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What’s worse than the terrible twos? The ferocious fours!

I braced myself for the Terrible Twos, and they delivered, all right, with unreasonable demands, unpredictable rages, tears, tantrums, and whining. But what no one told me is that the Terrible Twos are a cakewalk compared to what I have since discovered moms refer to, among themselves, as the F^%&ing Fours. I should know, I have both a two- and a four-year-old at home right now, and it’s like living under a dual dictatorship. I can only hope that in two years, when my youngest is in the Foul, Fearsome, Fire-Breathing Fours, I won’t also be dealing with a case of the Sucky Sixes.

Don’t get me wrong: Four is a great year. Kids are becoming self sufficient – out of diapers, out of cribs, and maybe even out of a stroller. They are, however, also out of their minds, desperate to “do it myself!” but incapable of achieving their visions of independence. They know exactly what they want and can often even describe it. The trouble is, what they want is usually beyond the realm of the possible. And that’s because they haven’t straightened out their fantasy from reality yet, so the only impediment they see to transforming into a real mermaid or inventing a machine that turns paper clips into gummy bears is your lack of trying. Think terrible twos, but with two extra years affording them more strength, speed, stamina, and wiles. Put this all together, and you’ve got yourself a reign of terror.

Case in point: Yesterday morning, my son wakes with a passionate artistic vision. He will perform an original play entitled, “There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed Count Dracula.” This ambitious endeavor will require the collaborative effort of the whole family, which is the message I get in the form of, “Get up right now Mommy and be in my play!”

“Why don’t you make the costumes and think up the story while Mommy makes coffee?” I suggest.

It is, after all, 6:15 am.

By 6:20 am, he is finished. In the time it took me to measure out the coffee grinds, Primo has drawn and cut out the whole cast’s construction paper costume pieces. Now he sets about taping these works of art onto everyone’s body. Vampire fangs, bolts for Frankenstein’s neck, horns to affix to the goblin’s head.

The goblin will be played by his two-year-old sister, Seconda, who infuriates Primo by ripping off the paper horns he tapes to the wispy hair on the top of her head. The two of them repeat this process – stick on horns, rip off horns – and each time, Primo grows more wildly enraged and Seconda grows more delighted by her capacity to cause such feeling in him.

Unsurprisingly, there is an “incident,” which leaves Seconda crying. When I pick her up I am accused of “ONLY CARING ABOUT THE BABY!!!!”

I distract my son by offering him my eyeliner, to draw wrinkles on my face, since I am, of course, playing the Old Lady.

“That’s all right,” he said. “You’re already old.”

He goes on to teach me the lyrics he’s written for me to sing to the melody of “There Was an Old Lady”:

“There was an Old Lady who swallowed Count Dracula

She used her spatula

To swallow Count Dracula”

There are many verses like this, featuring Frankensteins, werewolves, and goblins. After each one, my son belts out, with gleeful abandon: “Perhaps she’ll DIE!!!!!!”

Harrowing, in so many ways. But I play along, opening my mouth wide to ingest the various members of my family, dressed as Halloween spooks.

Despite my whole-hearted attempt to fulfill his artistic vision, my little Scorsese is not pleased. I am not singing to the right tune! I am not acting scary enough! I am not falling down dead in a convincing way!

It is now 7 am, the hour at which I would hit snooze on my alarm clock in my previous life.

“FINE! I am CANCELING the PLAY!!!!!” he yells.

“I think that is wise,” I agree.

“STOP SAYING THAT!!!” he shouts, throwing himself on the floor. “BAD GIRL! BAD GIRL!”

“Bad girl! Bad girl!” repeats Seconda, giggling. This spectacle is way better than Dora.

“I’m not the one who’s bad!” I shout back.

Primo looks stricken. He narrows his eyes and gives me a look of smoldering chagrin that clearly says, “How dare you, sir?”

He lets this look build in intensity, his face getting redder and tighter until he explodes: “I’M NOT GOING TO BE YOUR FRIEND ANYMORE!” And thus begins the tantrum to end all tantrums. The same variety of tantrum he’s had every day for the last month.

I’ve tried time-outs, and I’ve tried ignoring. I’ve tried hugs and reassurances. But what I really need is a time machine to fast-forward a year.

The one way in which the Ferocious Fours is preferable to the Terrible Twos is that the children are such consummate communicators that they can offer consolation to you, once they’ve decimated you with Extreme Tantrum-ing.

“I love you Mommy,” Primo says, once he’s had a nice, cathartic screaming fit. “And I forgive you for ruining the play, and I’ll give you another chance.”

“I’m not sure Mommy can give it another try,” I venture, terrified of tantrum relapse.

But Primo is magnanimous now, understanding. He sees that I need a pep talk. After all, it does him no good to send me to the loony bin, so, as usual, just as he’s about to issue the death blow, he pulls back and gives me reason to hope. As someone in a situation not so different from mine once observed, just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.

“Well, Mommy, sometimes you think you can’t do something but really, you can, if you just don’t give up,” he explains. “That’s what a challenge is.”

Now if only I can survive this one :

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