I had never changed a diaper until Pepin came along, which doesn't seem so surprising to me. We're talking about poop. It wasn't something I went out of my way to handle, and the opportunity rarely arose. Of all the things you might ask someone else to do for your kids—hold them, read to them, buy Girl Scout cookies, arrange a job interview—wiping their feces is not at the top of the list.
I've made up for lost time. The Diaper Genie, like the sorcerer's apprentice, can scarcely keep up; the more we wipe away, the more seems to present itself—Sisyphus's revenge. There have been blowouts—up the back, out the sides—that make us wonder about physics. And sounds that make us wonder if we're raising a whoopee cushion.
Mostly, we wonder why we thought this would be easy. We went to a class on cloth diapering at All Things Diapers, in Blaine. Sat across a table from the store owner—perhaps the region's most learned diaper scholar—as he explained the numerous styles in front of us: all-in-ones, all-in-twos, prefolds. Lingo that seemed more like 1950s dance crazes than something used to harvest poop: bikini twist, safari fold.
Behind us were the remains of a diaper swap: used diapers in desirable designs that fetched prices I wouldn't pay for a suit. There are diaper collectors, apparently, which should have been our first clue that we were in over our heads. But without an actual baby, without actual poop, it was easy to imagine the bliss of changing Pepin into nice soft diapers that butterflies would carry off to the woods and return to us sparkling white.
We bought enough all-in-two diapers to last until potty training. It cost far less than disposables, in money and guilt. No going to the store. No contributing to the more than 40 million diapers thrown out in the United States every single day. Plus: robot designs.
But Pepin was tiny. The diapers leaked out the legs and out the back. They were soaked as sponges. We tried different styles. Nothing worked. No butterflies came to our rescue. On a cold afternoon, I lugged the diapers back to Blaine and bought a pile of Pampers. I got to know exactly where on Elmo's face I needed to place the tape, and never had another blowout.
She's plumper now. Her legs are like a stack of towels, folds within folds—cravasses you could lose smaller babies inside of. We're trying some hand-me-down gDiapers. Slowly, tentatively. We're not expecting butterflies anymore. But we don't want to unsnap the onesie to find a Superfund site. You don't mess around with poop.
(Pepin blanketed by a T-shirt from the Minnesota Zoo: whopooped.org. As if she doesn't know.)