4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
The day before school started I dug through the kids’ closet where I’ve been (haphazardly) stocking shoes and clothing to fit my children for the next ten years of their lives.
To understand this closet, you have to know that every time I see a quality collared shirt or a pair of pants in sizes 5T through 10 on sale for a new low-low price, I buy them. Really. And my kids don’t even have a uniform or strict dress code.
I’m the same way about hand-me-downs, but since they’re free, I’m even more so. You have gently used clothes in sizes 5T to size 10? Send them here. (Seriously. Send them.)
My sister and I have markedly different styles, and her girls are teenagers now. Plus they knew how to keep a taffeta dress clean. I mean, they even had white dress shoes. With satin bows! But it doesn’t matter that I am machine-wash-only. It doesn’t matter that my kids are mostly just sneaker-wearers. My sister will mail me her girls’ pristinely packed hand-me-downs and then we will rock that size 5T taffeta dress with bike shorts and Nikes, like Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles… or Pretty in Pink, or whatever.
Perhaps you should know that growing up, I dressed in costume every day.
And I don’t mean I was the Chik-fil-a cow or anything, although I think that would be freeing somehow. And I also don’t mean that I dressed in elaborate costumes for Halloween, because I was way too self-conscious for that. But when I’d head to school each day I’d dress a different part.
In kindergarten I had an actual red dirndl dress I’d wear with my pigtails. My teacher would call me Gretel. All day. For real.
And I had a full-length, calico Holly Hobby dress I wore. With an apron. Did I mention it was full-length? I looked like a sister wife before anyone on the east coast knew sister wives were even a Utah thing.
In high school it continued. My neighbor still loves to recall that she’d stand on her porch to see what outlandish outfit I’d wear out the door. One day I’d be wearing my field hockey uniform with a french braid and popped collar. The next I’d have laced ankle boots, a long prairie skirt and a brooch at my neck. The following day I’d be full-on Bon-Jovi-New-Jersey sexy secretary, tight leather pencil skirt, padded shoulders, high hair, spiked heels and nylons with a seam up the back.
Who did I think I was?! Which is exactly the question.
I was a people pleaser, an Every Woman, a chameleon both in dress and in actions. I stuck out for blending in so hard. I thought I didn’t know how to be as “good” as my sisters, and so I wanted to be better instead; as smart and successful, but cooler, with a boyfriend and friends, but not a party-er, but invited to parties, liked by teachers, but not a goody-two-shoes, team captain but in the chamber choir (*see Holly Hobby dress), in the Homecoming court but still a virgin.
That sentence alone makes me shudder. Be happy. Be good. Be her. Be this. Be that. Be better. Be better. Be…
Be Holly Hobby and Gretel and Molly Ringwald, apparently.
It seems my goal was to take everything that everyone handed me and to wear it. On my soul. How many of us were doing all that trying on, trying to fit, trying to be?
In our basement here we have a bin of costumes so that my kids can be a fireman with a tiara, Spiderman with a football helmet. One son is especially enamored of wearing the space explorer backpack with the Mulan princess dress, because it’s so-o-o-o-o-o-o soft (and it is.)
So for now, my kids try on hand-me-downs and decide if they want to incorporate them into their wardrobe. They go to the dress-up bin and turn into princess-ninja-space-exploring-chefs.We have fun when we dress.
Pirate sweaters, bedazzled t-shirts, patchwork skirts, taffeta dresses, patterns, patterns, patterns. I’m especially fond of the Hugh Heffner flounced velour pink spaghetti-strap nightgown and matching robe someone passed down to my four-year-old. It’s her favorite. Which will be helpful when Playboy joins up with Highlights magazine to create a new Play-baby-bunny brand, apparently.
Because we’re all getting hand-me-downs, from our siblings and our families, our friends and neighbors. We’re all trying things on. Even me. Even every day. It’s what we choose to keep and what we choose to, well, hand right on down to the next guy, that creates the us we become.
As long as my kids know that they never need to be every person, but that they are always free to be any person they choose, then it’s all good. (Except a four-year-old Play-baby-bunny. That’s unacceptable.)
(This was written in response to the awesome Daily Post prompt Hand-Me-Downs, which I (ahem) actually submitted… because I just realized that to submit a prompt but not actually join in would be like hosting a costume party but not wearing a costume. Just plain tacky.)