Do you remember the nutty things you said about parenting before you had any kids?
You know what I mean: “I’ll never yell at my kids.” “I’ll always feed my kids real food, so of course they’ll never be picky eaters.” “I would never touch my baby’s skin with non-organic lotion!”
Then you have a kid or two, and before you know it, you’re plopping them down in front of Barney every night so you can cook dinner in peace and then put them to bed without brushing their teeth.
I said a lot of these things. I had a vision of the mom I was going to be, a mom who was creative and caring and kind. A mom who never lost her temper or drank wine before bedtime. A mom who cooked dinner every night from organic, local food and took her kids on nature walks in the park every day.
Then I had kids, and I discovered that mom doesn’t exist.
But there was one thing I did do exactly as I planned — one way I lived up to my idealistic parenting hopes: cloth diapers.
I used cloth diapers full-time for both of my kids. True, they were never in diapers at the same time, and true, I also did elimination communication part-time, so the first one pretty much trained herself by 18 months. But as much as I’d like to feel proud of my commitment, the truth is I wasn’t really motivated by something inspiring like a concern for the environment. The real reason I used cloth was more like an addiction.
It started innocently enough. I figured I cared about the environment, so of course I would use cloth diapers. Oh, and it would be nice to save money, too. So I searched online and discovered that cloth diapers cost $20 a pop. Twenty dollars! For one diaper! I dug deeper, and found some on ebay that were a mere $11 each, which I immediately bought. But after my daughter was born, I discovered that even with diapers, you get what you pay for. The inexpensive ones fitted poorly and leaked, and soon I was scanning used diaper forums for listings.
At first, I really did need more diapers. But it wasn’t long before I found myself inventing reasons to buy more. Would a different brand fit better? Was another option more trim? Was wool really more eco-friendly? Eventually, my excuses became more and more shallow: Would that cover look better with my favorite baby dress? Did I have enough pink diapers to coordinate with all her outfits? And if I could find that beautiful embroidered diaper for 15 percent off retail price, wouldn’t that be too good a deal to pass up?
It wasn’t until my second baby was past infancy that I realized the truth. He was a year old, and I knew I wasn’t going to have any more children. But I still couldn’t bring myself to list his newborn diapers for sale. And as he outgrew more sizes, the pile of old diapers in a bin in my closet — the ones I knew I would never use again — grew bigger and bigger.
A year and a half later, he’s almost potty trained, and I have yet to sell a single diaper.
It’s not just that I’m sad to let go of the baby stage, although I’m sure that’s part of it. It’s not even the memories linked to those diapers, many of which were worn by both of my kids — memories of the one he was wearing when he learned to walk, or the one that perfectly matched her favorite dress. No, it’s the diapers themselves I can’t let go of. They’re more than just cute baby clothes. They’re part of my identity as a mom. They’re a reminder of the idealistic dreams I had when I first got pregnant.
Now that I know how hard the reality of parenthood is, I’ve lost a lot of my ideals, along with my temper, my hatred of Barney, and most of my sanctimommyism. Now, when I see a mom carrying her toddler out of a store screaming, I don’t shake my head at her poor parenting — I give her an encouraging nod and a solidarity fist. When I see a child punch mine at the playground, I don’t blame her parents — I gently redirect her myself, because I know moms don’t really have eyes in the backs of our heads. And when I see a baby with a disposable diaper, I don’t even think about the environment — I smile at the mom and compliment her adorable baby’s outfit.
But when I see my cloth diapers in the closet, I feel a warm glow of pride. Not because I think I’m somehow a better mom because I used them — I know better than that now. It’s just that for me, those diapers are a symbol of one small way that I lived up to my own ideals. I may not be the mom I thought I would be. But sometimes I do take my kids on nature walks. Occasionally I even plan a craft. We even get through whole days without TV.
I’ll never be the mom I imagined when I was pregnant. But every once in a while, I glimpse that ideal mom in myself. And the rest of the time, well, I look at that bin in my closet and remember that I did use cloth diapers.