Father and master yogi reflects on his family's amusing and peculiar immersion into cloth diaper culture.
In the hilarious and heartfelt book, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi (New World Library, 2014), Brian Leaf tackles parenting with a unique blend of research and humor. He explores Attachment Parenting, as well as Playful, Unconditional, Simplicity, and good old Dr. Spock parenting. He tries cloth diapers, no diapers, cosleeping, and no sleeping. Join him on his rollicking journey in this one-of-a-kind parenting guide. In the following excerpt, Leaf tells the tales from cloth diapering his tots.
My sister and I have an ongoing contest. Whoever seems more natural and hippie-ish gets a point. When I had hay littered about the backseat of my Corolla after hauling a bale to my community garden plot, I got a point. When she and her boyfriend started brewing hard cider from local apples (now famous, by the way, as Citizen Cider), she earned a point. If either of us grew dreadlocks we’d have a lifetime win. Game over. But, in the meantime, when Gwen and I opted for cloth diapers over disposables, we took the cup for the year.
Cloth diapers are superior to disposables in every single way, except convenience. They do not fill the landfill with plastic and with human feces. They are easier on your baby’s sensitive skin. They are even far superior in helping little Hazel potty train. More on that later.
But cloth diapers are a pain in the ass. They smell. You have to scrape the poop into the toilet. You have to keep a bin in the bedroom to soak them, and you have to do a lot of laundry. And cloth diapers get stained. They’re vile, really.
They are also beautiful and now that we are done with them, I have the fondest memories. I would happily use one as a pillowcase or to wrap my lunch in. What else is so closely associated with your baby? Just thinking of trifolds brings back memories. Memories of sweet, innocent yellow breast milk poop, memories of the boys crawling around the family room.
It’s all our friend Jeremiah’s fault, really. He first told us about cloth diapers. And actually, we bought our first set of diapers used from Jeremiah for $400. Four hundred bucks! And they were stained with his kids’ poop. When else have you paid $400 for shit or shit-stained anything? Maybe fertilizer, if you’re a farmer; I’ll grant you that. But nothing else. When kids are in the picture, all bets are off. Imagine buying a crate of skid-marked adult boxer briefs for $400.
I can’t be too pissed at Jeremiah for the price. These things are like gold. Gwen and I are now done with the diapers, and recently, we had a garage sale. We posted an ad on Craigslist: “Kitchen items, used printer, books, kids’ toys, baby clothes, and cloth diapers.”
We received the usual inquiries from eighty-year-old men named Eustis looking for bottle caps and coffee tins from the 1950s. But apart from that, every single call was about the diapers. People asked us to put certain sizes aside for them. They asked for certain brands. They begged us to reserve them until they could get to us at 7:00 am. I felt like we were launching a new type of Cabbage Patch doll. One guy at the garage sale bought five pairs and whispered, “Any that you don’t sell, give me a call, and I’ll give you a good price.”
Cloth-diaper buyers constitute a zealous garage sale subculture. I bet there is a thriving brown market on eBay. No pun intended. And, in fact, no one at all, not even once, on the phone or in person, inquired about shit streaks. These, I suppose, are assumed.
Jeremiah taught us his three-step cleaning process:
1. Scrape the poop into the toilet.
2. Soak in a pail with a fifty-fifty water and vinegar mixture.
3. Run them for two cycles in the washing machine with hot water and no soap.
No Whisk or Tide or even Arm & Hammer. Which, of course, explains the excessive streaks in his batch. But I’m all for it. I wouldn’t want harsh detergent next to my baby’s soft delicate skin, anyway.
Even at $400, cloth diapers are a bargain. From birth through age three, for one baby, you would use approximately seven thousand disposable diapers, which costs $2,000. And that’s for the el cheapo Pampers imitation from CVS. If you buy the best disposables for you, your baby, and the environment, say, from Seventh Generation or Earth’s Best, you’ll be paying upward of $5,000.
There are also gDiapers, which are simply ingenious and I was sure must be another fantastic Google innovation, like Gmail and Google Docs. But it turns out that these diapers were actually invented by Jason and Kimberley Graham-Nye, which explains the name. The Prius of diapers, these are a hybrid of reusable exterior and compostable insert. As with the other earth-friendly disposable options, to diaper your tyke in these, you’ll be spending thousands.
Cloth, on the other hand, costs twenty bucks per diaper, which seems insane — a full set could be a down payment on a new houseboat or vacation home. But, this one diaper is worth, like, a hundred disposables. And you’ll be saving exactly that many from the trash heap. Plus, you’ll also be preventing that much pee and poop from sitting in the landfill, leaching into the water supply and winding up in your kombucha.
Cloth diapers are also healthier for baby. Mainstream disposables often contain dioxin, a toxic chemical associated with reproductive and developmental problems. And those clever little gel blobs inside the diaper that in a feat of science and wonder absorb 113 ounces each contain sodium polyacrylate, which was removed from tampons for its association with toxic shock syndrome.
I even read recently that mainstream disposable diapers, which are made up of plastic polymers, act as insulation and can keep your baby boy’s junk (that’s a hip word for penis and testicles) too warm, a factor that can lead to infertility.
Which is just way too much for me to be thinking about. My anxiety is peaking right now. I may need to break for some pranayama.
Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are made of, well, cloth, so they contain no dioxin or sodium polyacrylate, and they don’t overinsulate.
Cloth diapers are also better for the environment. Behind newspapers and beverage containers, disposable diapers take up the third most space in landfills. And each neatly wrapped diaper entombs a nice bit of pee or poop that goes untreated and, as mentioned, ends up in the soil and water.
And here’s a perk you may not have even expected. Cloth diapers actually help kids learn to pee and poop in the potty. Disposables soak the wetness away so fast kids don’t even know they’ve peed. But in cloth diapers they can feel it and they ask for a change. They can tell they have peed so they make the connection. “I peed, I feel wet. Maybe I should pee in a potty like mom and dad do.” I’ve seen this with my own kids and with many of our friends’ kids as well. It’s a beautifully organic process. You can avoid the bribes and gold star charts. Alfie Kohn would be thrilled!
There is only one downside. When you sign on for cloth diapers, you join the cult. You, too, start wandering garage sales looking for used BumGenius, FuzziBunz, OsoCozy, BottomBumpers, TushieSombrero, and AssHat cloth diapers (okay, I made up the last two). You’ll talk about your diapers at parties, weighing the pros and cons of trifolds versus flat inserts. And you must decide whether to wash or to hire a service.
In Northampton, we have a service that will pick up your soiled diapers.
On a bicycle.
Seriously. That’s how we roll here in Northampton. I’ll say it again. People come to your house and pick up your kid’s shit. On a bicycle. They will also haul away your trash and recycling to the dump, bring your compost to a farm, and, in January, in a wonder of physics, take away your Christmas tree. On their bicycles. I’m not shitting you.
Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi and Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, as well as the owner and director of the holistic New Leaf Learning Center in western Massachusetts. He has studied, practiced, and taught yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda for twenty-three years. Visit him online.