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Curious Child Rearing in the Good Old Days

Parents fret about their children in our often frightening, modern world. But even the "good old days" came with its share of frights.
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Parents fret about their children in our often frightening, modern world. But even the "good old days" came with its share of frights.

Ages ago, when toys were made of metal that pinched and bruised, and when a "time out" simply meant getting to go on a road trip, things may not have been as "good" as we seem to remember. Just take a look at the agonized face of that adorable tot above.

If argument were an option at that age, it might go like this... "You want me to sit here... alone... with the bugs and the slithering things...with nothing but a skinny blanket under my diaper? I don't need fresh air, really I don't!"

Youngsters of bygone days had to navigate some pretty hairy circumstances, including inventive "modern" contraptions created just for them. So while the little one above might object to being plopped down in the scary grass, such an outing is nothing compared to the "fresh air" solution pictured below.

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Yikes! That's some play pen. But who wouldn't love a little outdoor time spent ten stories up, with nothing but the occasional curious pigeon for company? One can only hope that birds didn't choose to do their business from the top of that cage, or that baby's arms didn't get tangled and mangled in the far-too-big fence squares, or that subsequent life-long therapy didn't cost too much.

It's also a fresh air day for the 1800s youngster below who seems a bit stunned at being tied to a chair-shaped rock. But hey, if you feel the urge to picnic, you don't want those pesky little kids to be underfoot, now do you? How fortunate that a handy chair-rock, and a sturdy tartan scarf with which to secure the toddler, were available.

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No rock in your neck of the woods? No problem. There's always the option of hitching baby's chair to the grill of your car, which may elicit peals of joy, or screams of terror. It can be hard to discern which.

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Or you could just hang him on the car door. Provided there's no strong wind to rock the car and bang the baby's head against unforgiving metal, you should be good to go. Let the picnic roll on.

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Then there's bath time. Here's the formula. Fill a deep, narrow tub with water. Set it in the sun and insert child. Go about your business until child is clean enough, or sun-baked enough, to be removed. If you look over and don't see a tiny head rising above the rim of the tub, you'll know that you chose a tub that is way...too...deep.

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Still, a deep trap of a metal tub cooking in the sun might be better than this next innovation. Meet the "Bathinette."

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The Bathinette was billed as a "third hand" for mom. And as long as...

  • the seams didn't spring a leak,

  • the canvas didn't become riddled with mildew,
  • the baby didn't slip its straps,
  • the thin wooden legs didn't fold the baby up like a fortune in a fortune cookie,
  • and baby's excited kicks didn't cause the lid to flop down and entomb it,
  • ...the device may have indeed been a welcome third hand. After all, as the ad confirms, "The "Bathinette" Way of Bathing Babies is the "Accepted" Way."

    Of course, baby would have to wait his turn in the long, bath-time rotation of big sister's dolls, because as this second ad shows, dolls joined babies in subsequent advertising. Perhaps adding dolls and the toy market to the equation hedged the company's long-term survival bets.

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    And how about adventure time? A typical child adventure today may mean a trip to the park where playground equipment has been coated, reinforced, and secured atop a protective playground turf. But no such luxury existed in the "good old days". Parents had to improvise. Check out this baby perched on an adult bicycle that has been tethered to the walls of the building behind it. "Look, Mom! No net!"

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    And the little fellow below has discovered that an upturned outdoor lounge chair loaded with tensioned metal springs makes a fine pretend something or another. Just watch out for that dangling foot. That first step down is a doozy. But not to worry. If he zigs when he should zag, the wooden fence beside him should break his fall, unless it breaks something else first.

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    Not all bygone child-rearing contraptions were dangerous without benefit. Some were dangerous with benefit, like this 1962 wooden playpen.

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    Modern playpens don't permit Dad to nap with his precious toddler and still have room for a sweet, stuffed Bambi to watch over them as they sleep. These old wooden playpens went the way of the dinosaur because tykes got injured between the wide slats. But this little girl didn't have to worry. Dad was right there to keep her safe.

    Finally, there are the twins, Lorena and Loretta. We know their names because they are written right beneath them on this slice-of-Americana, taking-a-walk-in-the-city, pic.

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    Note the child leashes. We like to think that recent generations invented all the modern safety contraptions that protect our children, but as this very old photo proves, we didn't. Keeping track of rambunctious youngsters in crowded, dangerous situations is a problem as old as time, and "leading strings" for young children can be seen in artwork from centuries ago.

    We may look back in shock or horror at contraptions or methods that we would never utilize today, but every generation has its own child-rearing challenges. Fortunately, parents throughout the ages have done their best with whatever modern-at-the-time aide existed to help their children blossom.

    With vigilant parents, children will always be able to grow up and look back. Perhaps in the future, a then-mature baby of today will write an article that reflects upon its own "good old days." Might that article bemoan the unfortunate health repercussions of the relentless hours of texting, online surfing, and video games of the early 2000s? That remains to be seen.

    Ah... progress...