But our kid would save up and then abruptly and catastrophically detonate. His entire lower body would pop, like a balloon filled with shit. Then he would smile and chortle, leaving us to deal with cleaning up the debris. And those epic events happened in the funniest places!
1. The Bollard
We were traveling from New York to Kentucky to visit family during a gruesome summer heat wave, our three-month-old in tow. Somewhere on the interstate in Pennsylvania, a noise came from the backseat that sounded like a metal rod getting sucked into an industrial fan—the initial bang, the subsequent percussive staccato ear-splitting reports, the groaning. So we pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned gas station. There was literally no place to change the baby other than on a concrete bollard next to the highway. It was blindly bright, the sun reflecting off the concrete, and so hot we were afraid that the baby would roast in the couple of minutes it took to change him and get back in the air-conditioned car. “That was hard!” we sighed as we rolled down the windows to let the stench out. If we’d only known what was waiting for us in Nashville.
2. The “East Nashville Horror”
Same road trip: We were driving through East Nashville, which has some very sketchy areas, when we heard the unmistakable sound of the Hindenburg crashing in the back seat. My husband, Fran, immediately pulled into an abandoned weed-filled parking lot, where we surveyed the damage. While I spread the changing pad on the pavement, Fran started cleaning the car seat, back windows—not joking here—and floor of the car. It was 100 degrees and July, and within seconds a cloud of mosquitoes swarmed our child. We said something along the lines of “At least it can’t get any worse than this,” when a mysterious, beat-up Lincoln pulled into the parking lot. Suddenly the whole thing became Deliverance. Fran said later he briefly imagined a scenario where he would have to choose whether to swat the mosquitos, fight the sketchy characters ominously edging closer, or continue cleaning poop from a car. But the mysterious car slowly pulled back out—no doubt alarmed by the shit-covered people mopping out an ancient Volkswagen in an abandoned lot. We got the besplattered baby and car as clean as we could and fled to a hotel.
3. The Route 11 Disaster
A few days later: Route 11 through the majesty of the Shenandoah Valley. What a lovely rural highway! The rolling hills, the old barns, the picturesque mills. Oh, look, what a great old southern diner! And gosh, great timing, because we’re really hungry! Fried chicken, biscuits, and grits! Oh, and such nice, nice people. Let’s sit in this cool, vintage red leather booth! This has really been a wonderful vacation, except for that “East Nashville Horror!” Ha! Ha!
Cut to five minutes later: Fran is dumping the baby’s clothes in the dumpster out back—no point in even trying to wash them—I’m wiping down the entire booth and floor, and the nice waitress is reassuring us that it’s okay, it’s okay, they’re sick of running this restaurant that’s been in the family for 50 years anyway.
4. The Babbling Brook
I missed this one, fortunately. We had rented a “cottage” (shed) next to a lovely stream in Woodstock. Fran was sitting in a chair on a flat rock next to the brook, dandling the baby and basking in the wonder of God’s green earth. Trout flashed in the stream, which gurgled and frolicked, splashing into little pools on their way downstream to the local swimming hole. Butterflies danced, he said; a kingfisher chattered overhead. Then Fran heard a gurgling sound that he couldn’t, at first, place, because who is familiar with the sound of poop filling up his own lap? In his panic, Fran lifted the baby up—but not to the side, because these things have a learning curve—and for several more seconds watched a steady brown rain continue to besmirch his clothes. He was wearing tan shorts, now consigned forever to the Woodstock landfill.
5. The Vermont Explosion
This was the following summer. We went swimming in a beautiful lake in Vermont. We had the whole place to ourselves, which was fortunate, because there were no witnesses. Diaper blowout. No big deal; we were used to it by then. The diaper change went fine, despite the fact that the baby had been wading and his diaper—not a swim diaper, but a regular one—had filled with about three gallons of lake water and ballooned to ten times its normal size. But there were convenient tables at just the right height for diaper changing, a few horseflies but no mosquitoes, and no sinister cars approaching. No, the problem was what happened once Fran folded up the dirty diaper and headed toward the trashcan. A former third-string quarterback in high school, Fran still fancies he can throw any object into any receptacle from forty yards away. Until he missed, we hadn’t pondered the intricacies of diaper construction: It turns out they’re made from millions of little plastic pellets that each absorb and contain the liquid in question. A dirty diaper that has been in a lake hitting an asphalt surface is a wonder to behold. The amount of surface area that diaper covered was astonishing. We could have left it there and simply driven away. We could’ve.
6. Small Claims Court
Just some advice: It’s not worth it to take someone to small claims court. Your adversary won’t show up, first of all, forcing you to return six months later, and no amount of money is worth sitting in that tragically depressing place with nothing to do but wait. It’s like a Sartre play populated by fleecy lawyers and slumlords. When the baby provided evidence to the jury of two (us) that he had desecrated yet another set of drawers, my husband attempted to change him in the men’s room down the hall. When he returned five hours later, he looked shaken. The men’s room at small claims court is unimaginably dirty and small—the size of a janitor’s closet—and since there was no diaper table, Fran set the baby in the middle of the floor. Aggrieved parties from both sides of the U-Be-L8 Quick Loan LLC dispute came and went, peeing four inches from Fran’s forehead, oblivious to the child on the floor. The baby, batting at the tassels of the faux Italian loafers landing two inches from his dainty nubbins, thought the whole adventure was great fun.
7. The Rank Sidewalk
The car had broken down in Farthest Queens, and we were waiting for a tow. And New York sidewalks, when inspected at ground level, are incredibly disgusting; your most feverish dystopia of rampant mutating viruses is up close and personal on a New York sidewalk. But by that time we were inured to any and all filth, and when the baby grabbed what looked like broken glass or maybe an old hypodermic, we just knocked it out of his grubby paws and continued on. We probably didn’t even wash our hands.