Thursday, August 28, 2008


Here I am, sitting in a goat cart having my picture taken. The year is 1937; I am almost two years old. Other kids in my generation had their picture taken either on horses or in horse carts, but I got the goat! This photo is placed prominently in my baby-book.

I was nosing around last night in this ever-so-complete book that my mother kept on me, in which every jot and tittle of my life was recorded: little Barbara was born on Wednesday, June 26 at 6:05 p.m.; began her sun baths at one month; started eating peas and carrots at 7 months, took 2 steps at 10 months, etc.). Many of these photos and details are fairly mundane, but the goat cart and a few other select items are quite delightful, and sometimes downright peculiar.

Along with my baby-book my mother saved for me a little booklet entitled “Baby Record” from the Parents Educational Center of the Long Beach Social Welfare League. My understanding of this organization was that it was where depression-area poor people could take their young babies to receive simple medical care and information on raising them. The motto of this group was “Save the Babies: Save the Nation!” (That was a big burden to put on our parent's shoulders, as well as the babies' shoulders!) In this book, which my mother received when I was three months old, it tells about ordering a birth certificate, rules about feeding, sunbathing, preparing formula and getting baby shots. It also gives a list of things that children should be able to do at certain ages.

Here’s a photo of a page from the book. I show it in this form because if I didn’t, you might think I had made it up.

First of all, please notice what the expectations are for a child at 1 year and again at 15 months.
On the next page, not shown, it says that at eighteen months the baby should be setting and clearing off the table, wiping dishes, using a handkerchief and replacing it in his pocket and unpinning safety pins in clothes. Can you believe this?

But actually what I want to deal with now is back in the three month category where it says, “He should…use the vessel.” That "vessel" was an old-fashioned chamber pot, baby-sized, of course.

Now remember where I mentioned the jots and tittles in my baby-book? Well, in my mother’s own handwriting I read, “When Barbara was three months and 22 days old we began training her to ‘to-to.’” (For you uninitiated in the Dobbins euphemisms, “to-to” was my family’s word for urinating.) Yep, my mother began my toilet training when I was just a little over three months old. She took off my cloth diaper, slipped a little white “potty” mug under my tiny behind and waited to hear the magic tinkle.

I’m sure she thought she was doing exactly what she was supposed to, and I have no idea if or when I finally produced on demand. It may have been a long wait. Luckily, at some point in time I walked, talked and tinkled like the best of them.

Also during this same period in time babies were fed on a schedule – not when we were hungry, but every 4 hours, PERIOD! If we weren’t hungry, we got a bottle shoved in our mouth anyway. If we were starving at the three-hour mark, we were allowed to cry until the 4 hours were fulfilled. My mother told me she would hold me and cry with me during that last hour. But she followed the book and had to make her peace with her tears, she said. I think probably the first child in the family was the one who was the guinea pig and by the time my sister came along, this foolish theory of feeding on schedule was tossed out by my mom. But be that as it may, my generation seemed to grow up ok. We turned out to be reasonable, responsible citizens, bore children who were raised under Dr. Spock’s tutelage and who have since produced wonderful grandchildren for us.

But if any of you wonder why your “elders” act kind of strange sometimes, just remember, most of us were put on the potty to begin our training at 3 months and nearly starved to death in the process of being raised. It has to have left some kind of residual but excusable bumps!

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