I volunteered in the Methodist nursery last Sunday. The colorful room was overrun with babies. Marsha was my team leader for the day, and the only woman with first-hand experience handling a loaded diaper.
Working in the nursery is a pretty straightforward gig. Basically, all you do is wear a nametag and wait for a baby to cry, then hold them.
Your other job—and this is an important one—is to sniff the air and locate Number Two.
Marsha is very proactive when it comes to finding Number Two. She is constantly on the lookout for Number Two. Sometimes she even interrupts adult conversations to shout, “I smell Number Two!” Then she conducts randomized diaper checks.
I get the impression that going Number Two is all babies ever do. And don’t ask me where it all comes from because during snack time, I couldn’t get any babies to eat their pureed sweet potatoes without spitting up on themselves.
But let me assure you, these kids are definitely eating when nobody’s watching. Because every kid in the room waddles as though his or her diaper contains a No. 6 bowling ball.
Before today, I hadn’t changed many diapers. As a boy, I helped change my kid sister’s diapers. But I don’t remember much about it.
All I can recall is that my mother used cloth diapers and washed them outside with a garden hose and a crucifix.
But Marsha has her finger on the pulse of today’s diaper scene, which is very different from the old days. Modern diapers are made of plastic, with ventilation systems, and color-coded accident indicators, which work sort of like mood rings.
“Changing diapers couldn’t be easier,” Marsha explains.
All you do is lay the baby down, keep the kid still, remove the kid’s recent installment, wipe the baby’s legs, sanitize the child, apply baby powder, and tag his or her ear before sending them to graze in the east pasture.
And Marsha takes things a step further. When she finishes changing diapers, she holds the baby near an oscillating fan to “air-dry” its bare cheeks.
“This helps prevent grumpy butt,” she points out.
But the worst part about diaper etiquette is all the wiping. Marsha walked me through standard wiping procedure. She used a volunteer baby named Ryan as an example. When she opened Ryan’s diaper it was a scene from the Apocalypse.
“Oh my,” she remarked. “This one’s a five-pointer for sure.”
Marsha didn’t bat an eye. She got to work. “See?” she said. “Nothing to it. I can clean butts in my sleep.”
Next, it was my turn. If you’re going to volunteer in a nursery, you can’t chicken out at the changing station. Eventually, everyone has to answer the call of the grumpy butt.
My first assignment was a case named Conrad. I’d been watching him. Conrad had been wandering the nursery all morning, laying low. All of a sudden, we noticed him standing in the corner alone.
“That’s a sure-fire giveaway,” said Marsha, “when they go off by themselves.”
Conrad was wearing a thoughtful frown and looked as though he were composing poetry.
I placed Conrad onto the table. I braced myself. When I opened his diaper I blacked out.
So Marsha took over my job. A few minutes later, she also had to help me through a minor bout of PTSD.
But get this, after eight minutes between diaper changes, Conrad was back. He approached us with urgent news.
He said, “POOBOO!”
Marsha said, “What’d you say, sweetie?”
“Did you number two AGAIN, Conrad?”
Marsha tugged the waistband of Conrad’s diaper and sniffed. When we opened him up, it was bad. One volunteer fainted, and two nursery workers decided to become Presbyterian.
But I did a lot more than diapers. What I enjoyed most about nursery duty was holding babies. I haven’t rocked many babies to sleep before. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing.
Marsha handed me a fussy child named Alecia who wouldn’t stop crying until she hit my arms, then she fell asleep.
And I was fifteen feet tall.
I walked in circles, holding her against my chest. And it felt like the most important thing I have ever done in my life.
When church was over, parents retrieved their kids. They presented tickets to volunteers in exchange for their children.
Alecia’s parents arrived, I handed her to them. I hated to say goodbye. The girl looked at me with big eyes and a huge smile. She touched my face and I melted.
I have no children. Nobody will ever call me Daddy. So a baby’s smile does something to me.
“POOBOO!” said Alecia. Then she grit her teeth and grunted.
“Uh oh,” said Alecia’s father.
But Marsha was already swinging into action. She sniffed the diaper. She confiscated the baby.
“Good Lord,” Marsha said, “this is ten pounds of baby in a five-pound bag, someone plug in the fan.”
Life is short. Be on the lookout for Number Two.