not help her get dressed.
- I did not help her get dressed the right way.
- She accidentally took her own shirt off while demanding that I help her because she couldn’t do it.
- Her scooter wasn’t doing what she wanted.3
- The water had been running for several minutes, and I asked her to turn it off.
- I looked at her.
- I paid attention to her.
- I wasn’t listening to her continuous, repetitive chatter where she says the same sentence or asks a question over and over and doesn’t give me a chance to respond: “Mommy. Mommy! Why aren’t you answering me YOU AREN’T LISTENING TO ME.”
- I exist.
OK, the last one wasn’t explicitly stated but it’s the basic root for all of the yelling as far as I can tell. I am her mother, and I exist. “Things are not going how I expect” is not a tangible thing for her to yell at, but I am. She is putting together the world, learning how to process all of her intense four-year-old emotions. It’s all kind of scary and wild and different, but I’m the same person and I’m always here.
We all have to learn to weather the sea of our own emotions. For my four-year-old, most of the day is calm, even sunny, but emotional storms strike without warning, and they can be violent and intense.
Lately, it helps to picture myself as her life raft. I can let myself get swept under with the current, or I can try to keep calm and stay afloat and give her something to cling to. If she can have my calm for a little while, she can eventually find her way back to her own. I mean, yeah, I can yell back or I can sulk or I can take it personally (and let’s be real, sometimes I do at least one of these things), but what is that really modeling? And while it may fleetingly feel good to yell,4 fighting back only escalates things.
So I try to float. I reach out a hand. I neutrally observe out loud what I see her going through. I look for a break, for something to pull her back to this side of sanity. I flip her upside down and do my best to shake out the rest of the grouchiness. We get through it together. We have a snack. We go about our day. And then Sam comes home, I go to my room, I close my bedroom door, and retreat deep into myself for too brief a time before I have to go back out there again.
Photo by: Great Beyond