“Horse. Horse. Horse? HORSE. Donkeys. Donkeys. Mooooooooo. Moooooooo. DONKEYS! Farm? Farm. Baaa. Baaa. Doat? Doat. Horse. Cock-a-loo. COCK-a-loo. Horse. Moo? Moooooo. Birdie? Birdie? DUCK. DUCK! Duck. Horse.”

Dal Capo al Coda.

While Dylan can essentially be described as a pint-sized, squeaky-voiced farm-fetishizer these days, Riley at the ripe old age of four is busy developing some new personality traits I can only describe as PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY TELL ME THIS ISN’T WHAT FOUR IS GOING TO BE LIKE OH JESUS KILL ME NOW challenging. There’s the whining, for one thing, which has been ratcheted up to a new level capable of triggering a thrilling physiological response in my eyeballs involving them protruding from my skull by a good three or four inches and painfully vibrating at the ends of their optic nerves. There’s also the dramatic scenery-chewing over-reactions to mild knee-scrapings and other bodily injuries, which feature bloodcurling screams accompanied by howls of “NOOOO! NOOOO! NOOOO!” while people in neighboring counties sadly shake their heads and reach for phones to dial CPS.

Most upsetting to me, however, is how he’s dealing with frustration lately. The moment he’s thwarted by some activity he’s attempting—getting his bike turned around, for example, or untangling a string—he starts flipping out. “I CAN’T! I CAAAAAN’T!” he screams, becoming more and more agitated while I try and calmly remind him to take his time, ask for help if he needs it, try setting the bike down or a second, chill the fuck out before the nice lady from Protective Services comes by again, etc. Likely as not, the item in question gets hurled to the ground while he shrieks “I DON’T WANNA” and somebody gets a time out because Mommy’s eyeballs are doing that Warner Brothers thing again.

Dylan often expresses frustration by doing fishflops and angrily eating dog hair off the carpet, which is less than pleasant in its own right, but Riley’s I CAAAN’Ts make me sad because god, I just don’t want him to feel that way. I don’t want him to feel like he can’t. I want his world to feel like exactly what it is right now: wide open, everything spread before him.

I know he’s a little kid and things sometimes feel like a Really Big Deal even when they involve, like, taking a extra half second to un-Velcro his shoe before attempting to remove it. I know children are not exactly known for their patience. I know it’s not out of the norm for tiny things to morph into giant enormous overwhelming challenges that light up the TILT section of a preschooler’s brain, maybe particularly during times when they’re tired or hungry or their moon is in Uranus or whatever. But I worry a little about his self confidence. He can be a tentative guy, and I want to be doing everything I can to help him feel . . . you know, like he can. Or at least how to deal with life’s inevitable difficulties without resorting to a total system meltdown.

I guess the more I think about it, it’s less that he’s changed, and more that I have. I expect ridiculous histrionics from a toddler, but I expect more from my big boy. And for the 385727485th time, I wish there was a manual for all this.

Comments

93 Responses to “Muddling”

  1. Sally on September 10th, 2009 10:49 am

    I stole a line from my cousin that I use when the whining starts: “Only dogs can hear you when you whine.” And I refuse to respond until I hear a normal, polite voice. It works – and very quickly.

    My 4.5 yo daughter is also a quitter. She not only “can’t” but often she “wont”. She refuses to try something she can’t do and will not take instruction for more than a couple of minutes. If it doesn’t yield immediate results – she’s out. She is a very verbal, bright, funny, imaginative child. I worry that we have somehow unconsciously taught her that she’s “too good” to have to work at things.

  2. JB on September 10th, 2009 10:50 am

    Andrea on September 10th, 2009 6:54 am:
    Loved reading your comments… very difficult for me to not get a big head over those words. Of course I then clicked through to your blog post about bad habits you CAN’T break. WTF? : )

  3. Sundry on September 10th, 2009 10:56 am

    Good grief, is this like the first JB comment in the history of my blog? Too bad Mr. Superhero can’t put away his LAUNDRY to save his life, but I guess he’s pretty busy being a total badass at all times.

    *loving cough*

  4. Andrea on September 10th, 2009 11:14 am

    Well JB, I feel pretty stupid now, don’t I?

