Nearly every week for several years, Michelle and I have made a point of chatting on the phone to discuss the latest events or catch up on work, family, friends and ourselves.
For more than four hours, we shared our horror as we watched the savagery of the insurrection unfold in real time on Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington, DC.
When the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height and vaccines were limited, we confessed our fear and anxiety over contracting this virus whenever someone at work or in our close family circles tested positive.
And then there were the numerous stories we shared about co-workers, family and friends from crazy work environments to holiday gatherings to vacations with the girls.
With each confidence, big or small, our friendship slowly became a safe, loving space where we could meet as ourselves. In that space, Michelle brought her pain and heartbreak when she disclosed her miscarriages and her sadness that she might never be a mother.
And it was also in that space that she surprised me with the joyful news of her pregnancy! Michelle is going to be a mother!
Since the reveal of her pregnancy, we have chatted about what to buy for baby. Clothes, blankets, toys, diapers, bottles, bowls, wipes, the list goes on and on. So many brands to compare. So many products to consider.
As we discussed plans to go shopping for baby and build Michelle’s registry, I could not help but to reflect on the three items most invaluable to me as a new mother. These humble items allowed me to create a safe, loving space for my precious Joseph when he was an innocent, curious baby.
Nesting with Babies R Us
Not unlike most mothers in the history of humanity, I was nesting months before Joseph arrived to change my life forever and for the better.
Being a single mother-to-be, I had to be resourceful and prudent so I could stretch my income to its best advantage. Every week, I scanned the coupons that arrived in the Sunday edition of the local newspaper. Daily, I opened envelopes in search of deals from baby companies ranging from trusted brands to huge unknowns that were delivered through snail mail. In the early 2000s, online shopping was not as popular as it is as of the posting of this column.
At the time, Babies R Us was the place for a parent to find everything a child from infant to kindergartner could want or need. This brick-and-mortar megastore was a godsend, especially because I hate shopping and the thought of traveling from store to store was irksome.
Babies R Us introduced me to items I knew I needed and items I didn’t even know existed. I spent hours with my mother wandering the aisles, exploring the various baby products and being utterly amazed at the selection.
Diaper changing pad made life portable
Near the packages of diapers and displays of cribs were piles of diaper changing pads. They were rather nondescript, mainly white and covered in plastic. They were about 2 feet or so in length — longer than an average baby — and had a nylon strap that would secure the baby on the pad while their diaper was being changed.
The pads were photographed being used on changing tables in nurseries with smiling, happy mothers tending to agreeable, chubby babies. (Apparently, there was no stench of feces or urine trapped in diapers in that ad.)
This marketing campaign was not what sold me on the pad, however. I had no plans to add a changing table to my son’s nursery. My budget was tight, and I considered this table a frivolous and unnecessary expense.
I purchased it because I could change Joseph’s diaper in any room. The thought of having to bring him to a changing table from anywhere in the house just to change his dirty diaper seemed ridiculous. The diaper changing pad with its assortment of terry cloth covers gave me the freedom to change him wherever he was whenever he needed.
After I arrived home with my newborn in Maryland, I discovered a new use for the pad. To help my wound from my cesarean section heal and to prevent the suture from rupturing, my doctor ordered me to avoid strenuous movement and heavy lifting for six to eight weeks. Lifting Joseph was manageable but painful.
The diaper changing pad helped provide my body with some relief from the pain during those early weeks after Joseph’s birth. At night, I secured Joseph on the pad and placed it next to me on my rather large bed. When he fussed, I was able to gently turn and lift myself up and change his diaper while he lay securely on the pad with its high contoured sides.
That run-of-the-mill pad became vital to ensuring Joseph and I had a safe, loving space where we could both be cared for.
Wipe warmer added comfort
I was exhausted the first few weeks after Joseph was born. Night after night, I would wake up multiple times to the cries of my infant son, who had been born three weeks premature. He was so very little, weighing nearly 6 pounds when he was born. He could just about fit into the preemie diapers I purchased the day we left the hospital to come to his new home.
