So many of your letters recount how a badly-behaved boy was turned into a model of docility and humility by the magic of petticoat discipline. I would like to make my own addition to these accounts because it certainly worked with my cousin Leonard, who at ten years old could be a real nuisance. He would visit us for a week or so over the Christmas holidays.
Every evening, as my youngest sister Charlotte was preparing for bed he would taunt her, telling her only babies went to bed so early and laughing at her teddy bear, Mister Snuggles. Naturally this was upsetting for a seven year old and she became reluctant to conform to mother's rule that bedtime was determined by age, each birthday allowed you to stay up a little later. To make matters worse Leonard noisily disturbed the girls when Mother remonstrated with him; he refused to put on his pyjamas and go to bed when Katie did, who at ten was the same age as Leonard.
The final straw came a few days before Christmas; Charlotte, who had been outside playing, came in weeping profusely, Leonard had been teasing her again and some other children had joined in the taunts. Mother comforted Charlotte, 'We'll soon see who the real baby is', she said. 'Tabitha' go and bring that nephew of mine to me; I think it's time to teach him a lesson.' I had rarely seen her so angry and hurried off to find him.
He was in reality a puny boy, no match for a robust fifteen-year-old girl; consequently I had little difficulty dragging a reluctant Leonard in off the street. I handed him over to Mother; this was long before common sense was thrown away regarding punishing children. She immediately hauled him over her lap, pulled down his shorts and underwear and began spanking his bare bottom.
Leonard squealed and squirmed but could not prevent the punishment. 'Right young man, you are going to find out what it's like to be the baby of the house, you're filthy so we'll start with a bath.' Pulling off his t-shirt she marched him to the bathroom, his shorts disentangling from his ankles as he floundered upstairs. I followed, relishing his comeuppance.
Although I had no idea what Mother planned, I knew Leonard was in big trouble. She was already filling the bath and was removing the sobbing boy's shoes and socks, when I entered the bathroom. 'Tabitha, go and fetch that old flannelette sheet from the jumble box and cut it up into nappy size squares, we have a new baby to look after.' Eagerly I sought out the sheet and prepared the nappies. When I returned Leonard was sitting in a tub full of suds. How he yelled in protest as Mother set to work scrubbing his grubby body.
Mother soaped up the flannel and washed his mouth out. 'Baby will learn to speak nicely to Aunty or there will be another smacked botty coming baby's way,' she warned the spluttering boy.
Tucking one end of a towel under his arm and wrapping it around him several times, Leonard's arms were pinned to his side as he was effectively swaddled. Mother picked him up and carried him downstairs. Katie and Charlotte were waiting for us, curiously wondering what was happening.
'This is baby Leonard girls', she said showing them his pink face that peeped out of the towel, 'from now on we will have to take special care of him, see, he is crying just like a real baby.'
Charlotte hopped up and down chanting, 'Leonard is a baby' just as he had taunted her. Mother interrupted. 'Now lets all help getting our new baby dressed shall we?' A loud chorus of cheers from the girls echoed around the house as they were dispatched on errands.
I must admit to some embarrassment as Mother applied zinc and castor oil cream and talcum powder before using several squares of the flannelette sheet to fashion makeshift nappies. She continued to scold him as she worked. 'Perhaps now that you are a baby again Leonard, you will learn some respect for others.'
The girls returned just in time to provide Mother with pink nappy pins, which she deftly put to use. Leonard's upper body was still tightly wrapped but there was no hiding the fact that he now wore soft flannelette nappies. Mother rummaged in the jumble box that Charlotte had bought and picked out several items of clothing. Leonard was released from the confines of the towel and immediately tried to run away but I was too quick and held on to him as Mother slipped a cotton vest over his head that once belonged to me, lace trimmed at the edges it had a pretty pink floral design. 'Stop it please, I don't want to wear these things', he wailed in his annoying whine, but was suddenly silenced when Katie popped an old, but unused dummy into his protesting mouth.
'Be quiet baby' she reprimanded him, or my mummy will give you another smacked bottom.' Mother and I could only laugh as she tied the dummy in place with some ribbon she had found and stood back to admire her handiwork. 'Good girl Katie', Mother praised, 'I couldn't stand any more of his bleating'.
Leonard was thankfully only able to make babyish gurgling noises combined with frantic sucking of the dummy as he forgot to breathe through his nose. 'If Baby calms down he'll soon be all dwessed up', Mother cooed babyishly at him, as she fastened him into an old bed jacket that made an ideal baby dress. Made from lambswool with layers of pink nylon, it had numerous flounces and ribbons that we tied enthusiastically. It really was more suited for an elderly person, but it was perfect for our purposes.
Charlotte had discovered an old sun bonnet in the box and pressed it into Mother's hands, 'He has to wear this Mummy, she urged, 'All babies wear bonnets.' The bonnet had an enormous frill and once tied under Leonard's chin he had to turn his head in an exaggerated babyish fashion to see anything, much to our amusement.
