The moment your child lisps or proclaims decisively, “I love you,” is a moment you have anticipated. You melt. Your heart thrills. This, THIS is what parenting is about. A little human loves you. The mysteries of the universe open to you. Life is good, nay grand.
The moment your child announces – with total conviction – that he hates you is decidedly less pleasant, less heart-warming but oh-so-very memorable.
I expected to hear “I hate you” during Daniel’s teenage years. OK, that’s a lie. I never expected to hear it because of course we would be awesome parents. We might not be liked during the teenage years, but surely we would never be hated.
It never occurred to me that I might hear “I hate you” from my 4-year-old.
Age 4 has many wonderful aspects but as we have discovered recently, it also has some major shitty ones. Daniel’s behavior over the last month has not been great. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the transition to his Pre-K program, earlier morning routine, and new people, but life in our house has been a bit challenging.
Mommy is often the enemy. If I thwart his wishes, if I insist on our routine, if I deny him something he wants, he fights back with words. I’ve been told, “I hate you;” “I don’t like you;” “You’re not my mommy; you’re nothing.” Truly, most of it rolls off my back because I know it’s his age. I’m usually able to reply with an, “I’m sorry you feel that way…” And while I know he doesn’t really understand what he’s saying and what it would mean, say, if he didn’t have a mommy, his tone is astounding. He may not understand the words, but he understands that they are hurtful and bad things to say, and he injects those words with such venom. It would be impressive if it weren’t so heart-breaking.
Again, I know he’s 4. Four. Not a baby, yet still so young. It’s a weird limbo for him, but it can hurt like hell for me.
We’ve talked to Daniel quite a bit about appropriate uses of the word “hate” in light of his delight in saying it to me. He’s smart and loves to catch us using it. Our downfall is the “I hate to say this but…” type of phrase. Within seconds we’ll hear a small voice say, “did you just say, ‘hate’?” Touche. One thing I’ve discovered about parenting is that some words and concepts are more difficult to explain than you anticipate. And that 4-year-olds are very contrary.
One night when we went out to eat at the beach, a dessert came with a piece of mint. Daniel loves mint, and he plucked it off the dessert and exclaimed, “Mint!” Then he got a sly look on his face and said, “I’m going to name it ‘Hate’.” He then dangled the mint over the deck and the water below, telling us, “I love Hate. I don’t want to lose Hate.” I’m sure the entire restaurant could hear my resigned sigh.
This little scene went on for a few minutes, Daniel smirking the entire time. Finally, the inevitable happened and the mint fell into the water: “Oh, no! I lost Hate. Hate fell into the water” he exclaimed.
“Daniel, that’s too bad, but we don’t want to hold on to Hate, ” I replied. “It’s good to let Hate go.”
“Goodbye, Hate,” Daniel waved, as Hate the Mint floated away.
“Yes, goodbye, Hate, ” Jimmy nodded.
I’ve also learned that there are absurd moments that no parenting book can prepare you for.