For a while, Harper’s been struggling with what we refer to as random bouts of bad behavior. On the whole she’s always been pretty level-headed. In fact she never threw a single temper tantrum until she was well past the 4 year mark. Mostly it made being a mom pretty easy. Sure there were sleepless nights and that time when she puked up hotdog all over me. And once she took off in a full sprint at Disneyland. She is kind, energetic, and empathetic. She is curious and interested. She is very spirited, very opinionated. She gets that from her mama but she was early to talk and her vocabulary is fairly extensive. She is able to tell us how she feels and what she needs.
But for a while, she didn’t. She was suddenly none of those things. She was difficult, disruptive, and dare I say a little mean. She didn’t care how anyone around her felt. And the littlest request of correction was sending her into what can only be called a fit of rage. No person or item was safe or spared. I’m embarrassed to say it would usually end in yelling, on her part and mine. And tears, for both of us. It was exhausting. I felt like a bad mom, and she felt like a bad kid.
The problem was me. Yeah, I’m admitting it. Publically and hesitantly. There are a lot of parental checkpoints I pass through with proficiency. Every night I check her teeth for stray sugarbugs. I dutifully hold her in my lap as she weeps through vaccinations. She eats her vegetables and likes them. I avoid red dye and processed foods. I make her play outside and limit how much time she spends in front of the TV. Check, check, check. I hug her and kiss her and tell her I love her every single day. Flying colors. What was missing was my time. Undivided time.
I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of times I’ve answered her requests with “Not right now.” or “I’m too busy.” I am busy. I’m a writer and I run my own fledgling photography business . Even so that’s not a good excuse when your child is so desperate for 100% of your attention that they will get it by any means necessary. It wasn’t until I heard her talking to her imaginary friend Lucy on her imaginary cellphone that I put the jigsaw pieces together. I was tapping away on the computer on the living room but I could hear the sounds of Harper playing in her room. Legos forming castles and space ships. Tiny pots and pans clanking together and then clear as the bell “I can’t play with you right now. Don’t you see how busy I am with these emails?” punctuated with an annoyed huff. She nailed it. I could hear every perfect intonation as though it was straight from my own mouth.
The next time she threw a temper tantrum. I hugged her. I didn’t yell and I didn’t exile her to the designated time out spot on top of the washer. She was angry and she struggled and then her ever lengthening arms wrapped around my neck in reciprocation. A tiny little olive branch in the middle of an overwhelming storm. When she calmed down we talked. We talked about being angry and being sad. We talked about what reactions are acceptable and which ones aren’t. Later that day as I attempted to coax her into nap, a battle in and of itself, she curled into me, cheeks still tear damp and whispered “I’m sorry, Mama.” so softly and sweetly that I had to strain to hear it, even in the dark quiet of my bedroom.
Four is hard. Her body is growing. She is getting taller and smarter. Her life and schedule are more complicated. Her brain is expanding and her reality is forming. And it wasn’t about me. I was so angry that she wasn’t listening, that I forgot to listen. I had expected grown up behavior from my four year old and when I didn’t get it, I assumed she was doing it to punish me for my shortcomings as a parent. She wasn’t, she was just asking for what she needed in a fail proof way, by acting crazy.
I’ve adjusted my work schedule so when she’s home I wait until she’s drooling into her Scooby Doo pillow pet to settle in with projects that require large chunks of time. Outside of a few emails, clients have to wait their turn. We are working on communicating but even when upset, her outbursts are tiny sparks in comparison to the infernos they were just a few weeks ago. She can still be a real peach and I think that’s part of the age. Like I said four is hard but it won’t always be like this. In fact in a few months she will be in kindergarten 5 days a week and I will miss these meandering days full of playdoh and laundry basketball and chasing down the ice cream truck before her dad gets home from work. For now, I am embracing 1000 daily questions and pleading eyes begging me for one more round of lava boat. I’m listening this time. Pinky promise, sealed with a kiss.