Ugly Shoes and Independence


I took my son to an athletic shoe store to pick sneakers for this coming school year. This is the first time that my husband and I took him to the store and let him pick his own shoes. He’s starting first grade this year. There were a few constraints because he can’t yet tie his shoes (we’re working on it). We walked in to the brightly lit, locker-room looking store and I immediately felt anxious. I didn’t see any Velcro shoes. We had his foot measured, then shared with the sales associate our constraint. He directed us to a small section of the “little kid” shoes that offered Velcro. They were all really ugly.

He picked a few pairs and we waited patiently for the store associate to bring them back. Unfortunately, they only had one of the few he had chosen in his size, but the associate took license and brought him an additional pair that he had not picked. They looked like futuristic orthopedic shoes, something Baymax (from Big Hero 6) would wear. They were these weird, clunky, white high tops with a ridiculous amount of Velcro straps. Then the associate said, “They’re LeBrons.” as though that meant something to me. I don’t care whose name is on a shoe and I certainly don’t want him focusing on something like that. But as far as names on shoes go, LeBron James is a pretty great person, so I’ll take some comfort in that.

I just stared at them in horror. My son squealed in delight, “THOSE ARE SO COOL!” I thought, “Really, dude?” He couldn’t wait to try them on. My husband helped him jam his little foot in there and he was so excited. He kept walking to the mirror to look at his feet, then quickly ran around the bench a few times and proclaimed, “I love them! Can I please have them?” And I just kept staring. These hideous foot-coverings were a far cry from the sneakers I’d been picking for him all these years. I was literally speechless. I just kept shaking my head and staring so my husband told the sales associate we’d take them, and he and my son headed to the register. I followed slowly behind.

Leaving the store my husband was chuckling at my reaction and reminded me that what really matters is that he took the time to pick them out and that he really likes them. And he’s right. He also reminded me that when I was a teen my style couldn’t have been more different than what my parents had envisioned for me. I wore men’s jeans and over-sized black t-shirts. I stole my dad’s flannel shirts. I literally took the collar off the dog and started wearing it. I often wore ripped up skirts with fishnet stockings and my shoe selections were only combat boots and Chuck Taylors. I refused to purchase any type of dress shoes. I remember my dad being horrified every time I emerged from the basement with a new hair color (black, green, purple). My parents would try to persuade me to change up my style, but I dug my heels in. And they surrendered. And I thank them for it now.

Not only did my parents allow me to express myself, even if it was in a way they didn’t exactly love, they just rolled with it and took me to the men’s section for jeans. They never refused or argued with me about it. I will take this example and apply it to my own parenting. He’s still a little boy, but he’s gaining independence. And this is a small way I can help him to foster that. I need to surrender and let him make his own decisions, where appropriate. He’s pretty easy-going so it would have been really easy for me to say, “No, no, those are so ugly, try these instead…”; and he would have. But that would have be doing him a disservice. He deserves to be able to express himself through his clothing and style, even at the age of 6. Who knows what his teen years will bring, so I’m considering this good practice. My son is really excited about his shoes, and so am I.