Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hippie Diapers

I have thought about writing this post for a while, but have never been able to get past a few sentences. The topic seemed so big, so daunting; I admit getting a little intimidated. But I finally realized that I just need to forge ahead. I needed to write on. I must finally confront the topic of – drum roll please – cloth diapers.

Soon after becoming pregnant, my wife and I started to discuss diapering. I never knew prior to becoming a parent how important waste collection was going to be. We had a friend that has a son about 6 months older than our daughter and she and her husband decided early on to cloth diaper. My first reaction was probably the first reaction of most people: Nasty. In my mind, cloth diapering amounted to gathering and storing poop. Why would someone want to collect poop? I can just wrap it up and throw it away. Then after you store the poop for some unknown amount of time, I am supposed to empty the pee and poop into my washer, where I wash my towels? My towels would be forever soiled. But, my wife and I are commie, pinko, liberal, acoustic guitar-loving, hummus-eating, microbrew-drinking, Prius-driving, recycling, composting, save-the-planet, hippies – so we knew that we needed to examine cloth diapers to keep our street cred.

What we found was surprising as well as comforting. And some things we didn’t learn until the shit hit the cloth.

First, there are a lot of different cloth diapering options out there. And we needed help figuring them all out. Here is where I give a big “Thank you for helping me find an appropriate vessel for my daughter’s waste” to Diaper Lab in Somerville, MA. My wife and I actually attended a Diaper Consultation, along with about 10 other people that obviously voted for Obama, which is designed to introduce new and expecting parents to the world of cloth. And it is a big world.

There are probably hundreds of different species of cloth diapers, but most fall into a few categories: Pre-fold, fitted, one-size, pocket, and all-in-one.

Pre-folds are probably what your grandmother wore when she was a baby, and what most of us think of when cloth diapers are mentioned. Pre-folds are basically a big piece of cotton (or hemp if you like that kind of stuff) cloth. The manners in which you can wrap it around your child is only limited to the imagination. I call it, origami of the cloth diaper. But the easiest way to put pre-folds into service is just fold it into thirds and stuff it into a waterproof cover on your baby. Pre-folds are also the cheapest option.

Fitted diapers look like disposable diapers, but they are made of cloth – you still need to put a waterproof cover over the top. Pocket diapers are waterproof covers with a “pocket” to put a cloth insert into. One-size and all-in-one diapers are the gold standard. They are simply a cloth diaper with an integrated waterproof cover. They behave just as disposable diapers would, just throw them on and let your baby piss and shit its way to happiness, but instead of throwing them in a diaper pail and then into your trash, you throw them into a diaper pail and then into your washing machine. The only difference is that one-size come in, well, one size – you need to buy larger sizes as your baby grows. All-in-one diapers are expandable so they grow with your baby.

First, my wife and I decided that we would wash the diapers ourselves. I don’t know how I got past my fear of collecting poop or drying myself with a towel washed in the same washer as human excrement, but I did. One can get a diaper service, which will pick up your dirty diapers, and drop off a bag of clean ones each week, but we figured buying is better than renting. My wife and I also decided to start with pre-folds since they are cheapest and we like thinking we are old school, and then buy a bunch of all-in-one diapers. We decided to get the BumGenius 3.0, the Cadillac of cloth diapers. All in all, we probably spent about $500 in diapers. These diapers should last us about 2 years. And if we decide to have another child, we can re-use them. If we don’t, then I can use the pre-folds as rags for years – they are remarkably durable. Considering that an average family can easily spend $30 - $40 a week on disposable diapers, we are saving ourselves thousands of dollars.

So, how is it working out, you ask? The consultation was great, but do the things work, or is my house now covered in a thick layer of excrement? Well, after three months, we don’t know why EVERYONE doesn’t use cloth diapers. First, they are extremely effective. Even when using pre-folds and covers, we have had no leaks and maybe two poop blowouts. And our daughter is not a shy pooper by any means. We do put her is disposables when we are away overnight, and we have consistently had more problems with leaking from them then we had with either type of cloth diaper. Our daughter has yet to be afflicted with any serious diaper rash and we have not had to change a sheet in the middle of the night. Also, the washing has not been much of a hassle at all. I mean, we have a newborn, doing laundry is now part of my usual routine. We do about a load every two days and the diapers come out clean. My towels have yet to smell like poop. Also, despite the added laundry, our electric bill has not gone up considerably. This may be due to us having a high-efficiency washer and dryer, and also to line drying when possible, but it allayed one of my major fears going in to the experience. My parents are still very leery of cloth diapers – I think they have the same collecting the poop aversion that I once had, and they hate that they look bulky on our skinny little baby girl, but they are happy to play along when taking care of her. Everyone is happy.

