“I feel like when I share it sends the wrong message to my friends. Yes, I want them to be happy, but not happier than me.”

So wrote someone on Twitter with the handle “Honest Toddler,” but my older daughter Petunia, otherwise known around these parts as “Embarrassingly Blunt Preschooler,” easily could have uttered those same words.

“I only want Wendy and Amy to come over to my house for play dates from now on,” Petunia declared crossly, and loudly, the other night. “Ava and Brooke are not invited here ever again.”

There’s no shame in recognizing and verbalizing the desire to further cultivate some friendships while at the same time letting others quietly and discreetly run their course.

Announcing in an outdoor voice to Ava and Brooke, who happen to be standing indoors in your living room directly in front of you, however, that they are not only unwanted guests but actually suspected hostile hangers-on would seem more appropriate coming out of the mouth of someone suffering from a bad case of Tourette’s, not a 4-year-old who knows better.

Before Ava, Brooke and their parents arrived at our house for dinner Sunday, I ran through the same drill with Petunia that I do each morning before she leaves for school as well as before we ever walk out the front door: No pushing or hitting, and no saying “I got it first” or “It’s mine.” Petunia gets it. Whether she chooses to abide by it, though, is another thing.

She can usually keep it together at school, but play dates — particularly at our house — are a whole different animal. Lately, she doesn’t just not share. She hoards. If someone wants something, and it doesn’t matter if that something is something she hasn’t looked at, played with or touched in recent memory or ever, Petunia has to have it. If she can’t have it, you can bet your bottom dollar she’ll go to great lengths to ensure no one else will, either.

Usually, only my younger daughter Peony feels her big sister’s wrath when it comes to ensuring that no one could possibly be more spitefully armed with toys. But occasionally Petunia has friends to the house, and it is in the moments just before they arrive that I secretly hope they fall ill — although not seriously, of course. Just, like, a 12-hour non-puking-or-diarrhea bug that necessitates a last-minute cancellation, because, as Ava and Brooke learned the obnoxious way, when Petunia is over it, everyone suffers. Especially them. (And me for having to witness it unfolding in a painful fashion.)

There’s no question it’s tough being 4 years old. You know, if you don’t count the fact that preschoolers are invited to nap daily (sometimes even twice) and snack frequently, and if they catch you at the right moment, they can possibly convince you to wipe their butts even though you know they know how to do it but they just don’t always feel like it.

Still, it can be challenging to keep it together at a time in their life when not so long ago they easily got away with doing and saying anything the moment they had the urge, with people just chalking up their white lies and tantrums to their incomplete development.

That time has now mostly passed for Petunia even if she doesn’t seem to appreciate or accept that hissy fits and various degrees of anything but the truth are unacceptable.

Lately, when it comes to sharing, an evil force consumes her. It’s as if she sees each toy being used by someone not her in a new light and that being apart from the toy has shown her the grave mistake she’s been making all this time by ever bothering to play with anything but that toy. She will lie, grab and otherwise have a nuclear meltdown if the toy isn’t back in her hands — now.

If she can’t have it, the only other outcome that’s possibly acceptable is if the toy is removed from the situation entirely, even if it means she has to suffer through a time-out or her friend has to go home in the process. Either she is happy or everyone else is miserable. Anything between is grounds for an explosion to which storms with names like Sandy and Katrina tip their hats.

After the skies clear, Petunia returns to her sometimes-normal self, which means she is eminently more willing to share. Of course, it’s easy to share when you’ve scared off anyone who would have been interested in sharing with you to begin with. Then again, that just might have been the goal in the first place.


More at www.meredithcarroll.com.

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