Not long ago, I found myself trying to balance my growing, toddler son on a closed toilet seat while I took off his dirty diaper and fumbled around for a clean one.
He started crying and flailing his legs. It didn’t end well.
And I couldn’t blame him. That diaper did get changed, eventually, but this wasn’t a one-time thing. He and I often find ourselves, together, figuring out how to change a diaper in a restaurant bathroom with no changing table. I’ve changed diapers on toilet seats, on the floor (yuck), on sink counters (also yuck) — really, wherever there’s a flat surface big enough to rest his body.
That’s why I was ecstatic to hear about a new New York City law requiring all public restrooms to have changing tables. Turns out I’m not the only parent who’s tired of the flat surface hunt.
I can’t wait for how this will improve my family’s dining experiences. Usually, when we go to a restaurant and our son needs changing, my wife and I have a system: I run to the men’s to see if there’s a changing table. If (when) there isn’t, my wife will just take our kid to the women’s, assuming there’s a space to change his diaper. If she’s also out of luck, she’ll just make do with whatever there is. What this means is that when we’re out, the task often falls to her.
And that’s obviously sexist, because it assumes that caring for a child is a woman’s job — and men can’t do it. But that doesn’t fit with today’s reality, where many families have two fathers or a single dad, and where we and all of our friends eagerly share parenting responsibilities regardless of gender.
I don’t always love changing diapers — especially when it’s 6 a.m. But weird as it may sound, I do value the experience. After all the messy stuff is under control, it’s a couple minutes when I’m looking my son in the eyes, listening to him as he names parts of his body in Hebrew, or begins listing his relatives at random.
I can’t say how many times we’ve even eaten in “family restaurants” with no changing table at all. At one (a kosher place, no less!), the manager claimed it was a space issue in Manhattan. Which isn’t true. Newsflash: Changing tables fold into the wall. If a functional changing table can fit in an airplane bathroom, it can fit on 57th Street.
Changing diapers isn’t the only element of baby care, of course. Nursing moms are often way more stigmatized than diaper-changing parents, and that needs to end. Hopefully this law will encourage more positive attitudes toward all elements of caring for kids in public spaces.
People without kids in diapers should also cheer this new legislation. If you’re the guy awkwardly waiting behind me as I monopolize the sink to change my son’s diaper — I genuinely feel for you. It’s disgusting. Bodily fluids should not be in the same place where you wash your hands, no matter how much extra soap you use.
This isn’t the first time all bathrooms have been required to have changing tables. Last year, according to HuffPost, President Obama enacted a law mandating that all public bathrooms in federal facilities have changing spots. But the NYC law stretches to any public space — restaurants, malls, even nightclubs.
To be honest, I didn’t really go clubbing before we had a kid, and I definitely don’t now. But if my toddler and I ever find ourselves out on the dance floor, and that foul scent wafts up from his pants to my nose, I know I’ll be covered. Thanks, New York City.