2002.08.28 A material world

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Unlike some parents, I don’t look forward to the start of school. I enjoy having the kids home and the relatively undemanding and unscheduled days of summer.

The start of school puts me in a foul mood. It reminds me that we didn’t take those quick trips to New Orleans and Indiana and, chances are, we never will. It’s the signal that the lazy days of summer will give way to days packed with athletic events, band events, conferences, meetings and other miscellaneous school events, bustling here and hurrying there. Their time at home will shorten considerably and the combination of my work schedule and their school schedule will result in precious little time I will even cross paths with them.

“Come let me look at you,” I already say on busy summer days when they are barely home. “I’m going to forget what you look like.”

And then there’s that other “back to school” endeavor guaranteed to evoke impatience and bad temper and make my children wish they’d been born to a different mother: Back-to-School shopping. Clothes shopping, especially, is usually a painful experience.

I’m a dedicated diehard sales-only shopper. My kids are well aware of this, and they’ve slowly changed their shopping habits to a quick glance and a feel of the clothes displayed in the front of the store before making a beeline to the sales racks in the back. But if they had their druthers, they’d druther just buy what they like, sales be damned.

Before they left with their grandparents for a trip to Minnesota to see their cousins, I asked my daughters to empty their drawers of everything that didn’t fit or that they were pretty sure they would never wear again. I battle with my Depression-era mentality of keeping everything, but I’ve come to realize that there’s no sense in hanging on to what they aren’t going to wear even though I paid good money for it, and there’s no use hoping they’ll change their minds about clothing they just had to buy, but now wouldn’t wear if you paid them.

But, still, old habits die hard and I have trouble acting on my new-found realizations.

The girls sorted the clothes into piles on the floor, but they disappeared before they told me what was what. By the time I examined the “piles,” all I saw was an amorphous unsorted giant mess. I could not discern anything wrong with the assortment of perfectly good t-shirts, sweatshirts, long sleeve shirts, sweaters, dungarees and shorts, some of which looked brand new and never worn. Hmmm, maybe they took out the clothes they want to keep, I thought.

In an attempt to clean their room before a remodeling project, I tossed all the clothes indiscriminately into a couple of big garbage bags. When they returned home, we went through the bags.

Or more accurately, I held up items and asked, “What’s wrong with this?” and, “Tell me why you don’t want this anymore,” or exclaimed, “These are new! They’ve never been worn!” And of course they always had an answer.

“This shirt is so nice,” I say.

“It does the back thing,” they respond.

“The back thing?”

“You know, it poofs out in the back and it’s too short,” they explain.

Apparently, after several washings, their shirts change shape, rendering many of them unacceptable for daily wear.

“You know, I still don’t see what the piles were,” I say.

“Well, there’s the big t-shirt pile,” says Rosie. And indeed there is. From every sporting event, from volunteer events, from the streets of New York City where t-shirts can be bought for $2 each, there are extra-large t-shirts that have found their way into my daughters’ drawers.

“Why can’t you wear them as pajamas?

“Ugh,” says Rosie. “They feel so yuck. I can’t stand to wear big clothes.”

Ah, they stab my heart. They have so much, aren’t appreciative of it, and still want more. They are all too eager to be rid of last year’s selections and make room for more and more new stuff. It’s another instance that elicits the parental lament: where-did-we-go-wrong?

But they aren’t all bad. Indeed, they’ve merged their wardrobe and pooled their money and now share their clothes. They are nearly the same size so it’s a great arrangement.

And really, I have no right to complain about my daughters’ propensity to buy new clothes when last year’s will do. I am shamelessly alike. Our city library is full of shelves and shelves of thousands of perfectly good books, books that were once bestsellers and enjoyed by many. But what gets me excited? What piques my interest? What do I find most fresh and interesting? What am I most likely to check out? The new ones.

    – Aug. 28, 2002 
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