This Is the Biggest Parenting Nightmare for a Germaphobe

It’s public-restroom changing tables. There, previewers, I saved you a click.

If you’re still with me, I’ll explain. Public changing tables are predictably loathsome. They’re in a public restroom, obviously, so they’re covering in filth both visible and invisible. Visible: actual feces, more often than seems reasonable or even possible. Invisible: IDK, C.diff? The plague? Hepatitis Q?

I was expecting the filth aspect. Before Katie arrived, while I was still bloated and weary with preeclampsia and lounging around while Adam nested for me, he ordered several pouches of Clorox wipes for disinfecting public changing areas and anything else that was giving me slow feelings of death. This had the dual effect of preparing for our baby and calming some of my zanier fears about being a parent.

Perhaps you are one of those people who goes blithely about her business, walking down city streets without picturing falling air conditioners and getting on ferries without worrying about forgetting not to throw your eyeglasses and your purse and perhaps your shoes over the side. If so, I respect but do not understand you.

I have a lot of fears in general, is my point. Parenting added to the pile.

One of them was using a public restroom to change a baby. In my mind, I would enter the restroom with a pink, healthy infant, and leave with a sickly green ghoul covered in sores. The baby would have acquired a number of festering bandages during its time in the bathroom, and also a snarl punctuated by one slightly yellow broken tooth.

Like most of my parenting fears, it turned out that my worries were wholly justified but just slightly off the mark. Public restrooms are repulsive, but I had all these wipes now. Surely I could mitigate the filth factor with good, old-fashioned bleach substitute, right?

I failed to factor in the baby.

My baby is four months old now, which means that I’m basically parenting an octopus who’s been in a horrible accident. She has four limbs instead of eight, but despite these limitations, she’s still much smarter than me. Plus, each limb seems to have its own brain and once I get one under control, the other brain-limbs slither out and start touching absolutely everything in sight — a stranger’s lunch or breasts, any stray electrical outlet … the feces-covered changing table in the bathroom at the diner.

I’m shuddering as I write this, because the changing table at the diner was covered in literal feces, and I attempted to use it anyway, because I was in denial about what I was seeing.

Let me explain. It’s Sunday, but I had to work today, because I’m a freelancer who’s attempting to do without childcare and that’s how that goes. Adam and I were both feeling bummed out about that, so I offered to take an hour or three off in the morning to get some brunch.

After a few reversals — two bottles, a diaper change, and finding out our local place was closed for August vacation — we wound up at a diner about 15 minutes away from home. We’d never been to this diner. That’s important, as you’ll see in a minute.

Shortly after we settled in and placed our orders, Katie started crying.

“Ah wuh wuh wuh,” she said.

“Why is this baby crying?” I asked, as Adam unbuckled her from her car seat.

He took a big whiff of her pants region. “Whew,” he said. “I think we have poopy.” And then, because he’s a 21st century kind of dad, he grabbed the diaper bag and headed for the restroom.

A few minutes later, he returned.

“No changing table in the men’s,” he said apologetically. “But I can take her to the car.”

“Let me check the ladies’,” I said, and went off to do that. No dice.

Finally, a nice waitress pointed us at another bathroom that had a changing table — women’s room only. After Adam spent a few frustrating minutes waiting in vain for it to clear out, I took over.

And there encountered the poopy changing table.

It looked fine at first. It was that light brown rugged plastic that they loved in the ’80s, so it was hard to see whether it was clean. I got out my wipes, dodging a small child and her mother who were trying to wash their hands nearby, and somehow balanced the baby and my pack while I swabbed off the table. Then, I laid out my changing mat and plopped the baby — now complaining at being held around the waist for so long — on the mat and got to work.

“Guh guh guh,” Katie said.

All four chubby baby limbs immediately squirted out and started exploring their environment. And that’s when I saw it: poop smears on the very top of the table, where it would fold up when not in use … and Katie’s little ravioli hand inching toward it.

With a shriek, I scooped up my baby, the mat, my pack, the wipes, and the tattered shreds of my sanity and stomped back into the restaurant to get my car keys.

“Was it OK?” the nice waitress asked.

“NO. THERE WAS POOP ON IT,” I said, verging on hysteria.

“Oh, yikes,” she said, looking nervous. As anyone would, when confronted with a crazy lady holding a wiggling infant and the disjected contents of her diaper bag.

“Ah-goo,” Katie explained. “Eeeeehhhhhh. Ehhhhhhh.”

Adam was at the table, where our food had arrived. “How was it?”


Later, he told me that the cheese on his Monte Cristo smelled a little like poop, and when I said poop, for a minute he thought his sandwich was contaminated. He ate it anyway. Parents are typically ravenous and it’s always a treat not to eat over the sink, even if brunch smells like poop.

“Let me take her to the car and change her,” he said.

“No, I got this,” I said, snatching the keys off the table.

“Eeeeeeh,” Katie said, swinging her legs as I stomped back through the diner, down the ramp, and into the hundred-degree parking lot, sweat already running into my eyes.

I’ll spare you the blow by blow of changing a baby in a diner parking lot, but here are the important parts:

  • The poop was contained in the diaper. It hadn’t reached the belly button or the pants. This is A Good Poop, in parenting parlance.
  • The baby was giving me very frightened and very grown-up side eye the whole time. It might have been because I was red-faced and sweating and it might have been because I was muttering, “Poop! Who leaves POOP everywhere? These are the people who pee on toilet seats. POOP.”
  • After I was done changing her and was tying off the plastic bag with the diaper in it, I took my eye off the baby for one second and when I looked up, she was chewing on the changing mat. The changing mat that was just on the poopy changing table. Whereupon I had a heart attack and died and now I’m typing to you from the afterlife.

“How did it go?” Adam asked, once we were settled and eating french toast and Monte Cristo sandwiches. We took turns holding our little octopus, who felt so good now that her butt was clean, she had to spend maximum energy charming the older couple seated next to us.

“The baby has staph all over her body and also hepatitis and probably TB,” I said.

“Oh, if that’s all,” he said, and took a bite of his poopy-smelling sandwich.

“I just have to tell you, your little boy is beautiful,” said the woman seated next to us.

“Yes, she is,” I said with my mouth full.

“Heeee!” said Katie.

Pictured: an octopus


Published by Jen Hubley Luckwaldt

I'm a freelance writer and editor.

One thought on “This Is the Biggest Parenting Nightmare for a Germaphobe

  1. Hi, I read it, and do not miss that I never married or had kids! It’s enough work when I helped care for my mother in her final two years, which involved wound care and draining her chest through a chest tube, so I made my family remove their shoes at the door, and that is what I would recommend to you . . . Especially, because you have a baby, who will start crawling, then become a toddler. Once you get into the habit, it becomes routine! We remove our shoes in the foyer, where there is a place to kick them, once inside the front door. It keeps the house a lot cleaner! The added bonus is you won’t have to vacuum or swab the floors as often, and if a hand towel drops to the kitchen floor, or you drop a vitamin or a pill – you know, 5-second rule – it’s not a big deal, because no one is treading all over in their outdoor shoes. It keeps the dust and bad things outside the house . . .

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