I wasn't particularly precocious to start school at four, by the way. Most people did then in Ireland; these days it tends more towards five, but that's mostly because of pressure on school places. I was near the younger end of the class, with my June birthday, but by no means the youngest. There was no formal cut-off date back then, and I would have started school with a few kids who were still at the tail end of three, even. (Can you imagine? At the time it seemed perfectly reasonable, but now from a parental perspective I can't conceive of sending a tender little three-year-old off to real school, to be in charge of themselves and their toilet functions for four and a half hours five days a week.)
Anyway, I think this is one reason I tend to unfairly feel that Monkey should be more mature than he is. I love four - it beats the socks off obsession-fuelled three, and whups the nappy-clad ass of irrational two. But it's exactly because he's so sane and sensible part of the time now, that I start to expect too much of him. There's still an element of toddler stuck stubbornly in the mind that goes along with that ever-elongating, increasingly-pointy-limbed body. The baby in him still has to get its rocks off now and then, has to have its last hurrah (sometimes several times a day) before he can join the exalted ranks of five.
Today I arrived at school to find the plastic-bag-o'-shame sitting in Monkey's tub, along with a still-sniffing boy curled up on the floor. He'd wet his pants at the lunch table, and mostly been upset - as far as I could gather later on - not by the indignities of having his clothes changed by the teacher, but mostly by the fact that she noticed. I did my best to explain, as the teachers had done, that they could hardly fail to notice, and that they couldn't leave him in wet clothes till I arrived. And that, unlike his parents, his teachers are too busy with all the other kids to notice his subtle signs of needing to go, and aren't going to yell at him repeatedly and finally drag him to the bathroom like we do. So he just has to step up and do something about it himself, rather than just sitting still with his eyes tightly shut and hoping against hope that the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall won't see him. If you see what I mean. I didn't tell him about the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall, but maybe I should have. He might not get the deeper meaning, but he'd probably like it.
He's not alone, is the thing. One of the other mums rolled her eyes the other morning and commented sotto voce to me that she seemed to be replacing her daughter's spare-clothes supply on a daily basis right now; and I've seen other class members in more tears at morning goodbyes than I'd expect at this late stage of schoolgoing. I said to his teacher today that he seemed to be going through the almost-five thing, and she laughed and agreed that they all do. All at once. In her class. Every year.
It gives me hope, really. Just like everything else, this is a phase. He's just doing what his body needs to do to get to where he needs to get to. One day we'll realise that bathroom visits are no longer an all-singing, all-dancing family event, the same way that I realised when he was two that he hadn't woken in the night for weeks, or last year when I discovered he would wear colours other than only those of Spider-Man again. "Under-fives" is a common phrase in parenting books and web sites; "under-fours" is not. Four lies in the baby demographic, while five is listed alongside six and seven and other numbers too large and scary and wonderful for me to contemplate.
Because then he'll be a bone-fide schoolboy. And he'll be able to read Douglas Adams all for himself.