Wisdom for the Ages (age four to be exact)
“How old are you mommy?” My four-year-old asks when I’m driving, answering my cellphone or otherwise concentrating on something besides her. It’s an attention getting question, but the truth is the number forty fascinates her. Now that she can count to thirty (excluding the numbers eleven, sixteen and twenty-one–who needs twenty-one anyway), FORTY is staggeringly high.
I don’t have time to think about my age, not with a four-year-old around. Nor do I have time to talk on my cell. I used to get in a text or two while Maggie played at the park, but these days if she sees me on my phone while she’s on the swing, she’ll holler, “Stop texting and push me!” (Burned, right there, in front of all the attentive parents. Ouch!)
Maggie, like most four-year-olds, is tuned into everything around her, not only what adults say but how they say it. After picking up Jonah from rugby practice one night, he made the grave error of tapping the back seat repetitively with his empty water bottle. (We don’t tap things in the car.) Seated next to him, Maggie warned in a scolding tone, “Jonah, don’t do that. Mom is driving and needs to focus.” (Where does she get this stuff?)
Still piecing together the world at large, four-year-olds think about “rules,” and as a general rule: things done often enough become rules. I realized this when after dance class, on the car ride home, Maggie and I had the following conversation:
Maggie: Mom, I really want you to play Ring-a-Round-the-Rosie with me when we get home. But I know it’s against the rules, you have to make dinner.
Mom: I think we can dance first.
Maggie: Are you allowed to do that?
Mom: (channeling Dirty Harry) I’m the mom. I can break the rules.
Since then, I’ve tried “breaking the rules” more often…dancing more, straightening the house less, leaving the dirty clothes for the laundry fairies to wash (and other dreams I’ve dreamed.) One trick: setting the kitchen timer for “Mom time.” Sometimes it’s five minutes, other times it’s half an hour, but for whatever length of time Maggie knows she gets me 100%, distraction free, to play anything she wants, guaranteed. The great thing is we both come away feeling happy and more content.
Now that fall is here and the clocks have turned back, the darkness comes at an unwelcome hour earlier and earlier each afternoon. By five Maggie is asking, “Mom, is it time for bed?”
I miss our time outdoors, like the day we lay exhausted on the trampoline gazing up at the sky. The afternoon sun was making the tippy tops of the trees glow and I thought I was clever in remarking, “The trees are sun-kissed.” To which she softly offered this revelation, “The sun must be in love with those trees.”
There’s a lot we can learn from the more astute observers of the universe; four-year-olds have insights that do not come naturally to our adult brains. We don’t take time to watch a slug’s journey, wonder where it is going, or ask in concern, “Where is its mom?”
A four-year-old can paint an entire pad of watercolor paper in a morning and never speak critically of their work. Every splat that trails into thin muddy rivers is “Art.”
Next week I’m turning another year older, which means Maggie will have a new number to count to, forty-one. I’m not obsessing, not when Maggie assures me my eyelashes look like “crowns.” Last night at dinner she asked me if I wanted to be a flower. When I told “yes,” she said, “Mommy, if you were a flower I would pick you.”
Life doesn’t get any sweeter than that.