Changing Diapers (And Changing Knee-Jerk Responses, Too)

These days, I typically wake up to the sound of toddler jabber.

Sometimes it’s after 7, and I breathe a little sigh of relief while I roll out of bed, smile as I watch X through the video monitor, and soak in the cuteness of his interactions with his stuffed animals.

Sometimes it’s before 6, and I gnash my teeth while I get dressed and grumble while I brush my hair, and heave irritated sighs while I stumble down the hall in the semi-darkness.

Either way, it ends the same: I knock on his door, open it, and say,


I make a point of greeting him with enthusiasm, because there is no telling how long it will last. An hour? A minute? Life with a toddler is already unpredictable; adding PTSD just makes it worse.

And unfortunately, it’s often only a couple of minutes that we enjoy together before I start to unravel. We give hugs, and chit-chat for a minute, and then, it’s time for his diaper change.

Lord, help us.

X has hated diaper changes ever since he was old enough to form an opinion about it. I think it’s just boring for him, or undermines his autonomy, or…something. Honestly if I knew what exactly was so awful about it for him, I would have fixed it a long time ago.

Instead, he refuses to lay down. He whines about it when he finally does. He tries to pull the diaper out from underneath him. He won’t lift his legs up. He won’t open his legs. He kicks. He yells. He thrashes.

It’s to the point where I pin him down with one leg, hold one foot under my arm, and hold the other foot in one hand while I wipe at the poop with the other. Meanwhile, he’s bucking like a whole rodeo and yelling/whining like a teenage girl.

That’s exactly how it went this morning, and yes, we got through it, and no, I didn’t spank him. I don’t even think I yelled at him, (yay!) but I had nothing left to give when we were done.

You see, kicking me triggers my PTSD.

Yelling at me triggers my PTSD.

Actively creating an obstacle to something I’m trying to accomplish (or just disregarding my wants and needs in general) triggers my PTSD.

Getting angry at me when I am doing my very best to help you triggers my PTSD.

Diaper changes with X are all of these things, so it’s a minor miracle every time I don’t lose my cool.

So today when I stuck with it long enough to get the job done, I immediately dumped X with my husband and hid downstairs to cry.

I hate this, I thought, pulling on fistfuls of my hair. I hate this I hate this I hate this I hate this. It feels like…

I have a hard time conveying the heartache and overwhelm and anger that course through me in those moments, even to myself. But in this moment, something clicked, and I knew exactly what it feels like.

It feels like trying desperately to be everything my dad wanted me to be, to be perfect, and still messing up, still not being good enough, still getting yelled at and told I’m lazy and selfish and stupid. That is what it feels like.

And just like that, I knew that this had nothing to do with my toddler being a pain about diaper changes. This was an emotional flashback. In a flash of insight, I knew what was going on, and the bleakness dissipated like fog burned off in the bright morning sun.

X doesn’t need me to be perfect. He doesn’t need me to give him everything he wants. But he does need me to apologize and reconnect when I lose my temper, and he sure as heck needs me to change his diaper.

And right now, I need him to be a normal toddler… and also to learn to be a empathetic, responsible human being.

“Mama needs space.”

“Mama needs to rest.”

“Mama needs a break.”

And hopefully, soon, my needs will become less loud so that I can decipher what his are, and maybe diaper changes can be a little less traumatic for both of us.

Or, you know, he could just potty-train. That’d be good, too.

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