A few days later, while rocking our baby to sleep, I was flipping through Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who's spent most of his life as an exile from Vietnam. By chance, I ended up in a passage that talked about washing dishes. On the level of physical sensation, says Nhat Hanh, doing the dishes is actually fairly pleasant. The warm water can feel good on your hands. The rhythmic motions of cleaning can be soothing and relaxing. We don't hate dishwashing, he says, because it's inherently unpleasant. We hate it because we're always in a hurry to get to something else. It's our sense of what's important that makes dishwashing an interruption, and therefore a frustration. We rob ourselves of joy by unnecessary rush.
I had always hated doing the dishes, but the conversation with Jen and the reading from Thich Nhat Hanh convinced me to give them another chance. And it worked. I still don't like dry skin, but doing dishes got a lot more fun when I a) reminded myself it can be nice and b) gave myself permission to treat dishes as a worthwhile experience, and not just a chore standing in the way of something else.
Since phase one of the experiment had worked, I decided to launch phase two: I told Nicole that my new hobby was changing stinky diapers.
Unlike dishes, there is nothing to enjoy about changing dirty diapers on a sensory level. But I suspected that my main objection to changing diapers was not the smell, but the interruption. I didn't like to be dragged away from important activities (like keeping my computer company?) to unimportant activities (like taking care of my kids?). In any case, I wondered whether calling diaper-changing my hobby would help change my attitude about what was interrupting what.
That was at least six weeks ago. I am writing this blog post because I just got back from changing a very dirty diaper and I felt wonderful about it.
Why did phase two work? Partly because I am a total ham with a strong sense for the absurd: I think it's hilarious to have diaper-changing as a hobby, and so I now associate changing diapers with feeling funny and clever. Partly because instead of treating diaper changes as a necessary drudgery, my whole family now gets excited: having an ecstatic two-year-old run up to say "Daddy, it's time for your hobby!" when the sixth-month old is stinky is a lot more fun than taking a hit for the team in the old "Whose turn is it?" game. And partly the "hobby" thing has worked because it's helped me to appreciate that even though poo will never be pleasant, seeing my son smile with relief as a dirty diaper comes off is quite nice.
|A reasonably happy, reasonably clean baby.|
I don't change all the stinky diapers. Nicole will still sometimes say, "I don't want to cut into your hobby time, but I can change this if you're busy" and sometimes I will say, "Thank you--that would be lovely." Other times, though, I say: "Are you kidding? I live for this!" And I fulfill an important part of the measure of my creation.