Rejected Hand-Me-Downs

By: Barbara Matousek

Recently on Facebook, one of those viral status updates about brothers was making the rounds, one of those posts you’re supposed to read and feel all warm and happy about and then cut and paste in to your own status if YOU have a brother who will always be there for you. I never had a brother so I wouldn’t know what that’s like, but I do have a sister. An amazing sister who put up with being tortured by her older sister and frequently had to wear my hand-me-downs or play with toys that were originally bought for someone else.

Last year when I had photos taken of the kids and I was trying to figure out what shots to blow up in to wrapped canvases for a collage on my living room wall, I sent a few ideas to a friend. She looked at my proposed layout and said it looked great but it seemed “a little Sam heavy.” She admitted this came from her middle-child perspective. I told her I understood, that there was a lot of Sam compared to how much Eva there was, but Eva was just six months old. Sam was 3 and 1/2. I had a lot more Sam under my belt, a lot more Sam material available.

I come to this parenting thing as a first born. I never had to put up with an older sibling demanding that I do what they say or I will tell Mom and Dad. I never had to wear someone else’s hand-me-downs or play games with torn cardboard and missing pieces. I never had a bigger, stronger sibling sitting on top of me holding me down and threatening to spit in my face (sorry, Annie). But I also was the one who got in the most trouble for everything. I was the one caught by the all-encompassing “You’re older and you should know better.” Yes, I got a lot more attention from Mom and Dad, demanded a lot more attention from Mom and Dad. But I also got a lot more of the blame and a lot more of the responsibility.

Eva’s first word was not ball or doll or puppy. It was “stop.” As in “Sam, stop that!” Sam is older and during that first year (and still sometimes now) whenever I was exhausted or overwhelmed and just needed something to change for just one second, it was Sam I would demand things from. Stop. Now. Stop whining. Stop running. Stop kicking your chair. Stop hanging on me. Stop bouncing off the walls. Stop.

This weekend I went to all the usual places to find something clean for Eva to wear so I could put off laundry just one more day. I glanced over the piles of too-small pants stacked in her bedroom closet, piles I haven’t had time to move to storage or donate. I dug through the drawers of the changing table. I pulled out the Rubbermaid bin of still-too-big clothes handed down from my cousin. And when I came up empty-handed I remembered the cardboard box of Sammy’s clothes that had come back from a neighbor after she’d sorted through it and decided not to take all of it. Not just Sammy hand-me-downs, but Sammy’s rejected hand-me-downs. I dug out a pair of 2T jammies with little green and orange dinosaurs. They smelled like a musty version of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo mixed with Dreft. I chased down my naked toddler who is happiest when her big belly is sticking out and she’s running to get away from Mommy, and she sat perfectly still while I pulled on her big brother’s hand me downs.

I will never know what it’s like to be a younger sibling, never know that feeling of wanting to be like an older sibling, of waiting patiently for an older sibling or an overwhelmed parent to notice me. But when I watch my children together and the way they interact, Sammy always trying to get Eva to bend to his will and play what he wants to play, Eva always trying to get in the middle of whatever Sammy is doing (even if it involves small pieces or red markers or sharp objects), I get a small glimpse into my own childhood. I feel so incredibly blessed that I have a little sister that has always been there for me, and when Eva sat up straight in her new jammies and ran her hands over the dinosaurs on her legs and grinned, I wanted to call my sister and tell her how grateful I am…even if I don’t cut and paste any viral Facebook post that says so.

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Barbara Matousek

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