…something happened that made me actually look forward to changing diapers
As I mentioned in my first entry to this blog, I was pretty sure I could do anything a good dad should do, but I was totally seriously incredibly not looking forward to diaper duty. Or diaper dooty. But(t), I knew I had to just put on my big boy pull-ups and do it.
Movies and TV shows get a lot of comic mileage out of the idiot dad who can’t even figure out a diaper! In fairness, whether right or wrong, and for whatever reason, girls are more likely to be taught baby-care duties than boys. Thankfully that is changing, but we have a long way to go. But for now, the mom having more experience than the dad is not a surprising thing. But having no experience doesn’t automatically mean idiocy. All that to say, even though I had never changed a diaper before having my daughter, I don’t remember any learning curve to it. Maybe if we used cloth diapers and pins, I would have needed some tutoring, but disposable diapers with tape are obvious by design.
So, after a week or so, I became totally desensitized to diaper changing. I always tried to be discreet in public (this was before most public men’s rooms had “changing stations”) but in general, it was just no big deal. It was so routine in the first months that it became, in a word, boring. But then something happened that made me actually look forward to changing diapers. It’s a weird thing thing to say, I know, but it’s true. Something clicked and I realized that this was part of the bonding experience with my baby daughter. As she grew from a newborn to an infant, she would react to different stages of the diaper-changing process:
Babies start to intentionally smile and laugh at between three and six months. Once that milestone was hit, diaper-changing time became a blast! I realized I could make her laugh during the stinky process, and seeing her laugh made me laugh. Just making exaggerated stinky faces and yelling “stinky baby!” (only at home of course) would always get a reaction.
Then I discovered something that would change the course of diaperdom for all time. I saw that by wearing the clean diaper on my head while removing the dirty one was a real baby-pleaser! This became my signature move, and the foundation for pee-and-poop-related hilarity that would last for years of diaper changes. As my baby daughter’s language and understanding increased, so my diaper-on-the-head routine took on more layers of hilarious sophistication.
“Oh nooooooooo!” I’d fake-yell with the new diaper on my head, “Where’s the clean diaper??!?! I can’t find it anywhere!!!!!” She would laugh at my antics, even before she understood what I was saying. Then, when she began talking and understanding she would begin responding to my “missing diaper” panic by pointing at it and yelling “There!” I’d pretend like I didn’t understand where she was pointing and look behind me as she protested, “There! Head!”
Our skit took on another dimension once she could walk. With my diaper hat in place, her bottom cleaned and dirty diaper safely aside, I’d feign panic at the “lost” new diaper and yell “Oh no! Naked baby and no clean diaper!” If you know anything about one year old naked babies, then you know there is nothing they like better than to run around the house, feeling the breeze on on their naked babiness.
She would tear through the house, laughing, screaming, and giggling as I chased her around, diaper on my head, letting her stay just out of reach until one of us (me) was too tired to continue the game and we got back to the very serious business of diaper installation.
Parenthood requires doing things we just don’t like to do. Diaper changing is usually considered one of them. However, the necessary but unpleasant tasks are not an interruption of your life; as a parent, they are your life. It makes sense to try and look for ways to make the most out of every interaction with your child. Even the poopy ones.
“We’re only tourists in this life / Only tourists but the view is nice”
– Everybody’s Coming to My House, David Byrne
It’s appropriate that I heard David Byrne’s new song, quoted above, just as I was contemplating writing this entry. In my previous entry, I talked about how important his music was in raising my own daughter. His new song resonated with me due to my mom’s failing health due to Alzheimer’s. This is also why posting a new blog entry has been delayed so long.
I’ve spent the last few weeks getting her settled into an assisted living facility. She’s 82 years old, has suffered from Alzheimer’s for at least the last ten years, and is now in the end stage of the disease. It has been a slow-moving steamroller that is now accelerating down a steep hill. Ron, her husband of 20 years, has been a loving caregiver and partner, but the time comes when it’s simply not in anyone’s best interest to try and keep someone in her condition at home.
A word of warning to anyone who might have to deal with this: in addition to the obvious emotional toll, there are tons of meetings and paperwork involved! It was a bit frustrating that at the time when I felt she needed me at her side the most, I couldn’t be there because I had to meet with doctors, nurses, social workers, nursing home coordinators, bankers, and hospice workers. I can’t even begin to guess how many papers I’ve signed during the last few weeks.
There’s a larger to story to be told about all of this, but I want to focus on just one aspect. Alzheimer’s destroys the brain, eroding memory. My mom doesn’t recognize me or her husband without being reminded, and even then it slips away quickly. She doesn’t remember what has happened just a minute ago, and doesn’t worry about what will happen next. She truly lives in the moment.
However, in those moments she is almost always happy and content. This is the personality I have seen demonstrated over the years. She loves everyone she meets and always has a word of encouragement. In my last visit, an aide had just helped her in the bathroom and was getting her settled in her recliner. “It’s so nice to be here with you!” she told the aide. By this time, she didn’t know where she had just come from, or really who the aide was. “You make this place such a nice place to be!”
Another time, a hospice worker had just left her room and said, “Your mom is so sweet! As I was leaving she yelled out ‘Keep your happy!'” Certainly the turn of phrase was odd due to the disease, but the sentiment was obvious. She wrote it down in her visitation notes.
There’s no way to know how much longer mom will live, but by any measure, it’s not long. It’s sad to see her succumb to this disease. But it also makes me want be better about living in the moment myself. I can do better at enjoying the here and now without unduly worrying about the future or holding on to the past. There’s a cheesy saying, appropriate for a bumper sticker or embroidered pillow: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Its cheesiness doesn’t make it any less true.
You never know how Alzheimer’s will affect someone’s personality. Some people become mean and even violent. In my mom’s case it has so far stripped away everything aside from her true essence of kindness and acceptance and love. Hopefully the positive traits will continue until she succumbs; I have no reason to expect otherwise.
The death, past or impending, of a parent can’t help but make us think about our own mortality and legacy. Hopefully we can all do a little better than our parents did. Since my daughter has long ago flown the coop and gotten married, I’m done raising her. But in the same way my mom still influences me today, without even knowing it, I’m aware that I still influence my daughter. When she was living with me, my influence was deliberate. Now, unless it’s in response to her asking for advice, any influence I have is accidental.
I just hope most of my influence is in the form of characteristics she wants to emulate, not ones she wants to avoid.