When he cried at night, it was often because he wanted his diaper changed. I would gently lift his skinny little legs and clean his bottom with a diaper wipe. Then his cries would get louder as I tried to quickly put on his diaper, put his legs in his sleeper gown and rock him in my arms to soothe him and eventually lull him back to sleep.
After a couple days, I realized I had to find a way to make these late-night diaper changes easier for Joseph and maybe me as well.
My mother and I decided to search the aisles of Babies R Us. Surely, the remedy for these miserable nighttime diaper changes could be discovered on one of its many shelves.
And then we stumbled upon a diaper wipe warmer, a luxury perhaps to some but a necessity for me. This white, boxy warmer with a lid held my hopes for a happy Joseph and a relieved me. Essentially, the warmer would heat a pad soaked with water on the bottom. The heat and moisture would then warm the wipes. The process was simple, but would it actually work?
The first test of the wipe warmer was that night. Per my new normal, Joseph woke me with his cries. A diaper change was definitely in order as my hand felt the weight of his urine-soaked diaper. I laid him on the pad and began my diaper changing routine. This time, I pulled a warm wipe from the container and wiped his bottom. Joseph stopped crying. I wiped him again with a fresh wipe, and a small smile appeared on his face.
That wipe warmer turned out to be the perfect solution. It provided the comfort Joseph needed to feel safe, loved and acknowledged. And it helped us both get back to sleep quicker.
Dishpan put him in the center of the action
For about 8 years, Joseph and I lived with my parents until he and I moved to our house in Pennsylvania. During that time, everyone entered and left my parent’s house through the door in the kitchen, making that room with its cooking smells, warm hugs and engaging conversations the focal point of the home.
As such, Joseph and I spent a great deal of time with my mother in the kitchen. Its white tiled floors, family photographs hanging on white walls, curtains with embroidered floral patterns, white cabinets and dusty blue Formica countertops helped to make the room inviting. The matching furniture — a dark brown table, chairs and hutch — were passed down to my mother from her mother after she passed away. When I think about that set of furniture, I remember the memories of me as a teenager with my Italian grandmother talking and laughing over coffee and cookies.
Eventually, Joseph was strong enough to confidently and safely sit up alone. He was also getting bigger and heavier. Holding him for long periods of time became a challenge for me — and he wanted to be with me always when we were together. He was my little duck.
Our kitchen was like many kitchens, a place that arouses all the senses with its activity from cooking to conversation. To help my mother, I would clean the dishes, pots and pans; assist with meal prep and make coffee, all of which required Joseph to maintain a safe distance.
But Joseph wanted to be in the center of all the action. He wanted to be with my mother and me as we laughed, argued and conversed. He wanted to taste with his little tongue something delicious we were preparing. He wanted to enjoy the smell of tomato sauce cooking for its fourth hour on the stove. He wanted to wrap his little fingers around biscuits we would give him.
Then I had an idea. I remember as a baby my mother put me in a dishpan on the kitchen table where I could watch her — and she could watch me. I searched around and discovered a large blue dishpan in my parent’s home, washed it, situated a blanket in it to provide Joseph comfort and support, and placed him gently inside it with a plush toy.
A smile grew on his face as he sat in the dishpan on the kitchen table — within eyeshot of my mother and me. He showed no interest in leaving the cozy container as he observed the sometimes frenetic pace of the kitchen. My mother and I often turned to him as we included him in some way in whatever task we were engaged.
The large, blue basin where dishes would have been washed offered the perfect place for Joseph to be close to his mother, learn he was safe with his family and experience the world around him.
These three items helped me create a safe, loving space for my son. The creation of this space was merely a demonstration of my support for him that continues onto this day as my son begins his second semester as an undergrad in college.
As such, through my friendship and phone calls with Michelle, I can offer her that safety and love she deserves and support her as she moves forward in her pregnancy and joins the ranks of motherhood.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about being a single parent; some are about my personal experiences and those of other single mothers and single fathers, and others focus on news featuring single parents and the political, social and economic issues impacting them in the United States and globally.