Pampers Parenting Institute; Or, This Is Not Your Mother’s Diaper Company

Let me just state for the record that there’s nothing quite like being called out as the train wreck in the crowd. I know! So surprising.

One of the introductory talks was at the Pampers Parenting Institute at P&G headquarters, in the archive room. I wanted to stay there the whole day–the place was full of memorabilia from decades of advertisements and collectibles, from Norman Rockwell’s original painting for the “Look, Mom, no cavities!” campaign to a tiny envelope holding a lock of John Wayne’s hair from back when a division of the company (or one of the principals) used to create wigs for Hollywood stars. They also had a lock of Elizabeth Taylor’s hair, but that stayed in the back. We were fascinated by the descriptions of how they would use tracings of hair patterns that were placed on wooden heads so that most of the wig making could take place before the stars came in for fittings to confirm the hairlines and color. We all gasped when the archivist casually opened JW’s envelope and spilled the hair out for us to see. “Nobody sneeze!” was the first thing I thought.

After a tour of the archives, which ended with a peek at the carve-it-yourself kits they used to sell (two bars of Ivory Soap, with carving knives) to kids along with instructions on how to turn that bar of soap into a Schnauzer. I love it. Try selling an awl and a knife today along with a bar of soap and see how long before you’re vacationing at Gitmo.

When Jane Wildman, Global Vice-President, Pampers, introduced herself, she asked, “Who was it that fell in the rose bush?” I held my hand at half-mast. Thank you. But! It did show that they read our blogs before meeting us! At another talk, the first question was, “Who was the one running through the Chicago Airport to get on a last minute plane?” “That would be me.” Gah. Can someone else have a story? I was the Train Wreck du jour. But then there was a much deserved round of applause for the PR wunderkind who managed to get me on another plane in time to join everyone for the tour. We had a lovely dinner across the river in Kentucky (“We’re goin’ to Kentucky; we’re goin’ to the fair!”), after which I checked into my room and passed out from sheer exhaustion.

It was up again at seven to get ready for the first meeting–although I’d been awake since six (three my time) for some cruel reason after only five hours of sleep. I brewed coffee in the room, showered, dressed, packed, and checked out. And left my coffee in the room. In the lobby, I met with another blogger on the way to get coffee in the lobby, and she asked about the mishaps as I put cream and sugar in my cup. “Oh, yes, we have a running joke about a family curse,” I said, “Someone always has a mishap near a holiday and it’s my son’s and brother’s birthday on Friday.”

“But you’re the only one here.”

Yes. Yes, I am. Thank you, we now have the common denominator, I thought, as I picked up my coffee, popping the lid off on one side and scalding my hand. This was a little too much revelation for one morning.

I’m not even sure how to go about describing what we saw and heard today. I wasn’t really sure what it would be – a product pitch, a focus group setting, mommy blogger brain-picking–but it wasn’t any of those things. (Although we DID get to see someone make a diaper from scratch. People, I will never toss one of those little wonders into the bin quite so casually ever again. Those puppies are engineered.) Kailani at An Island Life wrote a wonderful post (and I’m pleased that she got the same vibe as I did) and posted lots of photos. I brought my camera, but alas, the battery was dead. Of course.

They just wanted to show us who they were. And they were, to a person, extremely passionate about their mission their work, and what they could do to help moms and babies. Help a mom, help a child. Make a mom healthy and make a healthy child. An educated mom gives a child a leg up. Every single one of them believed it; each of them was building the cathedral. I was blown away.

For one thing, you have no idea the range of brands collected under the Proctor & Gamble name. When I saw the scatter gram of brands, I identified at least seventeen that were in my house this minute. Wipes, Swiffers, soap, you name it.

