Ragamuffins and Fashion Plates

A couple of times, my mom has told me the story about a co-worker of hers, a mother of two, who often asks my mom how I “do it”.

“Doing it” in this case, refers to mothering six children.  During these conversations, my mom very wisely points out that your priorities change when you’re the mother of two versus the mother of six.

“Your children are always dressed like fashion plates,” my mom tells the woman, by way of highlighting one of the shifts in thinking.  “Lots of times my grandkids look like ragamuffins.”

Each time my mom tells me this story, I’m unsure what the takeaway is.  I’ve come up with two possibilities:

1. It’s a way of subtly congratulating me on maturing enough to realize what battles to pick, and which to avoid, coupled with an observation that all parents, no matter what number of children they have, make priorities with their family’s best interests at heart.


2. My mother thinks my children look like ragamuffins.

Since my children often do, in fact, look like ragamuffins, I’m going with option two.  And usually I’m fine with this.  Since we generally leave the house only once or twice a week, it really doesn’t bother me that the kids, who dress themselves, heavily favor the ripped, the torn, the stained.

Also, they like to wear costumes.

A lot.

But sometimes we do leave the house.  And then, the word “ragamuffin” echoing in my mind, I try to step up our game a little.

A trip to Mass or the grocery store is one thing.  But sometimes we leave the house to go on vacation.  And not the camping-in-the-woods-who-cares-what-you’re-wearing-or-even-if-you’re-wearing-anything-at-all sort of vacation.  No.  A real, live, going-to-visit-family-members-who-rarely-see-you-and-will-thus-probably-want -to-take-lots-of-pictures-of-you sort of vacation.

Which means I have to pack with an eye for “fashion plate”.

This means I have to wash all six 3-foot tall mountains of laundry, since I have no idea what is lurking in the clothing compost we’ve been cultivating.  It means I have to surrender my dining room table make room for eight distinct piles of outfits (and one giant stack of community underwear for the boys.  No, don’t judge me.  YOU try to keep underwear separate for three little boys) while simultaneously fending off children as they wander upstairs and try to pilfer from the piles, happily declaring things like, “My Thomas the Train t-shirt!  I haven’t seen that forever!  I thought the neighbor’s dog chewed it up!”

It means I have to play endless rounds of “Come upstairs and try this on so I can see if it still fits you” (save yourself the trouble.  It doesn’t fit anymore.  Pass it on to the next boy).

It means I have to try and limit the negative mental chatter as I scrounge up enough outfits for my postpartum body even though I really just want to pack sweatpants and some XXXXXXL t-shirts for myself.

It means I have to patiently explain ten thousand times to the tweenager that yes, I understand the turquoise shirt-and-shorts outfit is your favorite, but you do, in fact, need to pack more clothes.  People will start to talk if they see you in the same thing for a solid week, no matter how resplendent you look in it.

And finally it means that I will, against better judgement and past history, end up packing for my husband too, even though he’ll get irritated with me when he discovers that I only packed three pairs of socks for a seven day trip.

All I can say in my defense is that socks and I have never seen eye-to-eye.

But I’ll do it.  And even if my kids still look like ragamuffins at the end of it all, at least they’ll be ragamuffins wearing clean (though distinctly wrinkled) clothes.

(pictured: half of the clothing necessary to clothe eight people for seven days.  Someone is trying to sneak in a Princess Ariel wedding dress costume into the mix.  Also, someone is drinking wine out of a pint glass because packing is stressful, and so is finding a clean wine glass)

Cari Donaldson


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a weekly podcast about homesteading at ghostfawnpodcast.com

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  • Sandra Kohlmann

    Haha! The underwear thing cracks me up. You should try keeping undies separate for a pair of 2 year old twins. Impossible. Some days they switch underwear with each other mid-day. I know it’s yucky, but by the time they go down for a nap, I can’t remember who was wearing which pair at the start of the day. 

    Also, I’m your exact opposite: I would pack my husband 7 pairs of socks for a 3 day trip, but he’d be just as annoyed as Ken will be. 

    Happy packing and happier vacationing!

  • Yeah, we do community underwear too. It is clean when they put it on anyway. 

  • Francine

    The pint glass probably holds more than the MIA wine glass, anyway. 

  • jen

    I am reminded of Honest Toddler and his description of his mom drinking wine out of a ceramic mug.

  • grace822

    I would personally like to know how you do it WHILE being so funny about it all.

    a book, a tutorial — SOMETHING would be greatly appreciated for those of us still toting around two little fashion plates (right.)

  • see:  wine in pint glass

  • I’m sorry, I know this is totally off topic….but do you have blue chairs?????  I want them.  I NEED them!

  • No.  They’re ikea black chairs + hipstamatic filters = blue chairs.
    Otherwise, they’d totally be yours.

  • judy cartwright

    I didn’t mean to offend you with my ragamuffin comment; I appologize if I did…xoxoxox

  • Pargontwin

    Ah, yes; sorting underwear.  I remember having two younger brothers wearing the same size shirts as their older sister (me), who was still wearing undershirts (do little girls wear undershirts anymore?), and finding my undershirts mixed in with theirs.  Those two brothers, only a year apart in age, also had “community underwear.” (My third brother was in college by then, and my sister had graduated and moved out.)  Though I’ve never married, and therefore never had kids of my own, I still remember quite clearly what it was like to be one of five kids.

  • Kevin

     you mean 1/2 empyt pint glass 😉

  • Jill

    Yes, my kids do the ragamuffin thing too–even when I just had 2. Now their are 9 with 8 at home. I am taking the kids on a ten day trip soon. My oldest at home devised a system of packing 1 days clothes in a ziplock per person. These go into Walmart reusable bags, 1 for each day. Then we have a common overnight bag with pjs and toiletries. It is overwhelming for sure. I think I’ll try the pint glass with some pink moscato 😉

  • momof11

    As a mother of 11…though they have never all been under the same roof at the same time…I heartily concur with this description. Now with “only” five living at home and the youngest being 9 years old I only check over what the youngest 3 pack and everyone is on their own, with a few guidelines such as remember a set of “church” clothes.  

  • Ragamuffins are cuter than prim children, all in all.