Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

I wish I was cleaning the chicken coop.

Posted on | November 3, 2010 | 6 Comments

That’s what I planned to do today.  But I’m not going to get to it.  Because it’s raining.  And it’s only 49 degrees outside.  And when the kids left for school they were shivering and their pants were 4 inches above their ankles.  Which can mean only one thing.

Time to switch out the summer clothes for the winter ones.

Oh, how I  dread the Changing of the Clothes.  Winter chill means the worst of the garden chores are behind me.  And the early darkness means I can fool most of the kids into an early bedtime (Never keep digital clocks around kids.  Never.  It totally undermines your role as the Diviner of the Hour).  But it also means entire days spent digging through boxes and bins, bags and shelves.  Sorting, sizing, and stacking.  Labeling and laundering.  If you have multiple children, I’m sure you know what I mean.

People with more than one child live in the world of hand-me-downs and put-ups.  Around here, we accept any clothes handed down from anyone at church or work.  And as one child outgrows an outfit we put it up for when a younger sibling reaches that size.  I know what you’re thinking.  Surely, we don’t save Big’s clothes for Pretty to wear.  As if anyone can tell the difference between jeans from the boys department and the ones from the girls section.  Hey, boot cut is boot cut, my friends.  For that matter, no one noticed when Middle and Little wore Pretty’s onesies, either.  Yellow is unisex, right?  And I swear the latest issue of Vogue had men in pink shirts.  That’s high fashion, people.  In the end, all these hand-me-downs and put-ups result in a shed full of clothing tubs, neatly labeled by size and gender, and stacked for easy access.

Ha ha!  You didn’t actually believe that, did you? Because it’s really a shed full of clothing tubs that don’t actually contain the sizes they are labeled with.  And the tubs are stacked extremely high, with the sizes you need on the bottom.  Just for fun.

Let’s not mention the tubs that are stacked behind the extra refrigerator.

Because nothing says “I wish I was cleaning the chicken coop” like having to move a freaking fridge to get to the kids’ winter clothing.  Or after emptying the fridge, moving it, and then opening the tub labeled “Size 5 Boy Winter” to discover it actually contains Size 4T Girl Summer.  Awesome.

All this work is as menial and mind numbing as it sounds.  Although I do manage some existential pondering in the midst of the chaos.  Like wondering, “Why do they make overalls with teddy bears on them in size 12 for boys?  What boy in that size could actually wear them without getting beat up on the playground?”  Or “Why do I have 25 pairs of size 5/6 boys clothes but no size 7/8?  Is it possible that Big skipped right from size from 5/6 to 10/12?”  How about, “Was I drunk when I decided to store the winter hats and gloves in a tub labeled dress shirts?”  Never mind, “Which one of my friends gave me a girls long sleeved tee with the phrase Sexy Kitty on it?  Do I actually hang out with people like that?” Most importantly, “Why are there too many hangers in the closet most of the year, but not enough when I actually need them to hang up clothes?”  Really, it’s enough brain activity to prevent Alzheimer’s.  Which is one of the few benefits.  Because otherwise the work can be overwhelming.

This is what one child’s clothes looks like when first pulled out of the shed.

When I see a pile like this, I think we are blessed to have such generous friends and neighbors.  Well, that’s mostly what I think.

Here’s what it looks like after a couple hours of sorting.

If you can’t see the difference, just observe the little sticky notes stuck to the couch telling me which pile is which.  That’s progress.

Of course, sometimes there’s a bit of one-step-forward, two-steps-back.  Right after I washed and folded Little’s clothes and arranged them at the foot of the stairs to be carried up on my next trip, I went to the shed to dig out Middle’s boxes.   When I returned, sweaty and disheveled and ready to raid the kids’ Halloween bags for some chocolate encouragement, I discovered Tasha dog had risen from the foot of my bed and come downstairs to check out the action.  Then she promptly knocked over all Little’s clothes and bedded down on them.  As if she thought I left them for her own soft, cushiony, clean-smelling comfort.

I used to like that dog.

Of course, sometimes the work is good for a laugh.  I discovered this shirt in someone’s box.  Any parents out there should know what it is.

See, a while ago the public schools created a lovely holiday called The 100th Day of  School.  (Apparently they just don’t get enough partying on Dr. Suess Day.)  It’s grand educational fun for the kids filled with counting and celebration.  It also involves sending your child to school in an article of clothing decorated with 100 items.  I’m not sure exactly what us parents did to deserve this punishment.  The littlest kids can barely count 100 items without getting messed up and having to start over 5 or 6 times.  The older kids are conflicted about what items are cool enough to wear to school (trust me, over age 8, they won’t consent to letting you put 100 stickers on their shirt).  You’re not supposed to let young children use the hot glue gun and who do you really think gets to do the sewing if you head down that route?

