Monday, July 16, 2012


This morning I went to Park Slope to meet a friend for breakfast. Park Slope, if you don't know, is a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is essentially synonymous with young families. I'm pretty sure Park Slope has the highest per capita stroller rate in the city, perhaps even the world. Even the guy in the subway booth smiled and waved as he buzzed me through the service exit.

So you would think restaurants would be used to serving parents with kids and even, you know, make things convenient for them.

You would be wrong.

It's no secret that changing a child on the go is, shall we say, a challenge. Changing tables are few and far between, and the ones that do exist are often filthy. A cursory Google search turned up no less than 400,000 mommy bloggers complaining about this very issue.

The elusive bathroom changing table...

But in New York, changing your child in a restaurant bathroom is a special kind of hell. 

When I was in business school, I took an excellent class called Turnaround Management, which basically reviewed why businesses fail, how to recognize the signs as a general manager and how to "turn around" businesses that are in decline. The professor had a wealth of real-world experience, and I learned a lot. But one thing she taught us has stuck unhappily with me for the last nine years: In her work with restaurants, she said that you could always tell how clean a kitchen was by how clean the bathroom was. If a restaurant didn't have the time or willingness to clean the bathroom, well, the kitchen was probably not going to fare much better.

It turns out you can't unthink that thought, which is especially creepy in a city with a lot of little divey restaurants and holes in the wall. I can't help but make a mental note of the cleanliness of each bathroom I use. It's a curse, really. It's not like I've ever really done anything with the information. I don't case neighborhoods for restaurants with clean bathrooms. And I've never left a restaurant in the middle of a meal because the bathroom was disgusting. It's just a reflexive tic that serves no purpose other than to make me shudder.

The bathroom at this particular restaurant in Park Slope, aka Mommy Mecca of the Universe, was about two feet wide by two feet long, dimly lit and fairly disgusting. Changing Henry would have entailed sitting on the toilet bowl with my Gap jean skirt and using one arm to wrestle the pack of squirmy, grabby kittens that my son has become, while taking his pants off, removing his diaper, wiping him down and putting a new diaper on with my other arm. 

Yes, I have sat on many, many toilet bowls with my pants on. While no less revolting, it was much easier when he was a little pile of Play-Doh that I could just plop down.

Another "trick" I have up my sleeve is to put the garbage bag I now keep with me at all times on the floor, get out my changing pad, and wrestle the grabby kittens with two hands while balancing in a squat. This option is often easier in the post-Play-Doh era, but the size of this bathroom (and most in New York) would have precluded such a maneuver, as I wouldn't have been able to crouch down without putting my face dangerously close to the toilet seat. Did I mention it was a unisex bathroom?

To the eternal dismay of the Brooklyn Locavore Brigade (I made that up), I've started to look for national chains like Le Pain Quotidien, which usually have changing tables. I assume it's because they have to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, so they at least have a bathroom that a 5 foot 4 inch woman like me can turn around in without cleaning a dirty surface with a piece of clothing. There are no federal laws requiring changing tables in bathrooms (I just investigated on the interwebs), but for large companies, I bet the marginal cost of a changing table is very small after all of the ADA requirements are met.

Anyhow, Park Slope doesn't have a lot of chain restaurants (because of the Brooklyn Locavore Brigade). I arrived a little early to the restaurant and sat down to wait. The guy at the next table (who turned out to be a stay-at-home-dad!) struck up a conversation with me until Henry started crying. His diaper was wet. Just as I stood up, the waitress came over to take my order.

"I'm waiting for a friend, but can I get a lemonade* in the meantime?" As she nodded, I added, "Also, is there a changing table in the bathroom?"

"No," she said, "there isn't."

"Is there a bench or a table back there or something?" I asked, hoping against hope.

"No," she said, trailing off, like no one in the history of the universe had ever asked her such a question, not even in Park Slope. She had a Kristin Wiig quality to her: that kind of simultaneously confused and condescending voice of characters she played in movies like Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (one of my all-time favorites, btw).

"Well," KW continued, "there's like a wooden bench outside under a tree."

"Outside?" I was genuinely perplexed.

The stay-at-home-dad piped in. "Why don't you just put two chairs together right here?" Clearly he had done this sort of thing before.

"Um, no..." KW breathed. "I don't think so. Diapers? No...."

So I took Henry outside and changed him under a tree on the curb, like a puppy dog.

Only later, when I went to the bathroom on my own behalf, did I realize how lucky I had been that a) the tree had a bench, b) it was 80 degrees and sunny, and c) I had someone (thank you, SAHD!) to watch the rest of my stuff while I schlepped Henry outside.

So lucky! Yeah. I think I should start casing neighborhood restaurants. Actually, I have a better idea.... The Moo Cow's NYC Changing Table Resource

Update 7/20/12:  The CitiStroller website (and app for iPhone/iPad only) lets you look up changing tables by zip code. Brilliant! Except, according to them, there is not a single changing table in my entire neighborhood. Fancy that. Maybe you'll have better luck.

*I had to ask for the lemonade three more times before I got it, and it wasn't even good.