We have a ritual at our house. Every season we go upstairs and pull out bins of clothing that my youngest daughter has outgrown. We select dresses, skirts, pajamas, pants and shirts that we think her two youngest sisters would like and place them in the Share Box. We’ve been passing clothes back and forth among my daughter’s four sisters for the past decade. It’s something we thoroughly enjoy.
Last week we pulled out the boxes, labeled according to sizes, and began to make two piles: one for a 5 year old and one for a ten year old. We shared fond memories as we pulled out each article of clothing. “I remember those pajamas!”, my daughter said. “I wore them with my red robe.” “I LOVE that outfit! You wore it with a little flowered hat. You looked so cute!”, I commented when she held up an embroidered skirt and flowered top.
There was a blue bin in the back of the closet that we hadn’t looked inside for a long time. My daughter took the top off and held up little articles of clothing, including her first pair of riding pants. She couldn’t believe that she had ever been small enough to fit into them.
Then she held up a beautiful little red velvet dress with long sleeves and a scalloped hem. The velvet was soft to the touch and had a flower pattern on it. “Do you remember that red velvet dress?” I asked quietly. She shook her head.
We sat down on the bed. I began the story of the red dress. When the girls were younger and had a difficult time parting, I recalled wearing my mother’s nightgown to bed for a few months after she died. It helped me feel close to her. I wondered if that approach might help my daughter with her loss. I asked her big sister’s adoptive mother if they would be willing to share a favorite article of clothing with my daughter so she could hold her sister close between our weekly visits.
The following week they presented her with a beautiful gift bag containing the red velvet dress. We explained it’s purpose. She took the dress out of the gift bag, held the soft fabric up to her cheek and put it right on. Then she hugged her sister and twirled around the room with a huge grin on her face.
For the next four months my daughter wore the red dress every day. She took it off at night when she went to bed so we could take it downstairs and toss it in the washer. In the morning she popped it back on and moved through the day with her sister literally by her side. Some children are given medication to deal with the losses they face when they are placed in foster care. The red dress was my daughter’s medication. It sustained her and supported her health and well-being. When she walked into their weekly sibling play dates wearing the dress, her big sister would look up and smile.
I remember reading her school progress report one day during the era of the red dress. The young teacher who wrote the report clearly did not fully understand the therapeutic value of this article of clothing. She wrote that my daughter wore the same dress to school every day as if it was a negative thing. I quietly took her aside, reminded her why my daughter was wearing the dress and requested that she re-write the school report. Wearing the red velvet dress was a strength to be valued.
Looking at the pretty little red dress today you would never know it has played such an important role in helping my daughter regain her sense of well-being. You would also never know that it had seen such active duty. It’s in such good condition that we could pass it on to my daughter’s youngest sister. But we decided to wrap it up, place it in a colorful gift bag and pass it back to her big sister with a Thank You note. We’ll do it tomorrow when the girls meet up at the barn where they are spending their summer days. It’s their favorite place. We make sure to meet up frequently. Two loving families, raising two sisters. Together.