Scrub­bing crap from a re­us­able di­a­per is a grue­some task, but un­for­tu­nately the right thing to do.


Scrub­bing crap from a re­us­able di­a­per is grue­some, but the right thing to do.

In the sum­mer of 2018, I found my­self sift­ing through piles of garbage. It was a work thing. We were film­ing for the Light­box show Get It to Te Papa, and I was comb­ing a rub­bish dump for the dildo that hit Steven Joyce in the face at Wai­tangi.

There were no dis­carded sex toys to be found, but as I peeled back the lay­ers of filth, an­other house­hold item stood out. The heap was heav­ing with nap­pies. There were thou­sands of them, team­ing be­tween plas­tic wrap­pers and rot­ting fur­ni­ture. Some were neatly folded. Oth­ers had flung open to re­veal their pay­load to the open air. I was young at the time and, be­sides be­ing cov­ered in waste, care­free. I’d never reck­oned with the re­lent­less churn­ing di­ges­tive sys­tems of our na­tion’s chil­dren.

My child Thomas was born on 8 June. He came into the world shit­ting. The pres­sure from his pas­sage through Rachel’s pelvis had forced him to re­lease his bow­els. When he cried in the de­liv­ery suite, his mouth gur­gled softly with brown­ish liq­uid. And he hasn’t re­ally stopped since. New­borns can need nappy changes up to 12 times a day. Thomas was only a lit­tle short of that.

You’d think, hav­ing seen what I’ve seen, I would’ve opted to use com­postable or re­us­able nap­pies in­stead of send­ing those turds to the land­fill to ex­pel their meth­ane straight into our over­heat­ing at­mos­phere. I didn’t. Self-in­ter­est is a pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tor, and the sleep­de­prived blur of new parenthood forces con­ces­sions. I barely knew how to change a nappy. Nei­ther of us could bear the thought of life be­ing any more dif­fi­cult than it al­ready was. We used Hug­gies, and then Ras­cal+Friends.

It was only a few weeks ago when guilt, and Metro, got the bet­ter of me. We switched to the com­postable nap­pies that had been left sit­ting in the wardrobe up­stairs. At the age of five months, Thomas ex­pe­ri­enced his first non-dis­pos­able nappy.

The first crap ex­ploded over his leg. I was hold­ing him when, sud­denly, my hand felt wet. “What’s that?” I asked, stupidly.

Though Thomas is happy, he’s never been big. He started life in the sec­ond per­centile for weight and at around three months old, dropped to the first. Nap­pies have never fit­ted him well, due to his lack of fat rolls. The sec­ond turd shot out of the space be­tween the com­postable nap­pies and his thigh, through a gap in his one­sie, and onto the bench where we were eat­ing din­ner.

It was mirac­u­lous, but an­noy­ing. We changed tack and or­dered four re­us­able nap­pies from the small Wairarapa re­tailer Clever Wee Fox. I ex­pected the worst. Re­us­able nap­pies are no­to­ri­ously time-con­sum­ing and labour-in­ten­sive. One on­line tu­to­rial on how to use them runs to 3800 words. “It’s very sim­ple,” the tu­to­rial be­gins, be­fore adding count­less para­graphs on top­ics like “Dry­pail­ing v Soak­ing Stor­age”.

I was wrong to be so wary. The nap­pies were shock­ingly easy to use. Chang­ing a dis­pos­able nappy can be a work of phys­i­cal en­durance and trigonom­e­try, as you line up two ad­he­sive strips and wrap them around a wrig­gling, some­times uri­nat­ing body. These nap­pies use domes in­stead of ad­he­sive, tak­ing the guess­work out of seal­ing them. They’re hardy, able to with­stand de­cent-sized ex­plo­sions. Im­por­tantly, they’re also cute, dec­o­rated with pic­tures of cats, jel­ly­fish and flow­ers.

There were some down­sides. Ev­ery nappy has to be fit­ted with an in­liner to pro­tect it from vi­cious as­saults. The of­fi­cial ad­vice is to hold those in­lin­ers un­der a flush­ing toi­let to wash off de­tri­tus af­ter changes. Thomas’s craps were too stub­born for that. It took a scrub­bing brush to dis­lodge his mus­tardy move­ments.

It’s easy to feel in­dig­nant when you’re scour­ing the great­est hits of your baby’s gas­troin­testi­nal tract. Twenty com­pa­nies pro­duce a third of the world’s car­bon emis­sions, I thought. How many nap­pies would I have to scrub to ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence? A bil­lion? More? Don’t the so­lu­tions to cli­mate change and other en­vi­ron­men­tal crises lie in sys­temic, leg­isla­tive change, rather than our painstak­ing ef­forts to clean up a re­pos­i­tory for baby poo?

But there’s very lit­tle I can do to change the busi­ness prac­tices of a Saudi oil com­pany. I can con­trol the adorn­ment of my in­fant’s butt. As Thomas gur­gled hap­pily above his lat­est car­nage, it oc­curred to me that one day, he’ll ask what I did to stop the cli­mate catas­tro­phe wrought by his grand­par­ents’ id­i­otic gen­er­a­tion. He prob­a­bly won’t take kindly to my telling him I read an ar­ti­cle about ExxonMo­bil and sank into in­ef­fec­tual de­spair. At least this way, as we watch Brit­o­mart sink un­der the waves, I can turn to him and say, “I hand-washed your craps out of sheets of linen, my son”.

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