This is an excerpt of my book Parenting as a Contact Sport. If you enjoy this excerpt, please consider purchasing it through the link at the end of the story.
“There’s shit everywhere!”
“THERE’S SHIT EVERYWHERE!”
There was shit everywhere. Oozing out of the leg holes of a diaper and into his pants, squirting up his back and into the onesie. However, my exclamation was done in jest.
Without distraction, babies have a tendency to shove their hands right into their crotch as you change them. My best impression of Barney Fife from “The Andy Griffith Show” warped into something far less wholesome as I diverted the attention of Wolf who looked happily in my direction as he ignored the overflowing diaper before me.
Without a doubt, the biggest time-suck for a parent in the first year of a child’s life is dealing with an unfathomable amount of excrement. Many babies, including my first, are literally born in their own feces, politely referred to as meconium.
Our wonderful gift cost us an extra forty-eight hours in the delivery room because he aspirated the meconium mixed with amniotic fluid on the way out. That was my introduction to our little bundle of love, a shrieking, squirming, shit-covered banshee.
For the first few months, it’s all downhill. The GI tract on an infant is exceptionally short and they eat nothing but liquid. Each swallow of new material means pushing out something from the other end. A baby is a fecal factory capable of producing, for all intents and purposes, a metric ton of fertilizer in its first year on earth. This is the origin of the colloquialism “crap-ton.”
There is shit everywhere.
Parents find all types of ways to deal with their child’s production. There is an entire universe of ointments, pads, tables, and bags centered around the sole purpose of handling diapers. Most of these things serve no special purpose and are merely designed by snake-oil salesmen pawning off fake ingenuity to panicky, sleep-deprived parents. Some are a necessity. The hazard is finding out what is what.
Diaper bags are perhaps the most amusing item pawned off as ingenuity to new parents. It’s a glorified knapsack or purse into which you put diapers, diaper creme, baby wipes, and more diapers. People are willing to shell out $30, $50, and even over $100 for these. But, it’s just a thing to put other things in.
The Geico draw string bag you got at that job fair two years ago, the laundry bag from Basic Training, a reusable grocery bag, and a dozen other items around the house could serve the same purpose without having to spending a dime. Not everything you purchase for a baby needs to be new and special.
My wife bought a diaper bag. To make matters worse, the diaper bag was a floral print of impossibly colored tropical flowers on a pink background. I consider myself a modern man. I am known to wear pink shirts (we modern men call them “salmon-colored”).
I have other cred. I like romantic comedies and I drive an automatic. But I was never able to carry that damned diaper bag on my shoulder with a straight face. I always carried it by the strap, away from my body, like the discarded bedding of an Ebola camp, lest I be infected by an overdose of femininity.
Within a few months of my first-born son, Wolf, arriving I moved on to one of the free bags from a job fair. By the time I got to my second child, Bear, I just threw a pack of wipes on the front seat of my car with two or three diapers.
Don’t buy a diaper bag.
When it comes to buying diapers—and you cannot forgo those—any conscientious consumer should consider the merits of cloth diapers. They cost less in the long run, can be passed on to friends and family, and when retired, they make fine polishing rags. Of course, there is also the issue of filling up landfills with something that takes centuries to decompose.
Maintenance is not as bad as you think it is. Pee-filled diapers can go straight in the washing machine, and for a #2, you can connect a hose to the back of the toilet to spray feces straight into the bowl before washing in a normal washing machine.
I tried to convince my wife of the merits of cloth.
“Should we consider cloth diapers?”
“I mean the costs are less in the long run.”
“We can actually sell them when we are done and get some of the money back.”
“My mom used to polish furniture with them.”
“I don’t know. I just hate the idea of filling up landfills with something that takes centuries to decompose. Did you know that…”
Like any good husband, I ignored my wife’s sagacity and back-doored our purchase of cloth diapers when a friend from college texted me and said that he wasn’t having any more children and I could have the entire set, valued at $500, for $50.
I jumped at the chance and the check was in the mail.
I gave up after one day when the plastic liner that is supposed to contain the water kept leaking out onto the bed sheets during nap time. I never even got as far as installing the hose on the back of a tank.
You will find that the greatest benefit of cloth diapers comes from the warm and fuzzy feelings you get by even thinking about it—kind of like the time you thought about volunteering at a VA Clinic or thought about picking up a hitchhiker on the highway. Feeling good without actually doing anything is good enough for me. Janis Joplin said something like that.
But then, she didn’t have any children.
I have the utmost admiration for those friends of mine who braved the hazards of cloth diapers. In the meantime, I’ll continue using the disposables and consider donating to causes that are exploring how to power our economy with nothing but the self-satisfaction of those who use exclusively cloth diapers.
