Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hand-me-down pick-me-ups

"What an adorable sweater," my mom remarked as Munchkin barreled around my sister's living room, chasing the dog. "You get her such adorable clothes!"

"That's a hand-me-down from [friend]'s daughter ... and, actually, the pants are from [cousin]!" I answered.

"You don't have to say that," my mom snapped back, chiding me for seeming to demur from the compliment, or for oversharing about money.

But I love hand me downs, and I talk about the multilayered geneology of Munchkin's clothes whenever anyone gives me half a chance. Because hand-me-downs, you see, mean that someone cares about my daughter, about me and Pynchon, about our family. Nothing on earth makes me feel more secure that my family is part of a bigger family of friends and relatives, a community of parents and children supporting one another, than watching yet another giant shopping bag / Rubbermaid tub / cardboard box drop onto the floor of the vestibule or into the trunk of my car.

When you bring me your daughter's clothes, I benefit from the care you took in selecting and buying and laundering and saving them. What's more, I have a window into your family life, your preference for track pants and zip-sweaters, or for tights and embroidered dresses. There is a trust and an intimacy in the exchange of these items. When Munchkin wears these clothes, you and your daughter are in my thoughts, our families linked.

I'm sharing the joy with Munchkin: look at this beautiful ruffle skirt! Did you know that this beautiful skirt used to belong to Naomie until she got too big, and now she is going to share it with you? Her eyes light up. "I'm a lucky girl, Mom!" She will march around telling people which friend used to wear that beautiful sweater, but then she'll tell you just as proudly that her mom bought her this other sweater "because she loves me."

Hand-me-downs for children seem an anachronism in our disposable and cheap Wal-Mart culture: can't everyone afford new clothes, now? Maybe. But it's not about money. Participating in this give-and-take informal economy of children's clothes has been one of the most meaningful set of social connections that parenthood has offered me. Receiving and giving out clothes in turn has bonded me more intimately with family members, old friends, and new friends. Skirts and hoodies and splash pants and snowsuits pull us all closer to one another, a tacit lesson learned that raising a kid benefits from looking beyond your own front porch.

As my attic fills in its turn with Rubbermaid tubs full of clothes that Munchkin has outgrown, I eagerly look for friends to share them with--not because I lack the room to store them, but because I want to see those little outfits again, in a new context, under a different smiling baby face. By sharing out Munchkin's clothes--and her high chair, and her crib, and her Bumbo chair--I feel a part of so many more babyhoods than I would otherwise have any right to lay claim to. My friend J just brought her 12 week old baby for a visit, and as she picked through the 3-6 month bucket, I sniffed the crown of that little wee girl's head for all it was worth, casting side glances at clothes I hadn't seen for three years, reliving again those days when my big girl wore sleepers and overalls.

We're not having any more kids. I guess I could start selling the big-money items on Craigslist or wherever, but I don't want to. I want to send bits of my intimate family life into the families of the people I care about. So it is that I'm going to mail away my Medela Pump-n-Style to Amy, just as soon as I sort out her address. I hope she'll find use of it, but really, the gift is more for myself, a tangible link to her soon-to-arrive little boy, a link in the chain of a friendship begun in the lobby bar at the W in Chicago. A smile and a hug sent through the mail.

Happy almost-baby, Amy! May the hand-me-downs you give and receive weave you into the warmth of families, supporting one another.

Something old, something new: someone loved

(The theme for this week is, apparently, maudlin memorializing in the midst of mundanity. I'm trying to get it out of my system. Sorry.)


Assertagirl said...

Aw, Aimee, I LOVE this post, and not just because of what you wrote about me and our baby and the friendship you and I share (and which I value very much).

(I e-mailed you my address, by the way. )


Mommy Melee said...

I love this. I feel really strongly about handing down and sharing baby items. It seems so wasteful to always purchase them new when you use them for such a short time. (With the exception of car seats, which I feel should probably always be new.)

You're an awesome friend!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Exactly. I feel exactly the same way! Also, I love to have stories connected to objects.

Omaha Mama said...

We had a ton of hand-me-downs when B was smaller. Up until she was past 3T. After that, it dwindled and I miss it! You are exactly right about all of it. And Brenna loved that she got to wear some of her cousin's dresses, someone that she looks up to so much.
I like to pass on things too and have had a lot of fun doing so.

Cloud said...

I LOVE this post!

One of the joys of having a second baby girl has been seeing some of my favorite outfits again. Petunia was bigger than Pumpkin though, and some of the outfits have already been retired again. I am sad to see them go, and hopeful that I can find someone else to share them with.

And I'm looking forward to getting a nice box of clothes from a friend who is done having kids.

Kyla said...

Oh, me too. KayTar gets loads of hand-me-downs and we love it. Who wouldn't?

Jenifer said...

I love this post and I love hand-me downs! All of my clothes has been passed around and now much of it back to me for Sweetpea. I loved seeing Papoosie Girls newborn sleepers nearly 9 years later, it is a walk down memory lane.

We have been lucky to get some wonderful hand-me downs from my sister-in-law and friends.

I agree there is nothing wrong with being proud of it!

Anonymous said...

I love this post! And I totally agree with you. It's not about what we can or cannot afford. It's about living gently and being part of a community.

alejna said...

I loved this, too. I love your take on the process of handing down.

I love getting hand-me-downs when I can, but we don't have many sources these days. I actually try to buy a lot of clothes used. It makes me happy to see things getting reused. I hate waste!

eda said...