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Learning to be 4

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published March 15, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

When a preschool teacher heads toward you, she’s usually not coming to tell you your kid played nice and listened all day. With Big Guy, I’ve had plenty of teachers head toward me in the past year.

Not that he’s always a brat – more like Dr. Freckle/ Mr. Make Mommy Wanna Hide.

At times, he can be the most cheerful, cooperative 3-year-old on earth. He also can be an over-the-top, incessantly chatty, whirling dervish. Those are some of the things I love most about him.

They’re also the things that get on my last nerve, particularly when you throw in a side order of stubborn. So I understand the need to rein him in – heck, I’ve been tempted to hogtie and gag him. And I’m only dealing with one him, not a whole preschool.

One recent Friday, Mr. Make Mommy Wanna Hide showed up at school: wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t quit pestering kids, wouldn’t cooperate. Timeouts didn’t work. Finally, he was demoted to the 2-year-old class. He had to eat lunch with “the diaper kids.”

He seemed to understand after that that he had to behave, Teacher E said. Begged for forgiveness and a chance to go back with the 3-year-olds. And Big Guy knows that if he can’t learn to act like a 4-year-old, he won’t be able to go to Teacher L’s class, Teacher E added.

Ouch. That one hit hard. You see, Teacher L’s class is like being a high school senior, but without the class ring and limo for the prom. Once you’re there, you have arrived.

And, thanks to his teachers, I had arrived at a strategy: Do you want to be a 4-year-old? Just the tool I’ve been looking for for months.

Motivation comes easy for babies, with their simple but ambitious to-do lists — crawl, walk, climb, run, jump. Big Guy aced these early – he was walking around 10 months. His motivation, though, went comatose about a year ago.

It was as if he woke up one morning, saw Little Guy getting all that good baby love and wanted a piece of it. So he quit doing anything remotely independent. Like put on his coat. Big Guy had that nailed last winter. This year, he’d look bewildered if I asked him to even try.

Oh, how he tries now.

The day after his demotion, he started giving me static about getting dress. “I want you to do it!” “No problem,” I said. “But, you know, the kids in Teacher L’s class can dress themselves.” He sprinted down the hall and was back in mere minutes, full clothed. His shirt was backward, but who cares.

For almost two weeks, it’s worked so well I’ve been able to reduce it to shorthand. “Don’t want to carry my lunchbox.” “OK, but a 4-year-old …” I don’t have to finish the sentence.

Granted, the tactic has a limited life. Once he reaches the promise land of Teacher L’s class, he’ll realize some kids are there even though they haven’t mastered being 4.

And eventually he’ll learn that birthdays are inevitable, even if you’re not mature enough for them. This is fortunate, lest age avoidance become motivation for mischief. Can you imagine:

“Debra, I need to talk to you about your performance. You don’t use your indoor voice during the news meetings, and it makes your friends sad when you shoot Nerf guns at them. I’m going to have to put you back with the 30-year-olds until you show me you can be 40.”

I’d take that deal.

Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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