One of the greatest parenting myths of all time is that the twos are terrible. Or, maybe the twos were terrible back in the old days, but a type of evolutionary process we don't yet understand has delayed the terrible parts until later, by a year or two. I know I waited for the terrible twos with L., but they never came. At two, L. was easygoing and engaging, and it wasn't until he turned three that things really changed. A few months into three, it was as if someone had swooped down and taken my formerly easygoing child and replaced him with a body-double--a kid whom I still loved to pieces, but who suddenly threw tantrums, behaved in mysterious ways, and refused to eat any food on his plate that touched other food.
For T., turning four was when the difficulties started. At two, T. was sweet and compliant, and at three she was also sweet and compliant, but at four, T. has definitely developed a mind of her own. She is independent suddenly and strong-willed, and prone to arguing endlessly with us over points that really, really shouldn't be open for discussion. For instance, here's a typical conversation at our house these days:
T.: "I'm going to have one piece of chocolate."
Me: "No, T. We don't eat candy before lunch."
T.: "I going to have just ONE piece of chocolate."
Me: "No, T. No candy before lunch."
T.: "But I just going to have ONE piece."
Me: "No, no, NO chocolate!"
Then there is silence. Suddenly I hear the sound of a chair being moved and the rustling of paper. I rush into the kitchen to find T. helping herself to a piece of chocolate.
Me: "T.! I told you no candy!"
T.: "I just going to have ONE piece."
And so on.
I know I'm not alone. Parents of other four-year-old girls have told me that they are battling the same behaviors. Four seems to be a universal in-between year: our little girls poised between being little and being big; between returning to the safety of preschool and heading off to that vast unknown--kindergarten. It's a year for testing the limits, trying out more manipulative methods of control, and playing at an independence that will come all too soon. I find myself always torn these days. I celebrate T.'s newfound independence and her individuality, and I don't want to squash her spirit by constantly asking her to check her behavior. These days I feel like I'm an omnipresent nagging voice behind her, always calling her back, telling her to listen, to stop what she's doing, to behave herself. Other people are constantly charmed by T.'s often boundary-crossing antics out in public and, if truth be told, I'd be utterly charmed, too, if I weren't her mother.
But, alas, I'm the one in charge, and so I have to step in and pull T. aside--more times than I like to, these days. Many days we seem to be locked in classic mother-daughter battles of wills. Often she doesn't listen and I threaten the loss of privileges, and time spent on the naughty step (do you have one of these? Every house should have one), and more times than not these days, she doesn't listen. The amazing thing about four though is that even through all the naughtiness and willfulness and not-minding that goes on, a different sort of spirit shines through. I squint a certain way, or turn suddenly and find myself surprised by who I see. I catch glimpses of the young woman my daughter will be one day: a strong and independent woman, beautiful and full of spunk and, perhaps, with chocolate around her mouth.