Part I: A Hanukah Wish
“So do you get presents every night?” That, along with “is there a Hanukah Bush?” was the extent of Andy’s friends’ interest in Hanukah, in the entirety of his faith, actually. And though Andy felt confident enough to answer – gifts were usually exchanged during the first two nights and there was no bush, just a menorah – there was plenty about his religion that mystified him. There was the Hebrew language with its harsh, guttural sounds and funky alphabet; the holidays whose names he mixed up and whose meanings were reduced to dietary prescriptions (dairy on Shavuot, hamantashen on Purim, nothing at all on Yom Kippur); the dozens of other things, large and small, which separated him from his friends, who were Episcopalian or Catholic and claimed Sunday as their day of worship and had no need for any tongue but plain old English. Andy was 12 now, his Bar Mitzvah less than a year away, and he could feel those differences creeping up on him, threatening to sever his tenuous grip on “normal.”
Deep down, however, he knew it was not his religion which risked turning him into a pariah, that he would feel the same anxiety if his last name were Smith instead of Greenbaum. It had to do with what he liked, which, he guessed, had to do with who he was. Take his bike, for instance. He had it since he was 7 and though he’d had to have the seat raised a few times, he liked it just fine when he was riding alone. It was familiar, comfortable, and reliable. When he rode with friends, however, it embarrassed him. It was clearly a kid’s bike, a blue single-speed Schwinn which once housed training wheels. His friends were all moving onto the mountain bikes and street cruisers which would carry them into their teens and Andy knew it would only be a matter of time before they grew tired of waiting for him to catch up.
It was the same thing with video games. Andy’s friends favored the Nintendo Wii and Andy thought it looked like fun…until he tried to play it. He was unable to master the Wii Remote’s motion sensitivity and his performance at Wii Sports was embarrassingly awful. In bowling, his balls spun right and struck gutter and in golf, he couldn’t stay out of the sand. “You just need more practice,” his friends told him. They encouraged him to ask his parents for a Wii of his own and Andy agreed, though privately he preferred the older, simpler gaming systems and did not look forward to sharing a Wii with his younger brother, Jake. So to fit in, Andy put down a new bike and a Wii on his Hanukah wish list, confident he could get one but not both, even though he really wanted neither.
What he really wanted was diapers. For the past few years, Andy longed to be put back in diapers, to be routinely checked and changed, to have no more concern for making it to the toilet than he did for having a job. The why of it eluded him. He did not struggle with continence growing up and he was not raised without love. All he knew was that no 12-year-old should want to wear diapers. If his Judaism made him different, that made him a full-blown freak. It shamed him deeply and he carried the weight of that shame alone.
But the shame did not deter him. Furtively, he browsed diaper sites on the computer he and Jake shared. He was desperate to find out more about his peculiar desire, to see if there were others like him. What he discovered blew his mind. There were pictures, stories, entire online communities dedicated to people who liked to wear diapers. It left Andy wondering how many “DLs” (diaper lovers) there were in the world. Hundreds? Thousands?
Visiting those sites had a strange effect on Andy. Initially, it made him feel even more ashamed. He knew some of the sites were meant for adults and he had no business looking at them. His face flushed with shame and some of the content he came across scared and confused him. At the same time, doing something he knew he shouldn’t be doing made him feel good. It was his own quiet way of standing up for himself and what he wanted.
On the teen forums, Andy found acceptance and a wealth of practical advice. He exaggerated slightly, claiming he was 14 instead of 12, but no one suspected otherwise. When he contemplated coming out to his parents about wanting diapers, a menagerie of posters advised against it. Some shared horror tales of awkwardness and familial dissension that lingered for weeks. Similarly, he learned that intentionally having “accidents” was foolhardy and that real diapers would be worth waiting years for.
Andy was always careful. He typed out everything he wanted to post in a Word document beforehand. That way, his progress would not be lost if he had to relinquish the computer to Jake or was called away unexpectedly. He cleared his browsing history regularly and never left browser windows open, not even when he stepped away to pee. It wasn’t foolproof, but Andy figured he could go on for quite awhile without getting caught. Jake was 7 and only cared about games, their mother didn’t know much more than word processing and their father always gave a heads up when he commandeered the computer to perform maintenance or install something.