And since I haven’t had occasion to buy diapers in a while, I wasn’t aware of something else Pampers was doing: the One Pack = One Vaccine Program. For each marked package of Pampers diapers people purchase, they will buy one tetanus vaccine for a mother or child at extreme risk of developing tetanus during birth or shortly thereafter. Last year, 140,000 babies and 30,000 mothers died of this highly morbid disease, which can be prevented with a five-cent vaccination.

Five cents. Good God.

They are working in partnership with UNICEF USA, and we had the privilege of meeting with the CEO herself, Caryl Stern-La Rosa. After hearing abut their efforts and what people were so passionately trying to accomplish (“I believe in zero” as in, zero deaths from tetanus, someday, hopefully soon) and were well on the right trajectory.

It’s unacceptable that children die of preventable causes. Join UNICEF’s fight for child survival

It didn’t make me want to run out and buy diapers. It made me want to work there, to be a part of it. And you all know what a cynical little snot I am, so that’s really saying something. Caryl’s words and palpable dedication to her work was a staggering close to the event, and we all drifted out of the building and into the waiting cars on a wave of promises to be in touch with ideas for outreach, cards changing hands and suggestions that it not end there.

Oh, and as I was picking up a copy of Caryl’s new book, Hate Hurts, she glanced at my proffered card and said, “I read your book.” Bug Eyes. “You did? How on earth did you stumble on a copy of my book?” “I’m not sure – but I recognize the tagline on your card: Mommy Confidential: Adventures from the Wonderbelly of Motherhood.” I couldn’t believe it. But she read it! I should have asked if she liked it, but I was too stunned to get past the fact that she sat through all five hundred pages.

Thank you, Jane and all your colleagues, for having us.

Anyway, I was looking forward to getting online at the airport and then SLEEPING the entire way home. We were about five hundred yards away from the hotel when WonderGirl called. She misses me! Already! No. “Mindy, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but your flight’s been canceled.”


“But we got you on another one that leaves in four hours.”

“Fuck me.” Heads turned for a moment in the van. “Thank you so much for getting me on another flight. I can’t believe the hustling you’re doing to make this smooth.”

Know what was REALLY smooth, though? My connecting flight was not in Houston anymore, oh no, it was in CHICAGO, and the connecting gate? Was ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE DAMN AIRPORT again.

At least this time I could walk. And when I got on the plane, I sipped a very nice glass of cabernet while the flight attendant hoped for more paying customers so she could break my twenty. Finally, she tried to give me back the money because she couldn’t get change, and I said, “Oh, hell, just give me a couple more bottles and I’ll take them home.” You would have loved the looks when she handed me three more bottles and whispered, “Now it just looks like you drink too much,” as I tried to stuff them into my bag without them clinking.

0 Responses to Pampers Parenting Institute; Or, This Is Not Your Mother’s Diaper Company

  1. Gail July 30, 2008 at 9:27 am #

    Glad you made it home safe and sound and with wine.  Sounds like it was a wonderful and insightful trip.

  2. Polka Dot Mommy July 30, 2008 at 9:27 am #

    Funny how there is a Seventh Generation Diaper Ad running on your site RIGHT NOW.  Lol.  And I like environmental diapers better than Pampers… That said, I LOVE P&G;‘s Vaccine program. 

    Sounds like a great visit (with the exception of mad dashes, flight changes, dead batteries, forgotten coffee, etc… but then, would that have been YOUR trip if those things hadn’t occurred?)

    What’s wrong with drinking too much?  Heh.


  3. Candy July 30, 2008 at 11:04 am #

    So, are they hiring you?  And if not, why the hell not??

  4. oh amanda July 30, 2008 at 5:51 pm #

    You said it—their passion made me want to work there! I am still mulling over all we saw/did in those few short hours.

    And after a rosebush, a mad dash and a canceled flight, I’m pretty sure you needed the 3 extra bottles!

    So nice to have met you this week!

  5. Amy July 31, 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    oh GOD I needed to read this post after my day…and the last part about the airplane wine made me absolutely die laughing…like really…I kinda peed :)

    You’re amazing…Completely.

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