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Back in the Day: The Used Baby Clothes Economy

Seems like May is graduation season and baby shower season. I went to a baby shower for a new mom in my family a week ago and it seems like many others are going to baby showers this month. This reminded me of a conversation I had with my older sisters a while back in which it was revealed that I probably did not have many, if any, new baby clothes as an infant. I was not offended, but I was surprised.

I am the youngest of my parents' children. I have over fifty first cousins. And I was born near the end of the Baby Boom. Back then, a woman got one baby shower -- for your first child. After that, you were on your own. Thus begat the "used baby clothes" economy in my family: Whenever my mom (referred to in this blog as "She Who Is Exalted" or "SWIE") or one of her sisters got pregnant, the others reached into their closets, pulled out their boxes of used baby clothes, washed the used baby clothes in bleach, and shipped them off to the newly pregnant sister.

And since my mom and her sisters had 15 children between them -- and that's not counting my other aunts on my mom's side or the aunts on my dad's side -- those used baby clothes got passed around. Alot. And since I'm one of the youngest of the cousins, I would imagine those baby clothes were plenty used by the time they got around to me.

But that was a different time. People, or rather, poor black folks, didn't spend money on things that didn't matter, baby clothes being one of them. Even I know that newborns spend most of their time eating, sleeping, pooping and peeing. They don't need to dress up much because, more likely than not, they're not going anywhere. A used onesie will do just fine for eating, sleeping, pooping and peeing. And, back in the day, if you were stretching to make ends meet like my parents were, you took those used baby clothes with gratitude for the fact that your sister or sister-in-law thought enough ahead to save them for the next pregnant sister or sister-in-law.

Back in the day parents, or rather, poor black parents, didn't display their love of their children by having them rock labels as infants. If you as an infant were clean, well-fed, healthy, played with, and not sleeping in the top dresser drawer, well, that was about all that you could or should ask for. Besides, infants don't know what they're wearing, but they sure as heck know when what they're wearing has got poop in it. Clearly my mom chose to focus on keeping the poop out of my onesies, not where my onesies came from.

And I didn't find out about my lack of new baby clothes until this year. I'm 47 and my mom's been dead thirteen years. And I think I came out just fine, if I say so myself.

My mom and my aunts' used baby clothes economy wasn't just about baby clothes, though; it was about family members helping each other out and spending money wisely on what mattered, baby clothes not being one of them. However, I'd think twice before offering used baby clothes to this new generation of mothers, even if I had them. They might get offended, thinking their newborn is too good for second-hand baby clothes. I keep my mouth shut, but I sure as heck don't attend baby showers for people on their second or third baby. How you spend your money as a parent is your business; how I spend mine is my business. And if I wasn't too good for used baby clothes as my mother's sixth child and the fourteenth of children born to my mom and her sisters, imagine what I think of your second or third baby?

I'm glad my mom and her sisters were wise about these things. I hope this new generation of parents will be, too.


DeLise said…
Love this post! My friends and I share baby clothes (and maternity clothes for that matter) All of them are stay at homes with husbands with 6 (and almost 7) figure incomes so it's not financial. We simply love to share with each other and gently used clothes means one less errand to run!
YAY! A victory for common sense. My mom and my aunts would be proud of you and your friends.

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