This is a true story
You don’t see it often now. Back in the 1950s and 60s it was common—women in public holding the hand of a child wearing nothing but diapers and plastic pants. I know. I was one of them. My mom continued the practice long after she probably should have stopped.
Back then during the warm months, you saw it nearly every time you went shopping:
Why was it mostly boys who wore nothing but diapers and plastic pants? Sure, you saw some little girls dressed like that, but usually they wore a dress, shorts, or some sort of sun suit romper. My sister did. Nancy was a year younger than me. Many times out shopping, she’d have clothes on over her diapers, while I just wore diapers. Sometimes I’d wear a t-shirt that concealed only the elastic waist of my plastic pants.
Maybe the gender difference in diapering was because girls are supposed to be more modest, while boys are—well—boys. I can understand why it was easier for moms to have their kids—boys or girls—just wear diapers. Put yourself in a mom’s place back then. Cloth diapers and plastic pants are way more hassle to change. So why add to the labor with more layers of clothes to put on and take off? The bulkiness of cloth, too, makes it difficult to put pants on over them. Plastic pants sometimes leaked, soaking outer clothes and creating more laundry to do. Then there was the social acceptance of it. Weather permitting; diaper-aged children didn’t need clothes on for warmth. Modesty was not a consideration for children that young.
I understand all that. But why did boys more than girls wear nothing but diapers? Expectations that girls are supposed to mature faster? Moms wanting to keep their little boys little boys as long as possible? Whatever the reason, I became aware of it around age three, when I first started remembering things long-term.
I remember standing in a department store lingerie department wetting my diapers while my mom picked out panties and bras. You cannot hide the fact that you are wet when layers of heavy, wet diapers droop between your legs. Almost 4-years-old, I was old enough to be aware of my condition. I knew that to every woman or girl who saw me standing there, it was obvious I’d wet my diapers.
My younger sister was toilet trained before I was--when she was two-and-a-half. I was toilet-trained at age four during the day—just in time for preschool I remember my mom saying--and not until age 5 ½. at night. I confirmed these ages by looking in our baby books. So for about six months I wore diapers during the day and my little sister didn’t. For two years I wore them at night, but my little sister didn’t.
This temporary difference in our status affected how we were treated. It was a difference that happened suddenly. One week, we were both in diapers. The next week my sister was not. Out shopping, my sister would wear a dress or shorts. I would wear nothing but diapers and plastic pants. My mom would ask my sister, “Do you need to use the bathroom?” She would ask me, “Do you need your diapers changed?” A week earlier, my sister and I took turns being changed in the women’s restroom. Now my sister watched as my mom brought the thick layers up between my legs and slid on my plastic pants. My sister saw me naked a few times a day. I never saw her naked anymore. She wore panties—sheer and undetectable. I wore diapers—so bulky I waddled even at age 4. My younger sister went to the bathroom in the toilet. I went to the bathroom in my pants. Warm afternoons, we’d play in our little pool out back while our mom read in a lounge chair. My sister wore a one-piece swimsuit, while I wore diapers and plastic pants so sodden, they sometimes started to slip down my hips. My sister got herself dressed. My mom dressed me wherever in the house was convenient. My sister had privacy. My mom made me naked, often in public, whenever she wanted to. My little sister had always been my little sister, but now it didn’t seem that way. At bedtime, mom would tell my sister, “Get your PJs on.” To me, she’d say, “come here so I can change your diapers.”
“Why do you call them nighttime diapers,” Nancy sometimes asked, as I lay there naked in front of them, legs spread. “We put thicker diapers on your brother at nighttime because it’s a long time before we can change him and we don’t want his bed to get wet,” my mom would explain. Though my sister had heard this explanation before, I think she liked asking. “How come [my name] still wears diapers and I don’t,” she’d ask. My mom, usually distracted with changing me, would answer in different ways. “Because you learned to use the bathroom before he did…because boys wear diapers longer than girls do…because you’re a girl and he’s a boy.”
The difference between us was never more clear the time when I was almost 4, when mom took us shopping and let Nancy pick out some big girl underwear while I stood there in soggy diapers and a t-shirt.
I had just started Kindergarten the time one of our sitters, Sandy, watched us one night for the first time in a long time. “Good news,” my mom said to Sandy. “ Nancy wears big girl underwear now, daytime and nighttime.”
“I bet it’s a relief to be done with diapers,” Sandy replied. As I stood there in PJs, legs slightly diaper-spread, my mom pointed out that I still wore them at night. “Oh my, I can see that now,” Sandy said. “I guess I just assumed that since Nancy”…then she changed the subject; I suppose to not embarrass me. “How many diapers do you want him in at bedtime,” she asked? “We still triple diaper him at night.” “We can do that,” she said with a smile, looking down at me.
