Warning: Although this is not a potty-training post, the words potty-training will be used and there will be references to diapers. Read at your discretion.
It must be hard being a toddler. Your brain is developing at broadband speed, yet your body is more like dial-up. And your emotions are right on the surface, ready to explode from you at the slightest injustice from the universe. It must be frustrating beyond belief.
Owen develops new skills hourly, it seems, and she’s eager to test them, work them, use them to exert control over her environment.
You see, we’re working on potty training (don’t worry, this is still not a potty-training post). That means she gets to wear pull-ups diapers. This is a big deal. Pull-ups diapers get pulled up and down like pants. She doesn’t have to sit passively and let us put her diaper on. She can participate, even maybe do it herself.
Which is what she wants, desperately. To do everything herself.
Yesterday, after school and a just-got-home trip to the potty, Owen wanted to try to put on her new pull-up herself. Pushing me away with her hand and an adamant “No, Mommy,” her efforts began in earnest.
She didn’t want the one I had touched, so she got a new one.
Tried. To. Get. Her. Leg. In. “No!”
Throw that one away, get a new one.
Leg. Goes. In. Here. Other leg in same hole, “No!”
Throw that one away. Try again with a new one. “No! No! No!”
I watched helplessly from across the room. If I tried to help her, it made her mad. “No, Mommy,” now in tears. Even helpful suggestions were met with tears, cries of “No,” and after a few times, throwing her little body around on the bed.
I’ve never seen her so mad. She would try one and, even if she was almost there, toss the diaper away in frustration, throwing her body around in an almost demon-possessed rage. Her face was darkly burning and sopping wet, her hair wild. I half expected her head to spin around and for her to say: "Your mother..." well, you've seen The Exorcist, you know the rest.
I didn’t know what to do. Would it be more harmful to insist on helping her, or more harmful to let her continue to meet frustration? I want her to feel that she can do things. I want her to feel mastery over herself and her environment. I want her to always try to meet the challenges of the world. I was worried that if I insisted on helping her, she might think she can’t do things and shouldn’t even try. Just let Mommy do it. But I was equally worried that if she tried and tried and couldn’t do it, she might eventually give up trying.
I finally decided to try distraction—getting her to take a break from the situation so she could calm down. I picked her up mid-spasm, got her pacifier and blanket, and held her while she cried. Once she calmed down, she wanted to get into her crib. I put her in, sat down next to her, talked to her, and played gently with her, touching our hands and foreheads together through the crib sides.
After a while, she was ready to get out of the crib. She walked over to a pull-up that had fallen on the floor, handed it to me, and sat down. “Mommy, help.” I guided her legs into the openings, talking to her about how to do it, letting her do as much as possible. She stood up and pulled up the front. I pulled up the back. I gave her a hug. She put her head in my shoulder for a brief moment, then pulled away and ran into the hall, laughing.
As I told the story to Paul when he came home, Owen stood still, watching and listening. Later that night she told Grandma on the phone: “I put diaper on myself”.
This morning, she again pushed me away, saying, “Myself, Mommy.” She tried a few times, exclaiming in frustration and throwing them away. Then she did it. Put both legs in the proper openings, stood and pulled the diaper up in front. The back got caught on her butt, so I helped pull it up a little. She didn’t like that, so had to take that one off and try again.
This time she very nearly did the whole thing herself. If only it didn’t keep getting caught in the back…too bad she has Mommy’s big butt.