Hand-Me-Downs, A Measure In Giving

Melissa Uchiyama Baby

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A mother hoists her baby higher on her hip. I see it, the child, perhaps three or four months old, is wearing the shirt with hot pink, yellow, turquoise, and orange circles layered on top of each other like gleeful venn diagrams. This was my daughter’s shirt. I moved her sweet, stocky arms through each arm hole and put that diapered tushy into coordinating orange pants.

This girl wears the shirt tucked into white overalls. I have a pang: I want them to know we gave the shirt to the preschool. We set it down for them on that giveaway table. It is our history, our tiny gift.

My now five-year-old daughter moves stridently next to them, putting away her outside shoes, taking off her bicycle helmet, and unsnapping her denim jacket. We’ve moved on, grown out of elastic wrists, onesies, and diaper butt. My heart sometimes longs to rub my babies’ backs. To feel that neck, with a roll of fat.

Giving this shirt away, and so many others, was a kind of offering, because I didn’t know if there would be more babies to come. I relinquished the clothing with the faith that our family is just as it shall be, that two may absolutely be enough, but I can’t be certain.

I hand over cable knit sweaters knowing that, if we need to, we’ll have the resources to clothe another child. I made this offering from that in-between space of uncertainty and faith. Better to give than let a sentimental dress grow yellow and stained, simply bagged and sitting.

I used to think that hand-me down clothes were for the less fortunate; for those who couldn’t afford the label of “new.” But just now, hustling laundry from washer to dryer, to drawers and tiny hangers, socks ready to be pairs, eureka I see it.

It is not a dumping ground, this giving of used kids’ clothes to someone else. Children grow so quickly, how terribly misshapen, manhandled, or strained, could most items be? (Well, wait. I do know the answer to that). Most certainly have another use left in them.

The point here is more in the giving. It comes from a place of love, I have to think. Some measure of caring.

Every item worn by my children, for even a scant five minutes, or single fall season, carries with it the musk of motherhood, the powdery innocence of scraped knees in make-believe jungles. To give away a blanket, a knit cap, or skirt, is to give away precious stories, hopes and desires from that season with my kids.

There are boundaries, of course. I keep only the most select, delicate pieces. There is just an armload, maybe, that I’m keeping from each of my children, but they are the pieces that whisper, “heirloom”, or “not this one”. Everything else, especially if a photo exists, is fair game.

I gaze at this little one in her mother’s arms, our baby shirt adhering to her rolls and smooth baby skin as if custom-made. Maybe it was—in the fashion of community where everyone and each gift fits. Yes, through nostalgic breaths, it is better to give than clamp all of these feelings in plastic bags, to move and breathe through these stages of motherhood, where feelings and six-month outfits don’t have to yellow in a Hefty bag. Better to give and sweet to receive, or give and wait. We’re made to expand and contract, to trust and enjoy life in each moment, each new or old pair of pants or shoes.

Clothes, too, have to breathe. There will be more suddenly too-short pants and more darling sweaters I wish would still fit. Every season has its bursts of giving and taking-in.

Imagine if each baby thing was tagged with the stories of babe and mom. If each teeny jacket had a poem in the pocket of what was going on. Perhaps we’d receive pieces from our friends and hear more of their stories.

For now, the threads do the work, binding all hidden lullabies and giggles right there in the mix of criss-cross cotton.

We give and move through one active breath, our own clothes mottled and changing through each stage and season. We are mothers, givers, suppliers. Sewers, buyers, gleamers, friends. We know how to bend, to give the gifts, even little things, that carry the essence of memory and the grandeur of love.


About the Author

Melissa Uchiyama

I am a writer in Tokyo, transplant of South Florida. I have contributed to Literary Mama, Kveller, and now, an anthology by HerStories, called Mothering Through the Darkness. You can follow along at .

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