What’s new, and what’s not

Life in the Pedestrian Lane

Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2006

A well-known diaper company is advertising a new product called “wet sensation” that is engineered to allow the child wearing it to feel when it is wet so the little tyke will be persuaded to take it off, and thus be toilet trained (would that it were so easy). The same company has just spent the past generation marketing a diaper that can hold a quart of water and still feel dry against “tender skin.” Am I the only one who sees the irony in this? (That’s literary talk for “duh?”)

What happened to good old-fashioned cloth diapers? The ones you pinned on the kid; it got wet (or otherwise); you took it off, washed it, dried it, and put it back on? I wore out a washing machine washing diapers. It actually took a deep breath and died the very day our youngest son wore his last diaper. The tub quit turning, the water quit running and it just sat there, humming for a minute, and then quietly died, like it had finally given its all for home and country. But I digress:

There was no problem knowing when cloth diapers were wet. All you had to do was pick up the kid. If you didn’t have to wring out everything in the vicinity, he might still be dry. And there was an entertaining side to cloth diapers: No matter how fastidious, how efficient, how neat you were, they were always there to either wash, dry or fold (most days, all three). Every woman learned from her mother how to fold diapers, and those women had supposedly learned from their mothers. I see an old handicraft going the way of tatting and basket weaving because no one has to fold diapers anymore. There was the diamond fold, the triple fold, a fold for boys and a fold for girls (if you have to ask you won’t understand the answer). A twist turn fold and a kite fold.

Then some enterprising person thought, why fold diapers? In fact, why WASH diapers? And the disposable diaper was born. One that would hold a quart of water and still feel comfortable so pretty soon you didn’t even have to change diapers.

The disposable garments were originally marketed to save the environment by not using so much water for washing, and not putting detergents and bleaches into the water table. As a plus, Mom could have a few extra hours in the day to enjoy the kids (you KNOW a man with nothing better to do thought that one up).

All these years later, those same disposables have created an environmental problem. (More irony?) They are indestructible! They lay in the landfills all over the country (and the barrow ditches, abandoned gravel pits, even some campgrounds). In the far distant future when geologists begin to analyze our tier of time they’ll encounter a thick layer of compressed and fused material, infused with petrified doo-doo. Instead of Jurassic or Pliocene, the late 20th, early 21st century archeological era will be known as the Diapericene Era, or maybe Disposalic Time. It will be studied as the time when Homo sapiens went through the Plastic Age. Entire areas of scholarship will be devoted to the study and future historians will examine exactly how we used each glob they glean from some future dig, probably located in a barrow ditch.

Of course disposable diapers aren’t the only culprit. They’re not even the first. We had plastic bottles, dinner ware (anyone remember Mel Mac?), toys, even furniture. And don’t forget disposable picnic stuff. Now you can rinse it off and reuse it. Am I missing something, or wasn’t the original idea of paper plates and plastic cups so you didn’t have to wash them and could simply throw them away to add their brilliant color layer to that strip of indestructibility for future archeologists. At least I haven’t seen any paper napkins and table cloths you can wash and iron for reuse (yet).

And how about plastic sacks, originally produced so we could quit cutting down trees to make paper bags. Paper bags came into being so great-grandma didn’t have to carry her own cloth shopping bag to the grocery store but could carry her purchases home in a DISPOSABLE paper bag. Homemakers soon found those bags really convenient: carry your lunch, store mushrooms, make Halloween masks.

Plastic sacks were touted as even more convenient and durable (are they ever) and you can even bring them back to the store and reuse them!

I expect any day to see a commercial by the aforementioned diaper manufacturer marketing a brand new product: a reusable diaper. Just throw it into the washer, toss it in the dryer and you’re set to go again! WOW! What a concept!

Virginia Walters is a writer who lives in Kenai.

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