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Silver Threads: The pre-technology days of motherhood

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

Our son and daughter were born in 1959 and ‘61, and because of them I missed a lot of history in the making.

Oh, I kept up with coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, the lead-up to the war in Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination; being a stay-at-home mom in those days, I got to see a lot of TV coverage, watching United Nations sessions and marveling as Krushev banged his shoe on his desk during exchanges with Adlai Stevenson. But I wasn’t on the front lines, so to speak, interviewing locals about what they did and thought about during those changing times, and talking things over with the bunch in the newsroom. I was on leave from my career as a journalist and experiencing history just like most other people did.

I got to thinking about this when I read a Wall Street Journal article about a new kind of diaper for babies. “The ‘Smart Diaper,’ already in prototype … has a QR code on the front,” wrote Lenore Skenazy. “When a baby pees, the code turns different colors depending on the chemical content of the, um, liquid. The parent then takes a photo of the diaper with a smart phone which analyzes the code’s colors to determine if the baby has an infection, or possibly diabetes, or maybe even a kidney malfunction.”

If you’re wondering how I got from being on the back bench while history unfolded to the “Smart Diaper,” here’s the route: I’ve often mused that the colors of baby poop interested me and the other young mothers in our neighborhood far more than the headlines of those days. Most new moms — especially first timers — worry obsessively about their infant’s intake and output. And who cares what the world does as long as his first strained carrots pass through Junior properly?

Ms. Skenazy writes that the Smart Diaper may never come to the marketplace, but there’s already for sale the Owlet Baby Monitor, which, strapped to a sock at bedtime, measures your baby’s heart rate, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature, sleep quality and sleeping position. It streams all this information into your smart phone.

If you’re my age, and an older grandmother, betcha didn’t know these gadgets and half a dozen others exist. Our children were born before disposable diapers were invented, but of course I was able to wash and dry them in the shiny new appliances we bought just before they arrived. I knew I had it way easier on that score than my mother and grandmother had, but I did covert those formula bottles with the collapsible and disposable plastic liners available to my younger sisters when their babies came. It was too late; our kids were already using sippy cups and I was just grateful these innovations were available.

Yes, we first-time moms talked about baby poop a lot back in those days, and I guess some of the discussions would even have made it onto Facebook had it existed. We would have been Googling Baby’s symptoms and comparing notes in chat rooms across the country as well as in backyards down the block.

Thank goodness it wasn’t possible. I can’t imagine being more anxious about our children’s welfare than I already was. But it did get easier; two years after our son was born he had a baby sister, and I began to relax.

Those new-fangled monitors — if I’d had them first time ‘round — would have been stored on a shelf in the back of the closet.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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