My Family 2

I didn’t do the posts I promised in my last post. That turned out to be a good thing. My family was together again for the Fourth of July. Now there is a lot more to write about.

At Easter, I showed Mom this blog. With about 30 people (most of them kids) in the house, we didn’t have a chance to discuss it. At her urging, I also told my sisters.

Mom thought about it between Easter and the Fourth. She’s not techie (she doesn’t even have an email account), but she managed to read and re-read the blog.

She sat down with me for long talks over the Fourth weekend: She liked the blog, but thought I idealized some things (particularly her and her approach to things) and had not noticed, or not remembered or glossed over many other things.

My sisters didn’t say anything in the weeks after Easter. I thought that they might have forgotten about it, but they were both waiting until the Fourth. Although they hadn’t talked to me about it, they had talked to each other.

Nobody suggested that I tell my brothers or my dad. Some things a girl can discuss with her mother or her sister, but she’d die if her dad or little brother knew. But somehow my brothers found out.


My Family

My family – Mom, Dad, six kids, six spouses, 17 grandkids – were together last month. I’ve been floundering around trying to organize my thoughts on all that chaos (while distracted by a particularly busy run at my firm and the kids’ activities).

Now that I’ve got a long weekend (with weather that’s supposed to be awful), I’ll break the mess into separate posts over the next few days.


My father-in-law, a good, kind, brilliant man, is slipping into dementia.

He calls me to tell me that he is on the street in front of our house, asking me to let him in. But he is in fact 300 miles away, at his own home.

He is a wonderful, good, kind man. He was born into the deepest poverty one can find in America. He served his country with distinction, then put himself through college and graduate school. He became a biology professor at a major research university. He was, insofar as I can tell, universally beloved by his students. Every year, the graduate students in his department put on a musical revue, and every year one of the songs lampooned him – the warmest sign of affection from graduate students.

He taught me to love baseball, and how to score a game. As he lost his sight, he lost the ability to score games on paper. But he has an internal scorecard as accurate as mine on paper. He will say, in the seventh inning of a ballgame, “I don’t believe Andy has gone to three balls on any batter.” I will look at my card, and find that he is right.

It is heartbreaking to watch him leave before his time.


We were at J’s parents’, with his brother and sisters and their families, for Thanksgiving weekend.

While we were there, my mother-in-law dressed down Ellen1, my sister-in-law, for “keeping her kids in diapers”. Mother-in-Law saw my niece, Sara, Ellen’s 12-year-old, disposing of a wet pullup.

Sara’s problem, according to Mother-in-Law, is lack of discipline. Wearing a diaper (Mother-in-Law’s word) gives Sara no incentive to grow up and stop wetting the bed. She has no signal to wake up.  She is comfortable in a false security; it is as bad as letting her have an infant’s security blanket. She is lazy. She is looking for attention. She is emotionally immature, and will not mature. The diaper, and not suffering the consequences of wetting the bed, infantilizes her. If she had to sleep in a wet bed, she would stop wetting.

This is part of a larger picture, one convenient opportunity for sniping in an ongoing war. Mother-in-Law thinks her children and their spouses are poor parents. I’m the best of a bad lot; her own daughters and her other daughter-in-law are even worse than I am. I don’t think she really likes any of her grandchildren, although they are all terrific kids.

I am a more conservative, traditional parent than anyone I know. But I am too permissive for Mother-in-Law.

She is an intelligent woman. She has an advanced degree in nursing from a prestigious medical center, although she retired when her oldest was born (40+ years ago).

Without getting Freudian, I wonder if this is driven by something in her own experience. She had a tough childhood, as the only (and unwanted) child of a parents who were narrow-minded and demanding to the point of being abusive. I wonder if she wet the bed and was punished for it or forced to sleep in the wet bed.

Her attitude may have been shaped not only by her childhood, but also by the era in which she learned nursing. As I understand it from my Mom — and from the doctor who would not do anything for me when I was in college — that was the received wisdom at the time, frosted with a dollop of Freudian psychobabble.

Ellen gave as well as she got, which just confirmed Mother-in-Law’s belief that Ellen is a bad parent and insufficiently respectful of Mother-in-Law’s age and wisdom. I didn’t jump in because I didn’t need to. Ellen defended herself (and her kids), along many of the same lines as I have argued here.