That evening while changing me for bed, Sandy told Nancy to “get some plastic panties(that’s what she always called them) for me to put on your brother.”
“Aren’t you proud of your little sister for being out of diapers,” she asked me as she brought the nighttime layers up between my legs. I bet pretty soon you won’t have to wear diapers either.”
Usually, my sister did not make fun of me. She maturely accepted the fact that I still wore diapers and she didn’t, as if that was the natural way of things. Of course she was not so mature about it when we were fighting over something. Once we were struggling over a toy. She was wearing a dress. I was wearing nothing but diapers and plastic pants. (The more I think about this, the more I think it was just easier for my mom to not bother with pants.) With her hands on her hips like a little mother Nancy said to me, “You still wear diapers, so you have to do what I say.” Her comment made me feel weak and powerless, especially when my mom piped up and told me to give the toy to my sister.
Even back when I was still diapered during the day, my sister would playfully ask me if my diapers were wet. She began to feel she had the right to ask me this because sometimes when my mom was busy, she’d ask my sister to go get some dry diapers and plastic pants so she could change me. As long as I wore diapers and she didn’t, my little sister was older than me. The fact that she could stand there watching me wet my pants made her superior to me. But not for long. As I said, I was completely toilet-trained by age 5 1/2. The difference between us was gone. Once again I was the older brother. I felt every bit so and was treated so—until what happened a few years later. But more on that soon.
My sister and I fought often. No surprise there. We were like any other brother and sister close in age. She was 10; I was 11. Sometimes our mom got so frustrated by the frequent bickering she’d snap and yell at us. Summers were hardest for her because we were home from school and back in the 1960s and 70s kids didn’t spend so much time in sports and other structured activities outside the home. She’d often drive us to the country club to swim and play golf so she could get some peace and quiet. We were still home a lot, though. When the bickering got bad, she’d send us to our rooms. Occasionally she’d take us both by the hand and march us up the stairs to our rooms while talking to us like we were preschoolers--to embarrass us into behaving. It sort of worked—sometimes—for a short while. I felt embarrassed by the little kid treatment. So did my sister.
That summer I’d been pestering and taunting my sister even more relentlessly than usual. So it was just me who was sent to my room. “You have been acting like a toddler all day long,” my mom snapped as she pulled me by the hand up the stairs. “Is that what you are—a little toddler. Should we treat you like one? Come along little boy. Should I put you in diapers until you act your age?”
What a thing to say. Nothing more happened, but I’ll bet that’s when she hatched the plan that unfolded two days later. I remember it was in the afternoon. We’d come home from the club. It was August, so no doubt we were all getting on each other’s nerves. I went a bit far teasing my sister. “I see we have a little boy who can’t control himself,” she said as she marched me to my room. “Take off your clothes right now and come into my room.” I refused. She said if I didn’t she’d ground me for a week. Grounded for a week! Not able to play with my friends, to sneak out to the vacant lot to smoke cigars we’d stolen from the neighborhood drugstore, or play in the storm sewer under the cloverleaf intersection where we burned candles and hid stuff we’d stolen from Ben Franklin? I took off my clothes.
It felt strange to walk down the hallway naked to my mother’s bedroom. Things got stranger. As my bare feet stepped onto her plush bedroom carpeting, I saw the stack of diapers on her bed. “We’re going to try something different,” she said. I remember her looking down at me lying on the bed with a wry smile on her face as if she was thinking maybe, just maybe, this will work. Within moments she’d folded three fluffy cotton diapers and put me in them with a pair of pastel green diaper pins. “You can’t wear diapers without these,” she said as she slipped a pair of frosty white plastic pants up my legs. “Maybe a constant reminder about your behavior will correct it,” she said. “Waddle over to the mirror and look at yourself.” As I stood before the mirror in nothing but thick diapers and plastic pants, she said “Wearing diapers will be a visible reminder that you need to improve your childish behavior—both toward me and your sister.”
Surprise and delight was my sister’s response when my mom led me into the room where my sister was coloring. “Now,” said my mom. “I want you to repeat after me exactly what I say.” So I was made to stand in front of my little sister and say:
“I’m wearing diapers because I’ve been acting like a baby.”
“Now apologize to your sister.”