A pair of outdoor mittens, knitted from oddments of wool in a rainbow of colours sufficed to prevent him from undoing any of our handiwork followed, and perhaps some of your readers may remember knitted bootee slippers that had zippers up the side. Goodness knows why they were considered fashionable for children at the time, but I suppose you could say the same about balaclavas and sleeveless, slipover sweaters for men. In any case Katie's pink pair was requisitioned, and Leonard's feet were firmly encased in them.
Leonard was by now dressed as a thoroughly spoilt little baby, very much his mother's darling little lamb. It was a perfect way to make an example of a troublesome, disobedient boy.
'Can we take him out please Mummy', the girls begged in unison, eagerly anticipating being able to show off their new 'baby'. Much to their disappointment Mother demurred, instead sending them off to find Charlotte's old cot that was to be his bedtime destination.
Leonard began to suck loudly on his dummy when Mother mentioned the cot and looked very fearful. 'Don't think for one minute I've forgotten what started this upset young man', Mother told him. She took his hand and walked him to the kitchen doorway. 'Tabatha put that rug on the floor and pass me that box of baby toys please', she asked, settling Leonard into a sitting position on the rug.
'Now baby', she began, 'Tabatha and I are going to prepare dinner, I want to hear you making those baby noises with your dummy and playing with this rattle or I will think you are too tired to stay awake and put you straight to beddy-byes in your cot, do you understand?' Leonard pushed the rattle with his mitten and gurgled very babyishly for Mother, desperate not to be put to bed.
'That's a good boy', she encouraged, adjusting his bonnet and re-tying the neck ribbon on the bed jacket whilst telling him what a pretty baby he was.
Leonard sat resplendent in his baby outfit for almost an hour as the girls made up the cot in his room. Mother uttered the occasional 'I can't hear you', which provoked a satisfying increase in the volume of rattle shaking and babyish gurgling. Finally we sat down to eat. Charlotte was allowed to put a bib around his neck and untie his dummy; while I had the honour of spoon-feeding a bowl of milky cereal and rice pudding into his reluctant mouth. So far I had felt no guilt in subjecting Leonard to his very apt punishment, and ignored his bleating that he had learned his lesson and how sorry he was. 'Hush now and eat up your din-dins like a good baby.' I cajoled him, enjoying immensely the experience of babying Leonard.
After dinner Mother announced it was time for baby to go to bed. The girls bounded around excitedly as Leonard started whining and kicking his zippered feet against the table. Mother sent Katie for my pink flannelette nightdress and I helped remove the bed jacket, bonnet and slippers from the increasingly frantic Leonard.
We slipped his head and arms into my warmest nightgown; before the advent of central heating these items of clothing were a necessity and I felt a certain sense of loss as I fastened up the three neck buttons that ensured a cosy night's sleep for the lucky wearer. The full-length nightdress extended well past his feet, so Mother pinned the excess material upwards, sealing the bottom of the nightie, cleverly ensuring Leonard was securely encased, like a baby in a snuggle nightdress.
'There now, six o'clock and all ready for night-night, don't you feel silly now for teasing Charlotte, Babykins?' asked Mother, Leonard nodded and looked contrite, 'Come along now, time for beddy-byes.' He attempted to walk, but kept tumbling over as the pinned up nightdress restricted his movement.
'Shall Aunty carry baby to bed?' Leonard was not given a chance to answer as Mother scooped him up and whisked him up-stairs, his legs kicking wildly within the confines of the thick flannelette nightie. As he was placed snugly into the cot Charlotte thoughtfully laid her teddy bear beside him. 'That was sweet of you', I told her later as we briefly peeked in on the slumbering Leonard before I helped her into bed, 'won't you miss Mister Snuggles?'
'No', she told me, 'Mummy said that the baby needs him more than I do.'
The following morning Leonard was driven back to my aunt's wearing my nightgown. On the way we stopped at a children's toy shop, and Charlotte and katie had the honour of choosing for him his very own pink cuddly teddy bear, with a pink bow under its chin. He was told that he had to think of a name for his teddy, and it had to be sissy enough or he would risk another spanking. Blushing all the time he finally suggested Susie Pinkbows, and this was accepted. Mother clasped one of his hands and he had to hoist up the nightdress with the other to avoid falling, and it was a suitably chastened young man who was grateful to reach the sanctuary of his own home.
It was not long after this incident that our father returned from working
abroad and we moved away from the area. Leonard eventually married, had
children, and became a prosperous lawyer. I used to wonder if he ever thought
about the time his aunt and cousins taught him to become a more tolerant,
honest person - although he never returned my warm flannelette nightdress!
I am sure that many readers believe that some people deserve to suffer the indignities of petticoat punishment after they become lawyers, not to speak of before! It seems to have been a smashing success in the case of Leonard; as you say, this was before child discipline was all about using 'progressive' methods, which are, in fact, more distressing to the child, because an intelligent child can always detect that there is some sort of secret agenda when its mother uses 'reason'.
Of course moderne child psychologists are blissfully
unaware that children can see right through them, but that the children
just lack the words to express what they know is happening. At least in
the past it was all out in the open, and in that sense children were actually
treated with greater respect than they are today.