She sat up and looked me in the eye. “Don’t change me,” she said.
I had a hard time believing she’d said what I’d heard her say, so I asked her to say it again.
“Don’t change me, Daddy,” she repeated. “I want to play. Don’t change me.”
I laughed, a bit astonished. “Would you rather walk around all night with poopie in your pants?” I said.
“Yes,” she nodded. “I walk with poopie in pants.”
Don’t change me. Such an adult sentiment. I’ve pondered when it is that we start learning to resist change and growth. Last week I wrote about children’s fearlessness to lean into the scary and lamented the adult capacity to be defended and resistant. Somewhere along the way, we start building walls and tying pages together in order to prevent the kind of growth that children seem to welcome. And yet, here I was this week, listening to my daughter pleading with me to leave her alone so she could continue playing with a turd in her pants.
Our little Curly Fries is potty-training pretty well when it comes to pee-pee. She pee-pees in the potty on a regular basis: nearly every morning when she gets up, in the evenings when she gets home from school, and just before bed. When she takes potty breaks at daycare, she regularly pee-pees in the potty at least once a day, often twice or even three times. But poopie? That’s a different story. She has poopied in the potty before, maybe twice, but she doesn’t seem to be nearly as interested in making that leap. We wonder if she’s just still learning to recognize the feeling of needing to poopie; we all know it’s different from feeling the need to pee-pee. It’s quite possible that she doesn’t recognize that she needs to poo-poo until she’s already done it. But what is this resistance to even having her diaper changed? It’s as if she wants to pretend that she doesn’t ever poo-poo at all, such that she was willing to admit that she’d rather walk around the rest of the evening with poop in her pants than to take a short break and have her diaper changed.
I’ve talked with other parents and hear that this is not uncommon. Potty training can be an arduous process, and I have heard stories of three-year-olds lying about needing their diapers changed, then pitching epic fits while getting them changed. Now, I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of pooping and wiping, either; it’s not my favorite activity in the world, and sometimes it’s just a real hassle. (A pain in the ass, if you will.) But to hate it so much that you would prefer to walk around dirty? Now that’s some serious resistance.
Adult-level resistance, you could say. Most of the adults I know are potty-trained (and the ones that aren’t have very good developmental reasons), but I regularly see adults resisting some kind of change that seems obviously good and necessary. Would you rather have another heart attack? Would you rather lose your job? Would you rather have your friends and family get tired of being around you? Would you rather stay miserable in an unhappy relationship? And so often the answers to these questions are, “Yes. Don’t change me.”
I’m just as guilty. No need to pretend I’m an expert at leaning into change and growth. There are plenty of places in my adult life that I’ve opted for easy, dirty, unhealthy choices, even when they’ve been presented to me as very clear options.
What is so awful about change? Of course, for my little Curly Fries, it was disruptive. She wanted to keep playing. She didn’t want to interrupt her good times to get changed. What’s a dirty diaper when you’re having fun? Who cares, really? It’s not hurting anything. Change, by definition, is always disruptive. It disrupts our routines and our relationships. And, at its most basic, it disrupts our basic assumptions about the world and about ourselves. If I have to learn a new skill at work, then that would disrupt assumptions about myself regarding my abilities. I might have to admit that I’m not helpless, or that I can’t really blame other people for my hardships. If I have to make a lifestyle change, my life will get harder. Dieting is not easy; exercise is not fun; giving up smoking or drinking is painful. And God help me if I have to change the way I interact with other people. That will disrupt my comfortable assertion that I am always right, that other people are just jerks who don’t understand me, that other people’s problems are not my concern.
There are so many ways that children are growing and changing so fast. And much of the growth I see in my child is growth she’s hungry for: doing things on her own, being independent, exerting control over her environment. Children seem ready to give up their helplessness… At least while it’s convenient. But apparently we don’t have to be very old before we decide we’ve had enough change.
So I admit I’m reading a lot into my daughter’s refusal to have her diaper changed. Hey, it’s what I do. But I do it because it feels real to me, and I bet it does to you, too. Surely you can think of a time in your life where you were far more content to sit around in a pile of shit than to let change occur. In fact, there may be a pile of it you’re sitting in right now, pretending it’s not that bad or that no one else can smell it or it’s really not hurting anything. But maybe eventually we start disliking the feeling of being dirty. A child can’t change herself at that age; she has to ask for help. And all of the major life changes I’ve experienced have only been possible at first with the help of others.
I had a lot of sympathy for my sweet Curly Fries when she begged, “Don’t change me.” Honey, I know the feeling. But I also have great gratitude for the people who have pushed me to grow and develop and change. It’s not fun, and I’m reassured to see that resistance to change starts very early and is most likely an essential human impulse. It sucks to have someone point out that our pants are full of poop and we may respond with the defiant insistence that we would definitely rather walk around with poop in our pants than be changed. That’s normal, I suppose. But eventually, I would hope, we all grow up, if only a little bit at a time.