“So what will it be? Diaper or no diaper?”
Now, throw a question like that out to the general population and you can be reasonably sure what the answer is. Throw it out to a 20-year old boy, and he might throw it right back at you with a punch to the chin.
But this wasn’t any ordinary 20-year old, and the look on his face pretty much told the story: the kid wasn’t boiling up and ready to throw a punch.
He was, instead…. undecided. Or maybe not undecided exactly, but undecided about whether to say yes.
I wasn’t sure for a minute whether this would work and I felt like I was in the middle of a chess game or something, only this game had three players: myself, Cody, and his gramma Joan.
Joan was convinced that all the Cody needed was a bit of influence from an older guy, someone he maybe looked up to a bit, and she had pegged me as that guy. Sure, I was the nice man next door, but I was also someone who Cody had gravitated towards a little over the past weeks – hanging out in the early evenings, and apparently unable to stop talking about me at the dinner table.
For myself, Cody had triggered a protective instinct that I didn’t really know I had: seeing how he had wet his pants that day in the driveway and noticing that he was wearing diapers in the days that followed had opened up a wellspring of feelings. And while those feelings had lots of different layers, there was one thing that seemed pretty simple: I wanted to take care of the boy even if it meant changing the diapers of a 20-year old.
And then there was Cody.
And that was the mystery at the heart of it all: because why did a good looking kid with a winning smile find himself back in diapers every now and then? What led to the wet beds and pants? And how come he seemed, well, so darn happy once he was diapered up again?
Getting Into Diapers to Get Out
While Joan thought the best thing to do was for a male authority figure to confront him and get it on the table, I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t going to be so easy: while Cody often came across as a confident, go-lucky surfer kid, I also saw someone who could easily jump at his own shadow and who often became almost painfully shy and quiet. In fact, the best way to describe what I often saw in Cody was a lot like the response of a little kid.
Joan and I had talked at length, and while I had agreed with her that your normal 20-year old doesn’t usually find himself in a wet pair of jeans or shorts at the mall, it took us some time to agree on a plan.
Knowing that Cody didn’t have any medical issues, Joan felt that there was some kind of sub-conscious craving for attention. And she was asking me, in the nicest way possible, to give him some of that attention. She had tried, but she was Gramma, and she thought he needed a stronger male influence in his life.
I couldn’t disagree, but I proposed that if you’re going to get at someone’s sub-conscious, you probably have to be a little more subtle. And that maybe the way to deal with it wasn’t to get the issue on the table – but to get the diapers on the kid.
I remember Joan laughing when I said that.
“You’re saying get him back in diapers so he gets out of them again?”
“Well, maybe I’m reading things the wrong way, Joan,” I said. “But Cody was a lot more open with me, more talkative, when he was wearing protection. Who knows why. But it seems to me that if I just confront him he’ll be like any young guy – he’ll clam up and just shrug a lot.”
Joan nodded and smiled but still had a bit of hesitation in the thoughtful tilt of her chin.
“So maybe the way to get at this is to put him in a position where he needs to be more open about his wetting problems, rather than less. And if, as you say, he needs a male influence, maybe it will get him to open up about his feelings.”
“Well….maybe. Although I still think he needs a talking to.” She hesitated. “But I’ve tried that and he DOES get all sullen. Gave me the silent treatment once for three weeks when I gave him a lecture about needing to grow up and get control over his bathroom habits.”
I just nodded, watching as she thought it through.
“Well….look. All I know is I don’t have much influence. And I understand why – he has a history with the female figures in his life. His mom….” She trailed off. “Anyways, and his dad was no use, never stuck around past his first birthday.”
“Shameful, really,” I said. “I bet if he had known what a great kid Cody would become he’d have stuck around.”
“Well,” she said, “Whether we’d have wanted him to stay is another question. You and he are like polar opposites, Josh. And I far prefer someone like you in Cody’s life to be perfectly frank.”
I think I blushed then. Or at least felt a little awkward – high praise indeed from someone who I thought was terrific.
“You know what,” she said, with a sudden firm finality. “There’s nothing to lose. And I trust you. The only thing I can ask, though, is that you do right by the boy. He needs all the guidance and trust he can get – and I swear, if you do the boy wrong, I’m after you like hell’s fury.”
I wish I could have opened up my heart right then so Joan could see how fiercely protective I felt about Cody. All I did was nod.
So Joan and I had decided on a plan. We talked through the details a bit, and I got some advice from her on some practical issues. It was all very logical and well thought out.
Meantime, however, my heart was pounding and when I went home that night I lay awake for hours. My mind went into overdrive: I was worried about my own motivations, I was concerned that maybe I was doing the wrong thing for Cody, and then my heart would swell up as I thought of giving him a little more care attention than I’d been able to – I mean, sure, a chat now and then was fine, a pat on his shoulder, a little hug.
But this would be different. I’d basically proposed getting a 20-year old to hang around with me in diapers so that maybe we could figure out the whys of it, and the how to stop.
Truth was, I felt in over my head, and that I was going on instinct and feeling alone, which wasn’t something I was used to doing.
