The dirty diaper: What being an awful babysitter taught me about learning curves

Babysitting my cousin Erinn and her three older siblings started out as a pretty solid gig for me and my brother Nicholas when we were teenagers. My aunt and uncle’s farm boasted a wildly unsafe barn for awesome games of hide-and-seek, better snacks than we had at home and a VHS collection featuring an all-you-can-watch buffet of Disney movies.

But then Erinn filled her diaper with a nightmare of unholy excrement, and we realized that babysitting wasn’t all fizzy pop and Little Mermaid sing-alongs. Holding her as far from me as possible, I rushed the filthy sewage baby to the bathroom. Meanwhile, Nicholas recruited Erinn’s big sister Angela to walk us through this diaper-changing ordeal.

Nicholas and I gagged in unison as I peeled back the diaper to reveal the output of her heinous anus. Over the next several traumatic minutes, we cleaned up my cousin’s befouled butt. Only when the dirty diaper was disposed of and Erinn in a reasonable state of cleanliness did we dare allow ourselves to breathe once more.

“OK, now the cream,” instructed Angela, pointing to a jar next to the change table. Nicholas and I exchanged confused looks. “You have to put the cream on so she doesn’t get a rash,” she explained.

“How?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“With your hand,” Angela replied.

Mopping up feces with baby wipes was one thing. But smearing cream onto a naked baby’s butt? Forget about it.

Still, we had a job to do. And after some resourceful thinking, I popped out to the kitchen and began rummaging around. A minute later I returned with a butter knife in hand. Unscrewing the lid of the jar of diaper rash cream, I dug in. I then proceeded to butter up Errin’s butt as if I was icing a cake.

A rather elegant solution if you ask me.

Once we had Erinn properly slathered, we slapped a fresh diaper on her, plopped the cream-smeared knife into the kitchen sink and made it back to the living room in time to hear Ursula the Sea Witch sing “Poor Unfortunate Soul.”

I’m sure by this point Angela was questioning her parents’ vetting process for babysitters.

I never did become a great babysitter. But with time and practice, I started to get the hang of it. Eventually, I learned how to keep my cousins entertained, make a mean bologna sandwich and ensure the house didn’t burn down.

Slowly but surely, I grew from awful to adequate. And for five bucks an hour, that was good enough for me.

My babysitting misadventures taught me that getting good at something takes time. I cringe when I look back at my writing from a couple years ago. And I’m sure down the road I’ll roll my eyes when I read some of my stuff from today. But that’s a good thing. Because I know that the only way I’m going to get better is by putting in the work and being willing to fail forward.

Everybody makes mistakes, and usually the only way to hone your skills is by making tonnes of them. So whether you’re writing a book, perfecting a sales pitch or changing diapers, don’t get discouraged when your early efforts go sideways. If it’s important to you, keep at it. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself time to get your feet under you. Before long, you won’t need the butter knife at all.