As the last of three girls, I wore a lot of hand-me-downs. We are each a little less than four years apart so by the time I received them they could have been eight years old, making out-of-date an understatement. In the pictures above, I can guarantee, we all three wore those items at one time. I definitely remember the itchy wool and scratchy faux fur collar on my eldest sister’s coat. YUCK!!! We all wore that Christmas dress you see me wearing while cuddling on Grandpa’s lap. Halloween was an assembly line of costumes. Pam could always pick whatever she wanted since she was first. The following year Tami would be what Pam had been as I would be the next year. Raggedy Ann, witch and ghost. My two least favorite in the queue: overalls and corduroy pants. I am not sure why I dislike overalls so much but my husband feels the same way. The disdain is so strong, we have only recently mustered up the courage to dress Emerson in a pair a dear friend gave us. But Silas never once wore a pair of overalls. And the corduroy culotte. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. Talk about an item of clothing having an identity crisis. Is it a skirt? No. Are they pants? No. Are they shorts? No. None of the above. And then, once they were on, the corduroy made this abhorrent rubbing noise. I am certain I don’t have a cute little picture of those ridiculous culottes because I had a catastrophic meltdown any time my mother made me wear them.
Jeans were a slightly different story. At least when I received those there was a chance there would be a hole in them (or many) and I would be able to pick out my own iron-on patch. You know the kind I mean, a rose, a rainbow, a butterfly. Of course, faded, worn and with holes are now fashionable but my frugal side can’t seem to pay hard-earned money for something someone else has already worn out. There were some clothes I did look forward to getting down out of the attic. I do remember a sense of excitement each season as we got to box up the passing season’s clothes and trade them for those of the next season. Dad climbing up the ladder and handing boxes down to us. The kids running boxes to one or another’s bedroom. Sometimes, hiding a particularly disliked item in the wrong season’s box so we could avoid having to wear it again. Shh, please don’t tell my mom!
Life is funny how it hands you things. You process them into your memory based on your present moment. As a child, I had one perspective: my own and a very brief history of it. I saw someone else’s used clothes. Worn, reused and not like what I would pick out for myself. Thanks to my boys, I was recently given the gift of a new perspective on hand-me-downs.
We never expected to have more than one child. We struggled for so long we were beyond grateful to have just one. So the idea of saving Silas’ clothes to use as hand-me-downs never occurred to us. We swiftly gave them away to friends and family, consigned or donated them as he grew. Then a blessing happened and we found ourselves able to try IVF again. From that moment we began saving Si’s clothes for his soon-to-be sibling. While we did not have very many of Si’s baby clothes for Emerson, we have plenty starting around 12-24 month size and we just started bringing them out. What an absolute joy!
As a child, I only ever thought about hand-me-downs as a way to save money and that’s all I thought as we started packing away things Silas outgrew. I was surprised by my pleasure as I pulled old shirts and pants and sweaters from the box. Simultaneously, experiencing joy as I remembered pieces of Silas’ childhood and excitement as I marveled at the new memories we would create with Emerson at each stage. It is so much fun to see Emerson in his big brother’s old clothes. Silas pauses and says, “Hey, that’s my shirt.” My own experience, wearing my sisters’ hand-me-downs, I felt like I was being shoved into someone else’s mold. These weren’t the clothes I would pick. Not the fabric. Not the color. Not the style. Seeing Emerson in one of Si’s old shirts… Yes, I do remember Silas and many of the things he did while wearing it. But, I see Emerson as well. I see all the ways he is like and unlike his brother. A unique and very precious individual, just like his big brother.
My sisters were two very different people. I remember going into school, being the third Stephen teachers were assigned to. Many asked me, “So which Stephen are you like?” The simple answer, “I am me.” Even as I stood there, in the same clothes worn by both my sisters, I was always an individual. All the important stuff is on the inside.
Emerson is too young to understand hand-me-downs now. I have no idea if he’ll one day resent wearing them as I did. I hope not. I love this two-lane memory highway. One lane for remembering old memories and the other for making new ones.
I want my boys to grow up knowing there is nothing on the outside that can diminish them. They have their own personalities, strengths and talent. I want Silas and Emerson to have solid cores so when the world tries to distract them, they are able to stand strong, knowing exactly who they are. -No matter what they are wearing, who is around them or what they are facing.