Hand-me-downs and motherhood

There are some challenges that come with parenthood that people don’t tell you about. They’ll warn you of sleepless nights and spectators when you just want to use the bathroom alone. They’ll warn of messy kitchens and mountains of laundry and the way you’ll worry, sitting up at night with a sick little one.

But they don’t tell you that you’ll lose yourself.

They don’t tell you that every mother ends up overwhelmed and lonely, even when people come to visit or help.

They don’t tell you that trying to look after a child is such an all-consuming feat that everything else ends up being put aside to make it a little easier to wash a little person’s underwear because they’re mysteriously out of clean pairs, or wash a floor your shoes have been sticking to all day. Hobbies and interests stop existing for a while, because there’s simply no time. Time for these things will return eventually, but sometime, things come together in a curious way that makes everything seem far worse than it is.

Growing up in a large family, the idea of hand-me-down clothing was nothing new. Shoes rarely lasted long enough to be passed down, but clothing cycled from one kid to the next. Since I was the eldest girl, I rarely fell into this cycle. My parents would occasionally be gifted bags of previously-loved clothing from friends or coworkers, but for the most part, I got new clothes.

There’s an important form of self-expression that comes through clothing, and often we’re not even aware that it’s happening. We pick things we like or things we feel look good on us, without ever considering our choices. Our clothing lets us reflect our personalities on the outside, helping form a clear idea of who you are. But when your clothes are hand-me-downs, this freedom of expression is stripped from you.

Raising kids is as expensive as it is time-consuming. Clothes shopping with a toddler is a nightmare, and trying to check tags and scout out the things you can afford just doesn’t happen. So after our little one joined the family, I jumped at every offer of hand-me-down clothing, both for her and for me. It saved time, it saved effort, and it saved a fortune.

And yet it led to the slow replacement of the things in my drawers, my carefully curated collection of clothing assembled over the course of years. My own hand-chosen clothing wore out and was thrown away. Over time, I came to own a myriad of clothing from brands I’d heard of but didn’t wear and from stores I’d never visited. And then one day I opened a drawer to get dressed in the morning, and I was already having a bad day, and as I looked in at my clothing, I realized no part of myself was left in those drawers.

The shirts with words portraying my sense of humor, the shirts depicting characters from my favorite video games and movies, the shirts representing my favorite bands–all primarily black and dark clothing–were gone, save a few which were already in the hamper from the weekend.

Instead I was left with neon bright and pale clothing from Aeropostale, American Eagle and Hollister. I wore logos from stores I’ve never even set foot in, in colors I’d never dream of. And when I looked at myself in the mirror, I wasn’t entirely sure who was in that first glance.

That was the moment when everything came together for a pitiful afternoon of gutting my closet and discovering none of my old favorite dresses fit any more, all my favorite pants were worn out and torn at the pockets or the knees, and though the classy Korean clothing I’d imported a year before still fit, it was too warm outside to wear any of those long-sleeved fashions. I was stuck in someone else’s wardrobe, and I spent the day feeling like I was stuck in someone else’s life. Logically, I realized that wasn’t the case, but it still led to an uncomfortable and sort of surreal experience.

I’ve since found myself unhappy every time I open my dresser drawers, but the good news is it’s easy to remedy; a month or so to save money, and a weekend to shop for things that put the essence of me on the outside. A small problem, something most would label as a first-world problem, but a problem, nonetheless.

So to my younger sisters: I’m sorry for the hand-me-downs.

Leave a Reply