“I’m sorry I teased you,” I said as I stood submissively before my little sister in nothing but diapers and plastic pants. “ I won’t tease you or do mean things to you anymore. If I do, I deserve to wear diapers.” Until dinner, I had to play (nicely!) with my sister. She wore shorts and a summer top. I was naked except for diapers and plastic pants. My sister never stopped smiling.
It seemed my sister got in trouble as often as I did. Our mom did not pick favorites. But when my sister was punished, she was sent to her room, denied privileges and verbally reprimanded. So was I. But in addition, I was forced to parade around the house in nothing but diapers and plastic pants. My mom observed that “diapering a naughty boy helps him behave.” I guess she felt this was something you do to a boy, but not a girl.
My mom used this approach on me because it worked. But why didn’t she punish my sister the same way? Maybe it would have worked for her, too.
Sometimes when I was “acting up,” a threat calmly delivered was all it took for me to “behave.” My sister was all too eager to tell on me. My mom’s reply:
“Do I need to put you in diapers for a while?”
During the next three weeks until school started, I was threatened a few times and diapered three or four times. It reached the point that my mom would simply hold her hand out expecting me to take it, then she’d lead me upstairs to her room. I’d lie naked on her bed while she looked down at me smiling and talking to me like I was a toddler.
“Have you been a naughty boy,” she’d ask while she folded the diapers and I lay there naked with my legs spread. “You know what happens to naughty boys. We put them in diapers to remind them they have to behave better,” she’d say as she brought the thick diapers up between my legs. Sometimes I’d hear the pins click closed.
“All boys who wear diapers need plastic pants, too. They make you look so cute, I think you should ask me to put you in them.”
By then I’d be standing in front of my mom who usually wore a house dress and usually at this point had her hands on her hips.
"Would you please put plastic pants on me,” I’d ask on cue. And she would—making me lie down again while she slid them on. Then downstairs I’d go to present myself to my sister where I would apologize and explain why I was wearing diapers (whatever transgression I was accused of). My sister, of course, loved every minute of it. “Bad little boy,” she’d scold. “Mom, he looks cute in his plastic pants.”
“I agree,” mom would reply in a satisfied tone.
Opportunities for such punishment were less frequent once school started. Nearly a year passed. I was beginning to think I was off the hook—until that next summer, when my sister got to decide my punishment.
What my sister did to me happened a long time ago, when I was 11 and she was 10. Pestering her was practically my hobby. I’d tease her, steal her, take her favorite toys, and in every way I could think of act like a brat toward her. I’d even invite friends over to join in the fun. When caught, my mom would make me stay in my room for a couple hours, or sometimes, I wasn’t allowed to go out and play--consequences that were temporarily effective, but apparently not effective enough to stop me from harassing her.
After yet another day of relentless sister-teasing, my mom had had enough. She gave me a particularly potent tongue lashing while my sister stood watching with great satisfaction. Then she announced that from now on, when I did something bad to my sister, or even said something nasty to her, my sister would decide my punishment. As long as it was reasonable, my mom would enforce it.
One day, the inevitable happened: I went too far. A friend and I raided my sister’s Barbie collection. With a marker, we painted beards and mustaches on the dolls. That was for starters. From there, I guess we egged each other on and things got out of control. Firecrackers ruined the dollhouse beyond repair. Lighter fluid made ashes out of Barbie’s wardrobe. What were we thinking? Did we really think we’d get away with all this?
Initially my sister was distraught. Then she turned angry. Then her anger refined itself into a thirst for revenge. Thanks to my mom, her wish was granted.
“What do you want your brother’s punishment to be,” mom asked her. The look on my sister’s face--her sneering smile--spoke volumes. She cupped her hand to her mouth and whispered to my mom. The whispering continued longer than it should have. My mom’s initial expression suggested she wasn’t sure whatever my sister was telling her was a good idea. After a brief moment of consideration, she announced:
“Your sister has decided that since you acted like a bratty toddler, you should be treated like one. For your punishment, your sister has decided you should wear diapers and plastic pants.” Nancy whispered to my mom again and she nodded.
“In addition,” said mom, “your sister wants to see you in diapers--and although I’m a little reluctant on this one, I guess I’ll agree to it--she wants you to use your diapers.”
My throat dry, I swallowed hard, then collected myself and blared, “no way, you’re crazy, I’m not gonna do that,” then turned to leave.
“Furthermore,” my mom said loud enough to stop my exit, “the more you disobey her, or me for that matter, the longer your punishment will last.”