As far as our street cred goes – fully in tact. There can be no debate, disposable diapers are horrible for the environment. Just terrible, no good, disgusting things. An estimated 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown into landfills each year. Yes, 18 BILLION. Many of those, obviously, contain poop. Gross, untreated, human waste. Do you poop in your backyard? Do you wrap up your poop and throw it into the garbage can? No, you don’t (well, I hope you don’t, I’m not sure who my readership is). You poop into the toilet so that it can then be swept off to a wastewater treatment plant, keeping it out of our soil and groundwater. So why do we dispose of our childrens’ waste so differently? Actually, if you read the directions on disposable diapers it says you should shake the solids into the toilet. Right. Usually we roll it up into a tight little shit-bomb and throw it away. Eventually those billions and billions of nasty diapers will leak their contents and do some serious damage to our aquifers. That is truly nasty.

Also, disposables are, arguably, pretty for your child. Why do we buy organic clothes and apple sauce and milk and make sure that we sterilize everything in our house, but then let them live the first two years of their life in constant contact with sodium polyacrylate, an industrial polymer that absorbs 200-300 times its weight in liquid? Also, some nasty chemicals, most notably chlorine, which begets dioxin, are used in the manufacture of those billions of diapers.

So cloth diapers work better, cost less, are safer, more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and support locally owned businesses like Diaper Lab. Yes, they are a little more work, but I don’t need to gather up bags and bags of trash every week or ever run to the store to pick up diapers because we ran out. It seems like such a no-brainer.

Interestingly enough, more and more people I know are making the choice to use cloth diapers. I know five babies born in the past year, and only one of them is wearing disposables. Again, we run in a crowd of commie, pinko, liberal, green-tea drinking, NPR-listening, Jon Stewart-loving, hippies – but we still think we made the right decision.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rock and Roll

I witnessed a momentous event this weekend. Something that made me literally squeal with delight and jump up and down. My daughter rolled from her stomach to her back.

Maybe that wasn’t what you were thinking of when I said “momentous” but there are few other ways to describe an action that makes four grown adults leap from their seats and cheer, giggle, and applaud. We knew that “The Roll” was coming. My wife and I were rushing around getting ready for work and we had put our daughter on a blanket on the floor for Tummy Time (for the uninitiated, Tummy Time is simply time that infants spend on their stomachs, it, like many other things that parenting books and experts suggest, will make your baby a stronger, smarter, happier, more understanding and disease-free person). We can back into the room to find our daughter on her back. Wait a minute. Tummy Time requires one to be on their tummy. How did she end up on her back? Holy shit, she rolled over! My wife lamented that we had missed the moment of the first roll and immediately put my daughter on her stomach again and pleaded for her to do it again. No dice.

But over the weekend it happened. We had her on a blanket at my parent’s house and she lifted her head, cocked it slightly to the right, and rolled right onto her back. My mother, wife and I all cheered. My dad came running. My daughter looked at us like we were crazy and then broke into a smile, realizing she had done something good. We spent the next thirty minutes putting her onto her stomach and saying: “Come on honey, do it again. Roll over. Roll over.” We coaxed her with toys in front of her face and did the “Raaaaayyyy” cheer every time she succeeded in getting to her back. In a matter of minutes my daughter had turned into a mildly well-trained beagle.

But for over three months she has been a motionless blob. She has only recently become a smiling, grabbing, drooling motionless blob. To have her become a smiling, grabbing, drooling, sometimes-able-to-roll-over-slightly-to-her-right blob is pretty exciting. Momentous even.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Daddy Day Care

My daughter started going to day care last week. That is, my wife and I started dropping her off at what amounts to a perfect stranger's house for 9 hours at a time – and we are paying for it…a lot. We did, of course, interview the provider, going through a four page long checklist which included:

Do you allow free play?
What and when do the children eat?
Do you support breastfeeding?
Do the children play with knives, syringes, and matches? If not, why not?

We also talked to references, checked her license, talked to other providers who knew her and my wife brought our daughter to the provider while children were there. The kids were happy, adorable, and seemed to love the provider – despite her tyrannical ban on playing with knives. We trust of provider. Even so, nothing changes the fact that there are entire days that my wife and I will completely relinquish control of raising our daughter. If we lived in a perfect world, we would have won the lottery on my wife’s last day of maternity leave, or I would be able to work from home selling stuff on e-bay, or Jo Frost from the Supernanny would have decided that her life was to hectic and decide to quit the TV business to become our pro-bono au pair. But none of those things have happened and, like many families, day care is essential. In the morning, we pack up bottles and a diaper bag, put her in her car seat, and drop her off.

I have talked to several parents about day care, both before and since we have started. They all warned me about separation anxiety, which is a real problem in the parent community. I mean, there are even online help groups for people struggling with it. But it isn’t separation that is tough. I don’t feel guilty. I don’t think that she will grow up a horrible person because I put her in day care for 17% of the week. I just don’t know how to do this yet -- literally. Last week I dropped my daughter off and forgot to say goodbye. I just kind of handed over the car seat, told the provider when she last ate, made some quick small talk and went off to work. I didn’t realize until I got to my car that I never gave my daughter a kiss or a “bye honey.” (If you haven’t figured it out by now, what with the dropping on the head and such, I’m not all that adept at this fathering thing yet) UPS drivers show more concern about packages they are delivering than I did for my daughter.

