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)

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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 website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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