Thane at Four


I find it very difficult to believe that Thane turned four today. Not because it’s impossible that my little guy is so grown up! No, but because it seems implausible that he hasn’t been four for quite some time. Thane is so big, so capable, and so unbabyish that you could say he was turning five and not bat an eyelash. Fortunately for me, four it is.

Thane’s life has been marked by series of obsessions. I wrote about this when he turned three:

One of the key attributes of Thane is his sequential obsessions. They started, I think, with cars. Following cars were stickers. Then we went to dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were replaced by puzzles (my favorite – he spent long periods quiet and was a puzzle-savant doing 60 piece puzzles at two and a half years old). Puzzles promptly fell out of favor, to be replaced by Scooby Doo. I sense Scooby Doo is waning, but have no idea what will replace it – awkward timing what with the birthday and Christmas buying spree forthcoming.

This year's Halloween Costume
This year’s Halloween Costume

I was wrong, by the way. Scooby Doo is still one of the great joys of his life. But it has been added to by, oh joy! LEGOS! The sun rises on Legos and sets on Legos. Thane patiently coaxes his fingers into practicing the fine-motor gestures required, rebuilding over and over again what his chubby digits break. He clutches the instruction manuals to his chest in his sleep, surrounding his bed with crinkled booklets like votive offerings. He stares at the instructions, willing himself to learn to read so he can master them. (Seriously, Grey is a wizard, but I have to work HARD to put together the kits!) But you have never seen a kid, on the day of his fourth birthday, spend as many happy hours with tiny plastic blocks as Thane did today. (If you gave him something else at his birthday, have no fear! He also had a blast with a bunch of the other things! I think I’m jealous of some of that great loot!)

Legos and Mythbusters
Legos and Mythbusters

Of course, this mono-maniacal intensity comes with a downside. I wanted him to, you know, play with his friends at his birthday instead of demanding to know whether they’d brought little Legos. (Ah birthday boy etiquette! So hard to teach! So important!) And getting him to do things like brush his teeth often get barricaded behind a never-ending litany of “Just let me fix this first”. (Hint: it will NEVER be fixed to satisfaction. That’s the fun.)

I love listening to him while he plays. He tells these lovely little stories. Sometimes he sings – sweetly – to himself. The worlds he builds in his mind are vast and beautiful.

Best brothers
Best brothers

Lest you start to wonder if he’s an autistic savant, I’m here to reassure you that in his non-Lego-obsessed moments (granted, a minority this month), he continues to be a very fun and engaging kid. He has some great friends at school, about whom we often hear. He and Grey have been bound tightly by their shared interest. The difference between the kid brother who breaks your Legos and a brother who looks at you with hero-worship in his eyes while he asks you to assemble his birthday Legos for him is the difference between a rocky relationship and a very solid one. I find them often, heads together, in shared conquest. (Not that they’re never fighting and tattling on each other… just less often.)

Last night as a three year old
Last night as a three year old

Thane likes granola cereal, yogurt (he still eats his first-ever solid food, whole yogurt mixed with unsweetened applesauce, nearly every day), bananas, cheese sticks, and macaroni and cheese. This would be his entire dietary intake if it were left up to him. He likes to lead off our dinner prayers, often starting us on the Doxology. He is determined to capture your attention, and will often persevere gallantly to get it, but isn’t so good about doing anything useful with your attention once he’s gotten it.

Thane is also a goof-ball, in case you were curious
Thane is also a goof-ball, in case you were curious

Thane is now 42.5 inches tall, which is about three and a half feet. He’s a solid (but unknown) weight. He’s extremely physically durable. When he falls down, he picks himself up again and moves on – sometimes even when he probably should get a bandage or something. He dresses himself, takes care of his own toileting (alleluia!), carries his dirty dishes to the counter, and feeds himself unending supplies of bananas when he’s hungry.

Thankfully, he learned a reasonable caution around water this summer. Kind of.
Thankfully, he learned a reasonable caution around water this summer. Kind of.

