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.
“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 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.