I was born in the late 1950s, the third of six siblings. Nowadays, having a half dozen kids would be considered extreme. Back then, it was run-of-the-mill.
Maybe it had something to do with living during the baby boom which, though in its final contractions, was still going strong.
Maybe it had something to do with living in a mostly Catholic town of 5,600, with four churches of different ethnicities each cranking out two Masses a day.
Maybe it had something to do with living a block away from the Irish church, though in fact my family is only one-eighth or one-sixteenth Irish, depending on who you ask. However, apparently, that’s more than enough.
Still, big families were the norm back then. Most of my friends had at least four or five siblings, some as many as six or seven. Growing up, I knew only one only child. I think his parents were considered to be a bit odd by the other moms and dads of my generation.
With so many kids underfoot, child-rearing was a full-time job. My mom had up to three kids in diapers for more than a decade. Cloth diapers. The old-school kind, the ones you had to fold like a demented origami stork, and then somehow spike in place with safety pins without eviscerating the baby.
It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. And, back then, that somebody was always – and usually only – Mom.
Disposable diapers weren’t really an option. They were primitive in those days and tended to leak copiously, at least according to my mother. Of course, with so many mouths to feed, most parents couldn’t afford them anyway.
And since baby wipes didn’t come into vogue until the 1980s, I’m not sure what they used for, uh, wiping material in those days. Though I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.
When my mom wasn’t busy changing diapers, she was busy emptying them. Or putting them in the diaper pail. Or taking them out of the pail and washing them. Or hanging them out to dry. A process she repeated just about every day.
When not dealing with our output systems, she was busy dealing with our input systems, making breakfast, lunch and supper, coaxing us to eat when we wouldn’t, preventing us from eating what we shouldn’t and generally setting herself up for yet another round of diaper duties.
About the only time she wasn’t busy was when we all finally went to sleep. It was then, and only then, that she could kick off her shoes and relax … for about five minutes. Because, after that, she had to get ready for her job as an overnight nurse at the local hospital. After work, she’d come home, sleep for a couple hours and then do it all over again.
So when it came time to spawn the next generation, my wife and I opted to hold the line at just a couple kids. Not surprisingly, we ended up having three, which translated to roughly a seven-year sentence in the diaper mines. Less than six months of which was spent using – ugh – cloth diapers. That was in the 1980s. Disposable diapers still were considered a luxury then, but a necessary luxury as far as I was concerned.
Though, of course, it was my wife who got stuck holding the diaper bag. Sara handled most of the changing and cleaning (baby wipes had finally become a reality by then, thank God) while I, mercifully, got to go to work. After our third was born, she ended up going back to work, too. Overnight, like my mom did. Then, she came home, slept a couple hours and … well, you know the drill.
As a result, when it was my daughter’s turn to pick up the birth baton, she and her husband weren’t thinking about going much beyond their first baby … which turned out to be twin girls.
Since both parents work day jobs, much of the weekday diaper duties for the last couple years have been handled by their daycare provider. At least until a few weeks ago, when their provider broke her hip and was forced into sudden retirement.
Which is why every Monday and Friday, and often times the night before, I am now their daycare provider, with all the rights, duties and privileges associated with that position. Plus, a big bag stuffed with various ointments, creams, lotions, wipes and something called pull-up pants.
That’s because the weekend before I took over daycare duties, my daughter decided it would be a good time to start potty-training.
Pull-up pants work just like disposable diapers, except they cost way more and the girls are only supposed to wear them when they sleep. At all other times, they’re supposed to wear something they proudly call “big girl underpants.”
Big girl underpants are kind of like walking on a high wire without a safety net. They work great as long as you get your big girls to the potty chair in time. Or until one has to go before you finish with the other. Or they forget to hold. Or you forget to check.
Guess that’s why they call it child-rearing.
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.