Thane is completely fearless. He is not afraid of the dark. He is not afraid of the high swings. Rarely does he cling or shy away. It’s almost a bad thing, how bold and confident he is. His balance, for example, is well behind his belief that he can safely walk on a wall like his brother does. He’s also very emotionally durable. He rarely “breaks down” and holds himself on a relatively even emotional swing. This is not to say that he takes thwarting well, but rather that he is steadfast in his desires and emotions.

Preparing for his journey to Uranus
Preparing for his journey to Uranus

There are still some small traces of my baby left there. He has not foresworn cuddling, and is possible cuddlier than he was this time last year. He gives me sweet kisses and hugs. He still sleeps with his best friend Puppy close at hand, and sucks his thumb. He will sit still in my lap for hours if I am reading to him (although we argue about the books: he wants Scooby Doo and super heroes, I want anything OTHER than Scooby Doo or super heroes). Tonight, he laid his tired, curly blond head on my lap while we watched a movie together, and laced his fingers in between mine. He grows up so quickly, and so well, that I treasure these times we share.

My sweet Thane
My sweet Thane

There once was a boy named Grey

Part of me thinks that I should “hold on” to good, milestone posts about my kids until they hit a good milestone. I mean, Grey is only a month away from his fifth birthday! He’s not going to change so much in the intervening month, so I’ll either miss a milestone update, repeat myself, or have to make stuff up. But the part of me that is a middle-aged and more experienced writer whispers “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a’flyin.” Which translates as “Write your blog posts when you’re thinking about them, idiot.”

Grey at Yosemite
Grey at Yosemite

So, Grey. Grey is almost five. If you ask him when his birthday is, he can tell you the date. He knows what day of the week it is every day, and what that means. He knows what month of the year it is, and what that means. He knows his brother’s birthday, and how old Thane will be, and will likely volunteer the information that when Grey is seven, Thane will be four. This is important because seven is the epitome of “grown up” and four, well, Grey is four so four is awesome!

Grey will not being going to Kindergarten this week. I’ve been wrestling with this for over a year. There’s lots of “one the one hand” and “on the other hand” going on. (The one hand is: he’s reading well, can count to 100 and is making light of his preschool curriculum. The other hand is: children tend to do well with an extra year’s emotional maturity before going to school, and Grey will be no exception. Also, he will spend the rest of his life as a big person… why rush it?) The third and final hand, though, is that there is no mechanism for testing in early and I don’t want to start him off in private school, so wait a year it is. I don’t think this will do him any harm.

The reading. Oh, the reading! So Grey first read a book all by himself nearly a year ago, at his 4 year checkup (to the surprise of his doctor and I). He spent several months with the ability to read a word or two. It’s hard work, though, and he preferred to let us do the reading. Since he’s four, and he deserves to still have his mommy and daddy read to him, we praised his reading efforts, cursed when he read something inconvenient to us, and continued to read to him.

But last night! My mother-in-law is here, so I have a few moments of this weird thing called “leisure”. Go ahead and look it up in the dictionary. I was using this precious commodity to read a book for work (hey, at least it was an interesting one). I asked Grey to read with me on the couch. First he read me the book “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket”. (Which, um, seriously. That’s not exactly easy. Do you know how many made-up words there are? He must have a decent grasp of phonics to do it, although he definitely uses rhymes to figure out the pronunciation of the nonce-words.) After that, I told him he had to read to himself. And so he got out a treasury of Little Critter stories and read THREE of them to himself. All by himself.

A quiet moment at a busy party
A quiet moment at a busy party

His reading is sophisticated. He uses funny voices, when appropriate. There’s rhythm and cadence. He sometimes corrects my interpretations when I read aloud to him. He stops at punctuation. He misses words because he is reading for content. It took me a while to figure out that’s a sign he’s reading better, not worse. But a word might say “that” and he’ll read it “the” because he’s taking a holistic view of the sentence. It makes sense. It still flows. But it means that he’s reading sentences instead of words. (And hey, my mom still does that sometimes!) But reading for entertainment!!! Squee!!!!

I bought him some new books to read this weekend while we’re camping. I hope we get him good and hooked.

