Always. Be. Prepared.
One Saturday morning before we had kids, my wife and I went for a bike ride on a long, paved trail near our house. An old railroad track that had been paved over, the Silver Comet Trail was flat, smooth, and long: it went from our Atlanta suburb almost to Alabama. Neither of us were “cyclists” (code for asshole on a bike), so this was supposed to be an enjoyable, relaxing bike ride.
Except that we weren’t dressed well for how cold it was; we thought we had dressed appropriately for the spring morning, but the temperature on the trail was about thirty degrees cooler than normal. Factor in the wind chill of biking, and our enjoyable ride became an endurance test on par with the Shackelton expedition, but without the ice, trapped boat, and impromptu soccer matches.
After that, I made sure each of our cars had a box in it labeled “emergency clothing supply.” It had sweaters, hats, and gloves, long sleeve t-shirts and short-sleeved ones too: it was made from a variety of clothes we wouldn’t miss from our normal rotation that would be available if we found ourselves unprepared again. Many times after that on camping trips or beach vacations, we found ourselves “saved” by the emergency clothing supply.
Lest you think that I am a survival genius or a master preparer that would make a Boy Scout troop leader proud, the emergency clothing supply was actually my father-in-law’s idea.
My father-in-law is a master preparer, obsessed with the small details of doing things properly and doing them well. He always has a box of clothes in his vehicles, but his go even farther than mine do, since his also have shoes in them. My father-in-law is obsessed with wearing the proper footwear, even checking my wife and her sister’s feet before they left the house to do anything. I can still get him worked up by telling him how I once saw a lady hiking the slippery rocks of the Yosemite Falls Trail wearing high heeled flip-flops and a mini-skirt.
“My God!” he’ll always exclaim. “What an idiot!”
As a preparer and planner for our family that includes four children, I simply ask myself, “What are all the possibly things that could happen or that we might need on this expedition?” Then I pack those.
That is essentially what you have to ask yourself when you are packing your diaper bag.
Here are the essentials:
A backpack, not a bag: you are a father, so get a backpack since they are easier to carry hands-free with the shoulder straps. Although I’m not into gender stereotypes, even I had a problem carrying around the designer pink and brown diaper bag we used with our oldest before I knew any better.
Diapers: Naturally. But how many? In every day life, for each child in diapers, I carry five diapers. For airplane trips, though, my wife and I carry an entire pack with us. We learned the hard way on our first flight with a baby when we went through five diapers before we even got on the plane.
Wipes: Go for the bigger pack of these. Those “slim” packs are good for 1.25 blowout diapers. Also, the nearer you get to the bottom—which is very quickly—you can’t pull any of them out one handed, an essential skill while holding a kid’s feet in the air with the other.
Diaper cream and accessories: Natch.
Hand sanitizer: Perfect for when you aren’t changing a diaper in a bathroom. A quick swipe of your hands with a wipe and some sanitizer can carry you through until you find running water and soap. Plus it is great for feeding kids snacks at the park without needing to drag them across God’s creation to get to the bathrooms, if there even are any.
Plastic bags/wet bags: Necessary for holding on to dirty cloth diapers. Useful for any other garbage you might have with you, which there always is whenever kids are involved.
Changes of clothes: The direct descendant of the “emergency clothing supply” box. Normally I carry one complete change of clothes for older kids, three for babies, including an extra sweatshirt at all times between October and March. On trips, we carry at least five changes of clothes: on that first flight with our oldest, we went through all three changes before we even got on the plane; a blowout diaper over Utah meant that Grandma and Grandpa met their newest grandchild while she wore nothing but a diaper and a blanket from the airplane.
Snacks: Usually goldfish or cereal in a Tupperware—anything that won’t spoil if I forget it in my bag for a few days, which happens often.
A book: You’ll be surprised how even while watching kids, you’ll find yourself needing something to do while you are waiting or a child is napping in the car or stroller. A paperback of short stories works perfectly weight-wise and with how infrequently you’ll be reading it.
A pen and small notebook: You never know when you’ll need these to write something down, whether a parent’s contact info at the playground or a grocery list.
A small first aid kit: Since you likely aren’t going to be doing emergency stitches on a kid, band-aids are really all you need. Especially during that period around 4 years old where band-aids are like tattoos to hipsters: doesn’t matter what they look like as long as you have a lot of them.
Pain relievers in a childproof container: For the inevitable headache you will get from the crying and the whining.