Four years. Four years. How do I have a four-year-old? Just last night, your dad and I were saying how boy-like you’ve become. Your body is long and lean and muscular. Your face no longer has any trace of baby to it. You’re much closer to elementary school than toddler-dom in the way you speak and move and think. Having your baby brother around the same time of year I had you has made me really nostalgic for your newborn days, and he looks like you too…in some ways, I feel like I’m holding a tiny newborn Owen clone. And then I look up from him at you, racing through the house, climbing on the window sills, strong and strong-willed, with your blonder-than-blond hair, and I think, four? How are you four?
Here are a list of your obsessive phases, from past to present:
David and Goliath
Jack and the Beanstalk
Volcanoes / (sometimes earthquakes)
I don’t even really know how we got started on volcanoes. Last summer, we bought a used book called The Ratllebang Car. It’s one of those Scholastic books, written to include certain vocabulary words. It’s really a terribly written story. But it has this erupting volcano in it, and I think your explosive personality just latched right on to them. You talk about volcanoes constantly, from the minute you wake up. There is always an erupting volcano in the center of our living room. You clear off the carpet, enraged if one of us should dare throw a toy on there. You are always giving us warnings: 7 minutes, 18 minutes until Mt. Saint Helens erupts (your other favorites are Mount Pinatubo and the fictional Mount Chicago). You use your swords and hangers to test the lava, calling out scalding temperatures – “15 degrees!” You put on your pretend volcanologist suit, and make us put them on too, easily working words like volcanologist, magma, lava, ash into your speech. You have several non-fiction books about volcanoes that you “read” over and over again; one of your happiest life moments to date was finding a volcano book at the library all on your own, excitedly yelling across the quiet room: “Mom! I found a VolCANo book!” You run around our house, shaking your fists in front of you, making explosion sounds all day long. You draw pictures of volcanoes, want stories of volanoes, tell stories of volcanoes, draw giant chalk volcanoes on our sidewalk, build sand volcanoes at the beach, pouring water lava down the sand, and even asked for a volcano cake for your birthday. I made one and decorated it with chocolate frosting and crushed up Oreo and Hershey bar lava rocks. We used sparkler candles, and used dry ice to make it smoke and bubble. We used our remaining 4.5 pounds of dry ice to entertain our guests (the Johannsen kids) by using all 4.5 pounds at once, making a 5-gallon bucket bubble over when we poured blowing bubble mixture over it. Mid cake-demonstration, you yelled, “Hey guys! … We’re gonna SMOKE it!” I’m not going to lie: I’m ready for the next obsession. We’ve all heard more about volcanoes than I ever thought I would for someone who lives in the Midwest. But we think, in volcanoes, you found something you found to be very true in your world…the simmering, bubbling under the surface, with unpredictable and powerful explosions. This is you, in many ways. Your happy is explosively happy; your angry is explosively angry. You are our volcano boy.
There are moments when you like other things…you had a heavy heavy maze phase, and still really enjoy doing mazes. You love to build with your magna tiles (both models from the book and usually guns or planes of your own creation). You still love baseball, and most nights, you and your dad play in the backyard. Your swing is looking like a little boy’s, and you regularly send balls flying into the alley and the neighbor’s yard now, still doing a victory lap around the yard after almost every hit. While you still definitely have a fear of heights, you enjoy “bouldering” around the front porch and climbing low-limbed trees. Your body is just so active, Owen…bouncing off the trampoline downstairs, leaping into the foam pit at Gleason’s, climbing our windows, jumping on the bed, tackling your dad into a wrestle the moment he walks through the door at night.
