In a few months, my youngest (and last) child will turn 5, which I feel is a big deal year. It's inspired me to look back on the last year and years of her life, and also to think about when my oldest (now 7) was 4 as well. And in that reflection, I've come to the conclusion that age 4 is the best. Or at least there are a lot of reasons why it's a contender for the best age.
Look, I'm a natural optimist, so I think there's something to recommend every age (even 15 months, or "The Devil's Age" as I called it). But there's something really special about 4 because it's so on the cusp of babyhood and "kidhood" and that mix of being little/big mix is (pardon me if I sound corny) really magical and fun. I feel like it's sort of epitomized in the fact our Amazon Echo can understand my 4 year old half the time with no problem... the other half of the time my frustrated not-quite-toddler anymore will shout the same command over and over again that is continually (and hilariously) misunderstood. She can understand the grown-up world, but she can't fully participate in it quite yet.
Here are some of the best things that come along with being 4.
1. They're More Independent
I've generally loved parenting, but, of course, there's a lot you have to do as a parent that isn't at all fun. One of the least fun aspects of the gig was having to wake up when your baby woke up... and my babies liked to wake up stupid early. It was the worst. But around the time they turned 4, a magical thing happened: When they woke up, they would just go downstairs on their own and entertain themselves. I no longer had to drag my ass out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
Friends? This was a game changer. Sure they might still wake me up by coming into my bed for a cuddle, but after they toddled off I could go back to sleep for a while. This has been the routine for a while now and I still don't take it for granted.
2. They Have Potentially Chilled Out A Lot
That's not to say they're chill. Hahahaha! Yeah, no. They're 4. They're maniacs. But they're less maniacal than they were before this point.
From birth to at least 3 felt like one really, really, really long day. It's like you hit the ground running and you don't stop or have time to look back. But around 4 you can take a physical and mental breather, look back on how much ground you've covered and realize "Oh, wow. This kid has grown up a lot and things have gotten a little bit easier." You realize how far you and your little one have come.
3. You Can Have Actual Conversations
I feel like, for my kids, this sort of started at about 3, but by 4 you could have full-fledged, interesting conversations. I mean, we're not talking about Kierkegaard or anything, but we're both speaking in real words and sentences instead of just babbles. It's still cool to be able to talk to these little creatures who literally grew inside of me like they're actual humans and realize that they have an internal and intellectual life of their own.
4. They're A Little Bit Cleaner
Not when it comes to toys. Give them an hour and every single toy in your home will get dumped on the floor (though nowadays you can reasonably expect them to be able to clean that up mostly by themselves... it may take the next five hours, and you may get frustrated and just do it yourself —#guiltyascharged — but they can do it) but when it comes to personal cleanliness things are better than they were a year or two ago. My kids spent the first three or so years of their lives covered (and covering everything in our home with) yogurt. It was... just everywhere... because they didn't have the coordination not to get it everywhere else on its way to their mouths. It wasn't just yogurt: somehow, they always managed to make everything at least a little bit schmutzy. At 4 they're a little less sticky.
5. Their Imaginations Are On Fire
The plots of my 4 year old's games — playing dress up, with dolls, whatever — is like a G-rated episode of Game of Thrones. The intrigues! The secret identities! The... weirdly macabre plot points ("I'm going to be a baby koala unicorn... and you need to take care of me because all of the other koala unicorns died!" Ummm... wow. That took a turn.)
It's the best. I genuinely get excited listening to her stories and playing along. Then there's stuff like Lego and art projects. The other day she painted a backdrop for a Lego kingdom she built and then spent a while playing with the mini-figures. She seriously created her own world. How cool is that?!
6. They're Slightly More Manageable In Public
I mean, I say this as someone who, not three weeks ago, had to drag my kicking screaming monster child out of the mall at the height of a temper tantrum. *stares into the void as "The Sound of Silence" plays gently in the background*
BUT GENERALLY it's a lot easier than it was when they were smaller. They have more stamina, more self-control, more patience, fewer meltdowns, and chances are you don't really need a diaper bag anymore! (Though I do recommend bringing a big-ass purse, because you're going to wind up carrying something of theirs.)
7. 4-Year-Old Style Is Perfection
Here's why 4 year old style is probably my favorite: they're old enough to have opinions but too young to give a single solitary f*ck about anyone else's. So the result is these absolutely pure, over-the-top, glorious and ridiculous outfits that are just sheer perfection. The other day my daughter wore cheetah leggings with a sparkly pink skirt and a grey t-shirt with a T-Rex on it with a big flower headband. Like... OMG, slay, pretty baby.
8. The World Doesn't Revolve Around Their Schedule As Much Anymore
Look, most people, kids and adults alike, thrive on routine, and very often a kid's routine, even at 4, is still pretty important. But they're a bit more flexible now. Back in the day you had to keep so many times in mind: nap times, feedings, second nap times, second feedings, that hour out of every day where they just scream for absolutely no goddamn reason. Now it's like "Oh, are you hungry? Well we're at this zoo for another two hours at least because I'm going to get our money's worth so here *throws Goldfish crackers in their general direction* buck up, buttercup."
9. You Can Expect More Of Them
They're not reasonable creatures, but they can occasionally be reasoned with, or understand when you need them to step up. So you can go to a restaurant, give them expectations of how you would like them to behave and, perhaps, they will listen to you. It's not a given, but it's not unreasonable of you to ask or expect.
10. They're Still Babies, Tho!
Take it from a mom with a 4 year old and a kid older than 4 —they're so much bigger than they were but they're so much smaller than they'll be. They still need cuddles and kisses and loads of dedicated attention so they don't inadvertently electrocute themselves or whatever. I mean, no matter a child's age, they're always going to be your little baby — or so my mom says and my siblings and I are in our late-20s to late-30s — but at 4 they're still holding on to those last vestiges of true babyhood... and that's really great sometimes, too.