The Mother I’d Like to Be and Material Possessions

Here are my cloth diapers.


Here are my cloth diapers on a baby who isn’t my baby. (It’s my godson’s adorable baby bro.)


It took me awhile to get to this point.

Letting go of cloth diapering was hard. I had intended to exclusively cloth diaper my babies because I was a broke grad student with lofty ideals, but looking back, I was at 60/40 by the time Pippin turned a year old, and I stopped soon after. I had trouble with leaking and staining that, in retrospect, I learned had everything to do with my washer being installed incorrectly so that I was washing on hot when I thought it was cold, and vice versa. With Scout, I fared even worse, as her recurrent ear infections meant antibiotics meant appalling diaper rash meant prescription butt pastes meant disposable diapers.

It’s been the same with making my own baby food: Pippin wouldn’t eat anything I made, and Scout skipped straight to big-kid food. It was the same with wraps: with each pregnancy, someone would give me a beautiful hand-me-down wrap, and someone else would demonstrate how to use it, and I’d totally love the idea, and then when the baby came, I’d inevitably get terrified the baby would somehow slarm her way out, and I’d just use the Ergo.

But giving up those ideas and ideals is scary. For months or years, I’d hang onto the beautiful wrap, liking to think of myself as that kind of mother: relaxed and a little bohemian, cultivating my heirloom garden or whatever while my baby slumbered securely in an artfully tied wrap. Finally, a friend last year rallied a collection of baby carriers for Syrian refugees, and I didn’t have an excuse anymore. Giving it away, I found, was freeing, like giving myself permission to be the kind of mother I actually am. (A Nappist, if you’re wondering.)

So this time, I was brave. When I found myself sitting on a nice stash of diapers, I located a friend who wanted to give cloth diapering a go. For now, my diapers are living the dream covering young Ace’s cute bum. Maybe someday, I’ll be a cloth diaper mom, with another kid, under other circumstances, and maybe I’ll get my diapers back, or maybe new-to-me diapers will come my way.

For whatever potentially messed-up reason, in this culture, and maybe every culture, possessions signal who we are, and who we’d like to be. Holding on to the ones we’ve outgrown can be a reminder of who we still might be, but they’re also just more detritus to shove around the basement. I’m so cautious and sentimental that it’s hard to make the tiny act of faith that is letting these outgrown possessions go, and trusting that they’ll find a better fit in a home that isn’t mine.

Motherhood is a winnowing and a humbling thing, and when I’m at my best I can recognize that it looks different for different women and different seasons. So here’s to disposable diapers and structured baby carriers, to trying on new habits and identities, and giving oneself grace to change one’s mind.

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