Sometimes you just need a “this.”

Changing Bump’s diaper for the first eleven months of his life was easy. He was a pretty happy baby and was fine getting cleaned up and changed. Just shy of his first birthday, however, Bump ceased being so compliant. He wanted to move, and did not like having to be still while he got cleaned up and changed. I’m hoping this means I’ll get to potty train him early. Until then we’ve discovered a semi-workable solution for his sudden wriggling resistance.

Bump needs a “this.”

“This” is one of Bump’s favorite words, and he uses it in a way similar to the Philly slang word “jawn 1.” It’s a reference to any object which is either in his line of sight, or in his line of memory. As such, “this” can refer to his high chair, a toy he desires, a book he wants to read, or the endless bottles and baby gadgets which reside in the top drawer of his dresser. When we’re changing his diaper, those objects are a collective “this.”

In that drawer are unopened baby soap bottles, bulb blowers, sunglasses, and washcloths 2. When we’re about to change is diaper one of those items becomes “the this.” Usually this particular “this” will be effective for an entire day. We can leave it by his changing pad and just hand it to him when it’s time to get changed. Other times, “the this” needs to be altered multiple times a day. There’s no pattern which we can discern, other than he rarely wants the same “this” two days in a row.

What I do know is this 3 – when Bump has a “this” during diaper change time, things go smooth. “The this” acts as a totem which keeps him occupied as he’s changed and cleaned, and then we go on our merry way. When he doesn’t have “the this,” keeping him on the changing table is an exercise in extreme frustration. Taking time to find the right this is, therefor, a significant priority of our day.

While this sounds like “stupid parenting tricks 101,” I find this struggle to be an interesting insight into the human psyche. Why does it seem so easy to rile up seemingly reasonable people into an adult version of a toddler’s temper tantrum? Maybe it’s because their “this,” which has become a totem of stability and mental occupation, has been taken away or altered and their mind is having trouble coping with the new reality. And this disruptive new reality can take just about any form, because anything can be a “this.” The new neighbors don’t have the same ethnic or educational background as the previous neighbors. Our day off gets disrupted. A restaurant changes its hours, which takes away a favorite place to eat. We hear a different language being spoken in the super-market. A new co-worker replaces a trusted partner who’d retired. A song we don’t know gets played in church. When “this” gets disrupted the tantrums come, the only difference between adults and a toddler being adults are able to rationalize reasons for why our tantrums are justified. The reality is, though, we’re freaking out for the same reason a toddler freaks out – our emotions are more than we can deal with.

  1. Jawn has origins in the 70’s and 80’s, but really exploded into Philly speak during my New England exile. It essentially replaces a noun in a sentence, as in, “That’s my jawn.” It’s popularity in 2002, when I returned from exile, was a new thing to me. But, proving that slang is as much a matter of cultural mentality as it is linguistic practice, I heard it and went, “Yah, that makes sense.” I don’t use the term, but I also don’t blink when I hear it. Unless it’s used wrong, then it’s like fingernails begin dragged down a chalk board. 
  2. Among other items of interest. 
  3. See what I did there? I thought it was clever so I want credit.