This time around two-and-a-half is pushing me so far beyond my comfort zone that I am sometimes frightened. In my darker moments, I wonder: what if I wake up one morning and I just can’t do it anymore?
My son, who is two-and-a-half, has perfected the art of resistance. When I go to change his morning nappy, he snakes behind the sofa cushions and lies there, still and silent. When I give up on waiting for his cooperation, when I remove the cushions and attempt to lift his body, he transforms into a whirlwind of force and motion, every limb wild with fury, kicking and punching at my face. “No change me!” he cries as I carry him to the bathroom. “No change me!”
I can try to imagine why he resists with such force. The morning diaper, I’m sure, is warm and molded to his body. Perhaps he dreads the sudden air on his bottom, followed by the crisp new elastic on the tender flesh of his thigh. But my empathy for my son’s position doesn’t do either of us much good. That diaper still needs to come off.
Yesterday, as I ripped the first adhesive strip from the diaper he shouted to our dog “Save me Wally! Eat Mummy!”
I paused. “Do you really want Wally to eat me?”
A gleam passed through his eyes. “Yeah,” he answered, smiling now. Apparently the thought gave him comfort. When my job was complete, I lifted him from the changing pad, and he leaned into me and held my face. “You my best friend,” he whispered.
This is what two-and-a-half has meant for my son and me. Over the course of five minutes we both may find ourselves embroiled in a physical struggle, then laughing, then holding each other close. We have become, I think, a textbook example of a concept from developmental psychologist Jean Piaget: disequilibrium.
Have you seen these rather well-known people with their toddlers? Hint: it doesn’t look any easier. (Post continues after gallery.)
Disequilibrium occurs during a time of rapid development, when the brain is acquiring new skills faster than it can assimilate them. This explains, for instance, why a child might act ornery and sleep terribly in the weeks before she learns to walk. I’m not sure exactly what skills my son is processing at the age of two-and-a-half, but I know that the specialists predict—accurately—that he will test me at every turn. “Two years old is a lovely age,” a parenting coach once told me. “Two-and-a-half is the age that’s terrible.”
I imagine that for my son disequilibrium feels a bit like waking up on a winter morning, snug and warm beneath the blankets, only to have someone suddenly yank those blankets away; it’s a feeling of being moved abruptly from a state of comfort to a state of unease. No wonder my son doesn’t want me to take off his warm nappy. He’s already feeling exposed.
It’s not so hard for me to imagine how disequilibrium feels to my son, because, as his parent during this stage, I feel the same way: shocked into a new reality where I feel constantly at my own edge. I move through my day bracing myself for conflict. My problem isn’t that my son is wildly inconstant. It is that he is relentlessly predictable. It’s not that I can’t see the tantrums coming. It’s that I can, one after the other, in rapid fire, many times in a single day.