Just a few weeks after your fourth birthday, you became a big brother again, and while you seemed relatively uninterested in Elsa for about a year after she was born, you actively love Lewis. When you came to the hospital to meet him, you checked out all his fingers and toes, and asked me if we could take his hat off. When I did, you immediately said, “Oh, he has hair! Nooooow he looks more borned!” You rush to him when he cries, rather than plugging your ears and screaming as anticipated. You gently pat his belly, try to offer him his paci, telling him in such a sweet voice: It’s okay, baby boy. You love to kiss his cheeks and rub his hair. You sit next to him and tell him about volcanoes and make silly noises, laughing each time he turns his head and opens his eyes wide at you, trying to figure you out. You are always saying, “He’s just checkin’ things out.” or “He’s really intristd in me, Mom.” Your attitude towards him is a direct answer to prayers I prayed for you before he was born, I think.
And let’s not forget Elsa. The two of you finally play together, and there is little that makes me happier than when she does something silly and you explode with laughter. Sometimes you initiate, sometimes she does, but there are these stretches of time when the two of you play together – running like crazies through the house with your cart and baby stroller while she excitedly runs after you yelling Owee! Owee!, or jumping in the crib yelling Cow! Cow! Duck!! or making giant foam pits to jump into on the living room floor , or hug-wrestling- and I stand back, trying to remain unseen because it seems like when you see me, the spell is broken, and you remember something you need. You tell each other jokes:
Like a bridge over troubled…lava, diapers, playground…pewp.
Like a diamond in the….bathtub, diaper, kitchen…pewp.
(We are working on dad’s strict no-poop joke policy.)
You crack each other up, taking turns inserting absurd endings in these joke-telling sessions. We are not without screams and fights, but I love that you both have times of enjoying each other.
We’ve really seen glimpses of this older boy in you lately, Owen. Which is really hope-giving because from about 3 and a half to 3 and 3/4, we were kind of at a loss for what to do with you. There were about three months there in which you were just hard to be around, seeming always crabby, always angry, anxious in new settings. I started looking into OT for you because you were highly physically sensitive. Haircuts were an exercise in quick and careful cutting, set to the background of anguished screams. Putting on socks and pants were an ordeal…every. time. All you wanted to wear were basketball shorts and a t-shirt. In March. In Minnesota. You’d walk around, rubbing the back of your neck, saying your hair felt silly. It was a hard stretch. We read the book Raising Your Spirited Child and started to realize how to work within your world a little more. We backed way off from spankings as they sent you into a rage and started using timeouts, giving you language like I feel anxious or My bees are buzzing, and we’d retreat away from situations, encouraging you to take deep breaths and blow your bees out. We got a haircutting cape and a visor to keep clipped hair from falling on your face, and while I still give you the world’s fastest haircuts, there is less screaming. I give you gum, and something about the chewing motion quiets you, I think. (We have Auntie Sara to thank for starting your love of gum.)
The changes helped. But it’s always this fine line between feeling like we’re working with you and we’re giving in to you. I pray every single day for grace and wisdom in knowing how to parent you well; I pray every day that God harnesses all your passion and energy and uses it to do tremendous good and in and through you. But some days are really challenging with you right now.
And that’s why some of these glimpses of maturation in you are so encouraging. We see you getting upset but bouncing back much more quickly. I am constantly saying, “Try that again,” encouraging you to say something more kindly, and you almost always get it on your second try. While you still want us to “get you started” at Sermons for Saplings, I hear you saying that you’re going to try to make a friend at the park; I hear you introducing yourself and asking kids at the park to play.
This fall, you’re starting preschool 2 mornings a week, and I am so interested to see how you do. You are excited..but also really nervous about me leaving you there. There is this mama-bear instinct in me that wants to sit down with your teachers before you start and tell them all your quirks and everything we’ve tried and the ways we respond that are helpful. I hate the idea of you being in turmoil and them not understanding and you feeling alone. I would do anything to prevent that. But I know they are professionals and can probably speak to you in ways that I can’t. And more than that I am praying that God goes with you. That when you feel alone or misunderstood, as you inevitably will, that you will remember what we’ve learned: That he never leaves you or forsakes you. That he is your shield. That you can take refuge in Him. I am praying that this time away helps you to realize his faithfulness and everywhereness.