My punishment began with the two of them taking me to the big department store downtown to buy cloth diapers and a six-pack of plastic pants in various pastels. This was the late 1960s, before disposables had taken over. Every five-and-dime had rotating display racks of plastic pants. Department stores displayed them in open bins. “We’ll buy the largest plastic pants they have,” my mom commented to my sister as if I wasn’t standing next to them. Of course I was made to carry the package of diapers and the plastic pants.
On the way home and as we walked into the house, I promised and pleaded--to replace all the doll stuff I’d ruined and to never tease her again. The only reply I got from mom: “Take off your clothes and come into my bedroom.” I walked naked down the hallway toward my mom’s bedroom. Nancy was already there and broke into a big grin when she saw me naked. “Now you’re going to get what you deserve,” she said.
I lay naked on my mom’s bed looking up at my mom holding several folded diapers and with two pins sticking from her mouth, and my sister, hands on hips, wearing a sneering smile of satisfaction. In short course, I stood before them thickly diapered.
“Turn around so I can see your diapered bottom,” ordered my sister. I looked at mom. Her look said, “do it.” When I turned back to face them, my sister said to my mom, “now can you put the plastic pants on him?”
“Certainly,” mom said. “What color do you want him to wear?”
“The plain white ones are fine,” said my sister. “Get back on the bed so mom can put your plastic pants on you.”
“What about pants,?” I asked.
“Nope,” my sister said.
“What about a shirt,? I asked.
“Nope,” my sister said.
For the next two hours I was my sister’s slave. Among the commands that still sting my memory: “come here when I call you…get down on your knees and say you’re sorry…obey me…bring me the blue dress from my doll clothes box.”
Of course the inevitable occurred. I had to go to the bathroom. I swallowed what pride I had left and asked my sister, “May I go to the bathroom please?”
“Yes, you can go to the bathroom,” she replied—“in your pants.”
I protested to mom. She backed my sister. “Do what your sister says,” my mom scolded, then left.
“You have to do everything I say—do you understand?”
I didn’t answer.
“Answer me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand I have to do everything you say.”
“Stand in front of me so I can watch you wet your diapers.”
I said I didn’t have to go anymore, which was of course untrue, but at least I bought a little time, but only a little, before I just couldn’t hold it anymore. Then there I was: standing in front of my little sister while she sat on her bed surrounded by her dolls and frilly clothes smiling at me while I wet my diapers so forcefully you could hear the stream soaking me, pooling between my slightly spread legs, then slowly seeping up my bottom.
When my diapers finished drooping between my legs, my sister said,
“You naughty boy. Lie down, spread your legs and tell me what you did.” Lying on my back caused wetness to shift and saturate every part of my diapers.
“I wet my diapers,” I told her as commanded, looking up at her from the floor with my legs spread.
“Like a baby,?” she prompted.
“Yes, I wet my diapers like a baby.”
Clearly she got great joy from her control over me. She continued to lecture me:
“Mom says you wore diapers longer than I did. You’re a year older than me, but I stopped wearing diapers before you did. Don’t believe me? Look what mom gave me.
It was a black & white photo of me and my sister. It was taken outside during the summer. We were holding hands. She wore a dress. I wore nothing except diapers and plastic pants. She was smiling—no, make that beaming—as if she was so proud of the fact that she being younger than me was fully dressed and toilet trained while I was neither. You could tell by the sag I was wet.
“You know,” she continued, “Even though you’re a year older than me, I’m much more grown up than you. I wear panties. You wear diapers. I go to the bathroom in the toilet. You go in your pants.”
She got off her bed and walked over to her doll stuff. “Let’s play baby,” she said. “Crawl over here.” It was extremely embarrassing to crawl toward my sister’s feet, naked except for heavy diapers that sagged toward the floor. For a good 30 minutes, she made me “play nicely” with her doll stuff—my abuse of which got me in this predicament in the first place.
Then right before dinner, mom said I could put my regular clothes on—after I apologized once more. As I stood in front of my sister and mom wearing nothing but wet diapers and plastic pants, I recited what I was told to: “I’m sorry I ruined your dolls. I promise I won’t do it again. If I do I deserve to wear diapers.”
“Good boy,” my mom said as she held out her hand for me to take. “Let’s get you changed. Dinner’s ready.” Down the hall to my mom’s bedroom I waddled as she held my hand—an 11-year-old boy about to have his diapers changed.
I’ve had lots of time to think about that incident. My mom didn’t have to agree to my sister’s idea of diaper punishment. She didn’t have to rub it in with the baby talk. She didn’t have to agree to make me use my diapers. But she did. She figured she finally found a way to temper my behavior. And I guess she was right. I never broke my sister’s doll stuff again.