I Only Nearly Died Once

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I prepared to be your caretaker by changing diapers on a stuffed animal, but I soon learned the many differences between a stuffed animal and a baby.  Principal among those differences is that while the stuffed animal was compliant, you were kinetic.  Putting you on the changing table was like placing a rechargeable battery on an inductor plate.  You lit up.  You squealed, squirmed, and thrashed.  Your small hands grabbed my hands, my arms, and my arm hair.  Your legs kicked and your torso squirmed.  Your constant movement amplified the task of changing your diaper in a way that no stuffed animal could replicate.  
I would try to take your diaper off, and you would grab my hand.  I’d gently put your hand back at your side, but before I could get away, you’d snatch my finger.  You would not let go when I asked.  When I would try to pry open your little octopus tentacles, you’d clasp harder or simply exchange clasping one of my fingers with one hand to clasping another finger with your other hand.  All of these graspings had a singular purpose: to get my hand, my forearm, my entire arm up to the shoulder, into your mouth.  You’d get a crazed look in your eyes like a python watching a walrus.  

 

On those occasions when your diaper contained poop, barely had I unfastened your diaper when your chubby thighs tasted freedom and became hell-bent on kicking your thick feet into the excrement.  But if your diaper was full, I at least felt confident that the facts were clearly set out before me.  It was when your diaper was empty that I fretted the most.  

 

I fretted about those empty diapers because the first empty diaper I changed happened shortly after we’d returned home with you.  I was tired, thrilled, and determined.  I removed the diaper, noted it was empty, responsibly recorded it in our ledger of your every activity, and relaxed.  A great mistake.  I held the clean diaper in my hand and contemplated allowing you a few minutes of unconstrained freedom.  My generous thoughts were interrupted by an explosive, splitting sound like carpet being ripped from the floor.  

 

I startled.  I looked down to you and noted your supremely content face, and then my eyes traveled the length of your body until they came to a thick line of vibrantly colored excrement trailing from your unassuming bum off the end of the changing table.    

 

I could only say “whoa.”  My mother-in-law, in a different part of the house, had heard these events transpire and began to laugh.  She could laugh all she wanted, though, because in my mind it was a small price to pay for the blessing of having her help.  It was your grandmother who held you while I took your mother to the shower and stabilized her while she shook uncontrollably from the swings in hormones and adrenaline.  It was your grandmother who sang to you each morning while your mother and I slept in, your grandmother who prayed for us before meals when we were too racked by emotion to pray, and your grandmother who glided about our house with you as if caring for a small helpless child was the most natural thing any person could do.  

 

I, however, was not laughing. 

 

I had recovered enough to realize that gas had been mixed with your poop in the same way that gas is mixed with paint in order to convert it from liquid to aerosol, and in this form, to greatly expand its coverage.  The poop was thickest on the changing table, but there was also poop on the lampshade, poop on the dresser, thicker clumps of poop that gravity had dragged to the carpet, and thinner flecks of poop that had been propelled all the way to the wall, the curtain, and the window.  I looked at the clean diaper in my hand, and then I heard your heels sliding back and forth over a newfound texture.  

 

Months went by, and I learned to read your signs with a sharper eye.  I watched your expression grow blank, furrow in concentration, flush slightly, and a flash of fear cross your face.  Not so different from me when nature called.  But your face only told me the half of it—the fact that the event was occurring, but no way of knowing it’s magnitude.  For that information, my ears were on constant alert.  A loud toot was always a red herring like a roaring wind in a vacant canyon.  On the other extreme, consternation in silence suggested a middling result.  It was the quiet rumbles that I felt rather than heard that sent me running toward you to triage a blowout.  Like a thimbleful of dynamite detonated beneath a mattress, it was those suppressed rumbles that caused my fatherly instincts to roar to life.  

 

While there are many horror stories surrounding diapers and their changing, they only nearly killed me once, and that was not your fault at all.  I removed the bag from the diaper pail and felt compelled to squeeze the air out of it.  It was only while that gentle breeze of volatile gas brushed my face that I realized I had just purged a sewage pit.  I held my breath, and simultaneously, I realized I desperately needed to breathe.  I thought, “how bad could it be,” inhaled with relief, and nearly died.  

 

I wish I could tell you that was the worst of it.  It was not.

 

After that incident, I adapted, but my adaptation had unintended consequences.  I learned to be an adult and responsibly hold my breath.  I’d tie the bag shut, drop it to the floor, and sprint from your nursery to wash my hands.  Over the sink while my hands grew sudsy, I gasped all the fresh air I could breath.  Once composed, I returned to your nursery to take you down the stairs and the emptied diaper pail to the garage.  

 

Once, when I returned, you had made your way to the full bag of diapers.  Your hands grasped it the orange plastic tightly tightly while your mouth sunk into the contents until streams of drool puddled into the creases made by your fisted hands.  

 

I screamed.  I began with an “H” sound, but I had long ago committed to never cuss around you.  And so, like a driver that edges onto the sinful shoulder of the linguistic road, I over-corrected and torqued my vocabulary into the opposite ditch of salvation by replacing a sinful phrase that began with “holy” with the holy word itself, “hallelujah.”  Yes.  As your gumless mouth mashed into rolled up diapers, I screamed, “hallelujah.”  You stopped chewing but left your mouth on the plastic while your eyes rolled up to meet mine.  I took a step towards you and said, “stop.”  If you didn’t understand my meaning precisely, you did deduce my intentions and immediately plunged your face back into the plastic and chewed frantically until I reached you and pulled you from the orange tube like a referee separating two fighters.  I looked at you.  You looked at me.  I brushed sweat off my upper lip.  I said, looking at both of us in your nursery mirror, “we do not tell your mother.”  And you, a far less flustered conspirator than I, looked blankly back at me as if to say, “what is there to tell?”