Have you changed a baby’s diaper? If you say “eww, poop,” I’m guessing you’re inexperienced.
Of course there’s poop involved with diapers. But as a big sister to a pair of babies who arrived when I was 9 and 10, the “stinky-poo” aspect didn’t dominate. Instead, my mother demonstrated the firm smooth skin of the baby’s bottom, the careful way you can wipe and get everything clean, and the snuggly satisfaction of placing the diaper pins perfectly, to hold the fresh white cotton (or later, with Mom’s creative touch, striped flannel) in place. And then nuzzling the little guy’s tummy until he giggles.
My dad was just as capable of changing a diaper as my mother or me (he learned from Mom), but neither Mom nor I could build new kitchen countertops or racks for bikes in the garage, so tasks seemed to naturally sort out. I learned basic carpentry from Dad, including always sanding smooth the saw cuts you made, and even countersinking screws (bet you won’t find many home carpenters who do that today). But there literally wasn’t room to learn his plumbing skills — Dad soldered pipes in cramped corners where he couldn’t demonstrate what he was doing.
So when I married R and we moved to Vermont (with our 4-month-old) and suffered frozen, cracked pipes the first winter, Dad coached me over the phone, first on the tools I’d need (pipe cutter, sandpaper, solder, flux, torch, steel wood), then on how to aim and apply them.
That was in 1978 and 1979, well before cell phones — back then, a person snagged a phone receiver between her ear and her shoulder, struggling to keep it in place to listen while she aimed her flame. No YouTube videos, either.
But at least, in those early years of home repair and starting a family, the phone WAS available. And I could teach R, in person, the things his family of origin had ignored in bringing him up. After all, why would they teach him to change a diaper? He was their only child.
It Took Me Years to Realize
I didn’t start thinking about how my parents learned their parenting skills —or home repair — until recently…