Before the era of disposable diapers, all diapers were made of pure gauze, were washed after use every few days, and until washed they accumulated somewhere in the home awaiting and curing. The curing process was something like that of maturing wine. With the passage of time the bouquet eventually filled each home with small children.
The real challenge at the time was to sequester the curing diapers somewhere in the house so the aroma of ammonia was vented away from all occupants. Homes at the time, like the diapers at the same time, did not include fresh-air vents beyond open windows, while ceiling fans which exhausted fumes were rarer still. To the above homey environment we now add two young couples, each learning parenting skills on their first-born sons. Our first-born was fastidious from an early age. He tolerated wet diapers for short periods of time, but those which included toxic materials were immediately rejected, and required parental attention. As parents we learned that his fastidiousness may have been a protective umbrella.
Our friends and neighbors down the street were likewise struggling with old diapers and a strapping, first-born son. The wives did not work, but were full time with their household and child-rearing chores. To break this monotony the couples, with infant sons in tow, often agreed to bridge one place or the other. After dinner one evening at the appointed time we bundled up our small charge and trudged to our neighbors to the south. There we unbundled and arranged the infants into their pre-slumber attire and environments. Our son was placed within a make-shift bed where we could watch him, and the other son was in his own room in a crib. After all was well settled in, we dealt the cards.
All was progressing nicely for several hands without interruption, a pleasant and extended relief for the ladies, whose daily chores were draining. After a break in the action, the homebound mother observed:
“I better check in on the baby, because things are awfully quiet in there.”
Moments later there came a series of moans, and gasps, and utterances which made little sense to us, except that something was just not right in the baby’s room. Suddenly she emerged from the room saying things were amiss in the room that required her attention. With that notice we all went to see what was amiss.
After filling his diaper completely with brown sludge, their son had managed to adjust his diaper enough to gain access to the contents on this very hot night. With access to his own toxic waste, he proceeded to administer his painter’s palate of light-brown tint with the instruments at hand like an accomplished artist. The crib was nicely decorated here and there, and the neighboring wall had received many liberal swaths of color.
In the process son number one had applied brown tint onto all visible and other surfaces of his mottled little body. With his instruments of choice, his two little hands, he managed to administer a liberal coating on arms and legs, in his hair, across his face and in his eyes. Out of curiosity he apparently tried it for palatability, and had a generous dollop in his mouth. Possibly this explains the lack of noise coming from the baby’s room. There are several expressions that characterize this magnificent scene, most of which do not set well in polite company.
Because of the nature of this interruption, the bridge was certainly over. We bundled up our belongings and our own infant, who was not sharing the same crib. We left shortly afterward, believing that our presence might delay the recovery effort.
Many years later this experience was still indelibly etched into our memories. We subsequently learned that their son had heard this colorful story on many occasions. As he came of age, he observed that he had absolutely no memory of the incident in question, as he was only a few months of age at the time, and had not developed the many concepts needed to remember the scene verbally.
He might have become an accomplished artist with his ability to work in novel mediums, but alas this was not his style. As a young lad he thoroughly enjoyed knocking the crap out of opposing linemen on the University of Oklahoma’s football team. As a graduate engineer, he was undoubtedly excited by the movement of fluids through partially enclosed spaces, an experience he practiced in infancy.
Our career paths are rarely traced to early childhood experiences, as in this diaper caper.