A Friend in Need| May 10, 2022
Will less-than-pristine clothing send a longtime relationship down the drain?
Shifra: All I wanted was to get my things back the way I lent them to you.
Goldy: If you’re so particular about your things, why did you lend them out?
The text came in at 4:52 a.m. I saw it two hours later.
It’s a GIRL!!!!
“Aaaaahhh!” I whisper-shrieked. Heshy cracked open one eye, quizzically. “Goldy had a girl!”
“Mazel tov,” he mumbled, and rolled back over.
I sat up in bed, too excited to go back to sleep. Finally, a girl after four boys! I’d have to make something beautiful for the kiddush of course, maybe those strawberry petit fours. And I’d send over balloons and a gift. Some pink stretchies, or an adorable dress… this was going to be so much fun.
Goldy and I have been best friends since finishing high school. We met in seminary and hit it off right away, and landed teaching jobs in the same school after graduating. When we moved to the same neighborhood after getting married, we thought we had it all planned out. We’d bring up our families together, and our kids would be best friends too. But I have mostly girls and Goldy — until today — had only boys, so that didn’t work out so well.
Still, between hosting each other for Shabbos meals and our twice-weekly power walks, not to mention the endless text messages and phone calls, we stayed close. While our lifestyles diverged — Heshy went into real estate a few years back, and we’d recently bought a beautiful house, while Goldy’s husband was still in kollel and they were crowded into a small rental apartment — it didn’t change things for us.
I was grateful for our good fortune, and whenever I could, I looked for opportunities to help Goldy out a little.
So when she replied to my mazel tov message asking for a favor, I really wanted to say yes.
Just wondering, do you happen to have any of Vivi’s baby clothes that I can borrow? Realized I’m gonna need a whole new wardrobe for this one 🙂
I bit my lip. A new baby meant new clothing, and that meant lots of expenses. Stretchies and rompers, outfits and bonnets and adorable frilly socks…
I padded out of the room to my linen closet. There on the top shelf was my baby clothing, organized by size and season: 0-3 months, girls, spring / summer; 0-3 months, girls, autumn / winter. Box after clear plastic box with matching labels and perfectly neat handwriting stared back at me.
I should just say yes, I thought. It’s all beautiful clothing, perfect condition, mostly designer… She would love it, there was no way she could afford a baby wardrobe like this. It sounded like she was struggling to afford a baby wardrobe at all.
But then I thought of Goldy’s house. Lots of noise, lots of mess, lots of energy. Her four boisterous boys, running in all directions, scuffed shoes and rips by the knees of their pants. We always joked that Hashem knew what He was doing, giving me a houseful of docile girls and Goldy the male contingent. She had a laid-back, spontaneous, go-with-the-flow approach to life and this amazing ability to turn a blind eye when the floors got messy or her boys turned up with live frogs in plastic containers.
Goldy kept her baby clothing, too — probably all lumped together in a cardboard box in a corner of the bedroom. She doesn’t have much space in that apartment. But all that baby clothing wouldn’t help her now, not for a brand-new little princess.
Lending her my clothing would be the absolute best gift I could give. Besides, she’d asked, and I didn’t want to refuse her. Still, I winced.
My clothing was all in mint condition. I stored it ironed and pressed, organized by season and size, not a speck of dirt on anything. It wasn’t cheap stuff either; I liked to shop for quality, and I was happy to pay the price. Goldy would love it. But would she take care of it?
Finally, I decided to deliver the boxes myself and explain how I wanted them cared for. Goldy was a good friend, and she was responsible. I could stretch myself to help her, she’d take care of the clothing.
I went to visit Goldy a day after she got home, bearing balloons, a gift bag, and a year’s worth of baby girl clothing for her to borrow.
“Oh. My. Goodness,” Goldy said when she saw it. Her eyes were wide. “Shifra! I don’t believe it. I was thinking, like maybe a few stretchies, an outfit or two till I can make an Ali order… You’re crazy. This has literally made my life one million times easier.”
I was glad to hear, but before I could leave go of the precious boxes, I wanted to make sure they’d be well taken care of. “Use them, enjoy them,” I told her. “Just please, please, keep them in this condition. I’m super careful with my baby stuff, especially the expensive outfits…” I opened one box, fingered a delicate pure white knit set. “Like these… make sure you wash them on the delicate cycle…”
Goldy cracked up. “Oh, my goodness, Shifra, I’m surprised you don’t dry clean your baby clothes. Don’t worry, I’ll keep them in perfect condition for you. Or at least I’ll try — can’t promise the princess will cooperate.”
She was joking, but I wished she hadn’t been so flippant. These clothes were worth a fortune — and it wasn’t just the money. It was the time, the effort, the way I’d washed and treated them over the years so they’d stay in pristine condition for the next baby. Quality was quality, but only if it was taken care of.
