What 7,665 diapers taught me

RELATIONSHIPS | 6 mins

Yeah, that’s a lot of diapers. Let me explain.

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I have 5 kids — 7, 5, 3, 2, and seven months. Two of them are potty trained, one is half potty-trained, one of them wants to be potty trained, and one couldn’t care less about potty training. (Category assignments are subject to change based on day, mood, or whether the child in question is currently doing something they find more interesting than not peeing themselves.)

I’ve been changing diapers for seven years straight now, and the magic is gone. I’m over it. I will have nostalgia about a lot of things related to the baby stage of parenting — this isn’t one of them. Assuming a rough estimate of 3 diapers per day (a very conservative estimate, mind you) I’m currently sitting at somewhere between 7,500 and 8,000 diaper changes in my lifetime. As you can imagine, doing anything 8,000 times gives one plenty of practice. I can change a diaper in a moving car. I can change a diaper with my eyes closed. I can change a diaper while tipsy. I can change a diaper while also sitting on the toilet myself. Outside, inside, at church, in public restrooms, at a wedding, at a preschool graduation, public park, back table at Panera — all of these places and more, I have changed diapers.

These diaper changes have also given lots of time for reflection. You do something thousands of times, and eventually muscle memory takes over. So it has given me time to think, to process, and to distill some important life lessons. So in no particular order, here are 10 things I’ve learned over the course of 7,665 diaper changes.

  1. People stop congratulating you when you have your third kid. By kid five, they start subtly scolding you for your life choices.
  2. Changing tables aren’t for changing the baby on, they’re for holding all the random baby crap that doesn’t have anywhere else to live. Less than 10 of those 7,665 diaper changes actually occurred on a changing table.
  3. Children have an internal radar for sugar. They can’t find their shoes, haven’t seen their homework in weeks, and have no idea where we keep the cleaning supplies. However, they do know the exact location of the leftover Halloween candy, how much ice cream is left in the basement freezer, and they even know about that bag of Reese’s cups you hid in the top drawer of your dresser.
  4. Spaghetti sauce is easier to get out of a white shirt than baby poop. Seriously, don’t bother; that t-shirt is an oil rag now.
  5. Cracker crumbs are a permanent feature of mini-van rear seats. I’m convinced that the car itself produces them if children aren’t present.
  6. There is a Murphy’s Law for diapers. If a diaper is going to leak, it will always do so at a fancy party when you’re holding the baby in your nicest clothes. Every single one of our children has peed or pooped on me at some sort of social function.
  7. Siblings intentionally wait to begin fights until the infant is 30 seconds away from falling asleep. I don’t know how they know, but they know, and it happens every freaking time.
  8. Baby wipes are the best household cleaning product on the planet. They’ll clean up virtually anything — tables, dishes, toys, the dog, the deck — you name it. I’ve used them for baths while camping. I’ve used them to dust the furniture. Honestly, you could probably get rust off a car bumper with these things.
  9. The average child is in more danger of hitting a car than being hit by one. Drivers are far more attentive than you’d give them credit for, kids much less so.
  10. People who tell you to “treasure this time” with your young children should be punched in the neck. I appreciate your encouragement Susan, but right now I’d settle for not strangling my 5 year old in the clearance section of Target.

The biggest lesson for me, though, was one that I should have seen coming: I’m selfish.

See, I never set out to have 5 kids. Honestly, I never expected to have any kids. I’m an introvert that really likes being alone; having a horde of small people wasn’t on my wish list. After all, kids are terrible roommates — they don’t respect your space, they make tons of noise, and they’re constantly breaking everything. Kiss that security deposit goodbye.

Looking back on pre-kid me, I can honestly say that a large part of me didn’t want them. It wasn’t anything about the kids themselves, mind you — it was an unconscious understanding that having kids was a death sentence to my quiet, ordered, and very self centered little world. I had a world that I controlled. It might have been lonely, but it was familiar — and that familiarity felt safe. I had settled into a comfortable equilibrium with my baggage.

But year by year, kid by kid, God has slowly broken through my walls of isolation and self-obsession. He has disrupted my self-obsession, challenged me to let others into my heart and mind, and drug me kicking and screaming into community and relationship. Obviously, there are lots of ways he could have dealt with my selfishness and baggage, and what I’m learning now is that he chose the most gracious, loving method possible.

Here’s why: every single day when I get home, before I even get out of the car I hear the voice of at least 2 (if not more) children screaming from somewhere in the vicinity of our house (and probably waking a napping sibling), “HIIIIIIII DAAAAAAADDDDDDYYYYY!!!!” Every. Single. Day. I know that no matter how crappy my day was, no matter how much I feel like a failure, or how much worry or insecurity I’m carrying — I am wanted. They are excited to see me. They know my flaws, and they want to be around me anyway. They know I’m selfish, and they love me in spite of it.

What’s especially funny about this is that God looked at me — an archetypical introvert — and said, “You know what he needs? People. Loud people. Invasive people.” Much to my frustration, he was right. I had tried for years to deal with my isolation and fears about love, all to no avail. But five kids later, God is slowly pulling me out of my selfishness and isolation — not with guilt, judgment, or work, but with love, kindness, and unconditional acceptance.

And diapers. A whole lot of diapers.

Written by Eric Ankenman on Jan 30, 2018