I’ve never been ashamed of my age. Most days I’m in awe and a little panicky at how fast the years keep clipping along. But this is my life, and it’s been pretty great so far. No major illness, my family is healthy. Thanks God. I’ve earned every one of my worry lines (ok, more like my fair share of wrinkles). It wasn’t easy learning how to cook when I couldn’t boil water, trying to raise kids when I was so clueless on mothering, and moving around a lot during nearly 46 years of marriage. But boy did I feel old, out of touch, even ancient, when I started thinking about simple pieces of cloth today.
|Shannon w/ grandpa Rich. Don’t think he was changing her diaper. June, 1971…|
So I’ve been reminiscing about diapers. Weird. No, not the ones for me. Yet. The real vintage ones made of cloth, years ago, when I was pregnant with my firstborn, Shannon in 1970. Although we were still living in the age of stone, Pampers had been invented. But who could afford such luxuries? Certainly not this young couple, who were barely making ends pass through the same time zone, let alone meet. We were broke, busted, agents can’t be trusted. Yikes, these old songs are messing with my head. We were not only totally inexperienced in the marriage department, but thoroughly hapless in our upcoming exploration in the joys of parenting. Back then, Pampers came in packs of 30 and cost about $1.25 a box. About once a month they went on sale for a buck a box at Scott Drug in Sioux City. If there was ever a spare buck floating around (usually not) our tight budget, we would buy one box.
Remember gas was about a quarter a gallon, a carton (that’s 10 packs) of cigarettes would set you back 3 bucks, and change. I think John was taking home about $125.00 a week. He loved his job at KTIV, but we were starving to death. No money in small television station affiliates. You really want to know how backward KTIV was in the early 70’s? The station’s owner refused to run any Preparation H commercials. I kid you not. Whenever a Preparation H commercial was aired on the NBC network, John would have to over-ride it with a public service announcement on KTIV’s air waves in Sioux City.
|Sorry, couldn’t help myself…|
The only time I could justify using my precious Pampers stash was when we were going out of town. Or if there was a very bad case of diarrhea zipping through our house. And Pampers had no sticky tabs when they were first introduced. You had to use diaper pins. Remember them? Cute, gigantic pins, usually with a plastic animal stuck on the end. It was really hard to get the safety pin through 2 layers of disposable diapers. I was almost guilt ridden, but giddy when I got to open a box. Such an easy, new fangled, modern convenience.
|Had to have cute pins for our cloth diapers. 1971..|
So when this naive 19 year old girl was expecting her first baby, it was 4 dozen cloth diapers that my Mom brought over one day. Almost blindingly white, large soft rectangles. They looked pretty uncomplicated. Ha! Harsh reality check baby. We had no washer or dryer, so I would be hauling them back and forth to the laundromat. I also had no clue how long 4 dozen diapers would last a newborn. I got more instructions on how to take care of diapers than I did on how to take care of the kid. Once those stark white diapers were soiled in any way, there were several procedural steps that needed to be taken. Post haste. My Mom was the cleanest woman on the planet and would not tolerate stained diapers that were not lily white. EVER.
|Similar folds this mom used 4 plus decades ago…|
We were living in Hinton, which is about 45 miles from Rock Valley. Once Shannon was born (Yay, Mom finally had her first and only granddaughter) she visited quite often. Making sure the diapers had gone through all the necessary steps to maintain their stain-free dazzling white status. Not as easy as one would imagine. You could just bleach the living snot out of them to keep them white. Clorox, however was quite hard on little baby bottoms. And if you used too much bleach, it yellowed fabrics. That I would not be able to live down or go through the embarrassment of cloth diapers that had yellowed. For shame. My biggest goal was nurturing our exquisite daughter, Shannon Marie, but not far behind was my high maintenance diaper duties.
|Newborn Shannon Marie. December, 1970…|
Actually Mom had some really good methods for keeping diapers clean, white and smelling out of this world. Here’s Florence’s take on everything you wanted to know about cloth diapers, but were afraid to ask:
1. Every diaper (and I mean every one, no matter how soiled) got rinsed in the toilet. Every one. Every single time.
|The joy of rinsing out diapers in the toilet. You can just see the diaper pail…|
2. They were then placed in the diaper pail. My diaper pail was half filled with warm water, just a titch of Clorox (like a thimble full-see above for delicate baby butts) and Dreft. Don’t know what Mom had against Ivory Flakes, but she preferred Dreft. So I used Dreft.
