Tag Archives: Four-year-olds

A letter for four (for Teddy)

Dear Teddy,

On the evening of your birthday, while the sun printed itself onto the carpet and your aunties pored over your new Lego sets, you buzzed around in the kitchen, high on cake. Then something occurred to you, and you popped your head back in the door to say, gratified, astonished: ‘People just KEEP ON buying me presents!’

It seemed very like you. You can’t do anything without singing under your breath, and you can’t stop yourself springing into rooms with a mouth-trumpet fanfare (whether your sister’s asleep or no), and you couldn’t believe that you’d be so lucky on your birthday as to get some actual, real-life presents. Last week you looked in open-mouthed wonder at the camping spork I’d given you to eat with. ‘That is ung-CREDIBLE’, you said, in a hushed voice. Oh, Ted. Imagine what you’ll think the first time you see a Swiss army knife.

Here you are at four: suddenly long-legged and perpetually covered in bruises, you fall out of bed at least once a night and dance all day in my orbit, telling me you’re hungry. ‘I’m STILL hungry’, you insist at 9am, at 9.12, and approximately every twenty minutes thereafter. You’ll try any food once, but pasta and pesto is still your favourite meal. You like to help me cook dinner, and often do – partly because you can’t bear to stay in the room if there’s even the mildest tension on the TV.

You love music, too, and often open the piano to plonk on the keys. ‘Listen, I’m playing some thinking music’, you told me the other day. It sounded like all of your other abstract compositions, but what do I know? Last week you refused to get out of the car until we’d listened to the very end of Elton John’s Sacrifice (I think I preferred your Starman phase). You’ve recently dispensed with your cheesy photo grin for a serious stand-to-attention pose. The look on your face – proud and dutiful and fierce – always makes me want to cry a little. I never know why.

Other things you love: Transformers Rescue Bots, riding your scooter to nursery, Lego, laboriously spelling out the speech bubbles in Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, Moana, your brother and sister. You have a small and enthusiastic group of friends, of which you seem to be the ringleader. On our way home from nursery you call out cheery goodbyes to anyone you can see. When the girls respond, you blush. I think you might be…cool? It’s all very strange to us. You start school in September and you’d go tomorrow, if you could. You’ve been desperate to go since Henry started, which is how it is with most things.

You are so loud. Your tantrums could knock over a horse, diminishing in frequency though they are.

In your two-year-old letter I said you felt like a piece of grace to me. I suppose what I’m saying is, you still do.

Happy fourth, little bear.

With love,

Your mother.

Dear boy: you can be unpretty here

Photo 14-09-2015 8 16 36 am (800x800)

Some clichés about life with children just turn out to be true. It’s almost disappointing how predictable you are. That hilarious obsession with your first child’s milestones, followed by a wry detached affection for the progression of your second? Tick that box. The fact that you will get fat on leftover pizza crusts if you’re not careful, and one day catch yourself eating a chocolate chip cookie crumb straight from your toddler’s thigh? Yes, sorry. For that one I’m sorry to myself most of all.

Here’s our latest living-the-cliché moment: that four-year-olds spend their first weeks in September behaving impeccably at school, and like screechy rage demons at home.

‘I know he’s tired, and unsettled, and going through a huge transition’, I said to Tim the other night, wearily. ‘I know that. He has good reason. It will pass. But I’m still bearing the brunt of his meltdowns, and it’s awful’.

It really is. What I didn’t expect is that H starting school has been hard for me too. Is that a stupid thing to say? That’s how it feels. Quite apart from the new stresses of buying and labelling uniform, making sense of a bewildering forest of forms, incorporating an extra six miles of school run into the day, remembering to order school dinners and send in his PE kit, and trying to make a good impression with new people while soaked to the skin in a cycle helmet, I miss him. He’s gone most of the day, and when he comes back he spends a lot of it flinging himself into the deep end over taking his shoes off. We circle warily around each other, bumping against our respective pressure points until I snap, or else sit down on the floor, sigh out all my breath and say ‘shall we have another break for a hug?’.

He always does come in for a hug, regardless of how angry he is. I think that’s something.

What it has reminded me is that I am the safe place for all his crap. At school he is politely making sense of new people and routines: self-conscious, on edge, trying to fit in and impress. Then he comes home and hurls all his less-pretty parts at me. It’s the most backhanded of compliments, but compliment it is.

Because I am his constant, the backdrop to his universe. The messy labour of his day-to-day is mostly mine; I am his normality, for better and worse. When I’m reminding him to stop answering back, buttoning up his pyjamas while he tries to jump out of reach, or holding on to the kind-but-firm tone by the very skin of my teeth during his fourth time-out, it can just feel like work, bloody and unedifying. I sometimes wish he’d stand on ceremony for me too, just a little.

But he needs somewhere he can be unpretty. A place he can throw out his worst parts and have them gathered kindly in. Someone who has his back, in public and private. Hard as it is, I think I can do that. I think that has to be me. There’s something sacred in it, after all, being someone’s first line of defence. Even though in the moment it feels like being skinned alive by scream.

Come on then, you exhausted little rager. Let me have it. Here’s your punching bag. Here’s the bucket for your assorted crap. Here stands your safe place, letting you know when your behaviour’s out of line, loving you and your messy parts even through gritted teeth, making yet more lasagne you’re too tired to eat.

Photo 15-09-2015 3 40 12 pm (800x638)

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