He’s starting to get a better grasp on his temper. Obviously one of the big components of that is getting more sleep. I need to keep reminding myself how much easier his life is when he gets to bed early, because I get lazy and enjoy his company and don’t always get him to bed with alacrity. But if you take away his toy unfairly, he might yell at you, “I don’t like that!” This may not seem huge, but it is. He’s using his words to work through very hot and present emotions. He’s making huge strides in mastering control of himself.

We watched “Drunken Master” the other night. (What? Jackie Chan is totally kid-appropriate, and I won’t hear otherwise. I just tell him the wine is a magic potion!) He didn’t mind the Kung Fu, which is pretty ballet-like in truth, but he got very concerned when Jackie was really hungry and tried to steal a dinner. He shows empathy in very appropriate ways, I think. (He also loved Drunken Master. “I want to watch it EVERY home day!”)

Grey intellectually understands that effort and practice are the keys to becoming proficient. We were playing Mario Kart Wii and I’m bad enough that I wouldn’t throw the game to protect his ego. (I actually think we’re pretty evenly matched. I’m not a great video gamer.) He stormed off. Afterwards, tearfully, he told me, “I forgot that if I keep trying I’ll get better!”

Grey also likes Rock Band
Grey also likes Rock Band

There are still some challenges, of course, in Grey’s life. He’s a very picky eater, often turning up his nose at the delicious and laborious dinners I place in front of him. I find that hard to deal with. He has a tendency to be a bit emo… there are times when some black eyeliner and vampire-themed-clothing would not be out of place. He hates it when things don’t go perfectly his way. (Don’t we all?) We’re working on cutting out a nail-biting habit before it gets too ingrained. But if he was totally perfect, that would be annoying.
King of the Hill
King of the Hill

Emotionally, Grey is getting very complex. We were in the car the other day, driving home from aikido, and he told me, “Mom, did you know some old people are sad because they didn’t have any children?” Whoof. Complicated social concepts to explain on no notice … GO! So we talked about how for some people that’s true, how some people don’t have kids and aren’t sad about it, and how other people choose to find other ways of having children, like adopting. I finally figured out he’d watched “UP” and really taken to heart that wrenching first 20 minutes. We talked about how that couple was both very happy and a little sad.

Despite being a non-cuddly baby/toddler, Grey has turned into the world’s snuggliest preschooler. He often comes to hug me, give me kisses and snuggle me. He is very solicitous of my well-being, although he is also a big rough-houser. He’s getting big enough that we’re teaching him how to safely rough-house with us. But he is so gentle and kind, to me and to his little brother. And most especially to his two favorite animals du jour: Tigry and Puppy. They are his children. He’ll give you the complete family tree of all his stuffed animals, but they’re his favorites.

He tells me, without provocation or priming, that he loves me very much and that I am his “Sweet mommy”.

He is my sweet Grey.

Grey with Tigry and Puppy
Grey with Tigry and Puppy

Three cheers for Marmee!*

My mom has come out to visit. I know Holy Week might seem an odd time for a pastor to be a continent away, but Spring Break coincided with Holy Week this year and she is also a teacher, and so she came! My father is coming out in a week or two. My mother-in-law is coming out towards the end of April when I am going to FRANCE (and Amsterdam) for WORK with an agenda that has a bullet point for WHITE ASPARAGUS SEASON. This whole work thing is going fantastically, if you ask me.

Anyway, it’s sort of feast or famine with help for us. For reasons I’m still attempting to work out, our relatives are less inclined to visit us in February? Why on earth do people not feel downright DRAWN to New England in February? The mind boggles.

But it’s been awesome having my mom around. I sometimes feel guilty for how hard it is not to take my mom’s time and help for granted. Like of course she’ll make me my favorite cinnamon rolls. And of course she’ll get up with the kids so I can sleep in. She’s my MOMMY. She’ll take care of me FOREVER. And then I think about 27 years from now, when I’ll be where she is now, and wonder if I’ll be so gracious. It’s a sobering part of parenthood to remember that everything you expect from your parents, your children should have a right to expect from you. Do you hold your folks and yourself to the same standard? I hope my husband and I can live up to the ones set for us!