3. Mom’s secret weapon for sparkly clean, awesome smelling, but still somewhat soiled diapers wasn’t kept in our house. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you got to do is call. Sorry, I got caught up in a James Taylor moment. But it’s true, no matter what kind of weather we were having, these now semi-clean diapers needed to be hung up outdoors. So, after swishing them around in the toilet, (gross, but I never really thought so back then) soaking them for at least a day in Drefty solution in the diaper pail. Next I’d wring them out by hand. Haul the heavy buggers outside and clip 2 or 3 diapers together with a clothes pin on the clothesline. Leave them outside for a couple days. I couldn’t leave mine out too long, cause I only had 4 dozen. If there was a day when I wasn’t up on my game and discovered a diaper with a permanent stain that had now been set by the laundromat’s hot as Hades dryer, I would be held accountable. It was just easier to bury the thing out in the yard before Mom came back for another visit.
During bleak, harsh Iowa winters, the diapers outside would be froze solid, sometimes covered with snow and ice. Yet, most of my diapers remained pristine white, and honestly smelled like they had been laundered in some kind of expensive, exotic, phenomenal soap. They actually smelled better when I brought them in the house off the clothesline, but were technically still soiled, than after I brought them home from the laundromat. Clotheslines don’t seem very popular anymore, but the smell laundry had after hanging outdoors was really hard to beat. Nothing better than clean-dried-outdoors-in-the-wind-fresh-sheets-on-a-bed.
|My Dad was called to clear a path to the clothesline…|
Then there were the rubber pants issues to deal with. Horrible little things you pulled over a diaper. So the first time the baby piddles, you didn’t get soaked too. (My newborns tinkled about every 3 minutes). Rubber pants 40 years ago used to do one of two things. Got as hard as styrene and would crack all over, or melt in the dryer if you forgot to separate them from the clean, wet diapers. Rubber pants needed to air dry. So much to remember for this new mom. The pressure was enormous. But nothing in comparison to the qualifications required in my next big hurdle of motherhood. Stay strong, new mommy Neese.
|Scuffed shoes, Daddy’s glove, and a humongous rubber pants, 1971…|
There is a real art form to folding diapers. Complicated, intricate maneuvers, not for the faint of heart. Only the most accomplished moms pulled this off with real finesse. Quarter folds, triangular, halves, twisting, doubling up fabric for certain “problem areas.” The easiest way to become a professional FYI-er (fit your infant) were exclusive classes held in secret locations throughout the city. New moms were given codes before they left the hospital noting where their first class would be held. As a gesture of good will, the hospital gave new moms their first diaper folding lesson free. It was a universal newborn diaper fold, pretty much fitting any little squirt under 9 pounds. If your kid came out weighing 10 pounds (ouch) you were on your own until you figured out the code, and were up for classes after being discharged from the hospital. Here’s a little known factoid. Pregnant women from China were sent to the U.S. under the loose guise of wanting to give birth here. As soon as the “newborn fold” diaper was no longer keeping baby halfway dry (we’ve got a leak down her left leg) these women used our FYI codes to learn the next needed diaper folding technique. Then they rushed back to their homeland. They, in turn taught others and started using different mediums and textiles. Then slyly changed the name to stay away from lawsuits and copyright infringement. This is where the word “origami” was invented. Yup, snatched from the clutches of our own All-American diaper changing moms.
|Ha! Origami my foot. Stolen from American moms diaper folding techniques…|
Soon I became proficient in keeping diapers soft, white and speed folding. (yes, there were some stiff competitions held in each diaper size division, nation wide). You’d tuck the clean diapers in your own little antiquated diaper holder that hung over the door knob. All of a sudden I’d realize Shannon’s little tush had grown just enough that this diaper fold was no longer doing the job. Well drats. She was spouting more leaks than an outside sprinkler. Time to go back for another code, more classes and new folding techniques. Sigh.
|Shannon and pregnant me, 1974. Josh was on the way…|
Shannon was about 2-1/2 when she brought up the subject one day of doing away with her diapers. What? Mommy’s just getting the hang of this. She submitted the proper paper work in accordance with Iowa’s state laws and was approved. Wasn’t long before diapers in the Van Berkum house were but a fuzzy white memory. It kinda reminded me of labor pains. Excruciating and miserable, but once she was born, the unpleasant memories faded away. Soon the cleaning steps, diaper pail, exact Dreft measurements, frost bitten fingers, and wading outdoor to clotheslines through 3 feet of snow were forgotten. Until I found out about a year later, I was preggers again. Got out the diapers, took a refresher course from Mom on the washing “steps.” An easy pregnancy. Major heartburn, and strange cravings (sauerkraut and lemon meringue pie), but labor was cut in half compared to Shannon’s. Plus the baby, rather than being 10 days late was born on my due date. “Denise you have a beautiful baby boy,” my doctor said quietly. “What? Wait a minute,” I shrieked. “What do you mean, it’s a boy? I can’t have a baby boy. I don’t know how to fold boy diapers.”…
|Joshua, 1975. I did learn how to fold boy diapers…|