How to Change a Diaper

What we talk about when we talk about love

Jonathan Harford/Flickr
Jonathan Harford/Flickr


First, approach the subject carefully, ideally toward the head and not the tail, and keep both of your hands open and ready in case of sudden motion on the part of the subject. Subjects have a tendency to yaw and pitch and roll and wiggle and thrash and tumble and jiggle and twist in shocking and amazing ways. Be cautious at all times. Repetition dulls the senses. Even if you have performed this maneuver a thousand times, approach it as if it was the first time, or there will be yawing and thrashing and things will not end well.

Second, come prepared. You want extra of everything, and you want everything within easy reach. My advice is to lay in a serious supply of towels, bandages, powder, diapers, pins, thumbtacks, tape, buttons (because that day will come when you need a button, and if you do not have a stray button, you will, as I can attest, actually have to yank the lowest button off your favorite work shirt, or assassinate a cuff button with deep sadness in your heart, because what is more forlorn than a cuff without its button, and right here I know you are asking yourself, why in heaven’s name did he need a button while changing a diaper, and the answer is, I don’t want to talk about it), wipes, soap, more powder, scissors, an emery board (just on principle, because the term emery board is a cool term), and a photograph of the child’s beloved mother, to calm the child down if things go terribly, terribly wrong. Wear protective goggles if the baby in question is a boy.

Third, my advice is to conduct the whole operation on a king bed or on the floor or on the beach. It’s harder for a kid to wriggle all the way to the edge of a king bed than it is for him to make it over the edge of that damned tinny foolish rickety diaper-changing table that was supposed to be the be-all and end-all of diaper-changing equipment but turned out to be as sturdy as the morals of a television preacher with a cabaret hostess and a private plane. The whole thing about the time the kid made it over the edge is another thing I don’t want to talk about here.

Fourth, face up to the fact that what is about to happen is horrifying. No one talks about this when the subject of babies comes up. Everyone talks about miracles, and love, and affection, and pride of paternity, and the first hints of feeling responsible for another being for the first time in your whole life, which is an unnerving feeling, just like the feeling you get when you know you are getting sick and there’s nothing you can do about it. But no one talks about what actually happens, which is awful. I don’t want to talk about it.

Finally, when you are done, and the child is burbling happily, or screaming his head off for his beloved mother, dispose of the evidence in the diaper pail, from which come all the stenches in the world and where all stenches go to die. Then strap the child to the diaper-changing table, if you are still fool enough to use that damned diaper-changing table, or fence him in on the bed with pillows and cabaret hostesses, and wash your hands one million times, with soap, all the way to your elbows. Then go roll the child around the bed for a while as if the bed was a lawn and the child was one of those old lawnmowers with no engine and the dullest blades in the history of the universe. Then take a nap, which you have richly earned. If you have a crib, deposit the child, while waving the photograph of his beloved mother to calm him down and make him think she is near. If you do not have a crib, strap the child to your chest with the belt you used to use when you were a larger man, and then take a nap. Have I actually done this, strapped a child to my chest with what I have to say was a very well-used and very soft belt, and then napped with him? I don’t want to talk about it.

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Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


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