I buy expensive shoes for my children- especially my toddlers.
I loved with a passion when Addy, Tuck and BeBe had matching Baby Bottle buckle shoes. Addy’s were red, Tuck’s blue and BeBe’s white. On a couple a months a year, their ages are stacked neatly. Between the end of November and the end of January, in these magic French t-straps, the first three of my six children were 2, 3, and 4 years old. (I was pregnant with George.) I dreamed about this step in time since before they were growing inside me. I loved these shoes for the satisfaction of my own heart. We were living in Alexandria, Virginia at the time and that qualifies fairly easily as the South. But most of the women I knew did not put buckle shoes on their boys. And most mothers did not put white shoes on their babies during the fall and winter. (Babies never wear black.) I learned these preferred tricks from being from the Deep South. I was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and I spent my school years living in Nashville, Tennessee. My mom grew up in Laurel Mississippi. I am sure I learned all my shoe passions from my mom, Patty. When it was back to school season, my mom took my sisters and I to Lonnie Young shoe store in Nashville near the Green Hills mall where now one can claim to have seen Taylor Swift shopping. My mom took us to be fitted and to buy school shoes that could very well last an entire school year. In the younger grades, we left ecstatic with our saddle oxfords. I remember in fifth grade choosing navy Sebagos with leather laces. By eighth grade saddle oxfords were back in style, according to the Catholic school girls of West Nashville. At St. Cecilia all girls Academy, we wore penny loafers until senior year, when we had the privilege of donning saddle oxfords for one last year.
I thought the shoe store men were old when I was six years old. But the same men were there when I returned twenty years later. My mom bought my sisters and I high quality shoes from a store called Lonnie Young Shoes. This shoe store still exists and I have taken my children there whenever we are in Nashville. I am confusing the original set up of the shoe store with the now slightly grander version. The men who work there are over sixty and there are rows of faded blue leather chairs and slide out triangular based stools for the elderly gentlemen to perch on while they patiently measure a child’s foot. The rows of shoes and semi circle displays are the stuff of my dreams. When Walt went back to Vanderbilt to get his PhD, I would shop at Lonnie Young’s for Addy and baby Tuck. I bought them matching red tennis shoes- pronounced tinnuh shoes. They looked like Keds for babies but they were an older brand, Peaks with that adorable red captoe. The man helping us was extremely patient with my two. Addy wanted to try on every shoe in the place and Tuck was the running and climbing type of toddler. When I went to pay for my precious shoes, the cashier in his gray polyester blend work pants and short sleeved yellow button up, suggested I purchase some jingle bells that attach to his shoe laces. I was so happy with my purchases. I can clearly see baby Tuck with his fluffy blonde curls flying by and jingling as he goes. I was so proud of having a baby boy as if I had controlled his gender. My family had been full of girls and Tuck was our first baby boy. Gosh, he was gorgeous with his wide spread blue eyes and angel colored complexion. Tinkling jingle bells.
Addy loved her ballet pink Capezio Mary Janes bought for Aunt Melanie and Uncle Charlie’s wedding in Palm Springs. The soft sided leather and the skinnier buckle were so lovely and elegant especially when she wore them with her blue jean shorts and red gingham bikini top. Addy was obsessed with some platform slip-ons that her friend Maura wore the summer before preschool started. Maura and her mom Susan bought Addy her own pair. The platform slides were made out of spongy flip flop material. The bottoms were black and the tops were purple. I did not allow any black on Addy- so these heels for young Addy were better than a burned book for a teen ager. She wore those platform flip-flops from Nordstrom until her toes were hanging off the front.She loved the big girl shoes and the difference between those and shoes I supplied were a world apart.
Walt was building a storage shed that matched our house in our back yard in Alexandria. When the kids were all little, we needed space for tools, wagons, tricycles, strollers, sleds, and baby pools. Walt does everything construction in a big way. First, he started with a concrete truck dropping off wet concrete in the street inferno of our house and he and Scott our neighbor wheel barreled load after load after load of heavy wet concrete through our picket fence and across our lawn to the back corner. The kids were out there “helping” and Tuck stepped into the wet concrete with his navy blue Baby Botte French t straps. Unbelievable!- not at all if you knew baby Tuck. I believe I cried when I saw his small blue shoes covered in gloppy concrete that had seeped into the inside of the shoe.Walt put the shoe sin a bucket of water for a couple of days, in the hopes of saving my sanity. Those shoes survived. That pair of my affection came out of the water and were cleaned up. Tuck wore them again for a good amount of time. The price of the leather and gum soles with the sweet brass buckle were well worth every penny.
I went to New York City. I think it was because Walt had to work in the city. I went to a shoe store I had only heard tales of from Miriam a friend in Alexandria who had also grown up in the deepish South (New Orleans). She was possibly even more into children’s shoes and clothes than me. She took me to trunk shows for girls’ dresses and boys John johns. the trunk shows were run by moms who stayed at home. Their husbands would have been fairly wealthy and the women wanted the things. Smocking, appliqué, embroidery, initials and bows. About twice a year, I would spend close to $300 for matching dresses and an accompanying John John. I definitely convinced myself that I had budgeted for these treasured items but the truth is I justified my purchases any way I could and just shrunk the grocery budget for a couple of weeks. At this New York shoppe, I could hold my own. Skip Tiffany’s and Barneys. I knew children’s shoes. Addy got hot pink suede t straps with a chunky pink gum sole similar to a Doc Marten. Red suede flowers, sprinkled across the pink and I was sold. Pink and red is one of my very favorite color combinations. Tuck got olive green suede lace up boots. And baby Beatrice- the piece de resistance, a pale blue that was more wedgewood than pastel suede. Traditional gum soles that color of yellow glue. Small eyes of white leather with painted black pupils stitched into the empty holes above the buckle strap. A small blue sueded flap folded over the strap to make the mouse’s ears. The heel of the shoe had a small semi tail which served the function of aiding in putting the shoes on a wiggly toddler. Two and a half years later George wore the same mouse shoes. BeBe wore Addy’s pink buckle shoes. Addy had not worn them that often. She was already veering off course of my defined fashion choices. By kindergarten, she only wanted blue jean shorts from Target and the high heeled slides from Nordstrom.