She took the kids on Sunday, after church, so my husband and I could be cultured dilettantes. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, courtesy of a neighbor who gave us tickets. We wandered the dim remains of The Secrets of Tomb 10A and marveled at the items which have traveled so very far through time and space to arrive before us. We ate overpriced pastry at an artistic table and drank cappuccino and no one interrupted us. Then we had dinner in Cambridge, followed by an evening of gaming and hanging out with friends. We didn’t get home until late. It was AWESOME.

I think a little more concerted attention, as well as the final arrival of his in-process molars, has really helped Thane. He’s developed a deep and abiding love of apples. You wouldn’t think such a little guy with so few teeth would be able to eat an entire apple, leaving nothing behind, but you would be wrong. “Appa! Appa! Appa!” Happily, it also keeps him occupied while a grownup type person cooks dinner. It will be interesting to see if he’s permanently leaving the “Cling to mom’s leg and weep while she prepares dinner” stage behind, or if he’s just taking a hiatus with it while he has Grandmama to shower attention on him. He has started talking a mile a minute. I was trying to remember if this was 18 month old standard, or if it’s Thane-specific. The nice ladies at daycare comment on it nearly every day, though, so I’m thinking Thane specific. One of his favorite phrases is “E-I-E-I-O”, which means exactly what you think it means.

Grey is just full of awesome. I LOVE LOVE LOVE 4 years old. He’s so much FUN. The imagination is off full tilt. The knock-knock jokes rise to new levels of zany. He’s solicitous and loving. He’s finally ceasing to NEED the naps that he dropped nearly a year ago, so is less tired. He remembers everything, and we start to get precious glimpses of his life without us. [DIGRESSION: including the fact, which we’d completely missed, that they don’t heat up his lunch at preschool. They do for Thane, so I ASSUMED they were warming Grey’s lunches of soups and casseroles which all were designed to need heating. But no. Cold spaghetti. Cold potato casserole. Cold everything. NO WONDER he didn’t eat his lunches. I wouldn’t like cold macaroni and cheese either! So after a bit of foaming at the mouth followed by a bout of self-recrimination I took the blessed opportunity of another grownup in the household to run to Target and buy thermoses. Star Wars themed. Because I pay attention to the patter, which now has a strong, if ill-informed Star Wars bent. “Did you know that Annakin cut of Dark Vader’s head?!?!?” /END DIGRESSION] Grey plays these wild, imaginative games with other kids. Yesterday one of his friends came over and they disappeared and were playing games with shifting rules defined by parameters grownups can’t possibly imagine. Delightful. With me, in the blessed space cleared by mom making dinner, Grey and I turned into Annakin and Luke Skywalker, with Thane playing a surprisingly convincing R2-D2. There were laser noises and epic light-saber battles up the stairs. Even Thane got into the laser-noise action, bopping around saying “pew pew pew!”

And after the truly epic deluge of the last week, today the sky has emerged washed clean. The lawns are greening up. The forsythia is out in shocking yellow to color-deprived eyes. My hyacinth waft perfume on the afternoon breeze as I return to my home in daylight. I will not be TOO cold in my Easter dress this Easter, for possibly the first time EVER. And the Easter Bunny has brought some fun stuff for two little boys. I’m in an Easter spirit and frame of mind, this Good Friday.

Anyway, there – sans thesis statement of unifying theme – is what’s up with me lately. How about you?

*Bonus points if you catch the reference

Grey’s letter to Santa

Grey wrote his first letter to Santa this weekend. Well, he really dictated it to his father, but he signed it himself and drew his own smiley face. Here it is, in its four-year-old’s glory:

Dear Santa,

I’m Grey. I want a Super Mario 31 DS Game for Christmas. I really like it and Pablito has it. Ed note: I better figure out what this is before Christmas, eh?

When I was 2, I used to clean up everything. Now that I am 4 years old, I feed the cats, I take my plate to the kitchen, I clean up my blocks, and I clean up my room.

I would like some new, plain old blocks. And a new robe. And I would also like a new fire car just like the one I have.

Robby, my baby rabbit, would like his own mixing bowl and spatula. She is two years old.

Thane is my baby brother. I would like Thane to have another Robby.

