Recently I’ve been going through saved letters for the purpose of disposing of them. A few letters I wrote years ago have been returned to me by friends, and as I’ve reread them, they’ve taken me right back to the year they were written. Some have made my hair stand on end—either for the opinions I held, or the life I was living many years ago.
A milestone has occurred! P. is toilet trained during the day. Except for the one night diaper, I’m out of diapers! Whee! Seven years [of] continual [diapers], and I’m no longer a slave to pins and rubber pants.
If you were to ask me how long my children were continually in diapers, I could figure it out—without the letter. But it shocked me when I read it. If we discussed those days, I'd probably remind you that my children were raised before disposable diapers were invented. The introduction of the first mass-produced throw-away diapers, Pampers, was almost simultaneous with P’s entry into the world of underpants. Until the early ‘70s, hospitals sent home a small supply of newborn-sized paper-diapers with their new moms, in case the stork had caught them unprepared. But once the supply of disposables was gone, the wash machine became eligible for an Oscar in its role as the most important appliance in the house.
Cloth diapers were indeed a staple at our house—in our family, we actually wore them out! (If they weren’t worn out, they made GREAT dust cloths.) The phrase in the letter, “slave to pins and rubber pants,” startled me in the letter. I’d all but forgotten the hazard of pins. While I don’t remember ever jabbing my babies, I do remember jabbing myself a number of times as I shielded their tender flesh with my fingers.
And the rubber pants! They came in two kinds: leaky and not-very-leaky. The best ones were rubber-lined fabric—soft and machine-washable. Eventually the rubber flaked off, which rendered them ineffective, but while they lasted, they kept clothing relatively dry. The worst "rubber" pants started out as supple plastic, but became brittle after a few washings—poking the child in uncomfortable places and, of course, leaking. Personally, I was a devotee of J.C. Penney’s product. Not only did I purchase dozens of pairs over that seven year period, but touted their superiority to anyone who was interested.
If this were July 1970, I’d have to stop writing now to put a load of wash in—and since it’s sunny and warm today, I’d be hanging a dozen diapers outside to dry. But it’s July 2011, and I’m going to have a second cup of coffee and read the newspaper on the deck. I feel no nostalgia for that part of my past.