Goldy must have read my thoughts. “Seriously, Shifra, don’t worry, I’ll take care of the clothes,” she said, suddenly earnest. “I really, really, really appreciate it all. You don’t know how much stress you’re saving me.”
“That’s what friends are for,” I murmured.
Goldy took the boxes from me and started riffling through the top one. “Ooohh, these are absolutely heaven. I can’t believe this, my daughter’s gonna be wearing hundred-dollar stretchies. If she turns into one of those teenagers who won’t touch anything without a designer label, I’m blaming you, okay?”
“Nah, blame being a teenager,” I said, thinking of my nine-year-old Tali. “And if it takes until she’s 13, you’re lucky.”
We laughed together, and Goldy carefully replaced the lid of the box.
“Well, I’d better go,” I said, lingering an extra moment. I hoped I had made the right decision.
Over the next few months, I got constant regards from my baby clothes — in the form of pictures from Goldy, or glimpses of little Sara herself. The clothes looked adorable on her, and it made me smile to see the familiar outfits coming to good use again. Sometimes, though, I found myself squirming — was that a stain on the lacey collar? Why did the stretchie look like the color was faded? Was she letting seven-month-old Sara eat applesauce without a bib protecting her precious clothes?
When I casually asked her about that, Goldy brushed me off. “Oh, don’t worry, everything comes out in the wash. I don’t bother with bibs, she just throws them off.”
I sure hoped the stains would come out in the wash. I wouldn’t know; my kids never ate applesauce without a bib.
“I know, Shifra,” Goldy cut in, laughing. “Your baby clothes. Don’t worry. I’m taking care of them.”
By the time Sara outgrew the borrowed collection of clothes, I was more than ready to have them back. This whole lending-out-my-kids’-wardrobe thing wasn’t for me; honestly, if Goldy wasn’t my best friend, I’d never have said yes in the first place. I’d invested so much in the clothing, and in keeping them well-maintained and organized, that I just wanted them back where they belonged again, in my own house.
You home? I’m coming over with the bags, Goldy texted.
Bags? I raised my eyebrows. She must have meant boxes.
Sure, anytime, I texted back, then went to wipe down the counters and pull some cinnamon buns out of the freezer.
When the doorbell rang, I was surprised to see Goldy lugging a garbage bag, in place of the neat stack of boxes I’d deposited with her a year ago.
“The boxes?” she said apologetically. “I’m so sorry. One got lost, and two the kids broke… I’m happy to pay for new ones, I just didn’t know where you got them from. And a lot of the sizing was off, so I didn’t keep them separated like you did. Like some stuff she wore till she was seven months old, and other things she outgrew before I’d even tried them on… you know how it goes.”
I didn’t. I’d always kept my baby clothes organized by size, and if something ran too small or too big, I put it with the appropriate age category — so I didn’t keep missing the chance to use it. Now I’d have to sort everything from scratch.
Take a deep breath. Okay, this was just part of doing my friend a favor. Fine, I could handle it.
I took a peek in the bag and tried not to grimace. The clothes looked clean, at least at first glance, but nothing was folded. It could’ve been a sack of dirty laundry. I’d have to spend a couple hours sorting and pressing, folding the clothes and organizing them in boxes again. Not to mention going to buy new boxes too…
“I really hope everything’s okay in there,” Goldy said, looking a little anxious. “I washed everything, there aren’t any stains or anything, and I’m pretty sure this is all, even all those yummy tiny socks I kept thinking I’d lost.” She smiled ruefully.
“Sounds good,” I said, trying to smile. “I’ll look through them and let you know if I’m missing anything. Thanks for bringing them back.”
I closed the door before I could say anything I regretted. The cinnamon buns could go back in the freezer — if the kids didn’t get to them first.
Then I sat down to assess the damage.
The clothes were clean. And whole. And as far as I could tell, everything was there.
But it didn’t look like Goldy had followed the washing instructions that carefully. A few of the outfits looked like they’d been through the dryer, even though the label definitely specified that they should be laid flat to dry. And they just didn’t have that pristine, fresh look anymore.
I held up a gray sweater with little pink hearts, one of my favorites. I’d bought it for Tali, and Rikki and Vivi had worn it too. It had been in perfect condition after being used for three babies, but now, with Goldy’s one, it just looked… old. A little stretched out of shape, a bit faded. Was it put through a hot cycle?
I picked up the phone to text Goldy and ask her, then I stopped. What, exactly, would be the point? She would say yes, she’s so sorry? How would that help me? She would say no? That wouldn’t change the sweater. I had to face it; the clothing wasn’t in the same perfect condition I’d lent it out in, and I probably wouldn’t use half of the stuff anymore.
I didn’t want to let this destroy our friendship. But from now on, I was definitely going to be more careful. No more lending out things that mattered — not to someone who I couldn’t guarantee would take care of them.
