"It's not the terrible twos with boys," one friend told me three years ago. "It's the F-ing Fours."
I nodded politely at this news, gazing fondly at my adorable one year old son. Not if I can help it, I thought smugly.
Finn turned four on November 9th, and it is like someone flipped a switch. I am eating humble pie at my belief that somehow my child would be different and escape this stage.
Greta went through a rough patch when she was almost three. It lasted a week. Suddenly, she was testing boundaries and throwing tantrums when she didn't get her way. After three difficult episodes of being sent to her room and Sternly Lectured, she stopped.
Finn is proving to be a bit more difficult to discipline. Part of the problem is that I'm not used to it - he has always been a roll-with-it kind of kid. He has an innately sweet disposition, and although he is active and challenging to keep entertained, for the most part he is easy going. Until now.
Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend I haven't spoken to in months. Finn marched up to me, put his mouth right next to my ear and yelled, "Get me a hamburger!!!"
"Don't speak to me that way, Finn. It's rude."
"GAAAAAH!!! HAMBURGER! NOW!!!" he screams, and throws himself on the floor. I walk away, desperate to finish a couple of sentences with my friend.
He follows me, screaming and having a complete meltdown. I get off the phone, and send him to his room, where he proceeds to throw himself against the door over and over.
After five minutes he calms down and is let out of his room. He comes up and gives me a hug. "Sorry, Momma," he says.
I open my mouth to talk to him about his behavior, and he interrupts me.
"You made tears come out of my eyes," he continues. "Now you hafta say you're sorry to me."
"No, I don't. You were rude to me and you got in trouble. The way you acted wasn't okay," I begin.
"But MOMMA! You made me cry! Dat's WONG! Say sorry to me, and say it nicely!!!"
Back in his room he goes, and the cycle continues. From the other side of the door, through hysterical sobs, he says, "it's not FAIR! You are mean and stupid and I hate you!"
"That hurts my feelings," I say to him through the door, as calmly as I can muster. I set the timer and tell him I'll let him out in five minutes. Then I walk away - what he wants is my attention. Even mad attention is still attention, and I remove myself.
Things go smoothly for the next half an hour. He is sitting in the playroom watching a show, and he yells out, "Come change the channel! Now!" And we begin again.
When five minutes is up he comes out of his room again, looking contrite.
"I won't be mean anymore, Momma. I was just mad but now I'm not," he says.
"Every time you're rude, or mean, you will go to your room for five minutes, Finn," I explain. "Next time you feel like you're going to get mad, just use your words. And remember to say 'please' and 'thank you', it's important."
He nods. "Okay, Momma. Now it's your turn. You say sorry to me, really nicely, like this: 'I'm sorry sweetie'". He says this in falsetto - a nearly perfect imitation of my voice.
I have to admire his tenacity. We have been doing this dance for three weeks now. The other day he threw a temper tantrum, sobbing hysterically and screaming "Put the tears back in my eyes! Put the tears back in my eyes!"
I know he needs me to be consistent, but I am so damn tired. It's hard not to feel like I'm doing everything wrong. I'm trying to find ways to focus on the positive, too - give him praise when he does something well. The other day he politely asked for a snack and said 'please' and 'thank you'.
"Good job asking nicely," I said.
He looked up at me impassively. "You're actually a good Momma, usually," he says. "You don't need to get mad all the time, though. Just use your words and it will all be okay."