In a recent issue of Time magazine, author James Poniewozik reviews a number of shows that tackle the topic of men taking care of babies. “Much dad humor today is based on the premise that it’s unnatural for men to be good at caring for kids,” he writes, and as one example, he looks at a forthcoming show called Baby Daddy wherein a new father changes his first diaper using goggles, duct tape, rubber gloves, and tongs. Along with the writer, I scoffed at this trivialization of me and my kind.
Then a few nights ago, I was left alone with baby G and had an experience where I could have used all that apparatus and more. It was after dinner and I was going to take G for a walk in the jogging stroller when I detected an unsavory whiff and peered down the back of his diaper to see a loose stool. I took him back in, laid him on the floor, took off his diaper, and cleaned off his butt. That part was simple enough. I’ve done it hundreds of times, and although it’s never an enjoyable practice it’s old hat by now.
As usual, I let him crawl around for a few minutes sans diaper when I noticed him strain for a moment. “G, what are you doing?” I asked, and he smiled at me and crawled to his right. That’s when I noticed a small mocha-colored puddle next to him. Then he strained again and I raced to grab him but when I reached down somehow some of the poop was on his shoulder. I tried to get his shirt off him as deftly as possible but when I pulled it off he now had a wet patch on the side of his head. The poop was everywhere.
My upper stomach grew tight but I fought back the impulse to wretch as I wiped off his butt and legs and then picked him up to take him upstairs to bathe. But as I walked across the carpet I stepped in something wet, a brown dollop I’d missed. With G in one arm I took a baby wipe and scrubbed off the bottom of my foot, then the rug, and finally upstairs and in the bath.
The crisis was finally over but when I was in the thick of it there was no time to grab tongs or goggles, I just had to roll with it. That’s where pop culture depictions of dads get it wrong. Rather than dress us up in a homemade hospital scrubs, just present us as we are, neck-deep in baby poop and other situations that are absurd enough without duct tape or goggles. Reality is poignant and funny by itself.
This morning at 8:10am, it was time to get going to Toddler B’s school so I lifted Baby G out of his Jumperoo and caught a faint whiff of fecal matter. I laid him down on the floor and unzipped his pajama suit to see that he had shat and that it had shot up his back while he was jumping. The inside of his clothes were covered in it as well. I took off his diaper, picked him up and took off the suit, then turned him over on his belly to prevent the baby poop from getting all over the carpet while I scrubbed him off. A ton of baby wipes later I flipped him back over, washed his poop off my hands and ran upstairs to get him more clothes, then back downstairs to find he’d peed all over himself and the floor (but thankfully not on his face and in his mouth as he did yesterday). I grabbed a bunch of paper towels, dried everything off, fastened his Pamper and zipped him up. All done.
In the regular world, a project is finished, or a task is completed, and there’s something concrete to admire. For instance, when I send an article off to the editor I can then exhale and pat myself on the back. When it’s published there it is–a finished product for all to see. With parenthood there is no satisfying correlation, no real proof of my hard work. When will there be? When G earns an A grade in school or perhaps gets a great job later in life? I don’t have the ego (I think) to take credit for that. No, I will just labor without recognition, accepting what I can get here.