That time I pooped my pants and understanding a child’s mindset.

I was riding in the backseat of my dad’s blazer, it was the winter of 1987 and I pooped my pants. He was giving me a ride to daycare which was great because I was only three years old and didn’t have my driver’s license yet. I remember watching the early morning sun light dancing on frozen, roadside snow drifts. I remember my dad’s beard and that I was wearing my favorite pants; they were brown and had little orange footballs on them. When I pooped my pants, my favorite pants, I can clearly remember thinking to myself, “I need to not let my dad find out about this.”

We were were almost to daycare when it happened so I didn’t have time to assemble much of a plan. If I could just get through the next few minutes, I thought, then I could figure out the rest of the plan later. Looking back, I’m proud of my three year old self’s confidence in my own resourcefulness. My ability to execute was another thing entirely, however.

What I hadn’t factored into the plan was that it is nearly impossible to walk in a non poopy pants way when you do in fact have poopy pants. My dad saw through my ruse immediately.

I froze when I heard the unmistakably exasperated quality in his voice.

“Why are you walking like that?” He said. “Did you poop your pants?”

My first instinct was to lie. The rules as I understood them were that getting in trouble with dad was the one thing I didn’t want to do. Forget about having poopy pants, that was a significantly inferior problem. As my wheels began to turn however, I realized that I was beyond a point of no return and that lying would be just one more thing to get in trouble for. Out of clever ideas for how to escape this predicament on my own, I fessed up.

I dont actually remember what happened next. Presumably my dad had to take me back home, clean me up and was likely late for work. Looking back now as a dad myself, I’m sure he was grumpy about this but I’m also sure he executed his dad duties well. (Pun intended)

What strikes me as meaningful about this memory is how vividly I recall the desire to not be in trouble with my dad. Tied up in that is a fear of both trouble and disappointment, the latter being far worse.

This is the mindset of a child.

I was smart enough to know the rules of the game and not getting in trouble for rule number one took prescident over resolving my unintentional number two.

I’m going to take this thought into consideration with my own parenting. Kid’s are smarter than we give them credit for but their mindsets are something that we, in our adult sensibilities, can’t relate to. Mostly, they just want to do well by the rules as they understand them. So I will strive to be more understanding about my kid’s motivations when in the future I see them bungle through their own crappy situatuons.