To me, life is set up in four year increments. High school is four years. College is (theoretically, at least) four years. I’ve made a vow to take an official, nice family portrait every four years, to watch the changes in our family march across the wall. The first portrait was our wedding. In the second, a younger, thinner, more-rested Adam and I smile back. The third portrait included Grey holding a toy car and a baby-lump of a Thane.
Well, Grey has just completed his first four-year interval of being an external person. Today, he is four years old. FOUR YEARS. I find it extraordinarily hard to believe.
Grey’s been acting four years old for a few months now. I have wonderful news for you, oh parents of three year olds. (Or, heaven forfend, two year olds!) It gets better. It gets lots better. Imagine this: you are lying in bed asleep. You hear a drawer slam. Shortly thereafter, a door slams open. A quick pad-pad-pad of feet, and a young boy, naked except for his Spiderman Undies, crawls into bed beside you. He took off his own pullup, threw it away, and put on the undies himself. “It’s morning, mama! See? The sun is up. It’s a beautiful day!” He is, of course, right. You tell him to go put on his clothes and brush his teeth. Then (this is the remarkable part) he goes and SELECTS HIS OWN CLOTHING, PUTS IT ON, AND THEN GOES TO BRUSH HIS TEETH! He returns to tell you that his teeth are all sparkly now, see? Now, granted, not every outfit he picks “matches” or “is appropriate for the weather” but it IS all on the correct direction. This fine young man heads downstairs and picks out his morning DVD. He can get it to start and put it in, but lacks the ability to turn on the tv… so far. He eats his grits and drinks his milk. When it’s time to go, he turns off the tv himself. He walks out to the car, holds the door for me, opens his car door, gets into the car and buckles his own seat belt. Then, politely and using the word please, he asks for his DS.
We’re getting to a point where it’s hard to enumerate everything he CAN do. He can entertain himself. He will play quietly (if messily) in his room for up to two hours instead of napping. He is self-directed getting to the bathroom for all body functions (including, sadly, vomit). He can assemble a 50 piece puzzle. He can listen to and follow instructions. He cleans up automatically.
The other day I was in Thane’s room, putting him to bed, and Grey was bopping around. As I started to read to Thane, Grey cried out “Wait!” in obvious distress. Then Grey, without being asked, proceeded to pick up all the toys and books in Thane’s room and put them away, so he could join in story time. It took me that long to get my jaw off the floor. He picks up his own room before he goes to bed.
Grey knows how to act in case of a fire alarm. Periodically, in my culinary life, I have been known to set one or two of them off. The other day I did so, and while I was contemplating the state of my oven-floor, he calmly got up, opened the door, opened the screen door and exited to wait on the front lawn. But yet, Grey doesn’t wander. I have yet to have him leave the house when it wasn’t ok to.
Grey can tell you his nickname, his full name, his street address, his state, and his parent’s full names. He knows what to do when he’s lost in the woods. He can also tell you the full cast of Avatar.
Grey can read, kind of. If he knows a book, he uses first letters to guess what all the words are. He’ll investigate pictures for clues as to what the book says. He can read ‘from scratch’ maybe 20 or 30 words, and will sometimes surprise me. “Open” and “Stop” have both been pulled from sign with no context. He can read and write his own full name. Sadly, he read on his Gameboy, in Tetris where he’s happily been “building towers” for years the words “You Lose” and was distraught. His name is increasingly legible even if you don’t know what it is. He recently signed his own thank you cards and put the return address labels on by himself.
Grey loves to be where people are. About the only time he’ll be in another room is when he’s watching tv or is in his room for quiet time. He draws and colors at the kitchen table, puts puzzles together, adores going on walks, plays with his brother (sometimes nicely, sometimes not), helps make desserts, carries his dishes to the counter, builds block towers, and talks with the typical preschooler torrent. Well, not quite. We’ve actually never hit the “why” stage that I expected. He doesn’t usually daisy-chain questions. He seems to be a bit more literal minded. He often wants to know what’s made up and what’s real. (Question for you: would you say aliens are made up?)
He’ll make up a word and tell you it means something in Spanish. Usually what it means is “chocolate milk”.
Grey is episodically enamored with his stuffed animals. For Easter he got a cheap white rabbit. This rabbit has accompanied him often since then. He’s named “Robby” and he’s a baby. Grey uses a gentle voice and takes care of his small, increasingly bedraggled charge. Many things are babies. Grey is often a baby, but never a baby human. Sometimes he’s a baby kitty cat (pink, please). Recently he’s been a baby ghost or a baby zombie.
Since his grandfather died, Grey has been very concerned with mortality. He will often seriously inform you that Papa Flynn is dead. He worries that Robby is going to die because Robby is old. (I know I just said Robby was a baby – one does not expect consistency from a just-four-year-old imagination!) He doesn’t understand what dead means — in his pretend, people often get fixed from being dead and come back. Jesus and the resurrection do not help me lay his questions to rest on this point. Grey is very upset when he hears “dead” or “killed” on the radio. You should’ve heard me explain to him when the thing that got “killed” was the public option in the healthcare debate. Oof!
My eldest is not perfect, of course. He has this obnoxious tendency to pout when he doesn’t get his way. I remind myself that pouting is far superior to hitting or pitching a fit, but still he’s been known to stomp off and hide under the table 4 – 6 times in a one-hour playdate with a friend. He’s also latched onto this annoying way of asking for things. He’ll fake sniff and then say (in a woebegone voice) “I’m sad.” Then he’ll wait for you to ask why. If you don’t ask, he’ll say, “Do you know why I’m so sad?” Then regardless of your response, you get to the meat of it. “I’m sad because I don’t have a lollipop.” We’re working on this. He does still, rarely, pitch grand mal fits. Like all children, they’re more likely when he’s tired and hungry. But once he goes down the road of hitting/pinching/kicking, he doesn’t desist unless stopped with authority. Like, in-your-bedroom-for-the-next-fifteen-minutes or more. He’s VERY persistent.
Grey is a loving, affectionate, kind, funny, silly, fearless young man. I can only hope that he has as much fun being my kid as I have being his mom.