What I learned from Mom: Later Childhood

For several years after my oldest sister started school, Mom didn’t think much about her kids’ bedwetting. My brothers – all pre-schoolers – were too young for her to be concerned about their bedwetting. It was just a matter of changing in the evening and morning.

My sisters were even less trouble. They took care of themselves. They changed discretely and accepted their condition without a fuss. All Mom had to do was provide an adequate supply of protection. She had to buy their diapers from a medical supply store rather than from the grocer. But it was all just part of the diaper budget.

Mom discussed it annually with our pediatrician. He gave my sisters thorough examinations, always concluding that the cause was immature anatomy and recommending patience.

My sisters were beyond an age that almost all kids have stopped wetting the bed. For most kids, that would be a shameful secret. But for my sisters, it was just a fact of life. It didn’t affect their social lives. On a sleepover, they were adept at putting on a diaper secreted at the bottom of a sleeping bag, and taking it off and secreting it in a plastic bag at the bottom of a sleeping bag. They were big, bold, mature girls, so no one would suspect their secret.

I was oblivious. I shared a room with my sisters. I saw what was on their shelf in our bathroom closet. I woke up to their morning (and middle-of-the-night) bedding changes. I knew that my brothers wet the bed. But it was all just part of the background noise of a large family.

So it went until my oldest brother was 6 or 7. My sisters are a little more than a year apart. I’m two years younger, and my oldest brother is two years younger than I am. I didn’t wet the bed, so nothing disrupted the routine until my brother was in first grade. He struggled against wetting and wearing a diaper. And Mom was concerned that she had three overage bedwetters – two of them almost teenagers.

Mom worried that she and my sisters were too complacent, too ready to accept that there was nothing they could do. On the other hand, my brother was not complacent at all. He wanted to stop wetting the bed and particularly to stop wearing a diaper.

Mom made a push to try everything. She had always limited drinking in the hours before bed, and always required a final trip to the bathroom before bed.

She tried waking them in the small hours of the morning. (Mom called it “lifting”. Why? I don’t know. Nobody was lifting anyone.) That cut out a couple of wet nights a week, if she woke them before they wet, and they didn’t wet later in the night. But it left them tired and irritable (and affected their schoolwork).

She tried anti-bedwetting drugs. They cut down the frequency, but they all had side effects and weren’t completely effective.

She tried alarms, which only trained them to wake up after they had wet. The alarm woke up everyone else, too, announcing that somebody had wet the bed.

They tried going without diapers, with only a pad and the plastic sheet to protect the mattress. My sisters did not last long with that experiment. My brother refused for several more months to wear a diaper, but finally even he got tired of waking in a puddle.

The net effect was a few dry nights a week. They were all still wetting most nights, so they still needed protection.

Every few years – as one of my brothers came of school age, or one of my sisters got frustrated at wetting the bed as a teenager – Mom would make another push. But it always came to nothing.

My oldest brother’s bedwetting started to taper off a few years later. By the time he was 12, he was dry most nights. My older sister, 17, was having more and more dry nights and longer runs of dry nights. She was hoping that she might be completely dry before starting college. My other sister, 16, still wet almost every night, but was starting to have a few dry nights (and even two or three dry nights in a row).

And at age 14, I hadn’t wet the bed in more than 10 years.

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