Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Motherhood and Entitlement (or 12 Places You Can Change A Diaper Without A Changing Table)

It's not particularly surprising that I found myself at a restaurant this weekend. It was Father's Day, and what self-respecting father doesn't exploit his loving family for a good steak dinner on his one special day a year? While not nearly as busy as Mother's Day, the local restaurant scene was hoppin' with all sorts of dads and their kids of various ages, some footing the bill while others were just doing their part to wrack it up.

With so many holiday diners, it's not surprising that the line for the restaurant ladies' room grew to considerable length (as opposed to the men's room. I swear sometimes I wonder if men actually use the bathroom).

There was a mother with an infant in line for the restrooms. She was with a large party, including a mother with a toddler that seriously had to be rushed to the bathroom every 5 minutes. Both women had been waiting a while, one jiggling the baby on her hip while the other watched her toddler performing a stirring rendition of The Potty Dance, when a restaurant employee suggested to the toddler's mother that she might try the men's room which was unoccupied (since men never seem to use the bathroom). As the toddler's dance steps became more persistent, she went for it. Holding the men's room door open, the mother balancing the infant said, "I'm coming in, too. Is there a changing table in there?"

"Nope" called the toddler's mother over her shoulder as her son's footwork reached Riverdance proportions.

The young mother sighed a long sigh of exasperation as if to say, "Where's Ashton Kutcher when you need him?"

"Is there one in there?" she asked the restaurant employee, gesturing toward the occupied women's restroom.

For her part, the employee was incredibly courteous and apologetic and perhaps even empathetic to the young woman's dirty diaper plight. "No, ma'am. I'm sorry."

"Then where am I supposed to change this baby?" The woman's voice rose in pitch with each successive word, until it was almost a screech on the word "baby". She extended the baby toward the employee as if to hand it to her, like it was no longer her responsibility but the restaurant's, since they obviously didn't care about her needs.

The employee made herself busy, while the frazzled mother with the stinky child stormed back to her table to loudly complain to her relatives about the restaurant's lack of concern over her child's messy bottom (and the obvious needs of mothers and their young children).

This is where I count my blessings that my children have long been out of diapers while simultaneously shaking my head at the naivete of the angry and exasperated mother.

You see, young mother, the restaurant doesn't owe you a changing table.

If you were expecting facilities more accommodating to the needs of babies and parents, you might have looked somewhere that caters to families, not a restaurant that swathes their tables in white linen and lacks a kid's menu and free crayons. You are free to choose to patronize establishments that cater to your needs. You do not have to demand that those that cater to perhaps a different crowd meet your needs simply because you chose to be there.

Newsflash: Some restaurants (as well as other places of business) are not particularly kid-friendly. That's their right. Perhaps you should reconsider spending your dollars at those places if their lack of baby-related amenities offends you. You do not, however, have the right to demand that those establishments cater to you or your baby's needs.

Here's something else to consider: as sweet and darling and precious as your baby definitely is, they might not want her there. The restaurant, as well as the people who chose to patronize them, might be hoping that the restaurant's lack of diaper-changing amenities might persuade you to leave your often loud and disruptive infant at home. I know it's a shocker, but sometimes people prefer to dine without children screeching over the ambiance music.

Source: Kevin Phillips
Let me remind you however, it wasn't all that long ago that the baby changing tables you feel so entitled to use rarely (if ever) existed in public spaces. And yet... women still left their homes with babies and diaper bags in tow, and they met their baby's needs in spite of it.

This motherhood thing is an adapt-or-perish kind of situation, a survival-of-the-fittest mental game. You're a mother now... you gave birth to a human being through one of the messiest physical processes known to humankind (Or if you adopted, you survived the mental and emotional trauma of the whole draining process and you deserve your own kudos) and now that little helpless human is depending on you to figure things out, to meet his needs even when it isn't convenient or easy. Sometimes there just isn't going to be the support you think should be there, sometimes not from your family, or the government, or the businesses you frequent. But you know what? You still have to meet that kid's needs anyway.

As I stood there in line for the ladies' room and watched this uncomfortable exchange, I could think of a dozen places to change that baby, and none of them involved any intervention from the restaurant. Back when I was changing baby diapers (for miles in the snow, barefooted, uphill both ways), when changing stations were rare, I had to use good old-fashioned ingenuity.

In some ways, I think it made me a better mother. Maybe we're coddling moms nowadays, making them too soft. Maybe we're making things too easy for them. When they feel entitled to a changing table and storm off to grouse about it, leaving their child to sit in a soiled nappy, as they whine and complain, instead of rolling up their sleeves and just getting the deed done... it makes me wonder what kind of mothers we're producing. Are they too reliant on what others provide for them and their child instead of standing in their power as a mother, taking charge, and meeting their child's needs even in the face of adversity.

