It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Natural consequences and the Adult

Each child at Mary’s has a cubby, a little storage bin in which we stash crafts to go home, notes for parents, and, most critically to today’s story, a change of clothes.

Teeny babies require at least one spare outfit for every venture out of the house, no matter how brief. One just never knows when a blow-out might occur. As they get older, you can dispense with the spares to a large degree.

But really? When you’re sending your child away for the entire day, five days a week? That other spot, it needs spare clothes, too. Seems obvious, no? Yet in every group of parents, there is always one who doesn’t really get this.

Yes, I get the spare clothes at first. They we use them. I send the soiled outfit home, and… it’s just not replaced. Well, not replaced with the EFFICIENCY required. Why? I dunno. Absent-minded, busy, distracted? All those are possible, plausible. Sympathetic, even, because we know how distracting toddlers are, and we know how hectic mornings can be… but most of the parents, despite having MORE THAN ONE CHILD, some of them, manage it. Because eventually, you KNOW your child is going to need another spare outfit. You know it.

And yet some small percentage of parents (despite reminders) just don’t ante up the spare clothes in anything like a timely manner. Which means that, inevitably, there comes the time when we need a spare set of clothes (AGAIN! Imagine!) … and it’s just not there.

My standard way of dealing with this is twofold. I borrow clothes from another child’s stash, so as not to send the unequipped child home half-naked, and I keep the soiled clothes. The parent thinks I’m doing them a favour, and I get Provider Brownie Points for being so thoughtful, when really I’m just covering my ass. Well, no. I’m ensuring their offspring’s ass is covered. It is less trouble to launder the clothes myself than it is to nag them for replacements.

(Why do I not keep a stash of spare clothes myself? Well, I’ve done so, and, over the years, this sub-group of parents has wandered off with my spares, too, never to return… So now I don’t do that any more.)

The other day? The other day, one of the children, who will remain nameless, wet their pants. No problem, sweetie, we will just get your spare pants from your… oh. Of course. This is one of Those Parents. Okay, then, you can borrow from your almost-same-size friend.

Which worked just fine until almost-same-sized friend had a wee accident herself an hour later. Huh. Well, you know what? Those are her pants, she gets to wear ’em. We now hit Problem #2: Nobody else’s clothes come anywhere near to fitting.

The upshot was that Child Number 1, the nameless one, ended up going home with a diaper (it was a way of giving him/her/it some sort of rearward coverage) and socks inside his/her/its snowpants. Because that’s what there was.

I have the tots dressed and awaiting when the parents arrive, so I told parent what they’d discovered when they peeled the snowpants off at home.

“Oh,” said parent, a little surprised. “Couldn’t you have borrowed from almost-same-sized child?”

Which is a little presumptuous, don’t you think?

I explain.

But, I’m thinking, as parent heads home with half-dressed tot, this is certainly natural consequences. You don’t provide clothes for your child, your child goes home half-naked.

Which is why, prompt in the morning the next day…

they didn’t bring a back-up outfit.


February 24, 2009 - Posted by | parents, Peeve me, the dark side


  1. I can’t believe they said that–borrow from the other kid. Presumptuous is one word for it.

    Maeve’s preschool starts at age 2 1/2 and so change of clothes is a part of the school supplies. Same with the kindergarten next door. One day, the kg teacher told me Maeve’s spare underwear had been “borrowed” by one of the kindergartners whose parents had forgotten to bring in clothes–this was in December–and she was trying to remind the mother to bring them back. I told her not to worry about it; I’d just bring in a new pair.

    Well, the parents are friends, but still. As for the underwear? Borrowing underwear crosses a line for me. Not everyone would feel the same, but I don’t think I’d want them back, thanks just the same. (Kids don’t borrow underwear in my home: they wear diapers. Call it a quirk.)

    Comment by Bridgett | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  2. I have trouble with this also. If it’s a repeat offender, I usually borrow from my stash, but end up with wrong gender clothes. 🙂 oops. If little Timmy goes home wearing my daughter’s pink skirt, sometimes it reminds Timmy’s mom that he NEEDS PANTS.

    Ooo, deviously brilliant. This would only really work if the offender had a boy, though. A girl going home wearing a boy’s clothes is not so note-worthy. But I shall bear it in mind.

    Comment by kelli | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’ve had this happen too with reminder notes and the same situation. ……and still no back up clothes. It even has it in my handbook. I used to get my daughter old t-shirts as backs ups but she’s 11 now.

    I used to use my youngest’s clothes, too, but she’s now taller than me. No help there!

    Comment by Leslie | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  4. How frustrating. I’d think about asking them (just those slow-to-replace families) to send in two pairs of spare clothes to help with that. It’d buy you a little more time. IF they’d actually send them in, of course! 🙂

    ‘Course, I sent a spare set of clothes to 4yo kindergarten with my girl, even though it wasn’t on the list of requested things, just in case. They just sit all tidy in a big ziploc baggie in the back of her cubby, out of the way, but there.

    And it slays me that they didn’t bring in a new outfit the next day, after the “diapers and socks outfit.” *eye roll*

    Maybe I should send a large ziploc home, as a tactile reminder? It’s a thought… Oh, or TWO of them. Hee.

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  5. I’m a SAHM who was doing child care for a little girl as well as my 3 year old son. I was surprised that they didn’t automatically provide a spare outfit, because my son goes through several outfits a day. I ALWAYS have a spare outfit for him, my only mistake is when I don’t have more than one spare. Then when they’d provide super frilly dresses as the spares I started dressing her in my son’s clothes 😉 It wasn’t a good personality fit, though my son and her loved playing together.

