The air is turning cooler, the nights pleasantly chilly enough to throw the windows wide open and sleep comfortably snuggled under a light blanket. The kids are asking for their footies, even though they’re still too hot in them at night. Thomas (9) wants to start building fires in the fireplace again. It’s Autumn. And, at our house, Autumn means Hand-Me-Down day. Out comes the trunk full of winter and not-quite-fitting clothes, line up the kids, and figure out who gets what. The kids are jumping up and down, squirming with excitement so much it’s hard to hold up the sweatshirt across the back to measure the arms, or even hold the folded jeans up to a waist to measure the legs. I’ve got my sharpie marker at the ready, adding dots* as needed, creating three piles on the floor. Quick little hands are grabbing items out of the trunk, “My snowman jammies!”, “My fish shirt!”, “My volcano jacket!”, quicker than I can check size and sort them. Everyone grabs an armload of new-old treasures and races off to their room to put them away.
I wore hand-me-downs as a kid. I was never quite as excited as my kids are about it, except on those rare occasions when I got a batch of really fashionable clothes from a well-thought of older family friend. The rest of the time, it was really basic stuff. And I was acutely aware that I was supposed to be ashamed to wear them, because it was a constant reminder of my family’s relative poverty. I knew this because the kids at school and in the neighborhood always reminded me of it. Like an Islamic women’s black burqua draping her in the traditional Muslim color of shame, my hand-me-downs and homemade clothes draped me in shame.
My kids don’t wear shame in the way I did, because they don’t know they’re supposed to be ashamed of wearing other people’s cast-offs. There are no kids telling them they should be ashamed, so they’re not. For them, each new article of clothing is a gift, something their older brother loved, and so they will love it, too. Just as they will love the new clothes they’ll get to fill out their wardrobe, knowing they will one day pass it along to their younger brother. Except, maybe for the occasional ultra-cherished PJ that they just can’t seem to let go of.
Am I ashamed of dressing my kids in hand-me-downs? No, I’m not. We could probably afford to buy all new clothes for each of the boys each season-change, but we chose not to. For me, it’s a responsible thing to do, getting the most use from an article of clothing. It honors the hard work my husband puts in every day to earn the money that supports our family. Unnecessarily spending money on things to feed my own vanity would be dishonoring his efforts and his gift to his family. I’m proud of my kids’ hand-me-downs in a way I was not able to be proud of my own.
So, we’ve completed one Autumn ritual, a sign that the year is turning, and the holidays are right around the corner. The boys will be sporting their well-worn and well-loved britches and sweatshirts and sweaters, in addition to a few new items. And, I am content with the blessings enjoyed by our family.
*For those wondering about the dots, here’s the explanation. We have three boys, with two and three years between each. The older two, particularly, are pretty close in size. So I can keep track of which clothes go with each child when folding and sorting laundry, I started putting dots on the tags of their clothes. One dot is the eldest, two dots is the middle child, three dots is the youngest. When a shirt or pant gets too small for its present inhabitant, I add a dot and it goes to the next in line. Yes, I know, I’m a genius.