There are clothes the kids love that are not things I've picked out for them. At least, not this year (or last). Maybe it's a pair of overalls from three years ago when my oldest was still happy to have me put her hair in pig tails. They prefer pants torn at the pockets from three girls who all stuff their pockets to bursting with untold treasures snatched from the grass, the toy chest, my bedside table.
They wear dresses in muted shades of over-washed; they sport rainbow socks with threadbare heels. These, more than the new clothes stagnating on hangers in their closets—the special occasion clothes and the everyone's-wearing-them clothes, and the just-try-it-for-mommy clothes—these wretched threads still bound together by luck and laundry soap are their favorites.
Sometimes I worry that hand me downs are telling the larger world a story of meager means. Are they broadcasting the details of our tight clothing budget or my inability to coordinate four children's worth of outfits? For these reasons I cringe when they bounce off through the school doors, a tattered hemline fluttering in their wake.
But I'm smart enough to shake off self-conscious concerns about my public image and re-imagine the emotional inheritance in cast-off clothing. All of my kids have gone crashing through the world around them in these clothes. Past and present versions of them fill out the shoulders of a much-loved sweater just so. These clothes re-collect my going-going-gone babies and toddlers, my memory's children.
There will be many autumns spent buying clothes my kids carefully pick for a new school year, eager to show off to old friends and new classmates. But someday the hand-me-downs will run out, packed off to Goodwill. For now, I'll be praying the tears at the seams hang on for a few more memories.
Here's a bit of essay-writing for Trifecta's Week Sixteen challenge. The inspiration word is "wretched."
3: being or appearing mean, miserable, or contemptible <dressed in wretched old clothes>
I fixated on that clothing example, as well as the third meaning of the adjective "mean."
a: of poor shabby inferior quality or status <mean city streets> b : worthy of little regard : contemptible —often used in negative constructions as a term of praise <no mean feat>
How's that for meta?