Earth Day & Diaper Daze

My mom and sister swore by cloth diapers. I call that true grit.
My mom and sister swore by cloth diapers. True grit.

No new mom leads a pampered life. However, a new day dawned with disposable diapers. They dispatched the cotton-diaper E-yew toilet-dunking moment to limbo, despite a few environmental holdouts.

Although Procter & Gamble debuted disposable diapers in 1961—just in time for my sister Peggy’s arrival—my mother spurned this new-fangled notion. In the brave new world of synthetics and plastics, Mom worshiped cotton. She was into “all natural.” Formula was verboten. Miss Bunny breastfed all her babies. After all, Dr. Leon made a reasonable argument for mother’s milk: 1) it’s healthier for baby; 2) reinforces bonding; 3) fits a fledgling family budget; and 4) “comes in cute containers.”

My oldest sister, a flower child of Earth Day 1970, stayed true to the cause. She used cotton diapers, much to my chagrin when I arrived for my nanny stint in the long, hot Mississippi summer of 1980.  Pardon my French, but I didn’t know Jacques-sh- –  about babies, much less their digestive tracts. Martha’s Little Missy was the first next-generation offspring.

My grandmother obsessed about schedules in the presence of newborns. I appreciated her fanaticism only when I discovered cable TV at my sister’s house. After a four-year boob-tube drought in college, my TV fix was due. My obsession was building that kid’s schedule around cable.

Sunrise:  black-and-white heaven—unending re-runs of “Andy Griffith” and “I Love Lucy”

Ten o’clock: the western roundup of John Wayne blockbusters

Noon: the news junkie’s whirl-around-the world with CNN from noon until 2:00

(Back in the day, CNN reporters reported a few facts, talked in complete sentences, voiced nary a Valley Gal upend lilt, and eschewed the dreaded “between you and I” preposition malfunction. The Big Gray Hair was Daniel Schorr, not  Anderson Cooper, today’s king of emo-journalism.)

Two o’clock: idle surfing of current flicks and schlock

(When I first tuned in to televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and their powder-blue set, I thought it was a “Saturday Night Live” skit. These moral-empty vessels collected the cash and family silver that North Carolina mee-maws schlepped clear across the state to bankroll Tammy Faye’s next mascara run. )

Changing The Little Missy’s diaper was convenient. She had the courtesy to be slightly pigeon-toed, which required tiny casts on her lower legs and feet. A bar connected the casts. Even in a temper tantrum, resistance was futile. No kicking possible! I lifted the bar, hence her legs, to snatch off the dirty diaper and then slide a clean one beneath her.

Dirty diaper duty was another matter. Oxygen deprivation was a hazard; I held my breath during diaper dunking and diaper pail patrol. How could one speck of humanity keep the washer churning on a tilt until it walked and the dryer spinning until it wheezed? Unfolded diapers piled up on beds, tables, chairs, and the sofa. After galloping from the baby bed to the baby pen to the changing table to an appliance to the baby chair to the commode to another appliance and back again, I somehow never stopped to fold a shred of cotton.

Then The Big Day dawned: a quadruple feature of the Duke at 10:00 a.m. I was in cable heaven: Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Quiet Man, and Fort Apache. I put The Little Missy down for a nap, rifled through the pantry for buttery-buttery microwave popcorn, and tuned in all TVs and turned up the volume. Even if motherly duties boomeranged me from one end of the house to the other, I could catch sight and sound on the run.

It was the longest day of my life. The Little Missy started squalling just before the Stagecoach Kid faced down three scoundrels. I grabbed her and trotted around in desperate circles, begging, “Puh-le-e-e-e-ze, be quiet.”Puh-le-e-e-e-ze, be quiet. “I jiggled, did the walk-and-dip, gently swayed, and rocked while the Little Missy howled through The Searchers.  She settled down after a bottle—long enough for me to dump another load of soiled garments in the washer, throw clean ones in the dryer, and amp up the air conditioner.

Ah! I was set for slow melt-in-the-mouth popcorn and the afternoon height of affairs: the blowin’ in the wind FIRST KISS-and-SLAP between Maureen O’Hara/Mary Kate and Mr. Wayne/Thornton in The Quiet Man:

Mary Kate: It’s a bold one you are! Who gave you leave to be kissing’ me?

Thornton: So you can talk!

Mary Kate: Yes, I can, I will, and I do! And it’s more than talk you’ll be gettin’ if you step a step closer to me!—

POP! The microwave blew up in mid-kernel flowering, and the entire house hit full-circuit overload. I snatched The Little Missy out of heated harm’s way. We cooled down in my car. The great discovery on this voyage of the damned? Circling the block beats any Benadryl bliss: that kid fell into blessed sleep, and I headed to K-Mart for Huggies. She was a major stink bomb.

(Somewhere out there, that set of diapers will biodegrade in 485 years.)

Suddenly, I respected my mother. The woman was pregnant for nine years. She never shut off her washer and dryer, even when she took a timeout to give birth. I couldn’t handle one child and a comparatively simple laundry detail. Yes, my cotton-lovin’ mama had true grit.


Diapers courtesy of C.K. Close

The Baby Gear Lab rates biodegradable disposable diapers: “when you consider that your little peanut is going to blow through roughly 6,000 diapers before mastering their toilet skills, we encourage you to think carefully about what you buy, where you buy it, and the environmental impact you’ll leave in your wake.”


  1. Karen Lin

    Crying babies (yuck!) ruin your days. Disposable diapers great for travel but… I never used them. I used cloth at home (and had the luxury of a diaper service – and they don’t insist on have the diapers rinsed in the toilet as they used to… and deodorant hampers are much better now…. but I’d rather change 100 diapers than deal with a gas-ridden, crying baby for 1/2 an hour. Luckily my boys didn’t tend to be criers – and I knew how to get that gas out. And to avoid eating lentils – since I breastfed Zach 1 year and Max 2 years.

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