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When we think of our children, we naturally categorize them in some way, don’t we? Male, female, tomboy, athletic, bookworm, confident, passive, musical, clumsy, energetic, hands-on, impulsive, sensitive, a good sleeper/bad sleeper, a sweet-tooth, a health nut, outgoing, introvert, baby, toddler, child, pre-teen, teenager, adult…. and a million other titles that children may fall under.

But I fear that our culture has greatly overlooked one particular child. This kid lies somewhere between child and pre-teen, between fully male and fully female, between confident, clumsy, defiant, weepy, entitled, cuddly, brash and awkward.

This child is called The Fourth Grade Boy.

And do you want to know why this creature is such a conundrum? It’s because the world prepares parents for the sleepless nights of babies and the terrible-twos and the teenage years, leaving unsuspecting Moms and Dads all across the world to look at the childhood stage as a phase of rest. But, those parents of The Fourth Grade Boy… they know better.

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It all started at the end of August. The school bus was pulling up to the house after the kids’ first day back from the seemingly endless summer break. I watched as my second-grade daughter emerged from the bus, purple book bag on her back, outfit perfectly cutesy, smiling from ear to ear. Her little bob bounced as she skipped to me with the enthusiasm of an elf.

And then The Fourth Grade Boy stepped off the bus… and I swallowed a chuckle. Was he striding? Since when does my son have “swag”? Or perhaps the better question is, since when does my son THINK he has “swag”?

It was evident by the cocky smile, one-shouldered carrying of the book bag, and the shuffle of his feet. As they approached the drive where I stood holding a toddler that screamed with glee as if it were Christmas morning every time he sees a school bus, I asked the usual question: How was your day?

The second grader blurted out long streams of prattling, followed by a short inhale of breath, and then another long prattle. The Fourth Grade Boy, on the other hand, had only one reply:

“Fourth grade is sooo easy. I got this.”

And then he sauntered away.

From that moment, there has been an awkward awakening of things inside my child. I think the awakening’s name is Hormones, but I can’t be sure. For a full semester, I’ve watched this creature come home from school, sometimes striding, sometimes walking clumsily (now that’s the child I know), turn on his favorite show, Paw Patrol (which also happens to be the favorite show of our toddler), and roll his toy trucks all over the floor…while quietly singing the lyrics to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back.

This “child” wants to color with me in his coloring book, and then shoot his bow and arrow. He wants to make toy cars out of cardboard boxes to pull his stuffed animals around, and then asks to watch a PG-13 movie. He cooks pretend food with the baby’s kitchen set, and then talks to me about the conversation he had with a kid in his class about sex.

This Fourth Grade Boy is a creature all of his own. He wants to be a young boy, but he wants to be a man. He thinks girls are gross, but he can’t stop talking about them. He still likes his Superman pajamas, but he only wants the “RIGHT kind of tennis shoes”. He is equally embarrassed by girls’ love notes as he is flattered by them… and then he is embarrassed by his feelings of flattery. He knows everything (or so he thinks) yet he can’t prove it on his homework to save his life. He tries to talk tough, only to pronounce the words wrong and sound even younger than he is.

The Fourth Grade Boy yells at his mother, tries out swear words and inappropriate hand gestures, bullies others to fit in with the “cool kids”, and is very concerned about the word “titties” all of a sudden. Yet, this same child falls into a pile of sobs when he is corrected. Sobs that last forever, proving that teenage girls are possibly NOT the most dramatic people on the planet.

And only The Fourth Grade Boy would put this combination of things on his Christmas list for Santa (who yes, we still believe in): Drum set, quad, Thomas the Train set, trampoline, talking stuffed dog, a picture of Santa’s reindeer, and a real front loader truck. It was like asking for beer out of a sippy cup! I was so confused, I can only imagine how Santa felt…

This is not just my Fourth Grade Boy, either. I have nephews. I have friends with fourth graders. Some days these children are cuddling up to their parents on the couch, and some days they’re practicing their independence by refusing a hug in public. It’s like being a little boy is no longer satisfying, but being a pre-teen is too exhausting. So they swap back and forth like rapid fire, taking breaks from their dreams of all the Brittany’s and Riley’s of the world to play in the sandbox with dump trucks.

This category of child is awkward, yet tries so hard to be cool – won’t brush their teeth or comb their hair, but HAS to wear the right length of pants or life is over – wants to be treated like an adult, but still needs a smack on the butt from time to time.

The Fourth Grade Boy, in all his confusing ways, is asking if it’s still OK to be little sometimes.

I think fifth grade is the time of pre-teen, and third grade was the time of being a child. Mamas, this means that fourth grade… it just might be our last shot at playdough towers and crafts. He may no longer want to play Barbies with his sister (even though he totally does it wrong… I mean, who brings a truck with a crane to the Barbie Mansion, anyway?), may no longer be happy making bracelets out of rubber bands, he will probably soon say good-bye to playing dress up with old Halloween costumes, and mother-son dances will involve less and less dancing between the mother and the son.

Fourth grade, with all it’s frustrations and transitions, may be the end of our little boys.

Not that big boys are bad. I mean, we have first girlfriends to look forward to, teaching our sons to dance without looking like epileptics in front of their buddies, helping Dads work on the car or the mower, ER visits after using real tools instead of play ones goes south, hair in all kinds of places, buying their first sticks of deodorant, going somewhere in public unsupervised (God help us all)…

Mamas, I think we will make it. We will somehow survive this weird stage and we will make the adjustment to Mamas of Pre-Teens… But I’m going to try to hold onto my own Fourth Grade Boy just a little bit longer. It may just be the last time he asks to be held.

Last year's Mother-Son Dance

Last year's Mother-Son Dance

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