It all started when I read the chilling words in the email:
“Can you watch the boys this Saturday?”
My sister-in-law was asking me to babysit my two nephews at their house in Catonsville while she and my brother went to Annapolis for a Navy football game, the Saturday before Labor Day. I’ve watched the 7-year-old, Daniel, before and knew that he is no sweat and is just a joy to watch. The new wrinkle was 11-month-old baby Sam. I’ve never cared for a “baby” baby before.
I’ve never changed a diaper before. In fact, I usually leave the room where it’s happening, and at minimum, avert my eyes and hold my breath. I immediately started thinking, “what would be a bigger mess, Sammy’s butt staying in a dirty diaper, or getting the dirty diaper in the trash but leaving hurl all over the floor?” What’s an Uncle to do?
You see, I know what this boy is capable of. Seven months earlier when we were all riding home from Pittsburgh, I was in the back seat with Daniel and Sammy when the baby dropped a major 5-alarm bomb. This was evil. It had a half-life. I mean, even people in other cars were giving us a wide berth. (Although I’ll allow that this may have been due to the sight of my contorted face pressed up against the glass.) My poor sister-in-law had to change him up in the front seat, in the dark, which must have been a real test.
Not that I’d know firsthand, mind you, not how I was sitting there with my leather coat over my head. What I should have done is cracked the window, put the sleeve out, and tried breathing through the armhole. But anyway, what I’m saying is that I knew I had every right to be apprehensive. I’ve seen what kind of damage the boy can do. I’m thinking I’m going to need the full Mr. Mom Haz-Mat Suit.
I was in denial at first…
“Maybe he won’t have to go,” I thought, “maybe it’s a night game, they’ll put him to bed, and all I have to do is watch movies with Daniel and keep the house from burning down.”
Then the other shoe dropped. They were leaving at 1:30, for a 5:00 game, and would be home afterward. Well, there was no denying it now. There would be poo.
The next thing I know, I’m barreling through the remaining 4 of the 5 famous stages of grief*:
- Anger: How dare they make me do this? My dad never had to change a diaper…
- Bargaining: If he can only just hold out until I’ve had dinner…
- Depression: God, I hope this isn’t the high point of my holiday weekend…
- Acceptance: An Uncle’s gotta do what he’s gotta do… OK, let there be poo…
So I sought advice wherever I could. One friend sent me a URL for a helpful, step-by-step guide to baby changing. I got other helpful hints from a former nanny I met at happy hour. I got sympathy from my male friends.
“OK, I can do this.”
I got to the house at 12:30 and began my indoctrination. I learned how, and when, and what to feed the baby, where all the supplies were, the emergency phone numbers, (brother’s cell, pizza delivery place…) everything a prepared babysitter needs. Finally, it was time for the Changing Lesson. My sister-in-law demonstrated with a dry run… Pick up the feet, off with the old, on with the new. Wide Velcro tabs in the back, pouch in the front. Easy!
“Yeah, I can do this.”
At 1:30, I bid them goodbye, and off to Annapolis they went. Then I decided I should lay down the law with the boys.
“OK guys, rule Number One… No Pooping!”
I was very specific about this. Sammy gave me a wide-eyed look and a goofy smile, as if to say, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”
I don’t think he was buying it. Anyway, the first order of business was to break out the DVDs I brought to keep Daniel and me occupied: Gremlins and Men in Black. Young boys love monster movies. Old boys do too.
Somewhere near the end of the 2nd feature, I heard Sammy fart. It didn’t seem to slow him down much from his busy schedule of crawling into every corner he wasn’t supposed to be in and pulling stuff off shelves, so I didn’t think much of it. Besides, it was too “airy.”
Shortly after the movie was over, Daniel told me, “Uncle Bluz, Sam pooped.”
Off in the distance, a lone cricket chirped. Somewhere, the sun was shining, children were playing in a meadow and all was sweetness and light. But there was no joy in Catonsville tonight...
“Are you sure he didn’t just fart?” I asked Daniel.
“No, his farts don’t smell like that,” he answered matter-of-factly.
A brother knows these things, I guess.
I picked Sam up for the “smell test.” Yup, no doubt about it. It was time for my baptism of fire. At best I was hoping to handle it with deftness and aplomb. At worst, I was hoping not to yak on the baby.