    That’s why I read your blog, Linda. To feel like I’m not in this shit alone, and also that you and JB are so not CAN’T people, so maybe I should just take a cue from you guys and try Yes I Fucking Can on for size.

    Thank God I didn’t post about my period or farting really loud at the doctor’s office or something.

  5. Claudia on September 10th, 2009 11:19 am

    Linda, my five year old is very much like Riley. I found a book that helped – not 100% but some – and it might be worth looking for. It’s called Raising Your Spirited Child.

    http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Your-Spirited-Child-Rev/dp/0060739665/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252606653&sr=8-1

    My daughter (just started kindergarten this week) is whiny and stubborn and easily frustrated. She feels things (everything) much more deeply than any of the rest of us and while I can’t say the book is a magic bullet that will penetrate their brain and make them magically wonderful children, it gave me some tips for reacting (or not) to the behavior.

  6. amber on September 10th, 2009 11:44 am

    I can totally relate. Any time my 3.5 year old says, “I caaaaan’t!” It drives me NUTS. Because: Hi. You just did [thing in question] five minutes ago. Chill.

    Also, if it makes you feel any better, my youngest, who is 2, is the most dramatic, emotional kid EVER, as I gleefully captured with my camera one fine evening, then worked into a 1.5 minute-long video for posterity’s sake. It’s pretty great.

    http://www.vimeo.com/6461854

    Making fun of your children! It’s so…therapeutic.

  7. Trish on September 10th, 2009 12:00 pm

    My son was heck on wheels at 4 yrs. old. He couldn’t (ummmm…wouldn’t)do a thing for himself. I CAAANNN’TTTT and IT’S TOOOOO HAAARRRDDDD!!!!!! were his daily mantra. Pretty soon, I figured out all the yelling wasn’t about low self-esteem, it was the plain, simple fact that he wanted ME to do it instead. I’d help him the first time, but if it was something he was more than capable of, he was on his own.

    I don’t care what anyone says ages 3 and 4 are so much more difficult than age 2 for all parties involved. They are faster, stronger, and have all the words to yell “OWIE, OWIE, OWIE…you’re HURRRTTTINNGG me!” in the grocery store. :)

    Trish

  8. KFritz on September 10th, 2009 12:26 pm

    I actually remember feeling like that when I was a kid. I also remember my grandmother (the uber-victorian matriarch whom we all feared and adored) sternly saying to me as I was still in the throes of whatever impossibility I was pissed at, that “Can’t” was the wrong word. She said: no, you WON’T do it. You no don’t WANT to do it. You just WANT to be mad, and that is why you WON’T do it. So come inside when you calm down and we’ll have some applesauce.
    I still have self confidence issues, but the Can’t vs. Won’t debate sticks with me today and has undoubtedly shaped my life. Recognizing that being mad is an experience in itself was a big moment for me as a kid. Learning that “can’t” is a state of mind was an even bigger one.

  9. Nicole on September 10th, 2009 1:40 pm

    I have no advice to offer because my kid is only 16 months old. But I am now sufficiently terrified. I thought the “interesting” behavior of the “boisterous” 4 year old two doors down was a result of “alternative parenting philosophies.” So what you’re all saying is no matter how many self help, perfect parenting, supernanny, toddler whisperer, sleep training books I read, I won’t be able to prevent all of this??? Nooooooooooo!!!!!! And while we are on the subject, I’d like thank my own mother who has offered zero help because according to her, neither my brother nor I EVER threw a single tantrum because she, “…would never allow such a thing!” What I’m coming to realize is that either my mom was as baked as an ice cream Alaska throughout our early childhood (it was the 70s after all) or I’m going to be requiring some serious psychotherapy sometime in the near future. WTFF?

  10. kristylynne on September 10th, 2009 2:58 pm

    My own four-year-old is doing the same thing. Case in point: His pediatrician wants to get his fine motor skills evaluated because he wouldn’t hold a pen right and draw a picture of a face for her when asked to. He CAN do it, just gets frustrated when the picture doesn’t turn out the way he wants. Throws the pen, has a hissy fist, walks away. Then is resistant to the whole drawing idea for weeks. I am always encouraging him not to give up, to try his best, etc., but he just gets so frustrated. I think it’s normal for four. At least, I hope it is. :-)

  11. Jeanne on September 10th, 2009 3:02 pm

    My oldest is almost 4 and it’s exactly the same story. Was terrified to send him to preschool, certain the teacher would pull me aside the first day because DAMN what is wrong with this kid?

