…turn, and face the graffiti-covered stall door.
A problem faced by parents of multiple children (born at once or not) is juggling multiple babies when one needs to be changed in a public place. Before the boys were born, if you had asked me what I expected regarding changing them in public, I would have admitted that it sounded like a challenge, of course, but that if I could do it at home, or in a van in a rainy parking lot, or anywhere else, I could certainly manage a Safeway restroom.
I had absolutely no idea of just how challenging this can be. Any women reading this and nodding and chuckling about how true this is, slow down; I can only address this from a man’s perspective, but I promise there are different – not necessarily worse, but different – challenges. This was, again, something I wouldn’t have thought of before actually having to do it. Changing tables are changing tables, restrooms are restrooms, and changing multiples just means being able to hold on to one child with one arm and changing the other child with the other arm. Piece of cake, right?
Anyway, I wish I’d sought out or gotten more information about the hazards of changing multiples in public venues, especially by dads. That said, over the last year, this is what I’ve learned:
1. Shopping carts can’t go in.
Assuming a public restroom can physically accommodate a shopping cart, you’d be a jerk to bring one in, and if it’s full of unpaid merchandise, stores frown upon you doing so anyway. This might not sound like such a problem, but if you have both children in a shopping cart, even if only one needs changing, you are faced with the task of bringing both into the restroom by hand. Some restrooms in baby-heavy places like Babies-R-Us have special seats you can buckle the third wheel into while you take care of business, but your run-of-the-mill can will only have a changing table and an air of dread. Now, maybe your kid is to the point of standing or even walking on his own, so you might be thinking that a toddler leash is the way to go. They’re great, but…
2. …men’s rooms are obstacle courses of grossness and awkwardness.
If you aren’t familiar with the layout of a gentlemen’s w.c., they range from very small, with nothing but a toilet, to a bit bigger with a urinal added, to large, with multiple stalls and urinals. Leash or not, your kid’s going to be able to reach something you’d rather not have her touch, which means keeping her out of toilets and urinals, from crawling under stalls, from grabbing onto the leg of some poor sap who’s trying to relieve himself, and from just getting on the floor in general. You have no idea how gross a men’s room floor can be; I’ve been doing unspeakable things to them for weeks just to drive this point home. Having all those urinals and toilets so close to the changing table is almost unavoidable because…
3. …a lot of men’s rooms had those tables installed after they were designed.
OK, this is true of a lot of women’s restrooms as well; changing tables didn’t enter on the scene until the mid-80s, so restrooms built before this (and many after) don’t make any space accommodations. This is why you find a number of them in the large handicapable stalls; there’s simply no room anywhere else. In a men’s room, odds are that you’re on the wall opposite or right next to the urinals, and given the tight spaces, you might practically be rubbing back-to-back with guys trying to do their business. Women’s rooms might be pretty tight too, but you aren’t dealing with dudes with their members in hand urinating into what your kids see as shiny white water tables. Such limited space means you could really use a hand, but…
4. …men aren’t as prone to help.
Yes, in spite of a new enlightened age of stay at home dads, mannies, and other male caregivers, a lot of guys are less patient about things like infants shrieking in their private spaces and men taking up room with toddlers and related accessories. It’s really as if Full House taught us nothing. Now, in full disclosure, I have had a guy offer to hold one baby while I changed the other. He was a twin himself, and had twins himself, so there was some camaraderie, but still; most guys are hesitant about helping. Some still look on it as “women’s work,” some might just assume that you’ve got handled or that they’re bruising your ego if they offer to help, and some are worried about coming off as a child molester. Of course, doing it by yourself is even harder when…
5. …there isn’t a changing table at all.
Now, to be clear, I have encountered exactly one men’s room that didn’t have a changing table, and after a cranky Tweet to the proprietor, they had one installed. That said, I understand from some of my fellow dads (and Ashton Kutcher, I guess) that many men’s rooms still don’t have tables, apparently assuming that the women will be changing babies while the men smoke cigars and discuss big game hunting or whatever. Again, I can’t speak much to that – maybe the Seattle area is ahead of the curve on this – but I can’t imaging having to muscle my way with multiple babies in to a restroom, only to find lavatories and stink.
I don’t pitch petitions much, but please take a minute to sign this one asking restaurants to install changing tables, if for no other reason than to avoid parents changing their kids on the table next to yours while you eat. Don’t make us resort to that.