He kicked, he screamed, he fought, he cried. My beautiful four-year-old boy turned into someone I barely recognised.
As days go, it followed a run of lovely ones. It came after my proclamations of us having had a lovely extended break together, at the end of a much-needed and blissful little holiday from work and school. It came after I’d been quietly reflecting on how grown up he had become and how settled life seemed. It came after I’d cautiously acknowledged that sometimes, some weeks, this parenting-thing was something I could manage.
It came as a shock – a horrid, sad, angry few hours. He scratched, he punched, he shouted out words he didn’t mean. He acted out of spite, he showed no compassion. He lashed out at me, at his best friend, at his sister.
I took him upstairs to his room, put on an audio CD of Toy Story, and asked him to stay up there until our friends had left. He nodded, defeated, and sat on his bed and listened to the story. Half an hour later, when I went upstairs, he was still listening. His friend had gone, I was upset about all that had happened – and it seemed he was too. He told me he didn’t like fighting and didn’t want to do it anymore, and that he’d liked the time alone in his room.
Until that point, as I’d watched our day unravel, I’d felt sad and upset about how he’d behaved. He’d been so violent and mean – was it my fault? He’d been so cross – why? I worried about how I could help him and what I’d done wrong.
His remorse lifted me. He hadn’t liked the anger, he wanted to try and control it. I still felt sad and upset – but relieved somehow that we’d figure this out. I didn’t want my child to be violent, just as he didn’t want to lose control.
I learnt that day that my little boy might be four, but we’re all still learning. Yes, the baby days are over, and I can look back at them and know how I could have done things differently, how they might have been easier – but this doesn’t mean I know what I am doing now.
Every day, week, stage and age simply moves the challenges on. When you look back on the tough times of one month they feel like absolute hell or a dream in comparison to the ones you face today. You might have learnt how to settle your one-year-old, but that gives you no insight into how to calm your over-tired four-year-old.
My cautious bliss, my belief that I might have cracked this motherhood thing was naively optimistic. Yet I still go through this process every few months of believing we’re finally in a more serene place. I’d fallen into the trap of a few days in a row of peace – and I’d lulled myself into the belief that all our days would be like this now. Of course they won’t be. That’s not what life is like with children.
What life is like, now, is unpredictable and unfathomable. But while the challenges change and there are new reasons for dark days – the good ones are also brighter. And those good days – there’s more of them now. More days where you’ve slept for six straight hours. More days when you don’t shout. More days when no-one has a meltdown in a supermarket over being told to keep their coat on. More days when you remember their library bag and nursery permission form and get through bath-time without tears.