    But no he’s just 4-ish and omg. I lose contacts because my eyes roll back in my head so much.

    Please tell me immediately when it stops… Riley’s a few months older than mine.

  12. Kami Lewis Levin on September 10th, 2009 4:37 pm

    yes. (shoot me in the head.) four is the new fourteen. please make it stop…

    sigh. At least we have each other.

  13. Rosie on September 10th, 2009 5:49 pm

    Yeah… four started off with a walk through hell. It’s gotten better, but it was a rough start. Enjoy. hehehehehehehehehehehe

  14. Liesel on September 10th, 2009 6:58 pm

    I hesitate to write this comment because I have no children of my own but I want to share this with you so here goes. I am not making any judgement here. Zero, in fact. There is a new book just released called Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It’s based on a lot of research. I have just started it, really like it, and hope to use it when I have my own kids. Like I said, no judgement here. I can’t begin to understand how frustrating (and rewarding) parenting must be at times. Just passing on a potentially helpful resource. Good luck!

  15. BigBertha on September 10th, 2009 7:56 pm

    “joaaanna on September 9th, 2009 5:15 pm One thing that I found with kids that I babysat and later taught at preschool (no kids of my own YET) is when they whine at me… I whine right back at them. Let them hear how it sounds”

    Seriously? Your tactic is to mock the children? When I hear people doing this I want to smack the s*** out of them. Sorry. This jumped out at me. I cannot abide it. If I ever heard my babysitter mocking my child she would never be hired again.

  16. Reese on September 10th, 2009 11:29 pm

    I’m with you on the “Four sucks” bench. The two’s were delightful, three’s were a little more challenging. Now that 4 is here I am about to lose my mind with the incessant questions and dramatic performances I get to witness several times a day. You are not alone, trust me.

  17. Stacey on September 11th, 2009 10:39 am

    It’s not the terrible twos. Not even the trying threes. It’s the EFFIN Fours that nearly killed me too. But like most phases, this too shall pass. Keep up the good work my dear.

  18. Helen on September 11th, 2009 1:38 pm

    I have 3 gorwn kids ( 24, 22 and 20) and 3 littlies 9, 8 and 6. I can’t stand whining, worked out quite early on that acting completely stupid when they whine, puzzled expression and a ” Oh my, I cannot hear anything but this NOISE, terrible noise, if only someone would TALK to me I would be able to help but this terrible NOISE stops me helping in anway at all” pretty soon you get to be able to just say ” No idea, noise” and they talk properly, husband says ” Is that a question because darned if I know what you are saying”
    Actually acting very bored with it all works in so many situation, especially as they get older.
    I have to say though that if I had had even a tiny idea of how great it is to be the mother of grown kids, OMG I would have had 13 of them. It is the best thing in the world when you get to see how great these little people turn out. Worth it all. Every eye boggling, head exploding moment.

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  20. Anonymous on September 11th, 2009 7:26 pm

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  21. Anonymous on September 11th, 2009 7:28 pm

    when i say that I want to be like you, i mean, I want to “write like you”,

  22. Anonymous on September 11th, 2009 7:32 pm

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  23. Anonymous on September 11th, 2009 7:34 pm

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  24. Anonymous on September 11th, 2009 7:39 pm

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  25. Jackie Joy on September 13th, 2009 10:24 am

    Just chiming in with the masses to say: when my daughter was four, it was the exact. same. scene. And, my own personal hell: the “I’m never going to be able to do it EVER AGAIN???!!” In fact, she still does that from time to time, but thank God has grown out of it for the most part. Four was better than three, but still tough. Hang in there!

  26. Karen on September 13th, 2009 5:41 pm

    The whinning..is by far the most annoying phase – and it lasts 2 FREAKING YEARS!!!! So gird your loins….it’s going to get a lot worse

  27. Trenches of Mommyhood on September 14th, 2009 1:28 pm

    It’s the Terrible Twos, Tortuous Threes and The FUCKING Fours.

    I hear a lot of whiny, “But I caaaaan’t do it” in my Trenches too.

    My response is automatic now: “Don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you can do.”

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