Thank you and Merry Christmas

Lastname Grey 🙂

He wrote “Grey” first, and there was no room for “Lastname” to the right so it was prepended.

Some notes… how awesome is it that he wants blocks and a bathrobe for Christmas? Also, the thing with Robby is adorable. The only problem is he refuses to bring Robby anywhere (I wanted Robby in our family Christmas pictures) because he’s afraid people will laugh at Robby, who does look rather, er, well-loved.

I also like the buttering up in the second paragraph.

He often talks about when he was 2, or 1 or a baby. Sometimes he’ll talk about how when Sebastian (his cousin) was 2, he did _____ (thing Grey wants to do). You have no idea how much fun Sebastian has in Grey’s imagination.

So what do you think internet? Has Grey been a good boy, who deserves new “plain old blocks” and a bathrobe? Will Robby get his mixing bowl? Will Thane find his own Robby under the tree? If he does, who do you REALLY think will end up playing with him, Grey or Thane?

You’ll have to wait until Christmas to find out!

(Also, grandparental type people, coordinate with me on any of these you greatly desire to obtain! Except the blocks — you can never have too many blocks.)

Ages, stages and pictures

I think that when you have two children, they end up being a sort of behavioral teeter-totter. Is one of them being angelically delightful? Prepare for the other one to be in one of those phases.

Grey is being angelically delightful. I think you know what that means.

Grey, the prepared painter
Grey, the prepared painter

But first, let’s talk about that delight. It’s really amazing to watch your infant become a little person. The astonishing thing to me is how long a path it is to being a completely independent person (or having your mom able to see you as such). Let’s see, some of the awesome things Grey’s been doing include:

  • Feeding the cats without being asked. I know, if you have larger people that doesn’t sound like a huge chore. But for a four year old to remember his job and do it correctly without nagging is pretty fantastic.
  • Telling knock knock jokes. Really, really, really bad knock knock jokes. Here’s an example of a Grey knock knock joke.
    Knock knock.
    Who’s there?
    Banana cow eating milk
    Banana cow eating milk who?
    Banana cow eating milk with bread and jam in its nose (riotious laughing)

    I’m trying to teach him to say “Non-sequitur cow” for the who’s there bit, because it would make his truly da-da-esque punchlines actually funny.
  • Being polite. There are pleases and thank yous. He often does what he’s asked cheerfully. I can’t tell you how awesome polite is, when your child has trained you for epic pouting tantrums. It’s just so…. nice.
  • Learning how to play the game. Both literally and figuratively. He’s been playing a lot of games lately (thank you, oh long-suffering Corey), and he’s starting to do cool things like follow the rules. Next up is losing gracefully.
  • Asking us questions about our day. Yesterday as we sat down for dinner, Grey said, “So, daddy, how was your day at work?” and listened to the answer. So cool.
  • Not throwing fits. For example, every day twice a day (on work days) it is time for him to turn off his DS and give it to me (since he only gets it in the car). I was figuring we’d spend several weeks where he’d lose his DS every other day as he discovered that pitching a fit about turning over the DS = not getting it next car trip. But instead, I’ve had to do that about twice. He often turns it off of his own volition as we turn onto the correct street and says “Here mom!” in a cheerful voice. The MIND BOGGLES. Moreover, I will have you know that he defeated the big Penguin in Kirby. FYI.
  • Having opinions about his clothes. The other day he declared the blue striped shirt I presented him with as insufficiently awesome. He emerged from his room wearing:
    -Red Spiderman socks
    -Blue sweatpants with a red stripe
    -A yellow Spongebob shirt where Spongebob is has Groucho glasses on that says “Incognito”.
    He declared himself awesomely attired for the day.
  • Loving his brother. He loves to give Thane hugs. He asks to please play with Thane. He often manages to find a way to redirect Thane’s attention when the same toy is desired. He watches to make sure that Thane isn’t doing something forbidden. When Thane is fussy (see also: all the damn time lately), he will dance around and make silly faces and play peekaboo to try to make him laugh instead. What a joy to watch
  • So Grey is largely awesome.

