When our baby, Petra, was born we were handed down everything we needed for a new baby. Clothes from newborn sizes to toddler sizes, towels, bedding, an infant bed, two (!) car seats, a stroller, a bouncy seat and at least three baby carriers, came from babies who had just recently outgrown them.
Some of this was expected, as Wade’s sister had a two year old girl when Petra was born and we knew they were willing to give us her old stuff, while some of it came from casual acquaintances — who showed unexpected, and much appreciated, generosity.
As Petra grew out of these clothes and baby items that we initially received or as we started traveling and ran out of room for them, we continued the cycle and passed her stuff on to friends, family and acquaintences as well. (Especially to other traveling families who we knew couldn’t carry all the baby clothes they needed with them and who didn’t have close family around)
This is the People’s re-distribution cycle of baby clothes.
This is not uncommon — even in the consumer culture of the USA. While there continues to be a stigma about many used items being handed down and reused, baby items and clothes remain a unique exception. In many ways this makes sense. For one thing, the sheer amount of stuff and accessories most people in the US buy when they are having a baby is rather astounding. For another, babies grow quickly, and, even though they are messy, they often don’t wear out their clothes and accessories faster than they outgrow them.
I think the fact that families are willing to give these things away rather than, say, sell them on craigslist, is a testament to the fact that there is something ingrained in us that still gets excited when someone from our community is going to have a baby.
What was most surprising to me though, was an incident that happened in Chiapas, Mexico when Petra was just over a year old. We were shopping in the grocery store on a cold night and Petra was trying to take off her jacket. The woman working at the deli counter observed this and smiled. She then asked me if we might need more warm clothes for Petra, as she still had some her own daughter had grown out of years before. I replied yes, and we picked up a bag full of clothes for Petra the next day.
It is not often that a Mexican grocery store worker makes a gift to a tourist gringa, but baby clothes seem to be an exception: the People’s re-distribution of children clothes is global. We commonly think of giving our old things away as charity, a way rich people can help the poor, but cycling baby clothes through a community or around the world, for that matter, is a great exception.
This incident just exemplified how traveling with a baby is an instant “in” with a local community. It is easy to be stereotyped into a group like “tourists” or “backpackers” when you are traveling. This makes it more difficult (though not impossible) to break out of this bubble and have sincere interactions with local people that don’t involve commerce. Having a child gives you something that you have instantly in common with the majority of the adults in this world. Very few people in this world will experience being a backpacker, but most of us experience the joys and tribulations of parenthood.
When Petra outgrew the clothes we received in that Mexican grocery store, we did our part and passed them on to the next little kid in line — and the cycle continued.