I dressed my children adorably. I felt it was my obligation- especially because I was a much younger mom and we didn’t have as much money as other families in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. The other dads were working for telephone giants, the Department of Transportation, or advertising. So many of the moms worked too, that the frequenters of our neighborhood playground assumed I was the nanny of my blonde hair blue eyed babies. The moms of our neighborhood were professors, attorneys, and pastry chefs who either worked or were planning to go back, soon. We usually had one car and Walt took the train. We had the absolutely smallest house in one of the best neighborhoods. I chose preschools not on reputation but by which schools were NAEYC accredited. I cut their finger nails and toe nails before every appointment with a pediatrician. I secretly feared my children would be removed form my home by social services if I did not present the most amazing front. I detested rich moms who dressed in high faluting fashion while putting their baby in polyester blend sleepers with pilling. I spent time scouring the clearance racks at Gap kids. I went to church consignment sales. My mom made the kids the sweetest rompers and dresses. Even without a lot of discretionary funds the kids always looked cute. I did not care if they got dirty. Ever. I encouraged them to get dirty. Stomp in every puddle, investigate neighborhood gardens. I always told their teachers I don’t care if they get paint on their clothes. I was amazing at removing stains. Biz was one of my secrets for keeping whites white. I always let my kids in the sand box or the fudgesicles. Although I was obsessed with the shoes and the clothes, I was even more concerned with being developmentally appropriate.
So the shoes weren’t just beautiful, they were functional, sturdy and comfortable. But I can admit, my kids were barefoot most of the time. The only ones at the park or the playground or the pool or the river. I would carry my babies everywhere so they didn’t wear shoes. While in a stroller, no one needs shoes. None of those tiny baby shoes with soles for me. We had the leather booties that came out when my kids were little. Robeez. Their tiny toes made me happy. I was impressed by their ability to run the gravel of crumbling sidewalks. I felt superior when other kids couldn’t make it across the hot pavement of the swimming pool parking lot. Teachers at BeBe’s kindergarten joked that Dolly must not have any shoes because they always saw her barefoot and I beamed with pride. If I can carry the youngest of five everywhere we go, I’m mothering just the way I want to. Sometimes my kids were barefoot because we were In a hurry. When arriving at a restaurant at least one of the Rodi’s would be shoeless. And lots of the time, my kids were barefoot because they were unhurried. Tuck was so famously barefoot- he came home from school more than twice without shoes. They could be wild in the outskirts of Washington DC. They explored ditches by the Potomac or cobble stone streets in Old Town. I thrived on the idea that my own worries were not being passed down to my babes. They wouldn’t hear me say feathers have diseases. Or you’ll fall if you jump off that high stone wall. I was proud of the dichotomy. Blue eyes and suntanned skin. Seersucker sundresses splattered up the back with dirt from a fast ride on the two wheeler with training wheels. Using their new yellow Hanna Andersson raincoat to capture a snapping turtle by the empty lot. Plucky young parents attentive to their little tribe. Smiling while parenting. Luckiest people in the world- with the shoes to prove it. I let my Birkenstocks claim my identity and Walt let his Rainbow flip flops introduce themselves to the neighbors as the guy from California. And my children shoes, they announced their mother was child centered with an insistence on quality.
…Mim has outgrown all children’s shoes. Her narrow assymetrical feet np longer fit into children’ shoes. Only I would see the small differences from the extremely mild cerebral palsy the neurologist threw into her ball of diagnoses. The slight dysmprophic nature of her feet becoming elongated as the sweet feet of a child give way. Her choices of high heels and roller skates do not aid her physical development but she sure loves them anyways.
Twenty four years of scheming and dreaming what shoes the new season will hold. My expertise in children’s shoes no longer useful. My expertise in child development is running its course, too. I did not study young adulthood. I have only my own remembered experience to guide this side of parenting. Excluding Mim, my growing and grown children have their breadth of knowledge of sneakers and boots. Their collections have way out grown mine. Likewise, lots of my parenting is done. If I haven’t taught them something by now I might never. Their soft spots have closed. Their feet are done growing.
My mom had these interesting parallels for development that she used in parenting- such as when a child can pedal a trike, they are ready to be potty trained. The Waldorf schools use physical development- when a child can raise their arm above their head and touch their opposite ear then they are ready for school. My thought is – when a child’s foot stops growing, they no longer can take advice or instruction from their parents. They need our love. They need our money, our cooking, and consistent presence. They need a soft spot to land. They need our ability to listen without judgement. But they can not learn from our words anymore. We have taught them what we can. We can no longer force information in. Now, older children whose feet are grown may come to us for advice or they may learn from our example. Definitely! But our old ways of redirecting and guiding and offering information is futile- like buying too small shoes even if they are really really cute.
I knew you were special the day we met. You show up just that way every time we meet again. Xo. Lee
I enjoyed reading this so much! I could relate to the feeling with the baby shoes and clothes. You are such s gifted writer.
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