It is a strange thing, dropping your child off to day care. Joking aside, a lot of people do struggle with it. It is like dropping your new girlfriend off for a date with another guy. Sure, she may say it is just a friend from high school and that he is liker brother and that she won’t drink too much and that they just kissed and it was on a dare and you know you can completely trust the both of them. But nothing changes the fact that your girlfriend is now alone with someone you don’t know and they could be doing anything. ANYTHING!

I think part of the problem is not being able to talk to her when I pick her back up. I can’t ask her how her day went or what she did or ask her if she is making friends. Sure, at the end of the day I find out when she napped, when she ate, how grumpy she was, how much fun she had with the other kids. Yes, I can usually tell if she is behaving strangely, or seems tired, but she behaves strangely and acts tired a lot, no matter who takes care of her. She is three months old, she is still getting used to holding her head up; it is a stressful life. Unfortunately, she can’t get in the car and say:

“Dad, that woman is lying through her teeth, I slept for 15 minutes, ate nothing but pixie sticks, cried half the day, and the only toy I was given was a box of tissues and a calculator.”

A four-year-old can tell you they had a bad day or that Johnny stole her during “free play”, or that their lunch was awesome, or that they were read the best book today. A three-month-old can’t do that.

It does help that our provider seems to be doing a good job and that other kids have been under her care for almost five years. It also helps that today I remembered to give her a kiss, and tell her I love her. I smiled at her. She smiled back. I left feeling better about myself as a dad and calculating how many hours it was going to be before I got to pick her up. But I am still her dad. I don’t think I am getting used to it, nor do I think I should. I don’t think that dropping her off and saying goodbye for the day is getting easier, nor do I think it will. But I am learning to get through it. I’m just learning how to say see you later.

Monday, July 20, 2009

At First Sight...

When we talk about love at first sight, we are usually talking about romantic love. We are talking about the stolen glances across a room, the chance encounter in a classroom or on a train or during a party. We love to tell people, and ourselves, that we were always sure, always in love. I’m not sure if love at first sight exists in the way we all hope it does. I can certainly remember seeing my wife for the first time. But I know that I love her infinitely more now than I did at that moment. I know that our love has grown and continues to multiply every day that we spend with each other. There must have been love there when we first met, but I certainly wasn’t transported immediately to where I am today after one glance.

With a child, however, it is different. There is no getting to know you, no testing the waters, no easing in. You jump into it with both feet. And it shocks the breath out of you at times. I don’t think most people experience a flood of that much emotion at one time. We normally sip it, we are used to drops and tastes – when a child is born you take a huge gulp.

This past weekend I was away with one of my brothers and a friend. We drove to Toronto to see a Red Sox game and drink beer and stay up late. Since we were outside the States, most of us kept our phones off for larges stretches – since our cell phone companies would charge us half a year of college tuition to make or receive a phone call. I had traveled away from my daughter before, but this time I was going to be almost completely disconnected for close to three days.

Last week, I was looking forward to the trip. Three days with no diapers, no screams, no reason to get up at 5:00 AM and no reason to go to sleep at 10:00 PM. I could have more than one beer, I was going to be able to watch two baseball games completely uninterrupted. I would spend three days without once uttering a word of baby talk. And all of those things made for a great trip.

Still, I couldn't wait to get home. I had forgotten was that my daughter and I are on a kind of honeymoon right now. I can’t get enough of being around her. I don't think any parent really knows that the connection you feel with a child is so similar to other kinds of love. Sure, I love it when she takes a nap and lets me get some work done. If she sleeps late, I’m not complaining. But she is almost always right there. Today, just a few hours after getting back from Canada, I am spending the day with her. We played and she cried and I changed diapers and she ate and I talked in baby talk. And she looked at me with her big blue eyes and smiled. When she was born, I fell off a cliff. I didn’t take the leisurely route to this. It was love at first sight. I wonder if she felt the same way?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Have you ever?

I have discovered that an ancillary benefit of a baby is the ammo they provide for for the drinking game “Have You Ever.” If you haven’t played this game (drink), the premise is that a group of people sit in a circle and one will say something that they have done to the group, preceded by the name of the game…

“Have you ever bungy-jumped?”

Anyone who has NOT bungy-jumped is immediately labeled a boring person and is forced to drink. The idea is to get a bunch of your friends drunk, while making yourself seem cool. (Have you ever hiked the Inca Trail with a supermodel while high on peyote? Wow, everyone is drinking? I guess I’m the only one to do that.) As an almost thirty-something with mostly childless friends, I am actively searching for the opportunity to play this game and pull a few of my new arrows out of my quiver. For example, have you ever:

Dropped another person on their head?

Been pooped on by another person?

Caused another person to pee on their own face?

Googled the term “cervical ripening”?

Tasted breast milk? (okay, I haven’t done this yet, but it is only a matter of time before curiosity or too much alcohol gets the better of me.)

I think this would also give me the opportunity to find out some really strange things about my friends. Who wants to play?