The computer and the world of virtual diaperdom wasn’t as good as the real thing, but it was close as Andy thought he could get for now. In another few years, when he had a car and some money saved up and a lot more nerve, he would buy his own diapers and hide them and enjoy them when no one was around. In the meantime, however, he began clearing imaginary space in the garage or in front of the TV for the bike or the Wii and practiced his gracious smile for when he would undoubtedly receive them.
Hanukah started on a Friday that year. It would be over days before Christmas began, meaning Andy would not have off from school. Jake insisted this was a rip-off, but Andy knew better. All the important stuff happened at night anyway.
That Wednesday, Andy came home from school to find his father’s car in the driveway. This was not unusual – his father was a dentist and when his patients cancelled or no-showed their appointments, he headed home. Sure enough, he found his father seated at the kitchen table. His mother was there, too, and they both looked as if they’d been waiting for his arrival. They said they wanted to talk.
It could have been anything. It could have been more Bar Mitzvah planning or something about his brother, since they weren’t waiting until Jake got home in order to talk to him. Yet Andy couldn’t shake the feeling that his secret had been discovered. He felt his heart beat fast and hard in his chest and it took every ounce of self-control he could muster to not break down right there.
“What about?” he asked. He dropped his backpack by the door and pulled up a high-backed wooden chair.
“I needed to print up a list of odds and ends and last minute gifts,” his mother explained. “When I opened Word, what do you think I found?”
Andy felt like punching himself. He’d been in a hurry that morning and ended up hitting the off button on the computer instead of shutting it down like he was supposed to. That meant the next person to open Word would see a recovered document, his document. Normally, that next person was Andy himself – the middle school let out earlier than the elementary school and he always beat Jake home – but today it was his mother.
Of all the days to get caught, this was the worst. The post he’d started on that morning was in response to a Christmas wish list thread. Needless to say, he amended it to Hanukah. And needless to say, he put down diapers.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, staring down at the floor. His eyes focused on the gray swirls frozen in the white tile. The floor looked hard enough to crack a skull, but at that moment, he thought it would be softer than either of his parents’ faces.
“How long have you wanted this?” his mother asked. Slowly, Andy lifted his head. He was surprised to discover that his parents weren’t angry. They were concerned and a little bewildered, but not mad.
“A long time,” Andy replied. “I don’t know why. I kinda wish that I didn’t, but I do.”
His mother and father exchanged long glances, their eyes blank slates for Andy to project his anxiety. What if they try to have me sent away?, he thought. What if…
“Your mother and I talked this over,” his father said. “And I also discussed it with a doctor in my building, someone who works with children. We feel…” He paused, looking to his wife for confirmation, and Andy’s mother nodded with her lips pressed tightly together. “…that if this is something you want, something you really want, that we should let you have it.”
Andy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His mouth fell open to issue a response, but it was as if he temporarily forgot how to speak. He managed to blurt out an “I” and let shocked silence fill its wake.
“It’s OK,” his mother told him, smiling now while she patted his back. He looked at her, at both of them, and wanted a “why,” only he didn’t, not if it cost him or complicated this most unexpected of victories. “We still love you.”
Andy relaxed slightly after that. The pressure was gone, but a lot of uncertainty remained. They said they would give him what he wanted, but for how long? Was there a catch? There had to be.
“What, exactly, am I getting?” he asked.
“Diapers for Hanukah,” his mother told him. “And you’ll be wearing them all eight days or until the package runs out. That ought to get this out of your system.”
Andy picked up on her subtle disapproval, but he didn’t care. He felt like he’d struck jackpot.
“Before you get too excited, you’d better be sure this is what you want,” his father cautioned. “It may not be all it’s cracked up to be.”
He knew what they were doing. For his parents, the diapers were a lesson. They probably figured he would get sick of them after a day or two and would want nothing more to do with them once the eight days were up. But Andy knew differently. This was a golden opportunity and he’d be an idiot not to take it.
“Yes, I want it,” he told them, practically giddy with excitement. “I want it a lot.”