...This is especially true when a) there's an older brother involved, and b) they have grandparents who insist on spoiling them and letting you deal with the fallout.
Which brings us to Christmas Eve.
It was at our house this year, and it's basically an excuse to eat and drink too much, and in between all the eating and drinking, we let the kids open a few presents. Seems perfectly harmless and no reasonable person would complain about any of this.
Four-year-olds are not reasonable people.
Issues arose early in the evening, when said four-year-old ripped open the wrapping paper on Present No. 1 from Pop to find Batman pajamas. He's a huge Batman fan, but pajamas are clothes and clothes are an automatic no-go. The reaction was predictable: a wave of puzzlement washed over his face, followed by a forced smile and a no-look "Thank you" before he forgot about it altogether.
Then the 8-year-old opened his present. It was a LEGO Ninjago Morro Dragon, which looked to have about four million pieces. This was a resounding success -- unless you were the four-year-old, who promptly melted into tears because in his mind, LEGOs are infinitely better than PJs.
A couple days later, after wrongs had been righted, I asked the four-year-old what he was feeling when he saw the LEGO Ninjago Morro Dragon.
"It made me feel like I wasn't in the house ... almost," he explained with all the seriousness of an expert witness testifying about DNA evidence at a murder trial. "And then mom got me a secret Mixel surprise. Then I felt good. And my cousin didn't want anybody to know that we were building it because it was only a surprise for me."
Mixels are also LEGOs, though on a smaller scale. Either way, there was harmony in the universe and the four-year-old was able to put aside his feelings of inadequacy long enough to remember what Christmas was all about.
That lasted 20 minutes, which included a happy stretch of playing with a barrel of Squigz (they're suction cups you can fashion into pretty much anything), courtesy of his aunt and uncle. Then the eight-year-old opened his present from the aunt and uncle.
If you are not familiar with Laser Pegs, they're basically LEGOs that light up. Based solely on the four-year-old's long face, I'd say those lights ratcheted up the perceived awesomeness by about 40-50 percent over your garden-variety LEGOs, So, naturally, he started crying ... again.
My brother-in-law sent along the photo above documenting the after-school special as it unfolded in real time:
"I-I-I-I-I .... w-w-w-w-w-aaaaant ... LE-LE-LE-LE-LEGGGGGGOOs," the four-year-old, between cry-heaves, told his uncle. "I really like 'em, I really do."
With no intention of doing anything about it, his uncle then asked where one can get LEGOs.
"You can buy them at Target."
A few days later, and because I'm a great dad, I followed up, asking him why he was so upset.
"Because no one got me one of those and I always wanted one."
This was news to us and anybody who knows him. All we heard about in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas was that he was desperate for a Paw Patroller, LEGO Darth Vader, and a bunch of other stuff I just tuned out (don't worry, his mom was paying attention).
When I told the four-year-old that he never informed Santa that he "always wanted one" he thought for a beat and then said, "I don't know how he was supposed to know."
You don't say. Then I reminded him that he got a ton of LEGO-related toys on Christmas, and there really was no reason to cry about two presents he didn't even know existed a half-hour before he started bawling.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," he said.
Of course, Pop came over the day after Christmas to take me and the eight-year-old to see Star Wars (more on that later but just know it was AWESOME), and he didn't show up empty handed. Before we left for the movies, he handed the four-year-old a LEGO Chima set.
I mean, come on.
So why did Pop bring him another present?
"Because I didn't get any presents before," the four-year-old explained. "That's why he brought it."
But you had a TON of presents on Christmas, remember?
"Okay, I don't know why he brought them."
I then asked him if he'd do things differently knowing what he knows now.
"Next time, I'll say thank you," he said. "And I'll be thankful. And yes, I'm sure I was thankful this time too."
So yeah. Merry Christmas.