This morning the supermarket bagger offered to help load our groceries in the car. She pushed the cart out to the parking lot; I pointed to and unlocked the SUV, lifted the hatch. And there they were, sitting in a corner on the tailgate: two dirty diapers. I know she noticed them. She must have. She had to arrange the bags around them. She finished loading. I thanked her, strapped my daughter into the car and she took the cart away. I got in the car thinking it was impossible not to peg me as a disgusting pig with two old diapers just sitting in my cargo space. But, after about 30 seconds, I switched my attention to finding the perfect song on the radio, and the shame was gone.
There’s a special kind of social Turtle Wax that comes with being a mother. Once you have a kid, all kinds of previously-toxic judgments bead up on your skin and roll right off you. I think it’s something about having our hands in diapers five times a day and carrying a howling child through Target that buffs us up.
I knew why the diapers were there. Sometimes when we’re out in the world, I’ll change my daughter’s diaper on the tailgate. It’s much easier than using those well-intentioned changing stations in the ladies’ rooms, and, when those don’t exist, it beats changing her on a bathroom floor whose bacterial content I can only imagine. The tailgate is spacious and stable, and I don’t have to work around a safety belt or risk a skull-fracturing fall. (I know you’re wondering about my hands. I carry hand sanitizer for occasions such as these, then I wash as soon as I can. I’m really not a pig.) Sometimes when I change her on the tailgate I am not near a garbage can. I wrap the diapers over themselves and tape them closed, and I leave them in the cargo space until we can throw them out at home. And to paraphrase my daughter’s potty training book, sometimes Mommy forgets. As was the case this morning.
I didn’t worry about what the bagger thought for very long because being a mother is hard. “What does that have to do with it?” you may ask. Honestly? Everything. When it takes a half hour to just get out of the house because you have to change a diaper, fight to get the little nudist’s pants on, pack the diaper bag, make sure there are enough snacks, pack milk and a freezer pack to keep it cold, put on her shoes and your shoes and both jackets, carry everyone and everything to the car, dump the stuff and strap her in, you prioritize things differently. All the mom stuff comes first, and however you do it is fine, as long as it gets done and nobody gets hurt. That is why it’s acceptable to me to drive around with dirty diapers in the cargo space.
If getting out of the house sounds hard, you should know that just saying “strap her in” is glossing over an excruciating process. If you’ve ever strapped a toddler into a car seat, you will understand why so many people get arrested for leaving their kids in the car. It’s not safe and kids can get hurt or killed and I certainly don’t advocate it, but I can see how tempting it is, especially when they think the kids will be OK.
Just the thought of doing the car seat shuffle again after two errand stops makes me forego that Immodium I so desperately need until I can handle the whole routine again. Like I said, your priorities change. And it’s not that I’m lazy. That’s not it at all. My daughter finds the car seat shuffle as intolerable as I do. I plan all of my errands around what she will tolerate. I know that sounds like she’s the boss but this practice is all about me. If she is not amenable to getting in and out of the car, she will cry, scream, scratch, slap, kick and arch her back so I have to force her into the seat and the straps. I fantasize about a world where everything is available at the drive through. I have paid double for coffee beans at the Starbucks drive through because it was preferable to taking her out of and putting her back in the car. But until my drive-through world becomes a reality, unless I want to force a screaming child into a car seat in a crowded parking lot, I have to plan around her. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about her tantrums; it’s that I worry about well-meaning strangers calling social services.
And that’s where buffing with social Turtle Wax comes in. Once you’ve done it nine or ten times, dealing with a shrieking, writhing child in public isn’t embarrassing anymore. The stares and comments from strangers just bead up and roll off your skin. By then, it’s just another part of the motherhood routine.