A birthday celebration with friends quickly turned into a mom’s worst nightmare.
“I scouted the bathroom,” Melissa Lira Oehl said, “and as I suspected, there weren’t any changing tables, so then I had to take my son and change him in the back of our car.”
Lira Oehl has lived in the area for about 15 years. Last month, she was having lunch with friends and her two kids, Freya, 3, and Drayke, 1, at 1000 Degrees Pizza in Butler Plaza. In the midst of dining, Drayke’s diaper needed to be changed, but no baby-changing tables were available in the restroom.
The 33-year-old later took to Facebook to express her frustration.
“Is any other parent frustrated with the lack of changing tables at the fast casual restaurants in Butler Plaza,” Lira Oehl wrote in a post on March 17 in the Gainesville Word of Mouth Facebook group, “I had to change both of them in the car.”
Her post earned over 50 likes and 252 comments where local residents battled for and against the availability of baby-changing tables in businesses.
Shocked by the negative comments, Lira Oehl recalled one woman’s in particular that read, “public restrooms were already disgusting and allowing people to change their kids in a public restroom makes it that much more disgusting.”
A common argument among naysayers is that changing tables didn’t exist before and parents dealt with their absence just fine.
Lira Oehl’s response: “Yes we deal with it, but what’s wrong with making our lives just a little bit easier?”
Two state legislators want to do so.
Florida state Sen. Lauren Book in February filed a bill that will require the Florida Building Commission to incorporate baby-changing tables into the Florida Building Code requirements. Senate Bill 1082 calls for the installation of a table or other device “in a separate, designated location for the purpose of changing an infant’s or child’s diaper or clothing.”
Newly constructed theaters, sports stadiums, public libraries, amusement parks, shopping centers or malls larger than 25,000 square feet and restaurants with the seating capacity of at least 50 people are buildings expected to have these changing stations.
Buildings with public restrooms that undergo substantial renovation on or after Oct. 1 will also be subject to this requirement.
The Florida Senate has yet to hear the bill, and its House companion from state Rep. Tracie Davis hasn’t moved either. The 2019 session concludes on May 3.
“My husband has the hardest time because most men’s restrooms period don’t have changing tables, and he’s had to change our kids on the floor,” Lira Oehl said.
The proposed bill requires buildings have at least one baby-changing table in women’s restrooms and at least one in men’s restrooms, or a changing table accessible to both women and men.
“I wish it didn’t have to be a law,” Lira Oehl said after hearing about the bill, “I wish that establishments, especially department stores and restaurants would think ahead that a family might come in here and need to change their kid.”
She got tired of complaining to her friends who don’t have kids. This sparked her initial Facebook rant. She contacted 1000 Degrees Pizza’s management, which said an order for changing tables had been placed, but they “are on backorder with the manufacturer.” A specific table must be used to adhere to brand standards and will be installed upon its arrival.
She also complained about other establishments such as BurgerFi and Starbucks in Butler Plaza, a shopping center along Archer Road. She views Gainesville as a hub for families living in surrounding cities and towns. Gainesville businesses, she said, should be more accommodating as a result.
Mary Reichardt, a Butler Enterprises spokeswoman, personally reached out to businesses in Butler Plaza to discuss plans for change after reading Lira Oehl’s post.
The mom of three agrees that it’s “too hard” having to change a child in public, and thinks “it’s a great idea” to have the necessary resources in place to accommodate parents.
Mother Danielle Rees has a family of 12 and hardly ever spends less than $100 when dining out.
“Wouldn’t it be awesome,” she said, “if we could all use the restroom to enjoy the establishment we’re spending our hard earned money at?”
The lack of changing tables in public restrooms caught viral attention in September.
An Instagram photo of father Donte Palmer changing his 1-year-old son Liam across his lap in a public restroom circulated once he posted it.
Palmer, 32, lives in St. Augustine and sat down to eat at a restaurant with his wife and three sons, when Liam began to cry. He was in need of a diaper change.
“I already knew that [the restaurant] wasn’t going to have a changing table. I just had that feeling,” Palmer said. He asked his oldest son Isaiah, 12, to assist him.
He was used to the routine.
“I got into my perfect man squat, threw Liam over my lap and changed him,” Palmer said.
Isaiah Palmer captured the moment on his phone and later shared it with his parents at the table.
Two weeks later, Palmer thought about the photo’s powerful message while driving Liam to daycare. He posted the picture on Instagram and it went viral the next morning.
View this post on Instagram
This is a serious post!!! What’s the deal with not having changing tables in men’s bathroom as if we don’t exist!! #FLM #fatherslivesmatter clearly we do this often because look how comfortable my son is. It’s routine to him!!!! Let’s fix this problem! I Kaepernick drop a knee to this issue! @theshaderoom let’s show the innovation of fathers! #squatforchange
Palmer’s wife woke him up around 7 a.m. and told him to check his phone immediately.
“What are you talking about?”
“The picture,” she said.
“I picked my phone up and literally had over 1,000 notifications.”
The Shade Room, a celebrity and entertainment blog, reposted Palmer’s picture and it gained the attention of rapper T.I., singer Tyrese, TV personality Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and many more.
Since then Palmer has created the #squatforchange campaign to advocate for changing tables and make a difference for all parents. He has shared his efforts with global media outlets such as Yahoo, CNN and BBC World News. The campaign has grown to include branches in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with plans to push for funding and even the establishment of a nonprofit organization.
As a father, Palmer thinks it sends the wrong message when changing tables aren’t available in men’s restrooms.
“We need changes. We aren’t our grandparents; we aren’t even our parents. Our generation is so much different now,” he said.
He was at his night job looking at News4Jax news developments on his phone when he saw that Florida Senator Lauren Book proposed the Senate Bill 1082.
“Parents are reaching out to me saying that they admire my campaign and support me, and it means a lot to me,” he said, “It shows that the human race can come together for a meaningful cause.”