Raleigh’s Shoes and Pink Metallic Rhinestone Awesome

A guest post by Val McKee.

I used to love shopping for shoes. I’d trot up Broadway during my lunch hour, pop in every store along the way, slide a nylon over my manicured foot, try on a half dozen shoes, and pose in front of a half mirror: toe pointed forward, toe pointed out, pant leg pulled up, pant leg down—you get the picture. It was sort of my thing.

But now, I’m a mom.  I will put off shoe shopping until my boys’ toes are practically bursting through the seams. When my seven year old’s coach pulled me aside and told me in an uncomfortable stage whisper that I needed to buy Carson new sneakers, I collected my mother-of-the-year trophy, downed a stiff drink, and drove my three boys to the shoe store.

(I’m joking about two of those things. Or…one of those things.)

After a couple of foot races through the aisles and a brief struggle with a two year old whipping shoe boxes off the shelves like he was on an episode of Supermarket Sweep, we were ready to get to business.

Carson chose his new sneakers right away: a conservative gray running shoe with a fun streak of bright orange. Two year old Simon, nicknamed “Me Too,” chose a miniature version of the exact gray and orange shoe. Score! We’ve been here twenty minutes and two kids have shoes! Now for Raleigh.

Sparkle shoesThere he is. In the part of the aisle devoted to sparkle. The pink part. The girl part.

“Raleigh, have you chosen some shoes?”

He has. They are pink. They are metallic. They have rhinestone toes. They have bows. They light up. They are for girls.

I hesitate for a moment.

This is my boy who finds beauty in everything. He spent the better half of his first four  years in a Tinkerbell dress. His third birthday party had a fairy theme. He was a peacock for Halloween twice. He has impeccable taste. But now he is five and I am worried. Then I see his face. Oh my word, he loves those shoes.

As we are checking out, Carson quietly says to me: “Mom, I’m worried about Raleigh getting those shoes. I mean, I think it’s fine, but…”

Carson is in the second grade. He totally gets it. I share his concern.

All three boys happily wear their new shoes out of the store. We survived shoe shopping and reward ourselves with a celebratory dinner at a real life restaurant. I’m not kidding. I took my three boys shoe shopping. I earned a dinner out.

Raleigh barely ate a bite of his dinner because he was far too busy examining his shoes under the table for the entire meal. He was deeply, madly in love. He talked on and on about their many beautiful features and imagined what all his envious friends would say when they saw them the next day in school.

Unfortunately, so did I. That night, I repeated the following prayer:  Please, God, don’t let those little twerps take this joy away from my baby. Don’t let them take away his awesome.

 The next morning, Raleigh is up and dressed before anyone else. He’s dancing around excitedly in his new shoes, singing a song all about their gorgeousness. I give him a hug goodbye and hand him his lunchbox, “Raleigh, are you super psyched to show off your new shoes?”

“I don’t know,” he says quietly. “I think I should just wear these shoes at home. They can be my home shoes.”

“Why?” I ask. “Are you worried you’ll get them dirty?”

“No.” He hesitates, “I’m worried my friends will tease me and say I’m wearing girl shoes.”

Aaaaaaaaand…there it is. I can almost see his awesome disappearing before my very eyes—like the bodies in Marty McFly’s family photo in Back to the Future, Raleigh’s awesome is slowly fading into nothing.

Suddenly, my worry transforms as an invisible someone pokes my inner Mama Bear.

“Raleigh…did you choose those shoes?”


“Do you love them?”


“Do they fit your feet perfectly?”


“Then they are your shoes, Raleigh.”


A slightly less awesome Raleigh shuffles heavily away in his pink and silver sparkle shoes, but he’s wearing them. He isn’t lifting his feet enough to illuminate the rhinestones, but he’s wearing them.

Thirty minutes later, I receive a text from my husband: “Raleigh refused to wear his shoes into the building.”

My heart broke.

Later, when I picked Raleigh up from school, he came skipping out of his classroom in a flurry of pink lights and sparkle. The shoes!

I practically knocked him out with my squeal: “Raleigh! Your dad said you didn’t want to wear your shoes! Did you change your mind?”

“Yes! I decided I really wanted to wear them!”

“And did anyone tease you?”

“No,” he said proudly. “I told all my friends: Did you know there is no such thing as girl shoes and boy shoes? I’m a boy. If these are girl shoes, why would I like them? Shoes are for everyone and colors are for everyone! And you know what, Mom? They said I was right! They agree!”

It’s such a simple, logical explanation. Why didn’t I think of that?

Oh right—because some twerp stole my awesome a long time ago—just like every other grown-up on the planet. Which is why I’m not the first person on the dance floor at wedding receptions, why I worry about my singing voice, why I don’t always speak up, why I weigh myself…the list goes on. But my boy is so awesome. And so damn smart.

And who among us couldn’t use a bit more sparkle in our lives?


Val McKee


Val McKee is a writer, a musician, and a teacher of both, but her life’s greatest challenge is also her greatest reason to drink–I mean–greatest reward: Her three crazy boys. When she’s not being their jungle gym, she likes to do anything else. Seriously. Absolutely anything else.





  1. I’m so proud of my friend Val for all the things! Also, as this child’s former babysitter, I cried the first time I heard this story. Both because he’s not little enough anymore to just love his new shoes (when I was with him, froggie rain boots) without thinking about anyone else, and because he did such a good job letting everybody know what’s what!

  2. Fantastic. This is why I love kids. They are so full of awesome!!!

  3. Cassie Thompson says:

    My daughter asked me last night if there were “boys undies” and “girls undies”. She is 5, and she is starting to ask questions, and we are starting to have little carefully worded conversations about negative gender expectations.

    She wears dinosaur undies, and pirate undies. She wears comfortable undies with thick elastic, the kind of undies that don’t get made for girls.

    I told my daughter about the one time that I took her to playgroup. She wore green. Every other girls wore only pink. They seperated the boys and girls for circle time – because the boys might want to talk about trucks and the girls might want to talk about barbies. I told her that we never return, because they were silly. Girls can wear any color, and everyone likes trucks.

    Nice blog post. I hope I can navigate this with skill.

  4. Love every word of this, and so happy that it all worked out for Raleigh.

  5. i love your attitude, i was given so much crap about buying the “Wrong toys” for my son, i should be buying them guns and footballs and cars, but my sons loved their play house, they loved their toy kitchen and they loved to play house with a baby doll. and i am not ashamed, i wasnt ashamed when i bought my son a dustpan and brush and i dont hold back when my little one now 9 asks to help with the housework because he gets to use the fluffy duster, i really think little boys and little girls should be allowed to play and pretend because god knows we are only able to pretend for such a short time in our lives, my son loves the film frozen, my son also loves singing along to the songs on glee, he is such a happy child and i will not let anyone take his happy away from him, children are awesome and they will make and do amazing things if you dont restrict them by boring stereotypes, my son makes jewellery with me, he loves trying on my tiaras and hairbands that i make, i hope one day that my son knowing there are no boundaries will mean when he settles down he wont have the ” womens work” and he will love and respect whoever he settles down with

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