Flight Change

Alarming Aroma at Thirty-Thousand-Feet

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There exists endless tropes about negotiating airplane restrooms as they serve as much comedic novelty as they do their designed purpose. Changing a baby’s diapers in an airplane restroom brings with it a performance worthy of the Three Stooges and on Delta Flight 2839 bound for Minneapolis, I was invited on stage to perform a matinee of my very own.

My toddler who is nearly two didn’t poop the day before said flight so we gave her prunes that morning, a fact painfully germane to the events that follow. Halfway through our three-hour flight, I felt my wife’s expression warm the side of my face and I turned to meet her gaze to meet with an aroma both horrifying and impressive. Before I had a chance to react to the smell I read my wife’s lips that mouthed the words “shot-not.” The “shot-not” game is our shorthand derived from the childhood game Shotgun where the first person of a group to call out “shotgun!” is rewarded the front seat of a car ride. The front seat in our version means not having to clean, wipe, and dispose of, human feces. It was now my responsibility to change the poopy-packed diaper of a restless two-year-old in a box the size of an upright coffin.

Telephone booths are presidential suites compared to this. Clark Kent had room for a complete wardrobe change. If he tried to change in this he’d likely punch a hole in the fuselage jeopardizing everyone on board. After scanning both square feet of the “room” I pulled down the changing table located inconveniently above the toilet. I sat my daughter on the table only to then realize what I’d just done. After leaning her back and glimpsing the carnage I turned away to avoid the smell, the logic behind this maneuver still escapes me. Looking away caused the contents of the diaper to fold over the edge of the changing table and slip onto the floor, thankfully an entire inch away from my new bright red shoes. Instinctively, I tried to catch the edge of the diaper. I did not catch the edge of the diaper. I caught something else. While my daughter’s legs fell into the mess. Her eyes gave me a what-have-you-done look to which I could only return with an I-am-so-very-sorry-but-daddy-has-to-wash-his-hands-now response. Lifting my daughter by the ankles with one hand I struggled to wash the other in a sink the size of a walnut shell with a faucet that sprayed cold water in 2.8-second bursts. Perhaps it was the environment, but to add a layer of pressure, my bladder figured it was great timing to ping me regarding its request to evacuate its contents. All I could do was chuckle and come up with a plan of action.

My daughter began to struggle as, understandably, she was uncomfortable but the more I let go, the less she wriggled. The bag of wipes I’d entered with had a single tissue left and so began the wadding and dampening of toilet paper, wiping and subsequent building of a pile of refuse in the walnut shell. Mercifully, my daughter’s attention was held by withdrawing tissue from its wall dispenser while I focused on the hazardous waste material. After the cleaning and diaper replacement, my legs began to tremble as it staved off aggressive flares sent from my bladder, but I couldn’t move yet. There was no room for my daughter to stand on a floor occupied by my feet and a pile of shit reminiscent of a scene in Jurassic Park.

I knelt down employing generous amounts of tissue and toilet paper to clean the floor. Holding on to my daughter, I lifted the changing table and flushed a series of soiled toilet paper. I scrubbed my hands and when I finally opened the door to escape, three people were waiting. I’d have to get back in line after delivering my daughter to her seat.

At one point in my life, I felt above menial tasks of day-to-day life only to now realize that joy, even purpose, can be found in them. Ultimately changing my baby’s diapers is a privilege I’d never give up.

I’m not sure if this story is a brag but I feel the experience fits somewhere in the annals of diaper changing history, at least in my family. Alas, it was nothing special at all. It’s simply what we do as parents and a reminder of appreciation for our own, not to mention our partners who don’t feel the need to write an essay about it.

Father of daughters, volunteer, author of Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing. Co-founder Assent Compliance #LGBTQIA+ 🏳️‍🌈

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