    Kids and dirt, they just go together. 🙂 Or they do if the kid’s having sufficient fun! For run-of-the-mill spills and scuffs, I don’t bother changing them. A splash of paint? Grass-stained knees? A few drops of water? Meh. An entire cup of water or paint? Toilet accidents? The child gets changed. (Essentially, if it’s for the child’s comfort or hygiene, I change them. If it’s just for appearance? Waste of time.)

    If the parent sends a super frilly dress, I let the child wear it. I figure they must view it as play attire, and so on it goes, with no restrictions as to her activities,either. If it goes home grubby and spattered with glue, so it does. And you know what? Generally, the parents are fine with that: it’s very often the child who wants the super frills. Now, if I had a parent who insisted that the dress stay pristine? I’d do as you did, and change her, because that’s just not fair.

    Comment by Ariel | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  6. I work in child care and am quite familiar with *those* parents. At the preschool that I work at, we have spare sets of clothes for such emergencies, but like you we often find that these spare clothes, OUR spare clothes, don’t get returned. We have developed the practice of writing the initials of our child care centre (in large block letters) in a black magic marker across the sleeve or down the pant leg. This is helpful for the most part and clothes are returned. But every now and then there is a certain child or two who actually show up at daycare WEARING the obviously marked, not belonging to them clothing!! *Those* parents just don’t get it and likely never will.

    Oh, I like this idea. Of course, I’d have to have spares again, which I don’t at the moment, but if I ever find myself with some (leftovers from graduated children), I will do this.

    Comment by carrie | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  7. This, to me, is not fair to the kid. On the parent’s end, I mean, not yours. Even Pumpkinpie, at nearly five, has in the past month had an accident because she was not quite as better from our tummy bug as I thought, has had water spilled on her, and has gotten paint all over her, each requiring a new set of clothes. I don’t even go to her daycare anymore, but I sure as shooting make sure to go by and drop some new clothes off because I would hate for her to have to sit around cold and wet or all painty and unable to touch anything until it dries or without pants because of my inattention. You have to expect that at times, kids are going to make some small mistake that requires a change. How humiliating or uncomfortable it would be for them if the spares weren’t there.

    The kids I have are by and large too young to be humiliated by odd outfits or missing clothing, but I did worry the child would be too cold in my old and admittedly drafty house. It didn’t seem to cause said tot any grief at all, though, which is good.

    Comment by kittenpie | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  8. you have a late fee penalty, why not write in a spare clothes fee/penalty? presumably, if the parent isn’t returning your spare clothes, they don’t return spare clothes borrowed from a friend. i’d be po’d if i was the parent whose child’s clothes were borrowed and not returned.

    What are you envisioning? A fine for non-returned clothes, like a library fine for late book returns?

    Comment by Dana | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  9. That’s horrible. I usually even bring in an occasional outfit that my daughter has outgrown for the daycare to have as back-ups. She’s used theirs often (on those multiple-accident days), so undoubtedly, someone else will too.

    I have to admit though, that I have no idea what size clothes the ones in my daughters’ cubbies currently are. It’s been a while since they’ve had an accident. They might not fit. I’ll have to check on that tonight.

    Though I get most spares from the families, I’ve also purchased them. Perhaps I just need to do that again — and, as suggested above, write my name or something in enormous (ugly?!) lettering down the sleeve or pant leg. Because there will always be those multiple-accident days!

    Comment by ktjrdn | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  10. Oh, this is one of those things that drives me crazy. You are nicer than me, though, they don’t get to borrow from someone. I have called or texted parents and said they need to bring clothes right now when I have a really bad offender/parent.

    I used to keep my own spares here, but I had the same thing happen as you. I have thought about getting a new stash of spares, but charging a $10 replacement fee if the outfit is not returned within a couple days.

    I considered calling, but feared this would end up being a reason the parent (who chronically peels in with 42 seconds to spare) to be late, always an ever-present possibility. My rock and the hard place.

    Comment by Bev | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  11. You didn’t talk about the other scenario. The parent brings a spare set when they enroll the munchkin in May. Cute shorts and a T shirt, size 3. In February, when the child has an accident,the size 3’s are two sizes too small, and shorts and a T just don’t make it. I tell my students to suggest to the parents that they update the clothes seasonally. There seems to be nothing to be done about “those parents” but we’d usually have some spares from kids who left them behind when they graduated.

    Quite right, and as you teach your students, so is my practice: Dump out all the bins seasonally, and sort through what no longer fits/isn’t appropriate to the weather. And I’m beginning to feel I need to collect my own stash of spares again.

    Comment by jwg | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  12. I have to admit that I am one of the parents that forgets to bring in a spare occasionally. Mostly on those weeks when laundry is low and he comes home in new clothes multiple days in a row. I try and do my best and our center does have a large set of spares in each size. However, I would not presume that he would borrow clothes from another child. My other comfort though? I also provide spares to the center when he grows out of things. Just because he has outgrown 2t? Doesn’t mean that the class behind him has. I figure if I make use of the “on hand” extras then I should provide some of them as well.

    Comment by Dani | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  13. Being the ever thoughtful daycare providers (wink, wink)that we are, my daughter and I laundry the messy clothes and that outfit becomes the spare clothes.


    Comment by Kerri | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  14. I am not a day care provider :)so just an idea you could keep the soiled clothes and wash it yourself and send the child in the spare that your purchased and then at the end of the week/month *charge* the parent for *both* the spare that you bought and the wash, sort of like a hotel does for any extra service. They will either be paying for the convenience or learn and bring their own.

    Comment by nina | February 27, 2009 | Reply

  15. You must be extremely patient. I would be infuriated.

    Comment by No Mother Earth | March 1, 2009 | Reply

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