THE BACK PAGES

Hacking into the diaper network

A techie-turned-new-mom’s collaborative answer to the mysteries of parenting

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE May 28 2007
THE BACK PAGES

Hacking into the diaper network

A techie-turned-new-mom’s collaborative answer to the mysteries of parenting

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE May 28 2007

Hacking into the diaper network

THE BACK PAGES

help

A techie-turned-new-mom’s collaborative answer to the mysteries of parenting

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE

In the lingo of computer geeks, a “hack” is an unconventional solution to a technology problem, or as Asha Dornfest puts it, “a duct-tape solution.” Dornfest, 38, used to write technical manuals such as Microsoft FrontPage For Dummies, until she had two kids and found the transition to motherhood a tough one, filled with problems that could use a good hack.

“All the best advice I’ve ever got was from experienced parents. I thought it would be fun to start collecting this information,” she says. A little over a year ago from her home in Portland, Ore., she launched a website, Pareuthacks.com, that collects quick-and-dirty advice from parents. Like what to do about a condition delicately described as “Sticky baby poo adhesion.” Solution: wipe with baby lotion, and/or employ a pre-emptive layer of Vaseline. “Ain’t nothing sticking to that,” advises a mom named Elana.

Dornfest has since collected hacks on topics that include sleeping, bathing, saving money, and what she calls “fashion/general cuteness.” In one particularly active category entitled “poop, pee, potty, etc.,” contributors take on subjects like “diaper pail management” and how to handle a potty-trained toddler in a filthy public restroom. “When he has to go, we do the flying pee manoeuvre which is basically what you’d think of if Superman were to pee while flying,” offers Chris W.

Diapering seems to inspire particular creativity. To deal with painful diaper rash, advises one mom named Sarah, put the diapers in the freezer. “When I took them out, he let me put them on! ‘Ohhhhhhh cooool,’ he said, instead of‘it hurts,’ ” she wrote.

One contributor wrote a researched treatise on how to work sales so as to never, ever

pay full price for diapers. Another recommended using diaper fronts as a surface for writing notes to their child’s daycare worker. (That mom also reported using diaper fronts to write secret love notes to her husband. They are apparently still together. )

Dornfest’s advice-givers offer no particular credentials or expertise, other than they’ve been there. Many posts begin with the disclaimer, “I thought everyone did it this way...,” such as the Dad who wrote: “When your toddler/infant is thrashing around and you want to put pants on ’em, thread your hands through the legs of the pants and then approach your kid wearing the pants on your wrists like mufflers. Then grab a leg (kid leg, not pant leg) with each hand.” There’s no licence to parent, after all. Dornfest says she rarely filters the hacks she gets sent, though she does “draw the line” at advice that advocates spanking. “One of the central tenets of Parenthacks is there is more than one way to do something right. What works for me may not work for you,” she says.

Some hacks provide links to specialized sites such as the one focused on the art of breastfeeding twins and triplets. In an era of the mass-produced encyclopedia, Wikipedia, and the ever-expanding landscape of mommyand daddy-blogs, the emergence of such knowledge hubs seems inevitable. A popular

site called Lifehacker.com already collects advice for everything from software downloads to battling procrastination. But, as the book-publishing industry figured out long ago, parenting is a fertile ground for folk wisdom, given the universality of its challenges and the fact that new parents live in sheer terror of screwing up. “Parenting is all about the little trick when you’re in some crazy situation with your kids,” says Dornfest, whose children are now aged 7 and 4.

One of her favourite hacks so far has involved the building of a “toy library” to which toys are consigned for a period of months before being rotated out. Another was a philosophical discussion of involving children in solving problems. And yes, duct tape does appear in about a dozen hacks. It can be used to make slip-free toddler socks, to attach tennis balls to coffee table corners for baby-proofing, and to keep curious tots from “de-diapering” and exploring their production at night. (Alternatively, you can put the zip-up pyjamas on backwards.)

Dornfest has roughly 1,000 hacks so far and the number is growing too fast for her to keep up, given that she works while her kids are in bed. She sells ads on the site and has started to draw a modest income, but says she’s not looking for a full-time job. “I’m just trying to keep up with all the great hacks I’m getting. I’m turning into a bottleneck for my own site,” she admits. Maybe someone can send her a hack for that. M