We had a ‘no more nappies’ party at our house.
First, we decorated the house with balloons and hand-made posters. Then, we set theparty food out on the table – there was an array of sausage rolls, cocktail frankfurts, and chips, accompanied by iced chocolate doughnuts for dessert. Before launching ourselves into these culinary delights, we raised our glasses and made a toast to no more nappies! I’m not sure who was more excited – my husband and I, or our children!
Over the course of having three children, who were reasonably close in age (we had three under the age of four at one point), we found ourselves changing nappies for 7½ years straight.
By any measure, it was a long time to be changing nappies. Reaching the end was not only cause for celebration, but also an opportunity to look back – with relief as well as some amusement.
It all began back on 21st July 1998, when our first child (a girl) arrived.
We fed her, bathed her, made ‘trillions’ of phone calls. Then came the time for ... cue drum-roll... a nappy change. We were nappy-change virgins, my husband and I. Neither of us had siblings many years younger than ourselves, or nieces or nephews, we might have practiced on. This was it. Crunch time. We pushed the buzzer to summon a midwife.
“Can you show us how to change a nappy?” I asked. And so it began.
You’ve heard of the phrase baptism of fire? I think back on the early years as a baptism of bodily outputs. I never thought I would learn so much about bodily functions! First, there’s the meconium (a lot like molasses, I thought). Then the output changes... and once your little angel starts on solids, it becomes obvious that what goes in must come out. Like the sand my daughter used to eat – made for a nasty nappy rash! And whenever my toddler son drank one of those bright blue pop-top juices, his next ‘movement’ would magically be bright green.
Before people have children, the thought of changing nappies can be a bit repulsive, eliciting a kind of “Ewww, gross!” response. Once you’re a parent, however, changing nappies is a necessary evil and revulsion gives way to a kind of (sigh) resigned acceptance.
In the beginning, we learned the different nappy-folding techniques and I was soon going through the whole nappy-soaking and washing routine. We persevered with cloth nappies for a few months, using disposables only for trips out. Gradually, the disposables took over and before long, the cloth nappies were enjoying a new life as dusting cloths.
Our nappy-changing technique certainly improved over the years. We had started off so tentative and clumsy – I felt like I was ‘all thumbs’. Yet before long, we found ourselves quickly changing nappies in such places as the back seat of the car, in the pram, and even on the car boot (I used the boot lid a few times, most memorably during a movie at the drive-in!)
A couple of times, I tried the ‘standing-up’ nappy change, but that never seemed to work very well. One side of the nappy would always end up halfway down the thigh.
I knew other people who had mastered it, but it was beyond my capabilities!
As the children entered the toilet-training phase, we used those pull-up disposables for outings. Not much technique involved there – pull them straight up or down, or rip them open at the sides. These were great for the kids... especially for my middle child who was perhaps too good at the pull-down part. Whenever she soiled a pair of those pants, she’d stop what she was doing and pull them down straight away – wherever she was, for example, in the middle of a supermarket.
Toilet-training is like a bumpy passage you must pass through to reach the nappy-free destination. Yes, there may be accidents to clean up. Reward charts to produce. (Ours featured rows of smiling toilets, onto which coloured star stickers were added with each success.) And it was during toilet-training that my children (like many others) discovered ‘the power’. The power to make me stop whatever boring (to them) activity I was engaged in at the time. “I need the toilet”, “I need it NOW”, “No, I can’t hold on”. Such demands are often to be heard when you’re standing in a queue, driving along a freeway, or enjoying a restaurant meal.
We found that providing incentives to our children during toilet-training was very important. For some children, talk of becoming a ‘big kid’ is very exciting, for others (like our son) it’s not that interesting. Rewards charts are great, but sometimes you need a bigger incentive. In our son’s case, we dangled a particularly large carrot.
When we were planning a Queensland holiday, we made a big deal about a theme park ‘world’ featuring four characters in coloured skivvies. Our son was immediately hooked on the idea of going there... then we told him that nappies were banned in that world. Worked a treat!
Dealing with nappy contents, toilet training – these things are thankfully all behind me now (perhaps until I’m a grandmother... in a long, long, long time). For those of you who are still up to your elbows in it, never fear, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Since writing this, I have become the proud aunty of a baby boy. At a recent family function, his mother was about to take him for a nappy change – until I jumped forward and said, “I’ll do it!”
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem