A Clothesline Romance

One of my favorite memories is crawling in bed on a summer night, hair still damp from a Saturday night bath, and diving in between cool, crisp cotton sheets that smell like grass and sunshine, fresh from the clothesline.

I remember giggling as I felt the breeze blowing in from the window, looking out at the gently swaying leaves of our gigantic trees that made a canopy of shade in the summertime, and hugging my favorite blankie while I inhaled its every well-worn inch. It smelled so incredibly good after hanging outside all afternoon.

Everything felt so clean and fresh and good, and all was right with the world. They say that scent is one of the strongest triggers of memories, and every time I smell sheets fresh from the clothesline, it brings back that time.

One of my very favorite photos ever, my little girl in her “prairie girl” dress playing in the sheets, her brother in the background.

I love clotheslines. The sight of crisp sheets, sunning in the breeze, gives me a feeling of utter contentment.

So many of my memories growing up are linked directly to the clothesline on the side of our house. It was, of course, a magnificent clothesline. The horizontal metal pole on one end grew directly into a huge pine tree, hugged deeply by bark on top and bottom. A pine tree helping support the clothesline? Absolutely amazing to me as a child. That horizontal clothesline crossbar was strong enough that we used the bar for gymnastic feats of near-Olympic caliber while Mom pinned up towels on the lines.

Also amazing was the fact that my mom actually grew clothes pins. Whenever an old clothes pin broke, she chucked the broken one into the day lilies by the side of the house, always telling us that the long, thick leaves were new clothes pins growing. I never actually saw those leaves “flower” into clothes pins, but sometimes I even threw in extras, just to help Mom grow more. She was always running out of clothes pins, after all.

The best thing about the clothesline as a kid was running full speed through the rows of towels and sheets, shoving them up in the air as we ran underneath. Crispy, stiff towels brushed on my cheeks as I went past and sheets billowed up to catch the breeze just long enough to dash through. Sometimes we even drove the 4-wheeler under the clothesline to have the same effect.

clothes line diapers

I remember wishing I could be a sheet on the wash line, waving up and down and snapping in the breeze. It seemed like that had to be a sheet’s very favorite time, getting to hang out on the line to dance and play in sunshine. I also wished I could be the grapevines that spiraled and curled along the wires of my grandma’s clothesline, racing to grow to the other end.

.On the business side, I clearly remember Mom’s mad dashes to the line and her yelling, “My towels!” when the first big rain drops rapped against the windows. Out the porch door and around the corner she’d race to the clothesline, trying to save everything from needing a trip to the dryer.

And woe to the puppy that pulled clean towels off the line. A very good swatting with those towels, if done properly, only took one time to cure Buster (we had several Busters growing up) of pulling things off the line.

Today when I hear of housing developments with restrictive covenants not allowing a clothesline, it simply feels like an abomination and an assault to my sensibilities. I understand that in a row of perfect houses, hanging out towels is far too “redneck” to be acceptable. Maybe it’s not so much redneck, though, as far too human.

In eliminating clotheslines in the quest for perfectly tidy yards, we lose a part of our humanity. Towels, sheets, and jeans on the line at our neighbor’s house provide very concrete evidence that there is, quite literally, dirty laundry in that home. We are human. We all have it. It’s hard to maintain the pretense of perfection if slightly tattered towels are out there for the world to see. When did it become unacceptable to be human, a real human with laundry drying in the breeze?

At our new house here out in the country one of the things I loved right away is the long, ample clothesline that definitely means business. Laundry business. It’s a little crooked and needs to be shored up, but in the mean time, the line hangs low enough in some places that our kids can reach it and help hang up clothes. Lots of chores around the house hold no interest, but hanging up things on the line is pretty much always a fun job.

cloth diapers clothes line

Three kids helping hang diapers in the sunshine. (Helpfulness like this just has to be photographed.)

What endears me to clotheslines is the very visual evidence of a family’s life inside a home. Driving past a farm with clothes out on the line, it’s such a signal of life, industry, and a busily humming family inside that home. A line of clean clothes hanging up to dry says that someone’s working hard to keep life peacefully in order. There’s a Puritan practicality and work ethic appeal in a row of clothes out on the line.

What I feel like when I hang clothes on the line.   (artist unknown)

Not only does life feel industrious and in order, but a trip out to the clothesline for ten minutes really feels like adult recess. Ten minutes to soak up vitamin D out in the sunshine and wind all by myself is heaven. Sometimes in a busy day of completing my mental to-do list, I don’t even step outside the house until I haul out a load of laundry.

Then, when I step outside, it’s a wonderful paradigm shift. Away from the noise of busy kids, all is quiet, and breeze, warm sun, and birds suddenly fill my senses. All of the stress of things to do in the house disappear for a little while in the simple, quiet rhythm of grabbing items from a basket and hanging them on the line. I value that in my rinse-and-repeat world of being a mom.  

And when the load of laundry is all up on the line, it’s such a pleasing sight that I usually take a few steps back and just stare at the line for a little bit. A nicely pinned up row of sheets or towels gives me a momentary sense that life is all in order. Well, at least part of it, anyway.

Using a clothesline is so nice that sometimes I let the towels enjoy a full two days out there, or even three. Yes, let’s just call that intentional. I’m doing the towels a favor. Unlike my mom, I often don’t dart outside when the rain starts, so sometimes the towels even get an extra rinse with soft rainwater. Purely deliberate, of course.

When I was in high school, old enough to dream about my life as an adult, I sometimes imagined one day looking out of my kitchen window to see kids playing outside and sheets drying in the breeze on the wash line. And today, I have four little kids running full speed through my sheets, hiding between the towels, and accidentally tugging my clean things off of the lines.

And as I yell, “My towels!” to get my kids to slow down a bit, they have no idea how utterly happy the whole scene makes me.  

© 2012


The Cloth Diaper Revolution

Written April 16, 2012.

In 2006, when our first baby girl arrived on the scene, I didn’t know anyone that used cloth diapers.  As far as I was concerned, cloth diapers died out with the hippy era.  Never seeing cloth diapers used, my image of cloth diapering was an over-worked mother wallowing in baby filth up to her shoulders, with her pitiful child swaddled in a droopy, leaking, repeatedly-stained poor excuse for a Huggies.  But in the diaper world, the times, they are a changin’.

Three-and-a-half years later, in 2009, we had three children and I’d changed my tune on cloth diapers.  I brought my third child into his well-baby checkup wearing a snazzy red cloth pocket diaper, and the nurse that weighed him looked at me cross-eyed wondering what in the world I had on my child, and how she was supposed to take that strange contraption off in order to weigh him.

Fast forward another two years to 2011, though, and things changed.  When I brought our fourth child in for a well-baby checkup sporting a leopard print cloth diaper on her bum, I asked that nurse if she had seen these before, and she smiled and said, “Oh yeah, we see these all the time.  I wish these were available when I had kids.”  In just two years time, the new style of cloth diapers had become fairly commonplace to the nurses at our children’s clinic that see babies all day long.

My one-year-old feeling sassy in her animal print diaper.

My Own Diaper Adventure 

I’ve been using cloth diapers for nearly three years now.  My venture into cloth diapering began when our third child was born.  We had two children in diapers and one in Pull-Ups at night.  Every week I shelled out another $10-15 and sent about 70 diapers to the garbage, only to do it again the next week. And again, and again. I wanted out of the cycle.

So I bought some flat cloth diapers, plastic pants, and diaper pins.  I ventured into old school cloth diapering with my one-month-old and two-year-old sons. The sight of a long line of pristinely white cloth diapers waving in the Montana summer sunshine gave me a particular happiness that chucking dirty Pampers in the garbage never provided. I was hooked.

But this is the age of the internet and innovation, and with a little time spent on Google, I soon realized that technology has revolutionized cloth diapers.  I quickly replaced the noisy and cumbersome plastic pants with polyurethane laminate (PUL) diaper covers. They are soft fabric on the outside with a laminate waterproof backing, have easy to use Velcro or snap closures, and best of all, they simply require inserting a cloth diaper folded in thirds, eliminating the need to pin.

After some experimenting with diaper options, I finally settled on what is called a “pocket diaper.” These diapers most closely resemble disposables in style, making them easy for anyone to use and simple enough to even bring to daycare. Pocket diapers have a PUL waterproof outer and are lined with microfleece, which wicks moisture, leaving the baby feeling dry. Inside, pocket diapers have an opening or “pocket” between the cover and the inner fleece which you then stuff with an absorbing layer (microfiber, cotton inserts, and organic hemp being some options).

A great feature about pocket diapers is the ability to customize absorbency. I use a single insert during the day and double them at night. I’ve had rare leaks, and even better, messy “blowouts” are extremely rare.  With my first two kids in disposables, those infant explosions of mess shooting out the sides and up their backs were fairly common.  With my second two kids in cloth, those episodes were practically nonexistent.   What I love best about my pocket diapers are the adjustable snaps down the front: a single diaper fits babies from eight pounds to over 30 pounds. With two kids in diapers at the same time, I never worry about running out of a particular size, because every diaper fits.

Washing Diapers Isn’t Scary

As for the most dreaded aspect of cloth diapers, I was downright amazed to discover how simple and hands-free it is to have beautifully clean diapers. Changing a diaper (cloth or disposable) is the hard, messy party.  Putting diapers into a washing machine is easy. After flushing any solids, I store the soiled diaper in a covered, dry diaper pail until I’m ready to wash a load of diapers, usually every few days. Then I let the washing machine do the dirty work. First I give any soiled diapers a pre-wash in hot, then wash all of the diapers with soap in a long cycle with water as hot as the water heater allows. I finish with an extra rinse, and simply dry them in the dryer. In the spring and summer I sometimes hang them on the washline, letting the sunshine naturally brighten and sanitize the diapers.

Three kids helping hang diapers in the sunshine. (Helpfulness like this just has to be photographed.)

Bottom line for Baby Bottoms

After nearly three years of use, I am still a happy user of my cloth diapers.  I love that I don’t have to run to the store and fork over more money when my diapers run low, I just head to the washing machine.  I like that my kids have less diaper rash.  I love that our garbage cans don’t fill up nearly as fast.

Here are my simple numbers.  I use cloth diapers about 95% of the time.  We usually go through about 10 diapers/pull-up trainers a day with two kids wearing diapers and 1-2 additional kids wearing pull-up trainers at night.  That makes 300 diapers a month.  Multiply that times 32 months of using cloth diapers, and that makes 9,600 diapers.  If I’ve used them 95% of the time, that makes about 9,120 diapers that I did NOT throw into the garbage over the last few years.  Astonishing, right?  And that’s just little old me.  We used to make a full kitchen-sized bag of garbage every single week with just diapers, so that makes a good 135 bags of garbage not created.

The cost savings are just as remarkable.  If a baby exclusively uses disposables from birth until he/she is potty-trained, parents can expect to pay $1,600-$2,300 on diapers, according to http://www.surebaby.com.  As far as cost, I’ve spent about $300 total over the last few years to buy cloth diapers and pull-up trainers.  That $300 I spent diapered not one, but three children and kept two kids in pull-ups at night.  I would have spent about $4000 to keep my kids in disposable diapers during that time.  And best of all, my diapers are still functional and continue to be used.

Curious? Interested?

If saving money, creating less waste, and covering your baby in an adorable, soft diaper sound appealing, head to the internet and do a little research.  A search on cloth diapers will delve you into the ever-growing variety of cloth/reusable diaper options.  Start small and experiment with a few different options and find out what works for you.  And there’s no rule about all-or-nothing.  Even if you just use cloth diapers some of the time, it still saves money and cuts down the landfill fodder.

Currently, there are few retailers that stock the new options in cloth diapers.  You won’t find them wandering the shelves at Target or Walmart.  For most people, the internet is the primary source for purchasing cloth diapers.

Our local area in SE MN is fortunate, however, to have a cloth diaper retail store available.  Tina Darr, a stay-at-home mother of four, owns Cloth Diapers Today, a home-based business in Rushford, MN.  With the next closest cloth diaper retail store located in the Twin Cities, Tina serves a wide customer base from the SE MN area, northern Iowa, and Wisconsin.  With a young baby at home, Tina currently runs her business by appointment.  If interested, visit her website at www.clothdiaperstoday.org or call her at 507-864-7650.  Tina says she has seen an explosion in the last 5-8 years of people exploring cloth diapering options, in part because “it’s so easy now.”  With so many cloth diapers now available, Tina offers the convenient opportunity to see and feel diaper options in person.

So for Earth Day, why not have your baby go green? (Or purple, turquoise, zebra-striped, pink, polka-dotted…)

 © 2012