    And then Thane. Oh Thane. Oh my sweet son, my joy and my delight. I hope we all survive this stage. I remember this stage. This is the stage I hate. With passion. And prejudice. This is the throwing food and screaming phase, the I-want-to-open-the-kitchen-cabinets phase, the everything-goes-straight-in-the-mouth phase.

    First, the good. After a month-long pause, Thane is acquiring and using new words again. I think I’ve figured out why I’m having such trouble tracking his language (well, other than the other person talking non-stop about “Banana cows with milk in their noses”). When Grey was this age, I’d get down at eye-height and say, “Grey, can you say nose? Nose? Can you say nose?” and Grey obliging would say “no”. Thane, on the other hand, is having none of that. I’ll get down and point at his protuberance and say, “Thane, can you say nose? Nose? Can you say nose?” Thane will give me a look of utter disgust, attempt to wrench my mouth open with his fingers so he can find out what’s in there, and say very distinctly and clearly, “Ma ma”. I don’t know how to interpret this. Does he not know what a nose is? Is he confused about the difference between HIS nose and MY nose? Or does he totally know what a nose is and how to say it, but lacks the dramatic motivation to deliver his line? Or is “ma ma” his way of telling me, uh, something? Anyway, the key is to listen in context for appropriate words. I have several witnesses who will vouch to the fact that when they gave Thane something (like a bit of turkey), he clearly said “Thank you”. (Or, you know, “day do” which is practically the same thing in 12 month old).

    But language and lack there-of plays a huge role in why he’s so frustrating. He can’t tell me what he wants. It’s much harder for him to grab my full attention, in competition with his brother, when one person is saying something fascinating about “Banana cows moo coffee” and the other one is simply screeching unpleasantly. I have a sneaking suspicion that the solution to this might be baby sign, but I’m not really sure when we’d have time to teach it to him. It might be faster just to wait until he starts talking more.

    The hard part about this stage is the screeching. He’s on the floor and screeching because he wants to be picked up. He’s happily conducting investigations into the pot cupboard and screeching because I remove him. He’s bored with Cheerios and screeching as he flings them with great prejudice to the floor. (This is the stage where having a dog is awfully handy!) He’s still hungry and screeching for some as-yet unknown desired food, which he then proceeds to discover has an interesting texture and squishes in his hand before flinging to join the cheerios. In his car seat, he flings aside his toys and screeches protest at his confinement. In my arms being held, he screeches and flings himself down with his considerable weight because he sees something he wants to play with. He hits my face, and screeches when I correct him. He sees his brother playing with something cool and screeches with desire. Changing his diaper or attempting to put clothes on him is a complete nightmare. He twists and writhes without ceasing. He’s REALLY STRONG and you have to apply considerable force if you’re going to physically control him. And he’s 12 months old, which means there’s no way to verbally control him. And he’s very focused, which means distraction techniques are not particularly effective with him. He turns and turns and turns (and screeches) as you try to strap him into his car seat. It’s completely exhausting.

    By the time I hand him over to Rubertina in the morning (his new favorite thing is closing the door on my face because he loooooooves Abuela), I’m not particularly sad to be parting.

    How could anyone as cute as me ever be annoying?
    How could anyone as cute as me ever be annoying?

    The worst part is that his investigative and easily frustrated current stage make it very difficult to do things. Invite to a friend’s house? Grey will be lovely and behaved, but Thane is a small, destructive tornado. Trip to a museum? How will we deal with Thane? Playdate? Grey can go but I won’t inflict Thane on anyone. For example, I’d like to take Grey to the grocery store to buy the things our church is providing for the Thanksgiving food baskets. But I lack the courage and energy to take Thane too. This might mean it doesn’t happen.

    When I was in labor with Thane, I found that prior experience was actually a hindrance. As I went into transition, I knew how much hurt and hard work was ahead of me, instead of simply going with the flow and taking each moment as it comes. I suspect I’m doing a similar thing now. If I recall, this difficult pre-verbal stage lasts nearly a year. Grey started getting awesome to do things with about the time of his third birthday. That’s two years from now. So instead of taking Thane as he is, I keep looking ahead to post-screeching phases. I think that doesn’t help me be a great parent to him now.

