Sophia’s fourth birthday was somehow easier to stomach than her third. As I try to put my finger on why, the first thought that occurs to me is that the transition from two to three is a bit more dramatic. At two, children still retain some baby-like features. Though their temperaments are fairly evident, their personalities are still emerging. Language provides insight into their needs and desires, but not into their thoughts or perceptions. At two, you are still essential. They seek you out for entertainment, for soothing, for permission. They are still somewhat manageable. Still redirectable. Still pick-upable in their worst moments.
But then comes three rushing in, filled with opinions, curiosity and a drive to break away. They make friends, buck the system, tell you how it is. The transformation is remarkable. Dramatic. Dizzying.
They volunteer the emotionally salient information completely out of context: Sophie’s teacher told me one of the other parents, a state assemblyman, came in to talk about his job during Community Helpers month. In the midst of explaining voting to the children, Sophie raised her hand to say, “Last night, Mommy opened my car door and my balloon escaped. She was very sad as it floated away into the sky.”
They refuse to talk when you’re dying to know the information:
“How was your first day at school? What did you do? Did you eat your lunch? Did you make any friends? How did it go?”
“Fine, Mom. Now can you put on my Beauty and the Beast music?”
Though two is generally considered the first period of separation and individuation (the second occurring during the onset of adolescence), I disagree. I think it really begins to take shape at three, as the child really becomes a person, interacting with the world in complex ways, wanting a life of his or her own.
Four simply seems to be a continuation of this trajectory. A deepening of three. A blossoming of self. There is nothing to mourn. The babyhood is long gone, already fading from memory. Instead, there is a growing relationship, a fuller engagement with this person I have made, no longer an extension of myself, but an individual. I can make predictions about her, but I’m not always right. She surprises me with a sudden, “I love you.” A difficult question, “Are badgers scary? What is scary about them? What do they do?” A poignant wish, “Mommy, I want a twin so I can have a best friend who lives in my house forever.” An invented joke, “Mommy, what do mommy cows like to drink? Cow-fee!”
Staring into the face of four, there is nothing to be sad about. This is a joyful time. If I look back, I will not be able to train my eyes on what is happening right now. In front of me there is a brilliant chrysalis. A beating of wings. My girl, stretching out into world.