In the back of my drawer, so far back that I rarely dig down deep enough to see what’s there, is a shirt my husband got for me soon after we were married. I’ve only worn it handful of times, even though it is in good condition and still fits me fine. But I like to look at it more than wear it. It has a distinct power that very few pieces of clothing have ever had. And that’s because I remember how hard my new husband looked to find a shirt that would be exactly what I needed and wanted.
He went to store after store. Made phone calls, ordered packages. And when the shirt finally came, it wasn’t what he’d been looking for. But I loved it anyway. I loved it for the thought and effort that he put into it, and I loved it because it signaled to me the lengths he would go to make me happy. So I wore it a few times, and then I tucked it away. Every time I go through my clothes now to find things to donate, it comes up and I wonder, Is it time to get rid of this? Have I held on long enough? And every time I think, No. I still need that. I still want it.
I hadn’t given much thought to why I needed and wanted it still. I told myself that I might still wear it sometime. Or that it would make a good story to tell my kids about. And maybe, one day, I’d give it to my daughter and it would be a cool-retro shirt that her mom used to wear when she was young and childless. But this week when I read Lisa-Jo Baker’s piece about holding on to her pre-mom jeans, I realized that there is a lot more to it than that. The shirt is a reminder and a connection. It’s value is nearly entirely symbolic to me now, and it’s a symbol that I want to keep around.
Ms. Baker writes about the stories her jeans could tell as she’s become a mother and her body has changed. She grew to fit into herself so that the fit of her jeans doesn’t matter so much. I love that, and I feel it too. What my body did and can do and does now that I’ve had three kids makes the clothes that I wore and the things that I used to do, before I became a mom, pale in comparison. But I hold onto reminders of those times anyway.
It’s important to stay connected to those prior versions of ourselves, even as we become much more than we anticipated we could be. We find our footing in the world, raise families, develop talents, and gain new perspectives. But we wouldn’t be where we are now if we hadn’t been somewhere else first, and the clothes we wore are a tangible connection to that past which is why it is worth giving some space at the back of the drawer for them.
Here are some of the reasons I hold on to my “pre-mom jeans” (and other pieces of my past).
Clothes Can Be A Strong Connection 1 of 7
You may never fit into them, but they can always fit into your life.
To see who I once was. 2 of 7
Back when my husband got me that shirt, I was young and newlywed. I was living in Hawaii, which was so far from everything I knew. I felt isolated. I had a bad case of culture shock. I was worried about graduating from college. It was a rough time in my life. When I look at that shirt my husband gave me, I remember that young woman I used to be and I'm grateful to her for enduring that difficult time.
To show me how far I’ve come. 3 of 7
As difficult as life was back when I wore that shirt, I can see that I've changed a lot since then. Things that were hard for me then are not as hard for me now. I've come a long way and look forward to going even farther.
To remember the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done. 4 of 7
Even though it was, at times, difficult, the Hawaii period of our lives was also a beautiful time, and when I see the shirt my husband gave me I remember the adventures we had there: snorkeling and hiking, lounging on the beach and touring Honolulu. We hosted lots of friends and family, started our running hobby, and spent hours driving on the road between the North Shore and Honolulu. Those places and things shaped who I am and who we are as a couple. And while the sand and the surf and the rain and vegetation stayed in Hawaii, at least I got to bring my clothes back to the mainland with me.
To pass on to my kids. 5 of 7
I have an old "house coat" of my grandma's in my closet, I wore a dress my other grandma made for my aunt to a high school dance, my sons have worn clothes that were passed down from their dad and uncles when they were kids. And I hope someday to pass some of my favorite clothes onto my kids and grandkids as well. Inheriting something and the stories that go with it builds a strong bond within a family and helps children have a strong sense of who they are and where, or with whom, they belong.
To feel the love of those I am, or was, close to. 6 of 7
I hold on to that shirt from my husband because it reminds me that he loves me and wants me to be happy, just like I hold onto my grandma's coat because it reminds me of her love and all I learned from her. My husband went through a lot of trouble to get that shirt for me, and I know that after nearly 9 years of marriage, he would still go through a lot of trouble to put a smile on my face. I love that reminder of his love. (And I look forward to telling my kids the story when I pass the shirt on to one of them.)
To remind myself that the future will be different. 7 of 7
Sometimes I look at that shirt and remember what it was like to be child-free. I remember our time in Hawaii, and what it was like to be a couple. And sometimes, as much as I love my kids, I think it would be nice to go back. But back then, I never imagined that I would be here now, with 3 beautiful children, happy to be living in our small Brooklyn apartment. And those pieces of my past help me realize that the future will be different. I don't know how different, or how we'll get to where we'll be, but I'm sure there will be pieces of my life today that I'll cherish and pass on, too, even if it doesn't really fit in my future life.
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