Ellen’s kids are a little older than mine. They are seeing the light at the end of the bedwetting tunnel, but they still struggle with it. When they are away from home they wear pullups to protect their hosts’ beds.

I don’t know if Mother-in-Law knew that my kids were in pullups, too. I don’t know about my other nieces and nephews. They are all older than Ellen’s kids, so I assume they are probably beyond this.

If I had told her that I wet the bed — and wear a diaper, too — she probably would have had a stroke.

Nobody wants to be in a wet bed. Trust me: I’ve been there. I’m still there. You only need to have suffered through it once. It is miserable. It is humiliating.

Bedwetting is a symptom. For younger kids, it’s a symptom of slow-maturing physiology: a small bladder, inadequate hormone, deep sleep. The cure is time. The child will outgrow it. For a teenager or adult, it’s generally something more serious.

The idea that it’s laziness, or emotional immaturity, or attention-getting, isn’t just bunk. It’s harmful bunk. It’s bad enough to have a humiliating, demeaning problem. Far worse to be told it’s your fault, that you’re lazy, that you have a mental or emotional problem.

It also leads people to believe that it can be cured with the right incentives. But incentives only work to influence choices, and this isn’t a choice. Punishment, or forcing a child to sleep in a wet bed, might prevent a wet night or two as a child is in the last stage of outgrowing bedwetting. But it’s not going to make a bladder grow or glands produce hormones.

It will certainly cause misery beyond the considerable misery of simply being a bedwetter, of waking up in a wet bed and of having to wear a diaper. And it will cause real harm if it inhibits a parent (or a doctor, like the one at my college) from seeking the real urological, neurological or other medical cause.

Sara — a smart, mature and usually happy girl — was devastated by her grandmother’s attitude and beliefs about bedwetting and about her. My Emily, who heard some of it, and still wets the bed sometimes (and wears a pullup) at age 9, was bewildered. It took a long talk and some tears before Emily was reconciled with herself and her grandmother. I came this >< close to telling both Emily and Sara that I wet the bed, although I wasn’t sure whether that would help or hurt.

1 Names changed to protect the innocent.


All my siblings were chronic bedwetters until at least age 10. My sisters wet the bed until they were 16 or 17.

My parents didn’t make a fuss about it. It was just a fact of life. Mom helped my siblings try various strategies — alarms, waking in the night, limiting drinking after dinner. But she never pushed us into any of them. She had no faith that any of them would help; she believed that it was all a matter of maturing anatomy.

Diapers were a fact of life, too. Mom kept a supply of necessary sizes of disposables for my brothers in their bathroom and for my sisters in our bathroom. She did not require any of us to wear protection at home. But she provided the option, and all of us took it. For my siblings, it was second nature. They had always wet the bed and always worn protection.

It was different for me. I hadn’t wet the bed since I was a toddler. Managing bedwetting was new to me at age 14. Mom didn’t tell me that I had to wear protection, but she did suggest that I would be more comfortable if I did. After the horrible experience of waking up in a pool of urine, I did so promptly and without shame. I had the example of my older sisters, whom I loved and admired. They had each always worn protection without shame, and still did at ages 16 and 17.

Bedwetting wasn’t a secret in the family, although we were discreet. I shared a room with my sisters. I knew that they each wore protection to bed, but I never saw it. Each of us changed in private, behind a closed bathroom door. I never saw a wet sheet or wet pajamas, either. I did hear my sisters changing wet things (and occasional blue language from a stubbed toe) during the night.

Mom’s one rule was that everyone was responsible for oneself. Dispose of one’s own wet disposable; launder one’s own wet sheets and clothes; let her know when it was time to buy disposables or replace worn diapers or pants. No wet sheets left on a bed. No wet things left anywhere but the trash or the washing machine. Mom would run sheets and clothes through the dryer or hang them on the line while we were at school, but we folded and stored our own laundry. The house never smelled of urine.

None of it affected our social lives. We all went on sleepovers and class trips. We all knew how to discreetly change and how to get wet things in plastic bags before they started to smell. The discipline and discretion at home helped me keep it from my roommates in college.