One more thing. Diaper Genies are the third leg of a three-legged stool when it comes to dealing with crap. The Genie is a white cylinder with a special ring in the top that contains a twenty-five foot tube of blue plastic sheeting. The plastic sheeting is tied off on one end and stuffed into the cylinder. Dirty diapers are fed through the ring, past a one-way seal, and down into the cylinder, with more and more sheeting handling the expanding mass of diapers until the cylinder is entirely filled.
At this point, a small button on the side of the cylinder allows the entire device to be opened and approximately two feet of plastic tubing is removed. The untied end of the plastic tubing passes by a small razor blade allowing the user to tie off the freed end and removing what looks like a large blue sausage plastic. This blue sausage typically weighs fifteen to twenty pounds.
Once the sausage is removed, it is crucial to remember to tie off the next segment of plastic tubing. How do you know if you forgot to tie it off?
“Honey, I’m home.”
A chill fills the room, as if all the air has been suddenly sucked from the foyer.
“Do you know what you did?”
The look on my wife’s face indicates one of only two possibilities: 1. She sat down without realizing I left the toilet seat up. 2. A shit-filled diaper clattered into the diaper Genie, devoid of any plastic bag to catch it.
“Sorry. I was in a hurry this morning and I just wasn’t thinking.”
I love the opportunity of dressing to impress when dealing with my children. In many ways, changing a shitty diaper is comparable to making gumbo. It smells remarkably similar, the consistency is the same, and most importantly, there is an equal threat to clothing. However, when I am late for court and the kid fills the diaper minutes before it’s time for me to leave, I don’t have the luxury of changing him again.
My oldest is in daycare. And, lousy parents will just flaunt the rules there, dropping their kid off with a full diaper. It is more common than it should be, and there is a special place in hell for these parents—ones with children who have diapers so engorged that it looks like a macaque forced into human clothing. Those diapers emit waves of scent that smell like some combination of Cheez-Its and rotten eggs, so awful the it stings the nostrils.
As a fellow parent, it’s hard to withhold judgment, but in our polite society, we all immediately begin to rationalize and make excuses.
“Maybe she has a cold.”
“Maybe she did lines of cocaine with her Cheerios.”
“Maybe he sniffed industrial grade ammonia in freshman chemistry at the University of Florida and permanently damaged his sense of smell.”
Parents with good reputations among the providers may get a pass from time to time, immune from the glaring judgmental eyes foisted upon the regular offenders. I had already used up my once-a-month good grace the day before as my youngest surreptitiously filled and overflowed the confines of his diaper in the eight-minute drive from home.
As I pulled him from the car seat, I said aloud, “I need to change him.”
In their sing-song Filipina voices, the sing-song Filipina providers in my son’s daycare room offered up kindness: “It’s okay, you are a working dad. We will take care of it this time.”
I graciously asked “Are you sure?” with the conviction of college student trying to be polite when a wealthy uncle offered to get the check.
As I closed the door to daycare, I heard the cute sing-song voice let go to criticize my parenting. “What the hell? Does he do cocaine‽”
No ladies. I sniffed industrial grade ammonia in freshman chemistry.
With no more goodwill left from the providers, late for court, in a three-piece suit, I started working on the calzone of crap before me.
Of course, there are strategies of fashion for parents with children under two. I just embrace the fair likelihood of getting shit on my clothing and move on with my day. Pin stripes and plaid do a better job of masking excrement than solids. There are entire color schemes that can facilitate fecal matter. A good paisley tie will embrace the flecks of green Gerber formula poop. Coworkers admire what appears to be delicate stitching of the slightly raised bumps of boo boo.
“Where did you buy it?
“Dillard’s I think. It’s amazing what those kids in Malaysia are capable of these days, isn’t it?”
If you are a person who likes power ties, it’s hard to accommodate this strategy. You could argue that power ties are a fashion faux pas, a tool for the weak to make up for lack of intelligence, courage, and life experience. I say, never underestimate the power tie. This is America. There is literally no limitation placed on a mediocre man who dons a power tie, as long as it’s clean.
If you are not into pin stripes and paisley ties, then get to work. It’s important to begin by rolling up the sleeves as a first step. If you get the diaper off and let go of a wriggling baby to roll up the sleeves, he may begin to kick wildly, stomping in his own diaper and flinging the contents far and wide. Any number of wild animal noises, whistles, and gesticulations will distract them. My wife says to use calming words. That has never worked for me.
“What’s the rule Wolf? Daddy always wins. Daddy always wins.”
You must always have one point of contact on a baby, unless you have cinch straps which are not recommended before the age of six months.
