It was a typical Tuesday. I had arrived at a neighbor’s house, as I did most Tuesdays, to spend the day with my two best pals, Everett and Wesley. Now Wes was still a baby and in diapers. His was the first diaper I ever learned to change. During that momentous first experience, Wesley thought it would be fun to pee in the minute or two that the diaper was off. I looked at him to see if maybe he’d be smiling while he did it, but his face just seemed to say, “hey, you’re not my mother.” A few games, some stories, and time spent looking for bugs together later, and we had managed to become best friends. He never peed while I changed his diaper again. That achievement was a good one, but it wasn’t my finest. My finest moment did happen to include, however, a stinky Wesley diaper in the story.
That Tuesday morning, Wes and Ev’s mom suggested, before she left, that we could get some snacks together and head over to a park. An elementary school close by had a park full of caterpillars at that time of year. She told me, “You don’t have to go, but if you can manage it, you can take them in the van. The keys are hanging up over there.”
I loved working with this family each week in large part because of how hugely the mom loved her kids. I could tell that she didn’t give me the park idea as a mere suggestion. Her eyes lit up with the thought of her boys having a really good day. The brothers were excellent at finding fun things to do around the house and yard, but they had that fun when their mom was home too. I had the time and opportunity to take them out somewhere.
The plan was to get everything ready and go right away, in the morning, so we could be back in the afternoon for nap time. The snacks were ready and the boys all jazzed up and excited about seeing caterpillars. We had a bucket and a smaller container with holes to collect the caterpillars in. (They always let their critters go back to nature after a while.)
The boys were buckled into the back seat of the van and I thought we were about to go. Then, disaster hit. All of a sudden Ev began crying. Taken completely by surprise, I whipped around from the driver’s seat to ask what was wrong. It took a couple tries to get it out of him, as he was fumbling with his seat belt. As soon as I got it off him, he dashed out of the van. “It stinks in there! Wesley stinks! He’s a big poophead!” he cried, or something along those lines.
I headed back over to the van. Wes had been smelling fine just a few minutes before when I strapped him into his seat. I checked Wesley. Oh man, I thought, Ev is right. Wes stinks! I turned back to Ev who was pouting in his little red, battery-powered car on the driveway. “Okay, Ev, you can stay out here!” I told him. He had been adamantly declaring that he was not going back in the van and that he was NOT going to go see the caterpillars.
“You can play out here and I’ll get Wes changed so he doesn’t stink anymore, ok?”
Wes got changed and the world was smelling tremendously better. Wes smiled, as happy as ever, quite unmoved by the ruckus his putrid stink had caused. I reassured Ev that all was well, that his brother didn’t smell now, and we could get in the van and see how many bugs we could collect at the park. But, oh dear, Ev wasn’t having it.
Ev and I had already spent a lot of days throughout the year playing together. I knew he could get out of sorts at times, but he had always been pretty easily won over. He could be moody one moment, then hear that Wes and I were going to look for frogs, and what do you know, the next second he would fall in line behind us with a big grin, going on about how he would be the first to find one. That day, however, I hit a wall. He had already run up to the van after I changed Wes, gave a big sniff, and ran away, still refusing to get in.
Well, I’m not going to force it, I thought. The point of going is to have fun and if Ev is too upset to go, then we won’t. But I knew Ev better than that. He wasn’t happy now, but if he was at the park, he undoubtedly would be. I usually would not have made a big deal out of it, as most Tuesdays we spent at home anyway. But I couldn’t get over the excitement that I saw in their mom when she suggested we go. My heart fell at the thought of having to explain that we didn’t see any caterpillars and had just stayed home.
At a loss with Ev, he still sulking in his red car, I headed into the house. I walked in as though I had a plan, but my mind was empty. I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed. I simply told God how much I wanted the boys to go, but the plan wasn’t working, and here we were wasting time that we could have been at the park. What can I do, God? Please show me a way, I asked.
Almost immediately, I got the idea to look under the kitchen sink where the household cleaning supplies were. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but when I opened the cabinet doors, there, in the corner, was a bottle of air freshener. I grabbed it, hopeful, but trying not to get too excited. At first I was going to just spray inside the van and let Ev do another sniff test to see if it would then be suitable enough for him to get in. But God had a different idea. I had to pass Ev before reaching the van, but before I did, I felt God prodding me to talk to Ev. I didn’t know what I’d say, but when I got to him I said, “Hey Ev, look, your mom has this air freshener to make things smell better. Do you want to try it on the van?” I don’t know if he said anything in reply or not, but he did take the can.
It only took a couple squirts and he was having fun. He sprayed big, exaggerated squirts all over the place. After a minute, I walked over.
“Ok, Ev, that’s good! How does it smell?”
“Good!” he laughed. “Can I spray Wesley’s butt?”
“Noooo,” I laughed back. “You can’t spray Wesley’s butt! But how about you keep the air freshener with you in case it starts to get smelly again?”
He was back to his happy self.
He jumped in the van and buckled himself, the can laying next to him. I made sure Wes was settled and jumped in myself. As I started the van, I looked back and saw Ev laughing and calling Wes a stinky butt. Wes was laughing too. I switched to reverse and pulled out of the driveway, smiling at the strange feat of getting a four year old into a stinky van.
It was one of my proudest moments, as silly as it was, and although the idea that solved it all wasn’t my own. I was proudest of myself for reaching out to God when I needed help. It proves, every time, to be the best and smartest thing I can do.
We spent the day catching scores of caterpillars until we were sick of them. The park had been covered in caterpillars. To finish the good day, I had the pleasure of hearing Ev excitedly recount his time at the park to his mom when she arrived home.
I told my mom the stinky van story that night. She caught the wisdom in the story that I had missed. She said that when I handed Ev the air freshener bottle what I was really handing him was control over a situation where he felt out of control. She spoke of the importance of children, and of all of us, sometimes feeling like we have a say or sway over a problem in our lives.
Although one of my all-time favorite babysitting memories, I hope this will be the end of adventures with stinky diapers.