Augie turned four last weekend.
Four is a great age, at least if you're a parent or caregiver. Kids are developing their personalities and their passions, they still have most of their innocence, and they are (mostly) getting past the tantrum stage so they can be reasoned with.
This week, just after his birthday, I asked whether it was better being four, and he said, "Sure," which sometimes means, "I'm not wasting time thinking about that."
I'm no expert in psychology, but I know that at some point - and for me it was as a four-year-old - we realize that our parents cannot meet all our needs and wants, that the world is not perfect, that we are not guaranteed perfect love and success. How and when this hits us determines what our issues will be in later life. For example, some of us will crave unconditional love (love me for being who I am) while others will crave approval (love me for doing what I do). I don't know all the theory behind this, but I believe it. Peter says the trick is to help children come to grips with these realities without totally crushing their spirits.
"Pa," he wailed, "Why can't we have whatever we want in life?"
There it was. The Question. Not just, "Why can't I do what I want to"? but "Why can't I have whatever I want in life?"
I gathered him into my lap and said that sometimes we want things that aren't good for us, and sometimes we want things that just aren't possible. I was on the verge of telling him the secret is finding happiness with what you have. And yes, we and his parents will all tell (and show) him that.
But I stopped talking, and for the next half-hour we just sat and cuddled. Eventually he got interested in something his sister was doing and went off to play.
Later, during quiet time, I heard him singing softly to himself. "It's hard to be three. It's hard to be four...five, six, seven...." He counted up to twenty-something before he trailed off. He didn't sound especially upset, just interested and processing a new idea.
I don't want it to be hard to be four. But we can't always get everything we want.
So we'll have to set about being happy with what we have. And that's a lot.