Why 4-year-olds are awesome, part III

The latest in our very important continuing series. Why are 4-year-olds awesome today? Their sense of proportion.

My four-year-old comes running breathless into the room, saying, “Mommy, Mommy, wait till you see this! You’re going to be as excited as the day you married Daddy!” Me: “What is it?” He: “A temporary tattoo!”

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. Yep, a temporary tattoo is a universal symbol of ‘awesomeness’ for a 4 year old.

    My son comes up with some ‘gems’ too!

  2. Maybe he was thinking about it in comparison to how you’d feel if he ran in and showed you his brand new permanent tattoo.

  3. Yeah, it’s totally about the content and longevity of the artwork.

  4. You have to translate…

    Adult brain: Temporary = 3 or 4 days = barely any amount of time = no big deal
    4-year-old brain: Temporary = how long is that? = HOLYCRAPTHATSLIKESIXEPISODESOFSPONGEBOB!!! = the deal to end all deals

      • Oh, my job requires it! And depending on whether you consider the various languages of children to be true languages or simply dialects, I may be multilingual several times over.

        My favorite is when teachers who are unfamiliar with the children with severe speech impediments/articulation issues have to call in the classroom teachers to translate. This year, we had to translate for a girl who’s speech articulation was in the 1st percentile. You’d think that’d be impossible but alas… there we were…

      • Indeed.

        I’ve actually seen research that says our perception of time speeds up as we age, to the extent that if we really do extend the average life span into the mid 100’s, life will simply fly by in a blur.

        As it is related to education, Mary Sprague Mitchell wrote a book called “Young Geographers” that examines the development of children’s concept of “long ago and far away” and what impact this has on curriculum. For the youngest children, long ago was a few minutes ago and far away is the other side of the room. Trying to genuinely teach beyond this scope is ultimately fruitless. Yes, kids can memorize trivia about dinosaurs and know that they’re all dead, but as far as they’re concerned, George Washington and dinosaurs are one in the same from a conceptual standpoint. Really fascinating stuff.

        My “SpongeBob” reference was actually not entirely in jest, as the typical length of a TV show is one of the few units of time that most kids have at least a sense of (at least those who aren’t completely shielded from TV as some parents have taken to). It is why visual timers can be so helpful with young children and why when I give a “Five Minute Reminder” I try to make it as close to five minutes as possible, so they begin to develop that as a unit of time as well.

        All this is to say that the more I learn about 4-year-olds, the more frickin’ awesome they get!

        • We always do TV lengths for anything over 5 minutes.

          And too true, Will. Remember how long it was until the next Halloween?

        • My newly-19-year-old sister remarked to me how odd it seems to be saying she’s 19; she got solidly used to being 18. I blinked and mentioned that for several years now, answering the question “How old are you?” causes me to drop back and do some quick math to make sure I’m not screwing it up by a year one way or the other, because just about when I start getting it memorized again, wham, another frickin’ birthday …

          (I was born in 1976)

          • I’m still getting used to saying I’m 25. I feel like I should be 24 forever. I fear that I will soon fall into the trap of telling people that I am younger than I am.

          • What I do to get used to it is to increase my age by 1 at the beginning of the calender year (or somewhat soon after) that way, I’ve got 4-5 months to get used to saying my new age.

          • Elliott, me too! I think it started when I turned 30. Murali, I started doing that, and then when my birthday came up, I’d add another year and think I was 1 year older than I was. Now that 40 is not so very very far away (dear Lord!), I want to be extra careful not to do that!

          • And I wonder if the forgetting age thing happens because time goes faster or because absolutely nothing changes with each birthday anymore. My kid’s school year ended the day before yesterday. He goes to the summer program at his school, and will be attending the first of two years of kindergarten tomorrow. (He turns five in the fall, and you must be five on 9/1 to get into public kindergarten. But his private preschool goes to 3rd grade, and they think he’s ready for kindergarten, so here we are.) He kept saying over and over, “I’m a kindergartener!” over and over. I don’t get that beside myself anymore when a new school year starts.

