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Four Years Old: A Bittersweet Milestone

When I started writing for Babble.com, I was 23 years old with a 9-month-old son, and the concept of “mom blogs” was new and strange to me. So to now be joining the Kid section — past the baby stage, past the toddler stage — is a bit surreal. I blinked and he sprouted into a preschooler — but that’s what they all say, right?

And so the impossible is suddenly my reality: I have a 4-year-old little boy — four AND A HALF, as he’d quickly add — with traces of baby still lingering around the eyes. But, man, you guys; it’s getting real.

Of course, we could argue that every stage has transitional periods and developmental leaps, but there’s something about this four year threshold that’s different. Physically, emotionally, intellectually — the game changed, just as I was getting used to the rules.

Here are 10 reasons why everything changed now that he’s four years old:

  • The Four-Year Difference 1 of 11
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    I still catch glimpses of the baby in him, which is beautiful and heartwarming and something I hope never fully dissolves. It's in his eyes when he looks up at me, his cry when he stubs a toe, his uncontrollable laugh when he really laughs from the gut. 

     

    But in so many ways, having a four-year-old boy has been like meeting a new person and adjusting my parenting on the fly. Here are some of the major differences...

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • Beyond Baby 2 of 11
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    It's startling how un-baby your baby is until he's next to an actual baby. My sister had a little boy 9 months ago, and everything about him reminds me of a flashback version of Noah. 

     

    But when I watch them interact, or simply compare their tiny bodies, it's clear that one isn't so tiny anymore. And that one belongs to me.

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • Building a Childhood 3 of 11
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    You know how you do all of these fun activities with a toddler — you take roadtrips to zoos and plan family vacations and schlep a stroller through Disney World — and you realize that your kid will probably never remember any of it? Not a real memory anyway — nothing beyond a fabricated stitching of Instagram photos and iPhone videos that they'll watch throughout their lives.

     

    But then you reach a point where real memories begin to take hold, and that's where you'll find us. What will be the moments that stick? What will be the moments that land him in a therapist's office? 

    This is officially his childhood, so the pressure's on to not totally screw it up.

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • Physical Changes 4 of 11
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    The biggest change for me, as a mother, is watching his physical transformation from year three to year four. His face thinned out and his body is longer and lankier, but it's really the arms that sucker-punch me in my post-baby belly. 

     

    He lost the edible chunkiness of his toddler arms — the dimples and creases that I kissed and hugged and loved. 

     

    I achingly miss those baby arms — which, sadly, gives me a preview of how it'll be to watch his face morph and his voice deepen, as he inevitably towers over me.

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • Real Learning 5 of 11
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    The days of ABCs and animal noises are far, far behind us now. He asks questions about dying, he's fascinated with nature, and he's starting to read. He asks real questions that demand real answers, and I quickly realized that I have to step up my parenting game. 

     

    It's also his last year before "real" school — and my god I'm not ready. I see what's coming ahead for him (homework and school buses and jerkface Big Kids) and for me (PTA meetings and curriculum issues and Room Mom responsibilities), and I just want to bunker down in the familiar. 

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • New Roles 6 of 11
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    Turning four meant assuming a new role as a big cousin (or a "brother cousin," as he puts it, considering they're together practically every day). 

     

    There's something about watching your once-helpless baby now help another baby...I don't know. It's some kind of mixture of pride, nostalgia, relief, and anxiety.

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • The Storyteller 7 of 11
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    This kid can string together a plot line. And make up a sensible song. And tell a joke that makes you really laugh — and not in that patronizing way that we've all laughed at little kids. 

     

    And sometimes he doesn't even mean to be funny or insightful, but he'll come out with an observation that blows your head right off into the back seat of the car, where he's casually asking, "Who makes people, and who makes the person who makes people?"

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • Real, Raw, Gut-Wrenching Emotions 8 of 11
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    He has fears and sadness and anxiety that's rooted in reality. He cries before he goes to preschool — and not because he has separation anxiety and he's scared I'll never come back, but because he understands how long we'll be apart. He's said things like, "I'll be sad when Grandpa dies because then we won't be together every day, and he's my pal." 

     

    UGH.

     

    He's starting to understand that life isn't all play dates and finger paints, and that some kids can be really mean (which he's experienced first-hand). I know it's all part of life, but that doesn't make it any easier to see — especially reflected in his eyes.

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • He Clings 9 of 11
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    But in so many ways, he's still a baby who needs his mommy. He cries for me at night and occasionally shows up at my bedside, needing comfort. He still wants to cuddle with me on the couch, he still runs for me at preschool pickup — unashamed of his very public affection — and he still wants to be by my side at all times. 

     

    And yet...

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • Yet He Runs 10 of 11
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    ...I know it won't be long until he wants to be dropped off at school without a kiss or a hug. He'll say things like, "Mooom stop embarrassing me." 

     

    And he's starting to show signs of his impending independence, like when he gets mad and says, "I don't like you right now!" How long before "don't like" gets replaced by "hate"? How long do I have left as an infallible source of kisses?

    Photo: Picnik Photography

  • This Won’t Last Long… 11 of 11
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    The thing that really gets me is how physically big he is when I pick him up. The day will come — pretty quickly, I think — when he's too big, too heavy, for me to carry in my arms. His legs already dangle down to my knee caps.

     

    And there's something about that very primal, baby-like attachment ending that makes me need to have another baby to cradle.

     

    Because my first one? He's a kid now. And I wouldn't stall his development for all the cuddles in the world, as much as I want to.

    Photo: Picnik Photography

Read more about Michelle and Noah at EarlyMama.com.

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