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One day recently, the girls and I were taking the baby on a stroll, fielding compliments from passersby. We met a kindly older woman who wanted to get a closer look at the baby. My youngest daughter began her show-and-tell demo: "Watch this. He can follow my finger with his eyes," six-year-old Trinity offered. "I can make him smile a real smile, not a gassy one."
"And you know what else? Cole knows how to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. My class job is Director of Sanitation. I help clear the lunch table, so I know all about the 3 R's."
She kept going. "Look at my brother. The only thing we bought was his diaper. Everything else came from Lucah. So he is actually the 3 R's just lying there being cute..."
She continued -- for a really, really long time. And the woman was either genuinely amused or a gifted method actor, because she laughed and smiled with great enthusiasm.
I, on the other hand, stood frozen. The kid was exactly right.
I realized that ever since Cole came along, the whole family was living more and more green. Maybe not the crispest shade -- but we were definitely becoming a little moldy around the edges.
Within days of bringing Cole home from the hospital, we were flooded with visitors. Well wishers, curiosity seekers (She got pregnant when she was how old?), and a combination of both. Almost to a person, friends entered with plastic grocery bags of gently used books and toys, saying things like, "Until now I couldn't bear to part with this. Now I know a baby who can put it to good use." Giving up these little treasures seemed to bring people great pleasure.
No one was more cheerful a giver than Kristi.
Like me, Kristi -- the mom of one of my oldest daughter's classmates -- had a TCL, an acronym for "third child later." She arrived at our house one day looking as though she'd just knocked over a baby megastore. There were five shopping bags spilling over with onesies, rattles, blankets, and the other baby accoutrements that her son, Lucah, had outgrown. I found enough clothes and other goodies to see Cole to his second birthday.
These were not just any hand-me-downs. I'm talking great stuff, the kind most moms wouldn't buy but would probably covet: a teeny reggae shirt with a beaming dread-locked Marley that read B is for Bob; a New York Yankee warm up suit; shark festooned swim trunks and terry cover up; mini Air Jordans. We also inherited practical items of everyday baby life: shape sorters; stroller nets; diaper bags.
Every season, Lucah would grow some more. And Kristi would deliver a "new" batch of seconds. Both our families had great fun running into each other around town. Cole, though too young to actually play with Lucah, seemed preternaturally drawn to him. And Lucah began eyeing Cole with familiar fascination, perhaps, thinking "Who's the little dude wearing my stuff?"
Thanks largely to Kristi and other friends, life with a TCL was a lot easier than I'd ever imagined. I was so inspired by Kristi's hand-me-downs that I began seeking seconds whenever I could. The girls and I grew friendly with several consignment shopkeepers in town (Shout out to the folks at Milk Money in Montclair and Maplewood, NJ -- Heeeeey!) And to my delight and surprise eight-year-old Chloe, the more discerning fashionista of my two daughters, had no qualms using her allowance money to buy purses and other accessories at garage sales and other venues.
For me, making the old new again was a throwback to my younger days as a college coed. My friends and I would scour the thrift shops of Chicago's North Side and emerge with enviable fashion finds like men's suits dressed up with cool handbags and jewelry. I'm having fun imagining the life my "new" tweed Bergdorf Goodman skirt led before I adopted it. The three-stranded beads -- green, of course -- that I throw on with my jeans and tee-shirt have proven to be a real gem.
Do you actively seek or give hand-me-downs? Tell the Nation your story!