A package should arrive tomorrow full of new school clothes for my boys.
This is a pretty common purchase in middle class America in August. Back to school shopping is a tradition. Certainly I grew up with a replenished wardrobe every year at this time, ready to show up in a new classroom sporting unblemished shoes and a fresh favorite outfit. My brother also met September with new sneakers and the latest cool t-shirts in his closet. My mother took meticulous care of our appearances.
But I didn’t follow in my mother’s footsteps. I’m no match for her as a housekeeper, and I didn’t take my kids to the mall for the annual sales. I just replaced what was worn out or outgrown. Usually that meant almost every purchase was destined for DS1, who’s older by several years and has been consistently bigger at similar ages.
This year, I’ve done something a little different in my shopping. Ten of the 15 items in the package are for DS2.
He’s the second son.
He has grown up wearing his brother’s hand-me-down clothes.
I thought I should offer him more this year, and here’s why.
There’s an obvious thrift, and related environmental benefit, to passing clothing down to younger kids. Even when we’re done with them, our gently worn items are donated to a charitable organization. I’m not advocating, today, for the wanton destruction of clothing with life left in it. This isn’t about a sartorial arms race, or keeping up with the cool kids in designer duds.
What I realized recently is how little life was left in some of the pieces DS2 was wearing. His socks were threadbare at the bottom. Undergarments offered more holes than coverage. Close examination revealed stains and spots—here and there—on almost all of his favorite t-shirts.
I’d crossed a line from frugal and eco-friendly to derelict in my duties.
No one should have to wear worn out socks. They become a limiting factor in one’s ability to comfortably walk and play. Charity organizations that focus on this issue.
And, to be clear, we are in a position where we can afford a new wardrobe for both of our children every year. I just never have. It never mattered before now.
With age comes social awareness… sometimes.
DS1 was polled every year about his interest in selecting his own clothes, and he remains disinterested. He’d rather spend his time on something else, even as a teenager, though he is now willing to spare me a grudging ten minutes to look at a few items on the internet before I re-stock his closet. His primary interest is comfort, and he likes a witty tee in the Geek Chic genre.
And then there’s DS2. My younger son loves attention. He enjoys dressing up on special occasions, having noticed how the compliments flow toward a boy in a suit and tie. At school, he wants to be comfortable and play, but he also likes to look nice, or present an image to complement a complex game, or express himself with a carefully chosen message tee.
He’s a different kid. He likes different things. I can offer some of them to him, and, this season, I feel like I should.
I opted for a few monogrammed items for DS2. We watched old episodes of Family Ties last summer, and the little guy found Michael J. Fox’s “Alex P. Keaton” character enchanting. (Michael J. Fox was fantastic in that role.) He was intrigued by Alex’s monogrammed sweaters (and bathrobe, I think?) I saw these as an option in a retailer’s catalogue, and that’s what got me thinking about the wardrobe situation.
It so happens that DS2 hit a growth plateau two years ago, and he’s barely changed size since then. (Don’t worry, we’ve followed up with his doctor.)
He’s wearing some items he first put on in Kindergarten. He’s in upper elementary school now. First his brother wore these garments for a year or two, then another three, four, or five years of hard use… No wonder some pieces are in tatters.
So I pulled out the catalogues, and I showed DS2 some options. Unlike his big brother, he was interested in making choices, and he was ecstatic about having his initials embroidered on a sweater and a puffy vest.
There’s also a monogrammed hoodie in the box, but that’s a surprise. Don’t tell him! It occurred to me that his outerwear might return home more readily with personalization right on the front. Bonus benefit for Mom.
One part of me feels a bit frivolous replacing some still wearable, but faded, but stained… sweatpants for a kid who’s going to wear them into the woods and rolling down muddy hills. A larger part is just tickled that my son was so excited about a box full of clothes just for him, a gift I could have offered him throughout his young life, but chose not to for philosophical reasons.
The items full of holes will go in the rag bag, and the spotted but intact will be sent to clothe a child who might otherwise wear worse. I usually add at least a few good pieces to the donation pile, too. I’m always struck by the thought of the child who’s only worn tatters, and only worn stains, and the likely joy of finding a piece that’s perfect and new-with-tags amidst the hand-me-downs.
I always thought of this in my charitable giving, but glossed over the same for my otherwise well-tended little boy.
Until this time, and the package that should arrive tomorrow.