    Writing this all out, I’m starting to think that we need to provide Thane with some more physical activities. Maybe that screeching is just excess energy that doesn’t have a good direction. The other thing is that maybe I SHOULD work with him with sign. I know a lot of people who have sworn by the calming effects of giving a child a way to communicate before they can coordinate their lips and tongue to the efforts. At worst, it might give us some one on one time that can be hard for him to acquire.

    I love my curly-haired, crinkly-nosed Thane-boy. I’d like to enjoy spending time with him. One of my delights is when he’s both loving and playing. He’ll play with a toy, come over for a hug leaning his curly head into my chest, and then after a calm moment go back to his play. What a joy!

    Well, now that you’ve gotten through all this (ah, how you wish I had an editor!), I have a reward for you. Here are some pictures of our family this Fall!

    I have my Bachelor’s in Parenting

    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.

    Im four, mom
    I'm four, mom

    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.

    Grey loves games
    Grey loves games

    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 in the woods
    Grey in the woods

    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?)

    Grey the baker
    Grey at aikido

    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!

    Grey at aikido
    Grey at aikido

    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.

    Grey the fearless
    Grey the fearless

    Grey anecdotes

    Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week
    Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week

    Grey turns four in a week (!) and I’ll give a more complete update then. I’m also behind on Thane — I have his last monthly update to do before his first birthday. (Sniff sniff!) But I thought I’d share some anecdotes about the person my eldest is.

    Grey notices how I look. When I come downstairs in the morning, only when he is really impressed by my appearance (eg not often enough to be meaningless), Grey will say, “Wow, Mom. You look really nice this morning. I like your dress/shirt/skirt.” It actually makes me feel awesome when Grey thinks I look nice, and it makes me feel even better to know that he’s unafraid to tell someone something nice about them. I give my husband full credit for modelling this behavior.

    On that theme, the other night I was putting away Grey’s clothes while he went downstairs to kiss his Meme and father goodnight. When he came back upstairs, he said in his smallest possible voice (a rarely used option), “Mommy, I want you to put me to bed because you’re very beautiful and I love you.” Apparently, that was also what he had told them when he was downstairs. Frankly, there’s only one other person who I care thinks me beautiful, and he tells me that too. But it’s hard not to be flattered by the sincerity of a preschooler’s compliments.

    Grey and I were playing Mario Kart Wii and we were both equally execrable. Really, we’re terrible. The computer beats us both silly every time. After one particularly atrocious showing, I turned to Grey and said, “We’re not very good at this, are we?” He replied, “No, we aren’t. I guess we should just keep trying and then we’ll get better.” Yes. This. This is what I want you to know my son — that you get better by trying, not by being.

    His ability to track long term consequences is improving. Yesterday, when it was time to turn off the tv and go to preschool, Grey threw a chair at me (lest you think he’s perfect). For this sin, in addition to a 30 minute in-car-timeout (the kids so know when we really really need their cooperation!), he lost his morning tv privileges this morning. He actually remembered, and told US why he couldn’t watch tv. We’re working on explaining better strategies for getting what he wants and needs, and pointing out these unacceptable strategies simply don’t work. Slowly but surely this is being effective.

    Grey loves it when his daddy blows on his belly.

    He is still extremely monochromatic when he colors, but his drawings are starting to include more hues. He doesn’t seem to like green, which is a pity because his room is green. He likes blue a lot.

    (Added by request) The other day was Grey’s third aikido session. I considered it fantastic that he could bow onto the mat and remembered the Japanese phrases for the beginning and ending of class (he actually made up a song about the beginning phrase!) This session was for aikido testing, when the kids (presumably those who had been around more than a fortnight, of course!) would be tested to see if they were ready for the next level. Sensei started out by asking, “Ok, who’s ready to be tested!” My enthusiastic, son flung both hands up into the air and said “Me! ME!” Sensei actually DID test him, and he did pretty darn well for his THIRD TIME EVER. It was awesome. How I love his willingness to fling himself into the breach without fear of failure or humiliation!

    He is a joy and a delight.

    He's also a terrifying driver
    He's also a terrifying driver