Dads do a lot of things with their kids, but in some places, the biggest challenge of all is changing a diaper.
When my oldest son was born, our circumstances were such where it was possible, and made sense, for him to hang with me most the day. He went everywhere I did. He had his own space at the office. He was expected in the conference room. Everyone from interns to grandmas fawned over him at the radio station. Okay, he almost caused a bomb scare at City Hall, but every place else we went he was welcome and we had a lot of fun.
One of our favorite things to do, especially in the winter, was walking laps around the mall. He loved being in his stroller and usually would fall asleep for a nice, long nap after about an hour and a half. I had time for coffee and a sandwich and chatting with other dads before he would wake up and demand to be fed. Rarely did we ever have a problem of any kind. The mall was a cool place to be.
Unless his tummy was upset. Again, it didn’t happen often, but when it did, changing the child’s diaper required wearing a hazmat suit and a biohazard disposal team. Finding a place to change him, though, was impossible. All the baby changing stations in the mall were placed in women’s restrooms. Changing him out in the middle of everything was both cruel (to everyone) and unsanitary. Yet, we had little choice. The problem was significant.
Hello, Babies Act
Apparently, someone in Congress finally experienced this baby changing problem and decided to correct it. This past Friday, President Obama signed the Babies Act, legislation that requires baby changing stations in men’s public restrooms. We can thank Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) for authoring the act, which passed with only 34 “nay” votes (all Republicans, if that matters).
There are some caveats. The bill only applies to public buildings, ie, court houses, government office buildings, etc. So, the folks at Simon Properties still aren’t required to put them in their men’s restrooms (though, to their credit, Simon was one of the first to start voluntarily putting baby stations in men’s rooms about 15 years ago). Some privately owned restaurants are still not likely to have them.
Also, the bill doesn’t apply if the restrooms are not meant to be public and only one accessible facility per floor is required. That last exception inevitably means that your child’s diaper will not blow out until you are on the extreme opposite end of the floor from the restroom. Trust me, babies understand bathroom geography. Still, this is at least a start, right?
Not Everyone Understands
Sadly, when I saw mention of the Babies Act being signed into law, there was immediately below it a comment claiming the law was a prime example of government over-reach. Another decried it as the demasculinization of our gender. There are plenty of people who don’t understand just how severe the problem is.
Yet, wander out with a little one still in diapers and the problem is likely to make itself evident very quickly. While little ones can have some of the most disgusting diapers every known to humanity, the well-contained accidents of a toddler can be just as challenging to change. There is a good reason those changing stations come with straps! Changing a toddler in public is risking having to chase said toddler bare-bottomed through whatever facility one is in.
Should government be involved? Uhm, yeah. It’s called equal access. Changing diapers is a matter of public heath, folks. Those little things have the ability to carry some pretty serious diseases. Do you really want us changing one of those a mere ten feet from where you’re trying to eat? Without appropriate facilities. That’s what happens.
Changing a baby with a bad diaper is a big deal. On one occasion, my little guy had totally blown out his diaper and ruined his clothes. The stroller wasn’t in the best of shape, either. I knew I couldn’t change him out in the middle of the food court. We needed a restroom. One of the other dads suggested I try some of the stores to see if they would let me use an employee restroom or something.
So, off we went, my smelly, poo-covered child and I, from store to store, looking for a restroom. Most of the employees we encountered were young women who didn’t have children of their own and were not management. They looked at the little guy in horror as they sent me on down the row. Finally, after at least a half-dozen stores had refused us, a female manager motioned to us.
“Come on in here,” she said, looking both ways as if we were committing a crime. “We’ll fix you up a place to clean that baby.” The employee restroom wasn’t much, but she cleaned off a counter, put down a couple of pieces of plastic, and then retrieved some clean towels and dampened them with warm water. We got the little guy changed and dressed and she helped me dispose of the damaged goods appropriately.
No parent and baby should have to go through that desperation. No public place should be exposed to the horrors of a child’s diaper. It’s good that we finally have a law that sets a standard so that dads can attend to infant cleanliness.
Thank you, Congressman Cicilline.