Welcome to the launch of SlashnBurn’s Lifestyle section. First up is our new parenting column, Parenting in Pieces, from author, Christine Davis. Check out her bio after the column.
50 Shirts by Christine Davis 12 November 2019
I was eight months pregnant with my second child when the urge to nest hit me full force. I found myself sorting the shirts in my three-year-old son’s closet into four piles: too small, out of season, stained, and keepers. There were so many shirts. Way more than I thought there would be. How many? I counted. That couldn’t be right. How in the hell did my three-year-old own over fifty shirts?
That morning I had read about a 17-year-old mom in a detention center whose baby threw up on her onesie. The mom was given no change of clothes or way to do laundry. Her baby had to sit in that same onesie, in a very cold room, for days on end. That mama could do nothing.
I sat in front of 50 shirts, crying, because I couldn’t do anything either.
My son had a red shirt with navy dinosaurs, a yellow shirt with a teal shark, a cream shirt with an orange and black raccoon. A rainbow of colors. A kingdom of animals. Each morning he could say, “No, not that one. Stripes, mama.”
I kept a change of clothes in the back of my Prius, just in case. It’s what all the moms I knew did; we planned for those little inconveniences. We hoped to outsmart fate, and for most of us a diaper blowout was the worst that might happen.
My son had three changes of clothes in his cubby at daycare, for different seasons. Extra underwear. He called underwear, “big boys.” He was big enough to dress himself, but he didn’t want to, and he didn’t have to. Of course, his mother, father, or teachers could dress him. The thought of being separated from us would never occur to him. To a child the adults around them are like sturdy trees, at once part of the background and vital as breath.
NPR and various other news agencies reported how donations of diapers, hygiene items, and clothing were turned away. My kid’s dinosaur shirt could not be that detained mother’s kid’s dinosaur shirt. I was legally not allowed to love my neighbor, to help the immigrant, to clothe the poor.
How do you explain that to a child? The mom in the cage with her kid will have to one day explain the forces that put them there, and held them there, and would not let help in. Will she even believe that there were people who wanted to help? Will her child?
I imagined breaking into a detention center with 40 out of the 50 shirts. I imagined my swollen belly breaking the locks, shoving my way in. I imagined having the kind of power that could not be denied. I didn’t have that power any more than the mom in the cage had another onesie.
I watched it all happening on the news and did basically nothing, just like all the other moms with a change of clothes in the back of their Priuses. What could we do? We could donate to the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). Some of us did that. It didn’t feel like enough.
The baby in my belly would be named Cadence Kitt, after my great-grandmother Kit, who washed my socks every time I visited her. She washed them after I played outside. She would wring them out by hand and often cry, thinking of how when she was a little girl she only had one pair of socks and one pair of underwear, which she cleaned each night.
I suspected she was both thankful of where life had taken her great-granddaughter, and heartbroken for the little girl she had to be during the Great Depression. Life can change so quickly in only a couple generations. Could my great-grandmother have even imagined not being allowed to wash the one pair of socks?
I folded the shirts to donate and sat down. I was tired. This world is tiring. Some people think we shouldn’t have children anymore. But children are not the problem.
My sincerest hope is that someday the babies kept in cages will rise up, cut from the fabric of hardship, and with undeniable power demand better of us all– hold us all to account. Or that, once out, their mothers will.