In Act of Valor, the 2012 movie where real active-duty Navy SEALs play fictional active-duty Navy SEALs, there's a moment where two elite, hardened warriors are discussing fatherhood, and one of them mentions the scariest thing about it: diapers. If fucking SEALs can't handle diapers, is there any hope for the rest of us?
Well, yes. Diapers are not a big deal. For those of us on the cusp of becoming mothers or fathers, sometimes they can assume a weird mythical importance in our brains: They can become a proxy for everything else we fear about the entire enterprise of parenthood. If the simple, life-changing terror of being responsible for the lives of tiny helpless humans is too much to contemplate, there's always the possibility of getting baby poop on your fingertips. I've seen grown adult men get nauseous at the prospect. It's ridiculous.
To repeat: Diapers are not that big a deal. That's especially true if you're a man, which means you've already been spared some of the hardest things about parenthood, like childbirth and staying up all night nursing. You can handle some damn diapers. They will not kill you. The actual mechanics of how to put on a new diaper are so simple and intuitive that I won't even insult your intelligence by getting into any of that here; instead here are a few big-picture pieces of advice that might keep those yips to a minimum.
You do not need a changing table.
That glazed, damaging moment where you're wandering the aisles of Babies "R" Us, filling out a registration card and wondering how much all this fucking shit is going to cost? Don't make it any harder than it has to be. Changing tables—squat bureaus with tiny foam mattresses strapped to the top—are luxuries, and they're not luxuries you'll need. Even with the weird seatbelt things that they come with, you will live in constant fear that your kid will find a way to launch herself to the floor. And even if you do use that mattress, your kid will only be a few months old before she outgrows the thing. Kids grow very, very quickly, and you do not need an entire piece of furniture in your house that'll only be useful for a couple months.
Instead, change the kid on the couch. It's fine. If you've got anything other than a white-fabric couch, it probably won't get stained in any way that anyone will notice. And if you do have a white-fabric couch, why do you have a white-fabric couch? You're having kids! That thing was going to get ruined anyway! Get a slipcover or something, damn. (Or just use your bed. That works, too.)
Stay away from public-bathroom changing stations.
For at least a little while, you will feel irrationally pissed that every women's room will have a changing station, while so many men's rooms won't. But get over that. They're doing you a favor. You don't know what kinds of assholes have been in that bathroom, smoking angel dust or whatever off of the changing table. Also, those bathroom floors are harder than steel. Do you really trust yourself to keep the kid from falling? No. No, you don't.
Instead—and I know you don't want to hear this—just disappear into the stall and change your kid while she's sitting on your lap. It's stressful and claustrophobic, and there may even be people waiting to use the stall, but it's better than the alternative. You'll get through it. Just breathe.
Cloth diapers are a great way to save money and reduce waste, but also, fuck cloth diapers.
There are lots and lots of smart, logical arguments for why you should go with cloth diapers instead of disposable ones. They're expensive, but they're still cheaper in the long run, especially if you get a big load of used ones from Craigslist. (It's not that gross, since you have to use weapons-grade detergent to clean them, anyway.) And you don't want to be the asshole using the wasteful, landfill-clogging method when there's a more conscious way to do the same thing. But those arguments don't tell you anything about what it's like to have a stinking plastic pailful of nasty-ass rags in your laundry room.
I don't know why, but a load of unwashed cloth diapers stinks like ammonia. The smell lingers, and you feel like it sticks with you all day, hanging over you, even if it doesn't. It's the worst. If you're in a laundry room with a shared laundry facility, or if you use a laundromat, you will feel like a terrible person every time you take your diapers to get 'em clean. You will feel like every other person in the room is staring at you as you pollute the machines that everyone uses. That is also the worst. And even if you can get through all that, you may reach the moment where the Velcro on the cloth diaper (if you use one with Velcro, instead of plastic snaps) stops working. That is the worst of all worsts. Disposable diapers may not be the conscientious choice, but do yourself a favor and just get used to them.
Generic disposable diapers are totally fine.
Pampers cost a whole lot more than Target or Safeway-brand diapers, and they feel thicker and less prone to leaking. But diapers don't really leak at all, unless you've done a terrible job putting them on. The Target diapers will work just fine. Eventually, your kid might reach the point where she's wondering why there's no picture of Cookie Monster on her diaper, and then maybe you'll want to switch to the name-brand ones. (Kids can get really upset over weird shit like this, so pick your battles.) But before they're old enough to notice (or to tell you about it), just go with whatever's cheapest. You are not being neglectful if you save a couple of bucks.
The actual act of wiping poop is not that bad.
During the actual diaper-changing act, there are a couple of things you need to watch out for. The first time your kid shits mid-change, that's bad. You'll just sit there and stare, like you can't believe what's happening. But it'll be over quickly enough, and then you'll have the inner strength to handle it the next time. (Peeing mid-change is also common, but for some reason, it's really funny every time.)
The other thing to watch out for: Changing a girl means cleaning poop out of places you don't want to clean poop out of. This gets easier, and it will not change the way you think about vaginas. It is, however, a mental leap that you will have to make. Don't worry, though, you can handle it.
Do not spare the baby wipes.
You want to wipe everything and leave nothing to spare. It's annoying to keep buying baby wipes, or to use four or five wipes per diaper-change, but you don't want anything left in there. If you've got a boy, pay special attention to the tip of the penis, and think about how much you would not like it if there was a rapidly drying turd stuck to the end of yours, and you couldn't do anything about it. Just go nuts with the baby wipes. Wipe even if there's nothing but pee. It's worth it.
Also: If you're on a road trip, stop and change diapers at least every hour. If your kid is sitting in something for too long, that can be an issue. When he was a few months old, my son had a urinary-tract infection—the result of a two-hour car ride—that put him in the hospital for a week. Avoid that. Just keep stopping and cleaning, even if it feels like you're wasting road time.
Make sure not to leave gigantic, gaping leg-holes.
As long as your kid can breathe, there's no such thing as a too-tight diaper in my opinion. And if diarrhea does strike—keep in mind that kids are constantly getting sick—you don't want to deal with a leg-dribble situation. Just keep that whole area locked down.
Stay away from pull-ups.
Whoever invented pull-ups is such an asshole. If you ever have to deal with a messy shit in a pull-up, you will curse that day for the rest of your life. Just stay away. The "Mommy Wow" commercial from when you were a kid was cute and all, but don't let it influence you.
Diaper blowouts are a thing, and there's no preventing them. They aren't common, but you're going to have to deal with a few of them. They will seem like the end of the world when they're happening, but just sock it away in your stash of parenting war stories. It'll be over soon enough, and it will never stop being funny. And even if you never use these stories to embarrass your teenager in front of her friends, you'll always know that this is a possibility, a weapon at your fingertips. Your now-clean fingertips.
Wash your hands when you're done.
Tom Breihan is the senior editor at Stereogum; he's written for Pitchfork, the Village Voice, GQ, Grantland, and the Classical. He lives in Charlottesville, Va. He is tall, and on Twitter.
Image by Sam Woolley.
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