Other things I don’t want to forget:
We let you give up naps in the last few months because you were starting to stay up until 10 pm, and that was not okay. So we do a ‘rest time’ in your ‘cave’ (the space under your loft). We turn on Christmas lights and you get activities to do for an hour, and oh is it hard for you not to come out and tell me about all that you’re doing – you are wired to want to engage at every moment of the day, but it’s good for the both of us to have that hour of quiet I think. Your zest for life is incredible, Owen. You speak in superlatives. This bath water is PERFECT! It’s so warm! …Mom, this is the best park! …Mom, that is the BIGGEST ant I’ve ever seen. At the zoo, you run from display to display, speaking in this excited, loud voice that echoes over all the birds chirping and fellow zoo-goers.
While you are still plagued by fears we aren’t quite sure what to do with – primarily dogs and heights – you’ve gotten over so many other things. Like getting your face wet used to be such an ordeal. And now you sprint into the water, putting your face in to blow bubbles, completely unphased. It is so fun to watch you swim. You make friends now at the park, drawing them into your never-ending pretend games of Tarzan and Jane (usually me), or your fictional battles with the bad guy Thorax that you and Estella created.
You make jokes with words all the time which is one of my favorite things about you. Your first legit pun was saying, “Hey dad, Lewis is a boy and a baby. He’s kind of like a boybe.” I’ve possibly never been prouder of you.
Every morning, you eat breakfast on our heater vent in the dining room. It started in the winter, when you insisted on wearing shorts and a t-shirt to bed and would wake up freezing in the morning. You’d sit on the vent, with your blue blanket (blue blanket long), eating and eventually spilling your dry cheerios with no milk, sucking on your sippy cup of milk, still rubbing your hair like you did as a nursing baby. You continue to sit there, well into summer, and while I trip over your half-finished cheerios and crunch the spilled ones under my feet the rest of the morning, I kind of love your commitment to routine. When I think about leaving this house, it’s spaces like that – the floor by the vent in the dining room – that I will miss because it was such a part of our family rhythm, and when we leave this space, will I forget? So I write these things down, pondering all these things in my heart like Mary.
Other fun facts: Your besties are Estella, Archie, and Milo. Videos you love: Tarzan, Penguins, Minions, Octonauts, Land Before Time (3/5 have volcanoes in them); you love The Book with No Pictures, Aladdin, Rattlebang Car, and the illustrated Chronicles of Narnia books. While Bear and Lambie have sort of fallen to the wayside, you still love your monkey and sleep with him (and usually one volcano book).
Owen, for all of the teaching and training that goes with four, and for all of your explosive moments, there is this sweet little boy in you that I just want to scoop into my arms. Lately, basically since Lewis was born, you’ve randomly given me hugs and kisses – wrapping your skinny little boy arms around me and kissing me square on the lips. You tell me I look pretty in skirts and headbands (Like Jane, Mom). And once, right after Lewis came home, and I was crying postpartum tears, you gently patted my arm and said, “It’s okay, Mom.” Which only made me cry harder as I hugged you so hard your eyes probably bulged out.
Owen, I love you. I love who you are and how you’ve grown and who you’re becoming. I have to remind myself every day that God made me your mom for a reason and that you are a gift not to squander. I want to bottle up all of these moments – so small and mundane and perfect. You are a gift, and I can’t wait to see the good works God has prepared for you to walk in.
I love you, my volcano boy.
Things you love: graham crackers, ice cream, popsicles, yogurt, eggs, making volcanoes in the sand, swimming, Auntie Sara, Bolt the cat, your blue blanket, monkey, Christmas lights, bubble baths, drinks with ice, milk, your grandparents, the ipad, books, your magnatiles, our front yard, climbing on the front porch, climbing trees, the slip ‘n slide, worms
Things you hate: getting your hair cut and washed, wearing pants, avocados, hummus, having to wait, when Elsa destroys a project, when I tell you we need a break from talking about volcanoes, when Elsa doesn’t play exactly like you want her to, when your blanket isn’t “long” at night