I sat down that night to assess the damage, spilling the clothing out onto my bed and holding up each item one by one to decide what to do with it. They were all clean — Goldy, with her easygoing housekeeping standards probably thought that was good enough. But so few of the pieces still looked nearly new, like they had just a year ago.
I ended up sending a bunch of things to a gemach — they just weren’t in good-enough condition for me to use again. The frilly romper I’d bought Vivi for Pesach, the pink down jacket that had kept all three of my girls so cozy on dozens of walks and trips to the park… I’d hoped to use all of them again, and now…
They were usable, sure, but they looked like hand-me-downs. Worn, stretched-out, old. Not my style, not my standards.
The lady at the gemach was delighted. I drove away with a lump in my throat, feeling like I’d lost something precious — so many clothes, so many memories.
I tried not to let it get between us, I honestly did. But it took a while until I could respond to Goldy’s calls and texts. She’d let me down, and there was nothing she could do to fix it. I needed time to get over the disappointment, the sense of betrayal — I did you this huge favor, and look what I got back — and I didn’t need or want her half-hearted apologies.
A few weeks after returning the clothes, Goldy messaged me: Is this about the clothing? Because I really tried my best to take care of them, and I’m sorry if it wasn’t up to your standards… I’ll know for next time!!
I couldn’t reply. She didn’t sound like she realized what she’d done wrong at all, or how much this all meant to me. And about the next time… well, there wasn’t going to be a next time. Not if I could help it.
If I could tell Goldy one thing, it would be: You know my standards of cleanliness and organization. I stretched myself to do this huge favor for you; couldn’t you extend yourself to return everything the way you got it?
When I texted Shifra about borrowing some of her baby clothes, I figured she’d send over a few stretchies, something to tide me over till I got my Mommy act together. (Read: until I got over the disbelief that I actually had a girl!)
I didn’t dream she would turn up at my door with boxes of boutique-worthy clothing, most of it looking like it had never been worn even once, let alone by a string of girls.
And the clothes! They were so gorgeous I could actually drool.
I knew Shifra dressed her kids well, but I’d never really noticed her baby clothing up close. Now that I had her baby wardrobe in my hands, I realized just how much money she must have spent on it all. Everything was designer, brand-name, handmade, stuff I would never usually touch. And it was all there for me to use. Dressing this princess was going to be even more fun than I thought.
I must’ve texted Shifra a hundred thank-yous over those months. Every time I dressed Sara in yet another dazzling outfit, I made sure to take a picture and send it over to Shifra. I could’ve made a catalogue of her clothing; that’s how many pictures I took. (My mother was thrilled to be getting so many photos; I hadn’t been nearly as good about it with the boys. I didn’t tell her why I was suddenly so attached to my camera.)
I can’t say having my daughter in a borrowed wardrobe wasn’t pressure. When it came to my own children’s clothing, I dumped them into the machine on whatever cycle I happened to be doing, threw them in the dryer — who had time to hang clothes to dry?! — and most stuff was absolutely fine. Anything that wasn’t hadn’t cost me too much to begin with, so I wasn’t too disappointed.
But Shifra’s handmade lace and knitwear was different, of course. I washed everything on delicate cycles and mostly tried to avoid putting the clothes through the dryer. I purchased a stain removing spray and made sure to pretreat stubborn stains. I didn’t want Shifra to have any regrets about lending me her precious baby wardrobe. She seemed worried enough about it.
Eventually, her constant questions and comments started to get at me. She’d often ask me, too casually, how the clothing was doing, if I found this or that outfit easy to clean, how I was managing with Sara starting on solids. She’d check what laundry detergent I was using (honestly? Whatever was on sale most recently in the supermarket) or how I was storing the clothing that Sara had outgrown (um, they were bundled in a dresser drawer, those clear plastic boxes with lids were far too impractical for regular use).
I started to wish I didn’t have the burden of taking care of those clothes.
If you’re so worried about how I’m taking care of them, I wanted to say, then why lend them to me in the first place?
But they were so beautiful, and so useful, and I wasn’t going to throw her generosity back in her face like that — especially when it was saving me a fortune in the process. I didn’t have the money for a brand-new wardrobe every few months when Sara jumped a size — things were tight as it was, some extra expenses had come up recently and strained our already-tight budget, and I was struggling to put in the work hours I’d kept before Sara was born. We weren’t in a place to refuse favors, and Shifra’s baby clothing was a hundred times nicer than any gemach could provide me with.
So I kept on using them, and doing my best to care for them, and let Shifra know they were coming to good use.
I can’t say it wasn’t a relief to finally be returning the clothing when the year was up.