I wanted to waltz over to that mom and just show her how it's done. I wanted to take that wriggling, fussy baby and change his diaper. I wanted to tell that mother, so caught up in her shock at the inadequacy of a restaurant bathroom, to Just. Snap. Out. Of . It. Be a problem-solver. Think outside of the box of social constructs.

What did our ancestors do before celebrity crusades demanding public changing tables? Did they whine and complain? Did they get angry?


You know what they did?

They changed their babies.

It wasn't easy or convenient, but when has parenthood been either one of those things?

Just in case that mother is reading, and through her frustrated tears she still isn't sure what to do with a soiled baby and a serious lack of diaper-changing convenience, here is the list of possible alternatives to the restaurant changing station (which in some cases you might not want to use anyway... how often do you think they clean those things? That's your baby's pristine bottom you're placing on that germ-ridden surface.) Here are a dozen places that you can change a baby in a pinch.

1. Your lap. If you haven't mastered the lap change, you need to start practicing. It's one of the essential skills of motherhood. It's definitely easier when they are small and less wiggly, but still doable when they are older. If the baby won't fit on your knees, try crossing your legs to resemble the number four. This one is a little easier because it keeps the baby from repeatedly kicking you in the stomach causing you to upchuck the expensive meal you just consumed. You can even do this at the dinner table if you're feeling daring, but your fellow diners would probably appreciate it if you did this one in the bathroom. The wafting aroma of a dirty diaper does not pair well with chardonnay.

2. Someone else's lap. If you can't handle the physical demands of the diaper change while controlling a squirmy baby, employ someone else's lap. This is a great job for the dad who might not be pulling his weight in the child care arena. Or you can ask you mother-in-law. She's always asking to hold the baby anyway.

3. The bathroom counter. It's really not all that different from a changing table. It just lacks a safety belt, so keep one hand on Junior at all times. It might be nice (although not entirely necessary) if you wipe up any diaper spillage from the surface before returning to your meal.

4. The toilet. But only if it has a lid. You don't want your baby going for a swim so soon after a meal. It could cause cramping. But if the toilet has a lid, just cover with a blanket or a changing pad and voila! You have a surface that gets the job done.

5. The floor. Although certainly not living up to the ultimate standards of sanitation, it is an option. If you carry a changing pad in your diaper bag, does it really matter what surface it covers? Baby is never going to touch the actual floor. You may need a few diaper wipes to clean off your knees when all is said and done. Still, Baby's butt will be fresh and clean.

6. A chair. If you want to make the restaurant reconsider their no-changing-table stance, this might be your best option. Once enough babies' fannies are flashing the entire establishment's patronage, they will be tripping over themselves to provide a more discreet option for your diaper-changing pleasure.

7. The backseat of your car. This one can be hard on your back but may offer the most privacy. It also has some handy safety features other options lack because there are fewer ways for an active baby to escape. Be sure not to leave the used diaper in the vehicle when you're finished... unless you enjoy the lingering smell of fermented excrement in your vehicle's interior.

8. The front seat of your car. In the event that the back seat is overly occupied by bulky car seats, this is a reminder that the front seat works just as well.

9. The trunk. It may sound weird, but this might be one of the better options. Baby can roll all over the place and he's not going to plummet to his death. Just don't forget him in there. The last thing you want at a random traffic stop is a body in the trunk of your car.

10. The hood of your car. In case you're in the mood for a little exhibitionism, the hood of a small economy car could double as a changing table. It's a little harder if you happen to drive a truck or an SUV (unless you're freakishly tall. In that case, carry on!). As a word of caution, wait until the engine has cooled before placing your infant on the hood. Baked infant is not usually a welcome addition to any restaurant's menu. You may also want to avoid this option if it's mid-summer in the South.

11. The table. If you're having difficulty finding a sufficiently flat surface for that necessary diaper change, there's always your table. Scoot aside the cutlery and the crystal ware, place the beef bourguignon and fois gras out of your little princess's reach, and have at it. You can even use the table cloth in place of a wipe (I mean if you're going to cross the line you might as well barrel right on past it). Ignore the horrified gasps and gags of disgust coming from fellow diners. A mother's got to do what a mother's got to do.

12. Go diaper free. Totally fed up with your options? Just snatch off that nappy and let it all hang loose. No changing table required. Sure some people might lose their appetite at the sight of freely flapping baby genitals, but you can just call them prudes. Diapers are for the inhibited. You just have to be quick on the draw with that empty wine glass should Junior need to relieve himself during the dessert course. But it's a good test of your parenting reflexes.