          • Rose-

            It is probably a both/and.

            The thing for me is that I had a perception of what it meant to be 28 or 29 and I don’t feel I fill that, nor any of my friends, so it is sort of hard to believe that is how old we are. I realize this is based on two flaws in my thinking: I was wrong in my assumption about folks in their late 20’s and I underestimate how much we’ve changed over the past 6-7 years. If and when I hang out with folks who are 22 or 23, I tend to think, “Holy shit, I’m old!” and am quickly reminded of my age.

        • I really enjoy the group of people I work with too. Today was the first time in 3 years I wondered if this is the right job for me.

          • Oh no, Miss Mary! Why?

            There are times the 18-23 year old set drives me up a wall, but I really do love dealing with them. It’s such an exciting time in life. I was absolutely blown away by my first philosophy class. I think I believed in Plato’s forms for a while. And there’s this way in which they are almost adult, but still not really, and there’s so much they don’t know. And no one is more opionated and sure of themselves than a 19 year old, and they believe all this crazy stuff!

          • I support someone who has co-occurring disorders (that’s a mental health diagnosis as well as a intellectual/developmental disability, for those of you who don’t know) and I had stand by and watch as her two worlds collided yesterday. The mental health world is a little dark and scary compared to the light, hopeful world of DD. I expect to support more adults with co-occurring disorders here soon since the system funnels you into DD if you have a duel diagnosis. Yesterday I just wasn’t sure that I was okay with the way the system works. Professionals in DD are not equipped to improve the lives of people who need significant mental health treatment and vice versa.

          • It has nothing to do with the actual people I have the privilege to work with, it’s the industry. I’ve never doubted that advocating for and improving the lives of people with disabilities was right for me. It’s whether or not I’m patient and strong enough to struggle with the powers that be for positve change without resorting to colorful language and raising my voice. I may die at a young age if I continue to allow myself to stress out about work this much.

          • Mary-

            A few things…

            First, if the system is going to get better, it will likely be because of people like yourself working from the inside.

            Second, I assume you’ve probably only been at this for a few years now based on your age. Do I have that right? If so, I think there is a bit of a hardening process you go through early in your career. Over time, most folks develop a certain callous that will allow you to better handle your emotions as you work through what I can only imagine are incredibly emotionally trying times. Some folks never develop this… my wife worked in bedside nursing for 5 years and still couldn’t separate herself enough to avoid coming home in tears and moved into a different area of nursing care. Some folks develop to thick or broad a callous and become cold and distant from those they are charged with caring for. But the rest find that balance, learn how to work within the system while advocating for change, can form the appropriate emotional relationships with their charges to effectively advocate on their behalf while also being able to separate when necessary for their own sanity. It does take time though and I recommend sticking on a bit longer to see if you can find that balance.

          • And I should concede that I am sure this process is easier for someone in my line of work than in yours. So the extent to which you are thinking, “Easy for him to say…” Yes.

          • First, I know, that’s why I came into work today.

            I’ve been in social services just over four years. I absolutely refuse to develop a callous as I believe it would make me more unhappy. If I ever become comfortable with what angers me now, I might as well leave because I will not be making positive and effective change. I choose to just find coping mechanisms for my disappointment with injustice. I’m learning to tolerate behaviors I find unacceptable, encourage the behaviors that I do consider to be productive, and work with people I would not spend time with if I was not being paid (people I support as well as other professionals). Which reminds me, I need a raise.

            You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know and unfortunately it does not help to hear it. I’m glad you said it though. It does help to hear that other people understand this work is not for everyone (and that is okay) in addition to the difficulty of finding a healthy balance for those that the industry desperately needs.

            “… I recommend sticking on a bit longer to see if you can find that balance.” No worries, they would have to ask me to leave. I’m not going anywhere until I meet the mission. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

            Although… I sometimes dream of a pleasant job void of pressure to help people lead fulfilling lives and pays a decent wage. It seriously irritates me when people do not receive the wage they deserve. That’s like a whole post or something.

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