I watch the younger couples in our ward (which, these days, is most of them) lugging around diaper bags and strollers, with babes in arms crying or sleeping, toddlers trotting along or getting dragged, and I'm envious.

Child-rearing is the closest we can come to understanding God. Giving all we can when the little ones are hopelessly dependent on us. Standing back and letting them make their own mistakes when they hunger for independence long before they really understand the consequences of their own choices.

It's a glorious ride, even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard.

I hear other grandparents joking about how the best thing about grandkids is that you can give them back.

I don't get the joke. I think the worst thing about grandkids is that I have to give them back.

Though at the moment, the worst thing about grandkids is that all of mine live in the state of Washington, the opposite coast from me.

So I adopt children in the ward. Not officially, of course. They all have perfectly good parents. I just get hungry to hold a baby in that rocking-back-and-forth posture that puts them to sleep, or to tuck a squalling youngster into that football-carry position that often calms them down. I like to hold them by their wrists as they grip my fingers and push up from my lap, trying to stand.

I've found that as long as I'm holding onto a child's tiny hands, I can walk for half an hour or more all around the church as the child toddles along.

Best is when you earn their smiles. Second best, when you earn their parents' smiles because you've given them a bit of a break to get something else done — like deal with the other child whose need is even greater.

When I was growing up, our society didn't give men as much of a chance to get involved with small children. Even now, there are still plenty of men at church who sit there like Buddha while their wives deal with a half-dozen squirming, squeaking children.

Are there still men who, when the weight, solidity, moistness or odor of a diaper indicates that it's time for a change, pass the kid along to Mom to change?

What a mistake.

What such men don't realize is: Diapers aren't icky. No, let me rephrase that: The diaper of your own child is never icky, as long as you accept the responsibility.

There are things we do for our own kids that would make us gag if we had to do them for somebody else's. But when it's your kid, and you accept the responsibility, then the globby item half-blocking the airflow through a nostril is something you have to take care of. If you have a tissue, great. If you don't, your finger will do just fine. Because if you don't deal with it, who will?

How sad for the men who answer that question, "My wife."

Intimate personal service is how humans bond with other people. If you find your own child's bodily excretions disgusting, it means you haven't been helping with the kids enough. Because once you've taken full responsibility and bonded with that child, even the gloppiest mess is simply a problem to be dealt with — and then, later, a funny story to tell to other parents.

My boy-children loved being tossed in the air — not far, but enough that they felt that moment of weightlessness at the top of the toss. I learned, however, that this should not take place immediately after the baby has nursed. The excitement reverses the normal alimentary flow. Did I like the taste of half-digested human milk? Not much, I can assure you. But it came from my child, so it's now just a funny story.

You become a connoisseur of diaper loads. You can discern amazing things about your child's health and diet. You also get their looks of gratitude when you clean that nasty uric acid from the sores on their bottoms and replace it with whatever balm you're using.

It feels good to know that there are things that make your child cry that you can actually do something about. It feels even better when your children are just as happy to see you as to see their mother.

You and your wife have the ritual of diaper-changing in common — you're truly partners in slime. Having seen the same things, you know when something's wrong.

There's nothing in a diaper that a grown man should be afraid of.

I'm not volunteering to change every baby in the ward, you understand. I'm just saying that I envy those of you who still have that responsibility — and privilege.


Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. Leave feedback for Card online at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.