Besides, no matter what you do it will never match up to the little girl who comes in wearing a shirt that spells out 100th day in perfectly arranged and color coordinated little bows, all hand tied and stitched on.  Or the boy in a shirt made up to look like a Transformer with 100 switches and toggles screen printed on it.  Personally, I think parents like that need to have a lot more children or a very time-consuming hobby.  Like training to be an astronaut.  But that’s just me.

So, I’m thrilled with the discovery of this shirt.  It screams, “Take that, 100th Day!”  And “I-Refuse-To-Keep-Up-With-The-Joneses!”  Maybe even, “Bite me, Joneses!”   Best of all, it signifies that somewhere in my circle of friends is another mother who wakes up on 100th Day without a plan and no intention of breaking out the sewing machine.  But she doesn’t panic.  Nope, she heads straight to the drawer with the permanent marker and takes care of business.  I am friends with some powerful people.  We can be frazzled, but we can never be beaten.  Yeah, take that, 100th day.

In the end, a finished closet looks like this:

Don’t be envious of my fancy IKEA shelving unit.   I know it just looks like concrete blocks and wooden planks.  It’s supposed to look like that.  It’s called retro, people.  Jeez.

You’re probably wondering what the deal is with all the dress shirts.  If you know my boys, you’ve probably never seen them in a dress shirt.  These lovely shirts come out of the hand-me-downs and I always hang them up in their closet with high hopes.  I’m not hoping for invitations to fancy events. I’m just hoping for the energy and desire to squeeze my boys into shirts with buttons at the neck and tails that constantly pull out of their pants.  For some reason that energy and desire never comes.

I mean, on a random Sunday morning I will wake inspired to override the boys’ complaining and enough stamina to undo and rebutton the ones who have buttoned their shirts sides together crooked (which is all of them).  I will manage to find nice trousers with all (or most) of the belt loops and even a few belts that fit (with the help of Big’s awl to make necessary corrections).  But by the time the screaming and nagging is over and we are sitting together in the church pew, it doesn’t feel worth it.  I think there’s a reason Jesus never insisted on a dress code.  It’s such a bad way to start off the day.

So, in appreciation for the giving, I wash and hang the dress shirts.   Then I let the boys wear whatever they want to church.  And to recitals.  And for school pictures.  And when all my boys have outgrown the shirts, I pass them down to another family in mint condition.  Which is a trade off for the sweat pants that I pass down that are so well worn that they have holes in the knees.  Sorry ’bout that.

Now you know what it takes to get the kids out the door in clothing that is appropriate for the weather.  Not everyone has what it takes to survive the process.  Some people would just toss it in and head to WalMart for clothing.  But I happen to be made of stronger stuff than most.  After all, before the kids were old enough to do their own laundry this is what my window seat looked like when I had finished emptying all the hampers and getting everything washed and dried:

Which would make most people feel a little bit like this:

Struggle on, my friends.  Struggle on.


6 Responses to “I wish I was cleaning the chicken coop.”

  1. Tanya
    November 7th, 2010 @ 4:42 am

    Now, I really appreciate all your hard work in sorting your clothes and giving them to Grant. He is wearing hand me down race car pajamas right now! If I knew what it took for you to even find them, much less mail them to me, I would have done a little more than email you a thank you. Ha Ha..

  2. Lisa D.
    November 7th, 2010 @ 7:54 am

    HA! We just had that same Sunday morning in this house! But this time I WON! Sometimes moms just have to prove who is boss. Why can’t boys wear buttons??? Why do they bother to sell these clothes, anyway? I refuse to accept that sweatpants are appropriate for all occassions! Or better yet – shorts! I, too, pass on hand me downs that we have never worn. Still in mint condition. One more thing I want to clarify — I would NEVER have given you the Sexy Kitten shirt :)You know where I stand on these things.

  3. Lisa D.
    November 7th, 2010 @ 7:57 am

    One more thing – I actually enjoy pulling out the winter clothes. Keeps me from cleaning the bathrooms. Can’t imagine cleaning a chicken coop…

  4. mARY
    November 7th, 2010 @ 11:24 am

    You crack me up!! So nice to laugh out loud at the computer and have everyone in my family look at me strangely. My kids won’t wear hand me downs any more, sadly. Off to the outlets I go!!

  5. Adri
    November 11th, 2010 @ 9:01 am

    Just found your blog and it’s great. I love your writing style and as a homesteading mom of 6, I am finding many things we have in common. I just wanted to say that I dread sorting clothes so much, I would much rather do the chicken coop. Then again, I live in Canada, so 49 degrees is pretty good for us.

  6. Su
    December 8th, 2010 @ 11:46 am

    Wow. And to think that I still think it’s fun to change clothes for the season. Of course, they are all my own.

    Now I understand why my mother was so deliriously happy the year I told her I was doing my own season-switching…

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