We spent the whole day at the museum today and it didn’t even feel that long, despite personal space negotiations with our friend, X, and the resultant incessant tattling. When I finally threatened to leave the museum if The Who told me one more thing about X, he clammed up, but it was hard. And then when we were in the coat room, leaving, he said, “Now I can tell you about X because we’re leaving.” But I didn’t let him because the idea was for him to learn to handle some of the more minor social infractions on his own. But then when we were driving home, he begged to be allowed to tell me.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you need to know,” he answered.
“Why do I need to know?” I challenged.
“Because you just do. Please can I tell you what X did?”
I let him then because whatever his reason for really wanting to tell me, it must have been pretty pressing. So, he told me: “He [pretended that he] ate all my [pretend] ice cream.”
“Ok,” I said. “I heard you. I’m sure that didn’t feel good.”
“Yeah. It didn’t,” he answered and that was the end of that.
It didn’t occur to me until just now, though, what the four-year-old’s pressing need to tattle comes from. It’s to simply be heard. It’s for someone to bear witness to his pain or angst or frustration. And isn’t that what everyone wants? And it just so happens that four-year-old injustices occur that much more frequently that we hear about it all day. This one hurt my arm. This one is touching me. That one said I don’t know my ABCs, but I do! The tattling, if not to bust someone (which, in The Who’s case, it rarely is) seems to be the four-year-old’s way of saying, “Can you believe this shit? He touched me! He fucking touched me a-fucking-gain. Jesus.” And that’s it, really.
I don’t know what the insight will do for us. Maybe it will give me more patience during those play dates that are heavily peppered with tattles and complaints. Maybe I’ll be able to come up with a response that will both diffuse the situation and sate him at the same time.
Maybe knowing it won’t do anything practical at all. But every speck of insight into the way these tiny humans’ brains work is like a nugget of gold. And just because I’ll surely never have it all figured out, there’s no reason to stop trying.