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My big girl is growing like a weed. Seriously. She started the school year wearing a size 5. We went to a 6 slim a little while ago. Now those same 6s are starting to look a little floody. So yesterday after school we stopped into the local Once Upon a Child, a consignment shop, and one of the places I buy the girls clothing. (The others, which I stalk during sales include Gymboree, Denny’s — but only during crazy sale — The Children’s Place, and The Gap.) Once Upon a Child is a favorite, though, because it has beautiful very high end clothing at very low-end prices. I’ve been going there for years, actually, so this was nothing new for Big Girl. Yesterday, however, it was like we had never been there before.

I pulled through the racks while she stood there asking questions. “But WHY is it called Once Upon,” she wanted to know. I looked over at her. She looked like she wanted to bolt out of the place. I explained the origins of the name, which seemed to quiet her. Then we went into the dressing room/bathroom.

“Ewww,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “It smells in here. Like bathroom.” I looked at the four pairs of jeans we had chosen– two brand, spanking new with the tags still on, the other two crisp and clean like they had never been worn. She was right. The room we were in smelled like bathroom, but it didn’t affect the clothes, right? The clothing was beautiful. Quietly, I handed the pile to her and asked her to try them on. She took them, sitting down, and said she didn’t want her feet to touch the floor of the STINKY bathroom. Still, she tried on the four pairs of jeans. Two fit. Two did not.

She started talking again. “This one is $4.40. This one is $5.40. Okay, so how much does that add up to?” She put her finger to her chin as she did the calculations in her head. “That comes to $9.80,” she decided. She was right. But at retail, I explained, we’d pay far more. For jeans she might get another six or eight months out of. One pair that fit was from The Gap. We would have paid $35 had we bought them brand new. The other was from The Children’s Place. They would have been a little better — $16.50. $12 each if we bought two pair. We were saving more than $40 by shopping a consignment store. Plus, we were reusing and keeping perfectly good clothing out of a landfill. AND we weren’t buying new, so we were making less of an impact on the Earth. I knew she’s talked about these things in school, so I figured I’d win her over. I guess she didn’t care too much because at that point, she just wanted to get to the next stop on our list, which was the library. She handed me the jeans that fit and asked to go. We paid for our purchases, and headed off to find new reading material.

I knew the first time I set foot into that store it would only be a matter of time before she would start balking at used items. As a child I would have been right there with her. Although we were what would have be considered needy, I always got new clothing. In September and then at Christmas time and my birthday. My mom shopped at Sears and JC Penney’s. We didn’t get a lot. Looking back, I wish my mom would have had a Once Upon a Child so I could have worn the same kind of designer duds the other kids in my school were always decked out in. Even garage sale clothing would have been welcome. Little Girl, for example, has a few very, very expensive-looking outfits that I paid $.50 for. But my mom was too proud, I guess.

Not everyone was, though. To this day I cringe when I remember one of the girls from my sixth grade class coming in and telling us that her new outfit was from a garage sale. She got an entire shopping bag full for a dollar, she said. I remember with great clarity wrinkling up my nose just like my daughter did in that store and asking that poor girl flat out why she would wear used clothing. I think I may have even used the word “gross.” (If that girl is reading: I am so sorry about that, and the funniest part is you were probably dressed a lot nicer than I was at the time.)

Once the girls went to bed I recounted the story of the shopping trip to my husband. He agreed with me, saying that it is foolish to spend a lot of money on children’s clothing when they outgrow it so quickly. But he also had some good advice: Maybe Big Girl should stay home when I go shopping there from now on. She can come with me on my infrequent mall trips, but she doesn’t need to know where every cool new outfit hanging in her closet comes from. He’s right, of course. Unless she asks, I’m not telling her.

Do you consignment shop? Garage sale? What’s your best buy? Do you shop for yourself or just your kids. I’d love to hear about it.

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