But then I remembered something: the day I had given Cody a reassuring pat on his diapered bum.
It had been a small, instinctive gesture. An acknowledgement that I knew he was wearing protection and was OK with it. The hug from him that followed had opened up something special inside, and whatever that feeling was, I knew just then that everything would be OK if only I stayed true to that inner place.
The next thing I knew it was morning, the anxieties of the night before erased.
So we’re back at the chess game. I felt like I was being clever but really, it was a lot of wrapping around a pretty simple question.
See, I wanted to sort of ease Cody into a decision. Inviting him over was the simple part – I lured him with dinner and video games, asking if he’d show me how to get the PlayStation console that I’d bought on a whim up and running.
He showed up that night in pale blue jeans and a dark blue polo shirt, neatly tucked in at the waist. I had been used to seeing Cody in slightly baggier clothes, and his outfit gave me a good reminder that he was a pretty small guy for his age.
He had the tone you’d imagine on someone who spends a lot of time at the beach: lean, not scrawny, but not really muscular. Just a well proportioned 20-year old who was a shorter than average, and whose hair was damp and scattered off in different directions as if he’d just jumped out of the surf or a shower.
He still had the withdrawn stance that I’d gotten used to these past days…slightly hunched in his shoulders, never entirely making eye contact, with slight shrugs in his replies.
“Hey Cody,” I said.
“Thanks for coming over. I’ve never been able to get that video thing to work.”
“No prob,” he said.
“So why don’t you go see if you can get it hooked up. But first, I’ve got three questions for you tonight.”
“Yup, three questions. First question is this: I’ve got roast chicken or I can make pasta. What will it be?”
“Oh,” he gave a crooked grin. “Um, chicken would be great.”
“OK, I’ll get it warmed up. You go see if you can get the PlayStation hooked up.”
Off he went, and after a while I heard a bunch of bleeps and blips and he called out from the other room that it was working. He wandered back into the kitchen and I had him set the table as I got the food dished out.
“OK, so question two, Cody: juice or pop?”
He grinned, warming up to the question and answer game.
And so it went. We chatted a bit over dinner. Nothing major – he still wasn’t in much of a talkative mood. But that was fine with me, because the truth was that inside I had butterflies in my stomach.
As I sat watching Cody eat, I kept having this odd feeling of seeing a a guy who was a bit quiet, but who probably wasn’t much different from your typical teen or 20-something: not sure what to say and not sure how to relate to someone older.
But I also saw a little boy – it was in the way his hair flopped over his forehead a little, or the way a piece of chicken might get stuck on his chin for a bit before he brushed it away.
And the butterflies in my stomach were somehow related to seeing the little kid inside and trying to hold back on my instinct to just scoop him up and hug him.
As we finished dinner, I circled in on my final question.
“So, I’d like you to show me how to play one of those games when we’re done, Cody.”
He gave a little nod.
“But Cody, I have another question for you. And I talked to your Gramma about it. Because I’m a bit worried what with this being a new place for me, new furniture, all that. And I know it probably wouldn’t happen, but we both know that sometimes you have little accidents.”
At this, I saw him blush a little, glance up at me, and then grab his juice to take a nervous gulp.
“So first, I want you to know that either is fine with me. I trust you. You can say yes, and it’s more of a “just in case” decision. Or you can say no, and that’s fine too, I trust that there won’t be any accidents.”
I paused a little, making sure he had caught up with where I was going.
“So, question number three Cody: you can wear a diaper, just in case. Or not.”
I paused again. He squirmed a little, and stared down almost furiously blushing at the empty plate in front of him.
Now, if you’ve ever heard the expression “written on their face” you might understand what I mean when I say that I could almost read what was going through Cody’s mind: eager, scared, unsure, excited, bashful….emotions flickering across his adorable face like so many passing waves. And with each emotion, I felt like it passed through me as well.
In fact, I’m not sure I’d ever experienced anything quite like that moment:when I sensed a bit of excitement, I felt a little tremor of excitement myself; when he looked a little scared, I felt an instinct to reassure him; when I sensed he was confused, I felt an impulse to clear the confusion.
“Now, look Cody. Just so you understand – no one will judge you either way, your Gramma included. I’ve got everything you need in the spare room – so no worries that you’d need to run back home. You’d be doing me a favor, in a way, because we don’t want any accidents on the couch,” I said, continuing to speak slowly and calmly.
“But it’s also OK to just say yes if it makes YOU feel better. And if you say it’s no, you don’t need protection, that’s wonderful too. You’re old enough to make decisions and know what’s right. You don’t need to make this complicated, Cody, just put aside what anyone has told you, or any fears, because you’re in a safe place here OK?”
As I gave Cody my little talk, he had started looking straight at me, making lengthy eye contact for what felt like the first time in weeks.
And his little nods showed that he was listening, and the way his body seemed to loosen and relax a little indicated that I was getting through – this decision, he was coming to realize, was his, and he could make it with a clear conscience.
I then leaned forward and placed a hand on his forearm.
“So what will it be? Diaper or no diaper?”