Manassas Journal Messenger | Second-hand denim jeans dilemma

 My daughter and I are driving home together. We’re alone, in the minivan, in the dark. Normally this is an ideal time for mother-daughter conversations; somehow, in the dark, unable to see each other clearly, subjects come up, questions are asked, and we’re able to really communicate.

But communication is not happening right now. Right now, the minivan is completely silent, I can’t even hear her breathe. I don’t know about my daughter, but it seems to me that all the energy in the van, all the focus, is being consumed by the white bag lying between her feet.

It’s a plain white kitchen trash bag, bulging and unexpected, and neither of us knows what to make of it.

It was a simple enough errand: Drop my daughter’s outgrown jeans off at her friend’s house. My daughter wasn’t happy about it – “I can’t give her my jeans, Mom! She’s my best friend! Aauggh!” she’d cried, as if that explained it.

I didn’t get it, so I pressed her: “Why can’t we give your jeans to Michelle?” I’d asked. “And don’t just say, ‘because she’s my best friend.’ That makes no sense.” We went round and round, but my daughter was never able to put it into words.

Ultimately, though, she nodded, kind of, when I asked, “Is it embarrassing? Might people recognize the jeans at school? Do you think you’re saying we think she’s poor?”

In the end, I ignored her. I don’t think anybody will recognize the jeans, they’re just like everyone else’s. They’re in good shape, too, in a size that’s hard to find. And I think it’s wasteful and more wrong not to pass down like-new jeans than it is to offer, and risk a little embarrassment. None of us is that rich. So my daughter and I came to a truce, I called Michelle’s mom, packed up the too-small jeans, and off we went.

At Michelle’s house, her mother gladly took the bag … and handed us one in return. “These are Ellen’s outgrown jeans,” the mom said, referring to her older daughter. “They’re too big for Michelle still, but I bet they’ll fit you.”

We were stunned, my daughter and I – “Uh, thanks!” we said – and a little horrified. I mean, I was thrilled – free jeans! I hope they fit! – but oooh, if it’s beyond-words wrong to give jeans to a friend, can we accept jeans from the friend’s older sister?

So now we’re back in the van, heading home silently, the bag glowing stark and white in the darkness. It’s only jeans in there, non-threatening, innocent denim, but in that bag, I know, also lies an argument, or at least a conversation, yet another generational misunderstanding. Maybe it’ll end up being a calm discussion and a meeting of the minds, but maybe – more probably – it’ll be a disagreement, and a possible stomping off in fury.

Either way, it’s a bag full of precedent and mother-daughter moments, and I’m sitting here in silence thinking hard, wasting the quiet dark ride home, wrestling again with hand-me-down jeans.

Lianne Wilkens lives with her husband and two children in Prince William County. She can be reached at

[email protected].

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