Last week, I got a press release for something called a Daddy Diaper Changing Toolbox ( “Diaper duty can be a formidable task, especially for first-time dads!” it cheerfully brayed, reminding me that a dad needs “a fighting chance when he takes on his first dirty diaper!” The toolbox includes, but is not limited to: rubber gloves, goggles, nose plugs, ear plugs, a mask with a toxic fume filter, a turkey baster (“for precision tushy cleaning”), something called a “poop poncho” that is an insult to both poop and ponchos, hand wipes, baby wipes, tongs (“to ensure space between you and your first gift from baby,” and a biohazard bag. Oh, and a diaper.

This is a cute idea, and I get the joke—babyshit stinks and men are big weenies about it—but after seven years of immersing myself in poo and potty and puke and several other disgusting kid-substances I didn’t know existed, I’ve forgotten the fuss about changing diapers. It’s still just poo, right? I’ve gone to work with worse things on my shirt.

When Hannah was 7 weeks old, her bowels just sort of… stopped. For three weeks, no action. The first week was a welcome respite from the diaper grind; the second was ominously quiet. The third was terrifying. A 12-pound poop machine, accustomed to casually dropping a mustardy load whenever the urge struck, with 21 days of breast-milk waste building up inside? All we could do was wait for the bomb to land. (FYI: the constipation didn’t seem to bother Hannah at all.) We massaged her belly and fed her some kind of Prune smoothie thing that gave me diarrhea just looking at it, but neither did the trick. I considered slipping Sarah one of these, hoping she might transmit it to the kid through her breast milk, but apparently it doesn’t work that way. 

Late on the afternoon of day 21, Sarah was watching the Big Block Of Cheese episode of “West Wing” when she saw, too late, Hannah’s face turn redder than a Tuscan pomodoro. The moments that followed were an unstoppable avalanche of excrement. Any attempts to contain the damage were pointless. “Every time I thought she was done and started to change her, more would come out,” Sarah recalls. The only thing to do was lay Hannah on the changing table and let the kid work it out on her own.

And work it out she did. When I walked in from work a half hour later, it was obvious that something unholy had occurred. The smell was like a slap in the face with steaming entrails. The kid had befouled two diapers, a rug, a dresser, a flight of stairs, four towels, two rooms, and three sets of clothes. There was poop on the floor, the walls, a door. The fucking ceiling. The cleanup was so time-consuming, we failed to notice until later that our baby’s entire shape had changed. She looked like she had lost about 3 pounds, and had the dead-eyed look of an infantryman who had been in the shit. Three weeks of it. Funny thing is, the whole episode wasn’t nauseating so much as a badge of honor. We could go toe-to-toe with any poop story our friends told, which made us extremely popular in the new-baby set.

It’s common knowledge that for new parents, everything revolves around poo and pee. It’s all we talk about and think about—every joke and every riddle and song. You don’t even want to know about my dreams. We spend a lot of time trying to keep our kids from engaging in Potty Talk, because it’s impolite and gross—but for those of you without offspring, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s really only impolite and gross when we’re around people without kids. When parents with kids are around other parents with kids, we don’t even bother to call it potty talk, because it’s all potty talk. We have nothing else to say to each other, nor do we mind, because we’d all have post-traumatic shit disorder if we couldn’t get it out of our system. The more you talk it, the less gross your kid’s bodily functions are—until they become nothing more than a punchline.

This doesn’t apply to other kids’ bodily functions, of course. That shit’s disgusting.


Photograph: Courtesy of Jeff Ruby