I rushed into the boy’s bedroom after hearing a guttural wail. In the ten steps it took to take me there, I imagined all scream-inducing scenarios and tried my best to prepare for them: pooped his pants, bounced off the bed, bounced off the dresser, swung from the curtains onto the bed into the dresser, dog chewed the arms off another beloved stuffed animal companion, or- the worst disaster by far- I mistakenly left some spare gift receipt or tiny shred of bow and he’s pieced together that Santa Clause isn’t real and the elf, the one on the shelf, he’s just now learning it’s just a skinny-armed doll and I’ve ruined Christmas and childhood for eternity.
Turned the knob.
And with one selfish pause I prayed that he’d shat himself. At least that one’s not my fault.
But there he was, just sitting on his bed fiddling with the laces of his sneakers. It took a moment to notice his slumped, defeated shoulders and the look of absolute gloom frowning from his little eyes. He was near tears and there was nary a turd or catastrophe to be found.
With a mysteriously heavy heart he let loose a deep sigh before explaining:
“Arrrrrghhh!,” he shook his frustrated fists toward the ceiling-fanned sky. “I CAN’T TIE MY SHOES!”. His voice was a helium-pinched replica of a Stella-scorned Marlon Brando.
“You have to be FIVE to tie your shoes right. I’m not FIVE. I’m only FOUR. I can’t do ANYTHING because I’m only FOUR. NOT FIVE! FOUR! WHAT AM I FOUR FOR?,” and he is clearly wrestling with a little more than those frayed shoe strings. I wait, because surely he means to add “And what is the purpose of life? And what’s my role in the Universe?”. All that angst in such an itty bitty body!
“Ermmmm. Uh. Yup. Yuppppers. But um. Soooo….,” I am mouth-dumb and brain-dry. I wasn’t expecting such existential angst for another 15 years or so. Because truly…
…what is the point of a 19-year-old?
Baby clearly caught the Emo Bug early, though, and I couldn’t help feeling like it’s all my fault. Wasn’t his insistence that we listen only to that one Fall Out Boy song because it’s his “angry music” a clue? Could the soothing, uplifting songs of the local Jesus Pop station have calmed his frazzled spirit? Wait. And is his aversion to baths just the beginning of a dirty transition into the gritty subculture of Grunge?
I just kind of blew my cheeks out and scrunched my nose. It is my Thinking Face. I might have whistled a little, the melody to a tune I made up called “Hard Questions”. I definitely kept staring up and over and away at a corner of the wall. I was searching for some answers because EXCELLENT QUESTION AND I HAVE NO IDEA.
He looked dangerously close to reaching for the eyeliner and hitting it hard. Next Step: growing his hair out long enough to hide his eyes and therefore shield The Man from glimpsing into his disillusioned soul. Next Next Step: using overly dramatic phrases and finding only vampires, bats, and sadness of any interest. Many Steps Later: pens horribly whiny song called “Toddler Wasteland”. Releases it like a creepy Garth Brooks side project and everyone’s like “Thomas. Seriously. Why are you wearing that wig? We all know your real name isn’t Apath E. Evermore”.
Like with every other act of parenting, I put on my straight face and made things up. I saw a glimpse into the future with a toddler listening to Dashboard Confessional while crying fresh tears into his black nail polish and let me tell you one thing: Mama ain’t about all that.
Here, dear Thomas, is exactly what you’re four for:
You are four for coloring outside the lines. Three-year-olds can barely hold Crayons the right way (rookies), and five-year-olds are so boring they only color in the designated shapes with appropriate color-to-object relations. Who says that tree can’t be hot pink and black and crooked? Buzzkill 5-year-olds, that’s who.
You are four for mispronouncing everything and somehow making up better words in the process. Smaller kids just kind of slobber single syllables. Older kids start sounding like adults (cue yawn). Only four-year-olds can speak clearly when they speak nonsense. You know what? A Corvette should be called a Cool-Vette.
You are four for cuddling with mommy but wiping your own bum. Babies aren’t potty trained. They just pee all over themselves willy-nilly. It’s as bizarre as it is true. Older kids can aim for the pot so moms become rather useless. Four is the just right place where you are capable of amazing, big kid things but still humor your old mama and let yourself be babied once in a while.
You are four for tax evasion and free food. Worry not about the number little one. I’d love to not know how to tie my shoes or pay bills or monitor my caloric intake or listen to the news. You don’t know just right.
Just when I felt sure I’d faked a good enough response the doorbell rang. Buttercup perked up, tripping over his unruly laces and marveling, happily at a mail truck. Almost disappointed to have brainstormed so hard to cheer him up just to have a UPS dude in dumb brown shorts steal my thunder. Emotional rollercoaster safely rolled to a stop. Small-Person-Self-Reflective Crisis averted. Hiding the eyeliner just in case.
Most dramatic display of childhood drama?
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