Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Shoes Are On Other Feet

How do boys go through shoes so quickly? My 7-year-old went through two pairs in two months.

“More shoes?” my wife and I said to each other when we saw the shredded rubber our boy was wearing on his feet. We can’t afford to turn on our lights at night, let alone buy new shoes. In fact, the other evening I pulled up one of our solar-powered yard lights and hung it over the kitchen table so we could see our dinner. It was that bad.

“But he needs shoes,” my wife said.

“If we buy shoes,” I told her, “we can’t buy cheap ones.”

“But we’re spending too much money on the good ones,” she replied.

“Cheap shoes will force him to hate us,” I said. Then I told her about the pain and suffering I had to endure because of the cheap shoes my parents made me wear when I was about our kid’s age.

At first, I didn’t have to wear my cheapies to school because my mom and dad knew how bad the shoes were. But I had to wear them the rest of the time.

Now, everyone knows that the shoes you wear in grade school and how your peers respond to them factor into what colleges you’re able (or unable) to attend. That’s right. Kids are brutal, and they can shatter another kid’s confidence easily, thus affecting that kid’s entire life.

I had a friend who had to wear the same pair of cheap shoes every day for three years straight. His parents would stitch them up if they tore and wash them when they got dirty. The white laces never got as white as the rest of the shoe. Kids always made fun of him for that.

I certainly couldn’t complain to him about my cheap shoe situation. He had it just as bad, if not worse. But he gladly towed me in my Radio Flyer wagon with his bike while I grinded the soles of my shoes against the gritty asphalt to speed up the wearing-down process. He asked what I was doing. I said I was braking. I just had to get rid of those suckers.

I’d take off my shoes and use them for batting practice. I’d kick walls, let the dog chew on them. No mud puddle was left without ripples. But when my cheap shoes became a mess, my parents didn’t cave and buy me new “good” shoes like I’d planned (I assumed they’d believe the whole “You get what you pay for” bit and buy quality). No, they saw my friend’s newly washed sneakers and, a day later, I was wearing bright white shoes with mucky white laces.

My parents talked about never getting me the expensive shoes ever again. The cheap ones seemed to be holding up really well, they said.

I was doomed. The day would come when I’d have to wear those stinkers to school, and then everyone would poke fun.

“Those shoes aren’t so bad,” my friend told me.

“What do you know?” I said. “You’ve worn those same beat-up cheapies for three years.”

What a horrible thing to say. I lost a good friend because of it. He even went so far as to point out my cheap shoes to everyone we knew. They all laughed at me and put signs on my back. Yup, I was a grade-A dork.

I eventually apologized to my friend for the horrible thing I’d said to him about his shoes. I told him I deserved everything I got and would continue to get once I wore my cheap shoes to school. He graciously accepted my apology and wished me luck.

The years went by and, believe it or not, I survived grade school, even with cheap shoes.

“It was rough,” I told my wife. “But I was lucky -- very lucky -- to have had such a good friend by my side to take the taunts with me.”

As we discussed our son’s shoe situation, I imagined a reality where our kid wasn’t as lucky as I was. I didn’t want him taunted for the shoe choices his mother and I made.

So we bought him a brand new pair of really, really expensive shoes, the kind that would last forever. He test-drove them around the store. I couldn’t catch him. The shoes were that good. And really nice.

A month later, the shoes were trash.

So much for “You get what you pay for.”

-January 2011

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