It's Bambina's birthday this week. We had her party yesterday which was a super good time. Just a few kids out in the back yard with the swingset, a little colored-sand art project, some chips, pizza and cake--and voila--a totally fun 4 year-old soiree. Having been out of the kiddie loop since Bambina was 2, I was kind of nervous about the party, not knowing really where our party would fit on the Kid's Party Continuum. Like, would the parents think, "this is the most low-rent, no-entertainment party on earth? Where is the juggler?! No magician?!" And then I decided I didn't give a rat's ass. I just put together the party I knew Bambina would enjoy and called it a day.
Bambina's two best friends from preschool came (among other dear friends too), and it was so sweet to watch them interact. One of her friends is so cute I can't stand it. She's so outgoing and so talkative and absolutely the empitome of the word Spunk. Bambina's other friend is much like Bambina herself. Likes to get the lay of the land before diving in, warms up socially after a little while, and generally dislikes having people up in her face...until she's decided she wants everyone up in her face on her own terms and then the party really gets started. But what I love is listening to them talk to each other and hearing them, essentially, socialize each other: "you have to share!" "that was not nice to say!" "I said I didn't want to; don't ask me again." Because 4 year olds are tone-deaf for tone, it all sounds so impolite, but it really is just their unvarnished way of communicating as friends.
I am loving this age, to be honest. It is a tremendous challenge for both kid and parent because it is so fraught with contradiction. On the one hand, Bambina is not a baby; not even a "little" kid. She is a person with thoughts, opinions, feelings, desires and fears all her own; all of which need to be respected. At the same time, she still sometimes longs for baby things, needs the security she's always had as a baby, and undergoes sometimes daily conflicts within herself about what she wants vs. what she needs. It's alternately and sometimes simultaneously heartbreaking and funny to see her trying to reconcile herself between asserting independence and wanting me to carry her and hold her. She'll absolutely refuse to be kissed on demand, but then she'll--when she's good and ready--kiss you and say something heart-meltingly sweet like, "Do you feel all the love in you now from me?!"
Along the lines of independence, we're having lots of conversations these days about "tone." About "sometimes the way we say something can make it sound rude even if we don't mean it to be." Cue the Charlie Brown teacher voice: waah waah waah waah. I feel Bambina's pain on this because I actually vividly recall my mother haranguing me about "it's not what you say, it's how you say it" and just having NO IDEA what she was talking about. I mean, seriously wondering, "I don't know why what I just said is such a big deal." No concept of tone at all. And I may have been older than 4 at the time... So I understand why I get the blank stare when I try to explain why she may not say to Mama, "Don't tell me what to do!" or my personal favorite, "Don't mess with me, Mama, because I know what I am doing."
It's just a really fun age, and if you get the chance to love and parent a 4 year-old you really should do it. It feels like a privilege to watch her develop and learn and daily become the person she's becoming. She recently came up with the idea that we need a new holiday. It's called Love Day, and we will celebrate it by lighting candles, going to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, drinking lots of juice, going back to sleep, waking up, yelling, "Happy Chinese New Year!," then eating candy because it's Love Day. Sounds simple enough. But what made it so much fun was watching her describe it, her total excitement that she was creating this holiday, and her giggles as she thought about how cool it would be to get up at 2am for a juice bender. I was laughing as hard as she was, which I think is perhaps the key to this whole parent thing, maybe. Laugh with your kids when they are laughing; for the moment they are in their groove, try to get in that groove with them and really try to see the world they way they do. It not only gives you tremendous insight into your child as a person, but it also turns out to be a whole lot of fun. And those moments are the ones that sustain you through the less-fun ones where you, as a good parent, are required to bring the hammer down on the other stuff that's not good for your kid.
Like maybe juice at 2AM...