I carefully laid out my supplies… fresh diaper on the floor on the right, a couple of baby wipes just above that. I laid the baby down; put a toy in his hand…
“OK, I’m going in…”
I pulled back the Velcro, lifted the feet, and took a peek.
“Oh my God.”
It was like a mudslide. It brought to mind what the last people on Mt. St. Helens must have seen. I couldn’t believe a single diaper could accept so much stress without bursting. I wasn’t even sure that I could. It was like the gates of Hell had parted with a choir of demons crying, “Everybody out!” I was tempted to pull my shirt up over my nose, but I didn’t want him to think he was being changed by a terrorist.
I moved the offending diaper out of the way and reached for the new one. But wait! If I lowered him back down before I’d cleaned him off, he’d get the fresh diaper dirty. So it was then I realized that this wasn’t quite as easy it seemed in my tutorial. There’s a big difference between switching out a clean diaper, versus trying to remove 2 pounds of toxic waste from a squirming baby. So as I continued to hold his feet up, like I was showing off a prize-winning trout, I started in with the baby wipes. I burned through the two I’d laid out in no time, and realized I had barely made a dent.
I tried pulling more out of the dispenser, but they didn’t seem to want to break free. Now, where’s that 3rd arm when you need it? Or, where’s that other nephew when you need him? Looks like Daniel got out of Dodge while he could. I resorted to holding the box with my knees and managed to wiggle out a few more baby wipes to finish wiping out the old DMZ.
Cleanup detail completed, I was finally able to lower Sam’s little bum into a nice clean diaper and send him crawling off in search of more stuff to pull off the shelves.
I packed up the offending diaper and lit out in search of the garbage can, which was outside. Funny, I felt like I should be working out with the load I was carrying. (Here’s the new exercise craze, “Pumping Poo!”). Carrying that load at arm’s length was a good workout for the old deltoids. That kid must have just lost about 10% of his body weight. I really had no idea that babies contained so much poop.
Now, out with the old, in with the new... it’s time for feeding. This part was easy. I was told that Sam just opens up and you drop in a spoonful of food. This proved to be essentially correct. What I wasn’t told was that it would be a moving target. It almost became like a carnival game, trying to get the loaded spoon into a bobbing, weaving little mouth, without dotting his cheeks like a Raggedy Andy doll. But again, we got the job done.
Finally, it was time for Daniel and me to eat… “Helloooooo pizza!”
Well, eventually. While trying to keep one eye on Sam, pick the pizza phone number and dial with the other eye, I accidentally picked the wrong “emergency” number and called my brother’s cell. Took me a second to figure out what I’d done… but he must have known it was me and was probably wondering what the hell I’d done now.
I put his mind at ease right away… “It’s OK… no problems… just dialed your number by mistake…” I gave him a quick rundown of the day’s events and atrocities and got on with obtaining our pizza.
Everything was pretty much a breeze from there. Oh, Sammy loaded up another one for me. (“Where the hell does it all come from?”)
Luckily, it wasn’t quite as voluminous as the first one. This one was changed with a minimum of fuss and crying. From me, I mean.
Actually, Sam never cried all day and I really thank my lucky stars for that. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to deal with constant crying, in addition to conducting decontamination detail. He ate well, took his bottles well, occasionally napped on my lap, and otherwise occupied himself quite nicely. Daniel was a big help as well, keeping an eye on little bro when I had to prepare the bottles or heat up Sam’s food.
Putting Sam to bed didn’t quite work out, so I had to abort that effort, figuring he’d conk out when he was good and ready. Mommy and Daddy came home around 11:30, to find Sammy asleep on my chest, and Daniel and I watching King Kong, a picture of family bliss. But now it was time for me to make a break for it.
I was happy that I was able to pull it off, but was left with a sense of amazement regarding parents. How they live like that day in and day out is incredible. I learned how draining it is to stay in such a constant state of high alert. It’s a wonder any of us ever lived to grow up at all, let alone had siblings. But it was all good. Tomorrow would be Sunday, and I’d need that day of rest.
*The “Five Steps of Grief” is from the noted book “On Death and Dying” by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 1969. (This is a book I read in college. I find it helps to appear scholarly when writing about poop.)