Remember that a dangling tie can be like a fecal infection that spreads to the shirt, coat, pants, and belt in just a few sweeps. It’s better to tuck it into your shirt than to throw it over your shoulder.
Invariably you will lean to the side and have it fall from the shoulder and swing right back down into the diaper. Some fathers will wear bow ties to remove this problem from the equation. I say, this is America, and unless you are a college professor or game show host, bow ties are unpatriotic. Lastly, remember that butt paste does not come out with Shout wipes.
“One more wipe! Diaper on!”
“Whoo hoo! Diaper changed with nothing visible on my clothing!”
As long as I keep my jacket buttoned …
Just wear an apron …
I should have just worn an apron …
I’ll just tell them I had gumbo for breakfast.
I would not categorize myself as militantly feminist. There are some things that men can do better, such as using urinals and reaching objects on the top shelf, but save those exceptions, I support the worldview of equal rights and equal responsibilities. I don’t find this particularly revolutionary, but it seems that the restaurant industry has not caught up with my worldview, thus the dearth of changing tables in the men’s room of the local diner.
Of course, changing tables in public restrooms are by no means required. BUT, the social justice warrior within me chafes at the assumption that only ladies change diapers, especially when I’m on a guy day with my sons at a national chain restaurant like Panera Bread.
My reaction is tailored to precisely how much coffee I’ve had that morning. A more docile, fatigued Steve will just go to the rear cargo compartment of my Subaru and change him there. A cup of coffee or two, and I’ll knock on the ladies’ restroom and use their changing table if its unoccupied. Panera has free refills …. I’ve changed my kid, crap and all, right on a table in the dining area.
This may make me an asshole, and I’m okay with that. I’m an asshole who doesn’t want my wife to do all the heavy lifting after she spends fifty hours a week in a military uniform. I’d call myself a patriot.
Most diaper changes become routine after a few weeks. The routine is an opportunity to bond with a young child, to coo and blow kisses for a newborn and to engage in limited conversation with a toddler. Early learning experts encourage this dialogue as a chance to help develop the brain of a child.
I use it to interrogate my eldest and find out where certain toys, phones, keys, and other implements have been hidden.
Bowel movements are also an indicator of health and nutrition. For example, a diaper full of rabbit pellets means that your baby is dehydrated.
Every now and then, without explanation, the perfect storm of fluid, mass, fiber, and gut bacteria converges into what most parents refer to as “the blowout.” Imagine a septic tank beyond capacity. Imagine a toilet overflowing when your in-laws are visiting and they don’t understand the perils of double-ply Charmin. Imagine the footage of hurricane victims trudging through brown water trying to get basic necessities. The combination of these rivals the intensity of a blowout.
You smell it before you see it. Many a conversation has been interrupted by my wife scrunching up her face and asking, “Did you do something?”
“You know I would brag about it if I had.”
“Oh god. That is awful.”
“You smelled it first.”
[From the next room]
“Holy shit. Bear, what did you do? Steven help!”
“What do you need?”
“Hold his legs! Hold his legs! Hold his legs!”
“Oh god grow up, it’s not that bad … Holy Shit!”
And so on.
If the child is on your lap, you feel it before you smell it. Diapers are designed to be somewhat water proof, but the combination of capacity and liquid overflows the bounds of elasticity and decency. Without exception, pants are soaked through. If the child has been bouncing, then almost certainly the excrement has exploded up along the spine and the onesie will be desecrated as well.
This event usually occurs when everything is going right with the world. It might occur on a pleasant Tuesday afternoon during cocktail hour. It may occur at two in the morning on a stormy night.
It might occur in the office of a small-town mayor, halfway through a conversation during a Congressional campaign when the candidate decided to have a dad-day with his one-year-old.
In that case, the Congressional candidate was me, in the First Congressional District of Florida, a few weeks before the election. I was meeting with Mayor Russ Barley of Freeport, Florida. While I will keep the content of that meeting to myself, about halfway through the meeting, I felt it. My son was quietly playing with some trinket from Barley’s desk and didn’t even look up from what he was doing, but I knew, in that moment, I had a blowout.
We were discussing the likelihood of Donald Trump winning the general election when I began to end the meeting as politely and efficiently as possible. He would have been blind to have not seen the wetness spreading on my right thigh of my khaki pants. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me with some combination of disgust and pity.
So, this is the life of a new parent. By some estimates a parent spends twenty-five percent of their time just dealing with the shit. I’ve only dedicated four percent of the book to the subject.
Shit strikes in the most hilarious and horrifying ways—when you least expect it. When the child is learning to be more verbal, it gets even better. God help you when the child starts to handle it on their own and comes into the living room with a handful of it and asks innocently,
Seriously, there is shit everywhere.