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.




Grandma Pigtail Pals Has Something To Say To Girls Who Are Different

March 19, 2013

Dear Amelia,

I learned from your Mama today that some of your classmates have said some mean things recently. You were not looking forward to recess because of that. You wanted to play “wolves” and they did not think that is something girls should do. They wanted to be fairies, delicate, tiny, and almost invisible. They teased that maybe you wanted to be a boy. I felt very sad that your feelings were hurt. I also feel sad that those girls do not know how they are keeping their own awesomeness from growing bigger and stronger.

When I was little, my best friend Kathy and I used to pretend we were wild horses on the way to school. School was a mile away and much of that trip we would gallop and paw at the cement like real horses paw at the ground. Each street was a pretend river we had to cross and not drown. When we got to school, I am sure we were wind-blown and sweaty most days. She and I never, ever played beauty shop or princesses. We created pretend mysteries, a dog kennel, and school. We played explorers. Sometimes, but not very often we played dolls. We swam a lot and rode our bikes everywhere. We spent long days in the public library and art museum. She and I did not fit in with many of the other girls. She now teaches college classes and earned many college degrees. I work at a college and have many college degrees.  And I never turned into a boy!

Your imagination and strong spirit is different from many girls your age. You like to do art projects and play outside. You like to play pretend. There are many children who cannot play like that. You may act differently than some of the girls at school, but that does not mean you are bad or wrong. There are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be awesome. You may make some of the other girls uneasy because they might not have imaginations as strong as yours. They may have only been given certain kinds of toys because that is “what girls play with”. They may think girls can only be pretty, look nice for other people’s approval and get boys to like them. You know better. You know girls can get dirty, be noisy, be scared, be brave, take risks, be creative, and not care too much how they look every minute. Sometimes people can act mean when they feel uncertain or scared. They fight against any idea that suggests they might be in the wrong or need a new attitude.

Sometimes you will have to deal with mean people. Girls can be especially mean. Your mama had to face some mean girls. They did not like her because her hair was black, because she was very smart, because she moved to Kohler from somewhere else. She was different.  Sometimes your mama cried very hard and I held her tight. Sometimes I got very angry at those girls for hurting your mama. I had to remind myself that those girls were very unsure of themselves.

Look at your mama now. She is beautiful and strong. She graduated from college. She has traveled throughout the world. She has started her own company that is helping so many people. She is going to Boston this weekend because other people want to hear her ideas. I wonder what those mean girls would think now!

I hope you will be strong and be the Amelia you are meant to be. You are smart, creative, and very funny. You sometimes will not fit in because other people do not see the world like you do. That does not mean you are wrong. No other woman had flown an airplane across the Atlantic before Amelia Earhart.  I bet she lost many friends because she would not give up her plan. Rosa Parks took a stand for freedom of Black people to sit where they wanted to on buses and she did not care what the other women thought. She had to be herself. Sometimes the people, girls or boys, who do the most and explore and create the most, have to do things differently than the group who thinks it makes the rules. I hope you will remember that awesomeness is inside and no one can take it away. You know how to show it and you know how to make it quiet when you need to. I hope you remember that there is not just one way to be a girl or a first grader or a big sister. There are many ways. Amelia Joyce, remember you are amazing. We can only hope those other girls realize they can be amazing too, even while they let other girls be awesome in their own way. If I ever learn you have been a “mean girl”, you and I will have to have a very serious private talk. You need to show other children how to let their seed of awesomeness grow. Never, ever forget how much you are loved. You are my very first grandchild, my very first granddaughter, and I learn from you every week. I expect you will teach me many more ways to be awesome as I grow old!

I love you very much.







Water Slides and Body Image

I wrote this on Saturday before heading to a birthday party for a good buddy of my kids. Happy to report, we all had a blast:

We’re headed to a swim birthday party this afternoon, which means I have to be in my swimsuit helping the kids in the pool. Normally this wouldn’t be a big issue for me, but a recent health issue has made me gain some weight despite a day to day healthy lifestyle. This is hard for me because I’ve always been athletic and fit and my own body doesn’t feel “right” to me right now.
But I never considered not getting in the pool with the kids, or hiding myself under a t-shirt. I plan to “Whooop!” when I go down the water slide. Because while my kids know I have to wear a special bracelet now and take medicine and work hard at getting my body strong and healthy again, they’ll never see me ashamed of my body.
The message me and my extra 20 pounds will be giving my daughter and my son and the two little friends we are taking the to the party is that it is not how your body looks that is important, but rather how you choose to live in it and what you choose to do with it that makes you full of awesome.

Buyer Beware: Striped Skirts and Fat Talk

“Oh no, not that skirt. Horizontal stripes will make you look fatter,” Grandmother shopping next to me says to a little girl, slapping the girl’s hand away from a really cute tiered skirt. The little girl shrinks. My mouth and Amelia’s mouth fall open in shock.

I want to climb on top of the rack of clothing, and scream at this woman, telling her how cruel and damaging Fat Talk is to girls, especially when Fat Talk comes from the people this girl should be able to trust the most. I want to screech out the stats running through my head — percentages of little girls who hate their bodies and diet and have low self-esteem. I want to grab her and shake her and tell her what awful messages she is planting in this girl’s head. I also kind of want to hug her, and tell her to stop projecting her body hate onto this young child.

Not wanting to get kicked out of Target, and not being a crazy person, I didn’t. But I really, really wanted to.

Instead I picked up the exact same skirt, and held it up for Amelia. I’m not trying to be an ass, I just can’t let the grandmother’s words be the last thing the other girl hears in that moment.

“Hey Smalls, look at this! How awesome are these stripes!? Wouldn’t they look so fun and colorful while you run and spin? How fun!” I say. 

“I’d say it is full of awesome,” 6yo Amelia offers while waving to the little girl.

There Are So Many Ways To Be A Girl

Pigtails Pals was launched almost three years ago with the idea that girls needed to be presented with more positive imagery and messages on apparel. I wanted images showing girls doing smart, daring, and adventurous things. With close to 25 girl-empowerment designs that have gone viral and been shipped all over the world, I feel really good about accomplishing what I set out to do. There is always room to do more….

I introduce today a new design that I’m really proud of. This design was created by our facebook community when I asked the question, “Tell me ALL of the different ways your daughter is a girl.” I took notes on all the descriptions given by our amazing parents — sports and dance and various shoe styles and artistic interests and messy hair and fancy pigtails and love of color. This design is YOUR girls, because my Pigtail community knows there are so many, SO MANY, amazing ways to be a girl.

You can purchase these tees HERE.

A brand new Pigtail Pals design!

Every single detail in this design (illustrated by my wonderful artist Katie) represents a girl in our Pigtail Pals community. There is no limit to who our girls can become, and having a girlhood rich in diverse experiences and friendships will show our daughters just how incredible this world is, and how much is out there waiting for them.

During the discussion, the idea was suggested that “little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything Full of Awesome”. One mom even posted a photo of her daughter, looking like a true Pigtail Pal: colorful outfit, hair messed from a hard day of play, and a big smile on her face. (Thank you, Penny Collins, I’ll be sending your little lady a gift tee!) I liked that phrase so much, I added it as a second option for this design!

A second version of our brand new design!

 I have more designs and some surprises coming out during our Birthday Week beginning May 6th, but I just couldn’t wait on these!

I hope you love them just as much as I do! And a huge thank you to Katie, my artist, for turning all of my notes and scratches into something beautiful for our girls!

You can purchase these tees HERE.

As always, these designs are offered in sizes Toddlers – Ladies, with fourteen color choices. Enjoy!!