The Great Diaper Debate September 8, 2013Posted by Onely in Bad Onely Activities, Food for Thought.
Tags: diapers, single blog, single fathers, single mothers
Copious Readers, I have never changed a diaper.
Is that weird?
I had a very, shall we say, impassioned discussion of this topic with a friend of mine whom we shall call ‘Trent’. (Every blogger–nay, every writer–knows that the best part of writing is making up pseudonyms.)
Fate chose for Trent to walk the married-with-children path. Result: a seven-year-old son and a sixteen-year-old daughter and lots and lots of diaper-changing experience. Fine. (Smelly, but fine.)
The argument (I’m upgrading it from ‘impassioned discussion’) happened while I was talking to Trent on the phone–he was at a beach house with some friends. (Strike one against him.) Also present in the house, according to Trent, were one male friend with two small girls and another male friend—hmm, how about ‘Derek’!–who had no children. Trent told me that Derek was good with the little girls but that he wouldn’t really be the best person to watch them alone, because he’d never even changed a diaper. Trent told me this and laughed, as if it were a funny and surprising fact.
“But I’ve never changed a diaper,” I said.
“Are you serious?” he said.
I won’t recreate the dialog here because it went pretty much along those lines, with a couple interesting twists. He said that diaper-changing was a right of passage. He said 95 percent of Americans do it. He said, didn’t I ever babysit? (No, not since I had to chase that naked four-year-old around the house with a toothbrush and pajamas.) He said diaper changing was a way to show love, to overcome the grittiness of life for a greater purpose. (I’m saying it better than he did.) He equated it to never having travelled outside the U.S. With nearly every sentence, he intimated that I had missed out, and that I was a lesser person for it.
I tried to argue back, but I argue best on paper (or on pixels, I guess) so most of my words came out “but. . but. . .I. . uh.. no. . .” So sure was he of the order of things, that he didn’t even realize he was making me nuts. He laughed harder and harder, while at the end of the conversation I was practically screaming into the phone, near tears and feeling frustrated and offended.Copious Readers, what would you have done? What would you have said? Below is a slightly edited version of the email I wrote to him once I calmed down (sorry for any bad formatting juju):
I value your opinions a lot and am proud of you for everything you have accomplished. But I believe that we come from very different backgrounds.
I say different backgrounds because although we both grew up in similar privileged circumstances in the US and developed similar political, moral, and cultural habits, there are nonetheless some huge deviations.
As you know, you took the road-more-travelled in becoming the breadwinner of a traditional nuclear family. The nuclear unit is the kind that is praised by conservatives and held to be the preferable standard by a vast percentage of the population.
As you know, I took the road-less-travelled–no husband, no kids, two cats. I have had several opportunities to take the road-more-travelled, but I didn’t, partially because it didn’t interest me, partially because I had a sickness that would have made raising kids difficult. Over time, I have weathered many comments about my single and/or childfree situation, most of them harsh, or degrading, or sometimes merely puzzled, but almost all offensive to some degree, as they inferred I had made the wrong “choice” or was unlucky and pitiable, or, most bizarre of all, that I dislike children.
However, I believe that through no fault of your own, and because you lived the “approved” nuclear family lifestyle for so long, you absorbed some of the heteronormative/amatonormative feeling that intellectually you no longer approve of.
Just because “95 percent” of adults have changed a diaper, doesn’t mean I have to follow that 95 percent. Changing diapers is not some great human experience that makes me a lesser informed, less aware, or less connected, or less loving person for not having participated in it. But that is what I felt you were saying.
People with children change diapers. People who are in a situation to change diapers change diapers. (People in a situation to ride bikes ride bikes.) Changing diapers was obviously an important thing for you, and that’s great and as it should be. But I have never been in a position to change a diaper, nor have I sought out the opportunity, because why would I? It wasn’t a stop along my road. It is not a “rite of passage”, because that takes us back to the “95 percent” that I am not required to follow. Nor is it equivalent to someone “never having travelled outside the US” (which in itself is a problematic metaphor because it denigrates the 40 percent of Americans who don’t have passports and may be very smart and have good reasons for having stayed in the country). All this reasoning is heteronormative/amatonormative, and it is not your style.
I think you were speaking off the cuff, though. Changing diapers has been such an intergral part of your life (not only since you decided to go nuclear, but even before when you were babysitting) that I caught you by surprise when I said it had never been a part of my life. So you blurted out all this heteronormative/amatonormative reasoning at me reflexively.
Childrearing is a big task and teaches you a lot. But childfree people should not be dismissed as lacking in the abilities that childrearers have (just as people who haven’t left the US should not be dismissed as lacking some skills that travellers have). I have learned self-control and caring in other ways. Ask anyone close to me if I am a motherly type person, and they will say yes–even perhaps too motherly sometimes! I chose not to have kids in part because I respect and acknowledge the work involved. All I ask is that we childfree people be respected for also having challenges and surmounting them, in many different ways. So no, there have been no diapers in my past. And that’s ok.
Photo credit: Hourglass-Sands