Actually, Sara had managed to stretch on until 14 months in some of the pieces, and I’d slowly supplemented her wardrobe with some shopping of my own, as I phased out of using Shifra’s collection. It was definitely time to return the clothing, and I figured Shifra would appreciate having them back as well.
“I just can’t believe I have every last item of clothing here, and nothing’s ripped to shreds or irreversibly stained,” I said to my husband, Menachem. “Can you believe it? I feel like I have no excuses anymore to ruin any of the boys’ stuff.”
“I guess it’s easier to take care of things when they don’t belong to you,” he said.
“And when they cost hundreds of dollars an item. I wouldn’t want to have to replace these, I can tell you,” I said with a mock shudder.
Menachem chuckled, but shook his head at the same time. He couldn’t understand why someone would spend so much money on a baby’s stretchie. Part of me felt that way too, but another part had really enjoyed the chance to pamper my daughter — and myself — with top-notch quality.
“I hope she doesn’t mind that I don’t have those plastic boxes,” I said suddenly. The boxes had been too bulky to keep in our tiny, overcrowded bedroom — I’d emptied the clothing into my dresser and stored the boxes on top of the toy closet, but the boys had found them — of course — and that was the end of them. “If she wants, I’ll buy her new ones, but she’ll have to tell me where they’re from. I’ve never touched these storage container kind of things.”
It took me a couple of days to sort through all the clothing, rewash anything that didn’t look perfectly clean, and get everything into a large garbage bag — which I carefully stowed under the bed so that no one would accidentally throw it in the trash. Finally, when I was sure that everything was clean and accounted for, I texted Shifra and headed over to her house.
“Thank you so, so much again,” I told her, hefting the bag over the doorstep. “This was a total lifesaver for me, and Sara looked adorable. I can’t tell you how much it helped me.”
Even with all the stress and nerves about keeping everything how you like it, I thought to myself. But of course, I didn’t say that. She’d done me a favor, after all.
Shifra took the bag, her face creasing a little.
“Oh — the boxes,” I said. “I’m so sorry about that. The boys broke some of them, but I’m happy to pay for new ones.”
“Oh.” Shifra’s voice was… distant, I guess, would be the best word. “The boxes. Yes. I definitely would like them replaced… but they weren’t just for storing, they also helped me keep everything organized. By size, you know what I mean? Are these…” She delicately lifted the bag. “Are they in order of size?”
Sorted according to size? My head swam. It had been hard enough just keeping her stuff apart from my own — the few things I’d bought, the gifts people sent in…
“I didn’t do that,” I said, apologetically. “You know how it goes, even with the labels, three months, six months, whatever — the sizing’s always off. I found she wore some things for just a few weeks and others lasted until she was seven months old. You know how it goes. I just kept everything together and figured things out as I went along.”
Shifra didn’t answer. She opened the bag, picked up a few of the outfits, and put them back again. Her features were cardboard stiff.
What was wrong? I’d worked so hard to keep everything beautifully clean.
“I washed everything,” I said, trying to reassure myself as well as Shifra. “There aren’t any stains or anything, and I’m pretty sure it’s all there. Even those yummy socks that I kept worrying I’d lost.”
“Sounds… good,” Shifra said, still in that distant voice. “I’ll look through them, okay? Thanks for bringing them back. We’ll be in touch.”
And she closed the door.
And then I didn’t hear from her. Not that day, or the next, or the next.
We never went three days without a phone call.
I tried her a few times, no answer. Then I texted, all okay?
She sent back a terse, yeah just busy.
I asked her about the boxes, trying to feel out if something was wrong with the clothing.
Never mind the boxes, I’ll take care of them, she replied.
Well, it was a whole sentence, and it was friendly enough, but… it wasn’t Shifra. It wasn’t me and Shifra, our relationship, our easy banter throughout the day. Something was seriously wrong.
It had to be the clothes. It was the only thing it could’ve been.
I finally reached out directly — Is it about the clothing? — but she didn’t reply. Eventually, she messaged about something different, and I got the sense that she just wanted to avoid the subject and move on.
But now I was frustrated.
“I don’t get it,” I complained to Menachem. “I did my best, took care of the stuff better than I’d look after my own. I washed everything, used stain remover, the works… Okay, I didn’t return the clothes folded, but I don’t have a cleaning lady to do all that for me. I have a bunch of boys and a baby… for goodness’ sake, what did she expect?”
Menachem shrugged. “Maybe she was hoping you’d return them exactly how they came,” he said.
“You mean with the boxes and the color-coded order?” I asked. “But that’s… that doesn’t make sense, it’s not even possible. And Shifra knows me, she knows that life is hectic and I’m not the type to color code my folded laundry. I returned the clothes clean and complete — what’s the problem?”
If I could tell Shifra one thing, it would be: You know me, and you chose to do me this favor. I did my best, but I can’t turn into someone I’m not.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 910)
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