Postcards from four years old: the stubborn chronicles

Filed under: Preschoolers, Development/Milestones: Babies

everett on santa's lap, stubbornMy four-year-old, Everett, is stubborn. Not just stubborn in the sense of, I'll wear my Batman sweatshirt with the wings to your holiday party and there's nothing you can do about it! No, that's our friend's son, Jackson.

Everett is stubborn in ways mysterious and irrational, bold and dramatic. Everett is stubborn for hours on end. He'll refuse to put his pajama pants on the night before I'm about to leave for a business trip (causing an hour of screaming and punishments, keeping him up 'til 11 and me guilty as I kiss him goodbye at 5:30 a.m.), he'll not say "please" can he switch chairs with me (which I would have happily done, letting him sit on the "fun" seat in my office to do crafts). He'll go hungry all night rather than eat two more bites of his grilled cheese sandwich so he can have yogurt, juice, cinnamon toast, whatever is his current infatuation.

He's stubborn, but he's also charming and friendly to all, social, thoughtful, full of fantasy and deep human insights.

In short, he's a four-year-old male version of me."Can I hear God talking to me?" he asks as he watches cartoons. And, "when will I die?" and, "mama, is Santa real?"

He has all the questions to which I don't have answers, to which there are no answers. I don't know when he'll die, but I hope it will be when he's really old, I say. So later he asks Larissa's mom, his friend Sebastian's grandmother, if she's about to die. "I hope not," she responds, thankfully used to this sort of thing.

Some people believe they can hear God talking to them, I say, but it's not like when you and I talk to each other. Do you understand? He looks at me like I'm a loony tune come to life. "I understand!"

Lots of adults believe Santa is imaginary, I say, taking a cue from the fifth watching of The Polar Express in a week. But some children believe Santa is real. Do you think Truman believes in Santa? "I know Santa is real," he says later. "I'm serious. And Truman knows Santa is real, too." Truman looks at me, 20 months and still not talking much at all, and smiles his winning "I know exactly what's going on despite my lack of words" smile.

The next weekend Everett meets Santa at a party, and runs up to him and begins chattering, introducing himself, talking about the party, the perfect host. Suddenly a thought occurs to him and he darts away, parting the wall of children gathered around the feet of the magical St. Nick.

He runs over to where his little brother is playing happily with a juice box, picks him up under the arms and awkwardly carries him right back through the crowd to Santa's feet. "Santa! This is my little brother Truman!" he says. I cry with pride as my shutter snaps, flashing and failing to do the moment justice.
meet my brother, truman

The next time we argue over one of Everett's irrational refusals (he won't put the three books lying haphazardly on his floor away), I am so angry. I can't believe how much he pushes my buttons. He calls me a "bitch" (the ultimate tool in his fearsome arsenal, I swear neither I nor my husband use the word and blame primetime TV, which now smatters it rampantly through Law & Order and Desperate Housewives and all the shows that don't seem quite bad enough to ban from the living room) and I lay down the punishment, a week of no TV, and threaten more. He screams that he hates me, he is jumping on his bed to make me madder, he is crying, he is now trying to be silly and make me laugh. I won't bend. He wants to jump on me (a no-no), he wants to hug me, I refuse: no hugs until he's truly apologetic.

It takes an hour to work it out, finally he apologizes and I hug him, we lay down in his bed with those errant books and read. We talk about Christmas, only a few days away now, and how much I love him. Now I remember that moment, Everett carrying Truman, giving up time with Santa because he can't imagine leaving his little brother out of this vital connection.

Tears come to my eyes and they're no longer tears of anger. Despite his epic badness this is a wonderful little boy, this is me come to life as my son, and somehow we'll work it out.

Sarah Gilbert was a longtime Blogging Baby writer and lead. Now she works full-time for AOL with the company's BloggingStocks unit. She has two sons, Everett and Truman, and lives in Portland, Oregon. More children, she's sure, are on their way. She treats her obvious symptoms of insanity with heavy doses of strong caffeine.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.