I think about kids’ shoes a lot.
Shoes were a stressful part of life as a kid. For a middle class family shoes can be an oppressive expense. Kids feet grow every time they sneeze and they are sometimes by default harder on shoes than the most severe Consumer Reports lab tech.
My parents always bought us PayLess shoes. They did this because of the price, and I think because of the illusion of value through effective marketing. I was always happy to have new shoes. It was super cool to get to pick out a new pair. I could swallow wearing the hand me downs the neighborhood moms gave us (my own friend’s cast off clothing!), but something about shoes were more personal. Used shoes weren’t even an option. I’d wear the toeless size 8’s until they were shreds rather than wear someone else’s shoes.
It was an absolute thrill to wear a new pair of shoes, and I often asked to wear them immediately. This was both because I felt so proud to own something new, and also because the shoes I wore into the shoe store were invariably destroyed. PayLess shoes had a knack for coming apart. My big toe would wear a hole through the top and the sole would come unglued at either end and would flop about as I walked.
I can recall being made fun of for my shoes on several occasions, and a lot deeper into my teens than I’d like to admit. Sometimes when new shoes were not in the cards, my dad would use some sort of contact cement and glue the soles back on to the foam. It never held long and even when it did there were bits that still caught and flapped about from the uneven spreading of adhesive.
Sometimes when I was either annoyed, impeded (PE was a hoot with these floppy soles), or needed to preemptively strike before bullying, I would tear away the flapping part. Invariably all this achieved was an uneven gait, pulling away more sole, a smaller flap, a more disheveled look, and more chance for water to seep through. It was miserable and this scene played out multiple times in my childhood.
It was for this reason I used to be in favor of school uniforms. The topic came up a few times in the 80s, I am not sure why as public school in Council Bluffs, Iowa is hardly the place for it. Once I remember the teacher saying it was being considered because of gangs, and left it at that. But I was for it. I remember thinking if we were all forced to wear the same thing it would be one less thing for kids to bully me about. We’d all look the same, at least as far as shirt and pants go. It never passed.
My one clothing triumph ever were my Spuds MacKenzie t shirts, purchased at Foodland grocery store out of a shopping cart (the shirts just unceremoniously dumped within, a precursor to the WalMart DVD troughs). I wore one to Wilson Junior High one day and immediately was sent to the office and asked to wear it inside out the rest of the day, and to never wear it again. My dad could not understand why. I now had two perfectly good, new shirts that I couldn’t wear to school. It was back to the ragged Star Wars shirt that showed my belly button, or any number of pocket tees. My mom took mercy on me and bought me a Hobie shirt (no way she’d splurge for TC Surf Design ot Santa Cruz), so I wore it three days a week.
At some point around my double-digits I started to ask for brand shoes. Not incessantly, but persistently. The answer was no, of course. I remember when I got to junior high school my mom bought me a pair of Adidas, just like ones Run DMC wore in the Christmas in Hollis video, only just a couple years too late to be super cool (and of course I both laced mine to the top with narrow laces and tied them, ending any chance at hip hop cred). I felt like the king of the world.
Later in high school when I went out for track, I told my mom I needed running shoes. I knew not to ask dad. She let me get some Saucony from the 1/2 Price Store. They were wack but I loved them. I wore Saucony running shoes as my daily shoe, gym shoe, track practice shoe, and meet shoe. My coaches continually hinted I needed spikes. I didn;t know what they were until I saw other guys’ kits. I looked in the East Bay catalog and saw the prices. No way in the world I’d ever have those.
By a stroke of luck we found a pair on clearance late in my sophomore season. Instantly improved my 400 time (ran it around 58 sec). With those cleats, and the awareness that you should train off-season, I’m convinced I could have been something at track (I have a theory that key moments in my life would have been drastically different if for one solid mentor… everything from track to college to career. I was a directionless kid).
My junior year I bought a pair of clearance Nike with my own money, my first pair of Nike ever. They were black and hot pink, and they were indoor track shoes. They were super light and had zero support and the thinnest sole. I wore them as my regular shoe and track show, rain or shine, indoor or out. I literally wore through them. In fact, I wore them to Mexico and stepped on a nail, which had no trouble slipping through the millimeter thick rubber to pierce my foot. I got a sweet tetanus shot at the campsite from our group’s nurse.
So fast forward to last week. My kids have never wanted for shoes. My wife is an insanely great shopper and they have had nice, new, brand name, cool shoes on their feet since birth. My daughter and I have a tradition that every year for her birthday I take her shoe shopping and we splurge on a pair of cool, non-sale shoes (usually at Journeys). My son, now that he is 11, is getting picky. He asked for all white Nike. They are awesome, but white. And he’s as tough on shoes as any 11 year old boy.
The first day he had them he put them on with his new white socks (I splurged for matching Nike socks) and he was obviously proud. Was heading out the door to go scare up the older boys in the neighborhood, no doubt hoping to show them off. I never felt so good as a dad. Maybe that is an exaggeration.
But shoes are important.
Lake Lord Publishing
A home for the projects of Carl D. Smith - writer, dad, pharmacist, substitute teacher, Chicago Cubs & Dead Milkmen fan. Consistently clever, occasionally humorous, intermittently productive. Proud native of